Saturday, 14 August 2010


Observers are anxious at the emergence of a neo-Nazi movement in Mongolia - news item.

Roman Fyodorovich von Sternberg (1886 to 1921) was a Major General in the White Russian army which fought against the Bolsheviks in the Carpathian mountains. His spiritual home would be a hospital for the criminally insane

When the White Russians were beaten, von Sternberg resolved to invade Mongolia, destroy the Chinese administration and forge a Pan-Asiatic empire including Manchuria and Tibet. He could then invade Russia, dismantle Moscow, replace it with a city of tents and crown himself Czar.

Financed by the Japanese Government, he led his “Army of Military Buddhists" - three hundred Tibetans, Cossacks, Mongols and Japanese - and captured Mongolia, of which he became king in all but name. Buddhists do not believe in death. To them, life is an endless path. Von Sternberg consoled himself for the mass murders his troops committed with the belief the victims would be born again to a better life.

He baptised his soldiers with vodka and hashish and ruled them with two aides. The first, Count Sepailoff, suffered from a form of Tourette's Syndrome. Always shaking, he sang wordless songs as he indulged in his favourite pastime of strangling. The other had forgotten his name on the long ride across Mongolia but he was nicknamed “Teapot” and he too was an eager strangler.

Von Sternberg's dazed army entered Mongolia in 1920 and in February 1921 occupied the capital, Urga, now Ulan Batan. His rule of Mongolia was bloody. His drug and vodka fuelled army was defeated by the Bolsheviks. Von Sternberg was captured, locked in a cage and, after swift trial in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, was shot.

A cousin of his, the 5th Baron Newborough, a Welsh peer, married three times. One of his wives who I knew, Denista, was a beautiful Yugoslav who after their divorce was charged, though found not guilty on appeal, with running a brothel in her flat, 6 Davies Street, Shepherd’s Market. Shortly before their divorce in 1946, a receiving order was made against her for debts of £951, which she attributed to losses at bridge whilst her skill had been impaired by unhappiness. She recovered her finances by designing outrageous hats, including the “Nicotine Hat” which was covered with cigarettes.

In her obituary in the Daily Telegraph when she died at the age of 79, it was written that she “¼was many things; wire walker, night club girl, nude dancer, air pilot. She was also a milliner, a perfumier and an antique dealer. She only refused to be two things - a whore or a spy.”

She spoke 14 languages and was beyond question one of the great adventuresses of the 20th century who has never really been given her due. Friends noticed that however bizarre her claims - including once having been a nurse - she was able to substantiate them all. In 1958 she published a best-selling autobiography "The Fire in My Blood", a cryptic phrase she used to describe her nymphomania. By her own account, she was sexually awakened by a Roumanian gypsy boy at the age of six when she became his “little wife”. She never ceased to be grateful to him and besides aristocratic lovers admitted to countless sexual encounters with waiters, footmen and chauffeurs. But she also included kings amongst her grateful lovers.

She was 28 when she met the 61-year-old Lord Newborough and she fell for him at once. She recalled: “He was the handsomest man I had ever seen, towering and strong and robust. He looked forty and had the springy timeless walk of a man in his twenties.

“He had been a captain in the merchant marine, surely the most masterful master mariner ever. He was the Pretender to the throne of France, he had a daughter about my age and I thought he was too good for me and said so...”

The 7th Baron, a hero of St Nazaire, was once fined for firing a cannon at holidaymakers. The cannon belonged to the 1st Lord who built two forts to repel a French invasion of Gwynedd. He also raised a private army but its main parade was a birthday banquet for George II. During a Grand Tour undertaken to avoid creditors, he met and married Maria Stella, apparently an Italian carabiniere’s daughter. In fact she was the child of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans. Whilst on an Italian tour, the Duchess was pregnant. They hoped for a boy who would have been directly in line for the throne of France. They reached the little town of Modiliano in Tuscany and there the Duchess was brought to bed. The chief carabiniere was a man called Sergeant Carpini whose wife was also having a baby. The Duchess had a girl, whom she immediately exchanged for the boy. Some years later, Newborough heard the girl, Maria Stella Carpini, singing at a theatre in Florence.

They married and she spent the rest of her life - and a great deal of his money - proving she was a Bourbon. She died in Calais. The sergeant’s son succeeded to the throne as Louis Philippe, the bourgeois monarch who looked like a carabiniere. In her portraits, the girl looks like the Duchess of Orleans and her other daughter. The Bourbon Arms are on her memorial in the village church just below Glynllifon (the only Grade A building in Wales). Her claim was authenticated by a French court of inquiry.


We’ve all dreamed of launching into space at one moment or another, but writer Mary Roach is perhaps the first science journalist to explore the psychological impact of getting there, and the human desire to leap into the stars. In her new book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, the author of other notable pop-science books like Stiffand Bonk brings us tales of astronauts, both raunchy and enlightening. She explores the stories that don’t get told about space travel: Spacecraft smell, crafting chimp spacesuits, and early exploits in disgusting zero-gravity cuisine. Packing for Mars will make you think twice about your Buzz Aldrin dreams, but it also gives a more realistic view of life in space than we have ever gotten from a NASA broadcast.