The Russian President recently paid an official visit to Iran. The last time a Russian Head of State visited that country was in 1943, when Stalin attended the Big Three Conference in Tehran with Roosevelt and Churchill.
My army divisional commander, with his headquarters in Tehran, was made responsible for security. Besides me, there was one other Indian officer on his staff. One day, he summoned us both to tell us about the meeting. I was assigned to join the security team at the British Legation, where Churchill would be staying.
The General then brought out a black bowler hat. “This hat is to remind me that I will get the sack and be in civvy street if anything goes wrong. On my recommendation, both of you Indian officers have been given high security clearance. So don’t let me down,” he said.
The British Legation was thoroughly searched. Guards practised for any contingency. Enemy agents were known to have infiltrated into Tehran and our counter-intelligence staff had their hands full.
On the penultimate day, we got a new team member. A British sergeant came to me, carrying a white poodle. “This little fellow, sir, was found barking and snapping at one of the cooks. Actually, the person was not really a cook but an infiltrator with a weapon.” I complimented the sergeant and allowed him to keep the dog on his insistence that it would be good for security. We named it Winnie, after Winston Churchill.
That night, Churchill hosted a dinner for the other two leaders. Two hours before the function, US security men came to check our arrangements. They were followed by a group of tough-looking Russian soldiers, who insisted on a minute search of the area. Just before the VVIP guests arrived, I heard a heated argument between a Russian officer and the British sergeant. The poodle was barking furiously at the Russian, who was about to shoot it. Just then, Stalin’s motorcade entered the compound and a nasty incident was averted.
When the VVIPs left the next day, there was a noticeable ease of tension. A multi-national celebration was soon underway. Russian vodka, American bourbon, Scotch whisky and, for good measure, Indian rum were the basic ingredients of the potent concoction that was passed around.
Someone must have given Winnie a taste because soon, he was found curled up, and snoring, on the sofa, with the General’s bowler hat perched rakishly on his head.