Baltic Countdown: A Nation Vanishes

In 1938, British diplomats Peggie and Kenneth Benton were posted to Riga, Latvia, a bustling and multicultural city in a country that had been independent for fewer than 20 years. Their role was twofold: processing visa applications to the Commonwealth; and for Kenneth, signals intelligence espionage work for MI6.

Two years later, with Soviet troops reoccupying Latvia and the Second World War battle fronts cutting off escape routes to the west, the Bentons and the remaining consular staff set off on an epic journey back to London by rail and sea, through the heart of the Soviet Union. Baltic Countdown is an extraordinary and unique tale of a pivotal period in the history of the Baltic states, by turns travelogue, memoir and social history.

Read an extract from Baltic Countdown

Reviews of Baltic Countdown

A British diplomat’s wife’s beautifully observed eye-witness account of the Soviet occupation—no, obliteration—of Latvia, including sections on the good life (while it lasted) in seaside Jürmala.”
Condé Nast Traveler

“[Peggie] writes simply and without pretence from her own experience and from what she learnt from her Baltic friends, as well as from her official work as an analyst of the Russian press. She brings home to the reader very vividly indeed, it seems to me, what it is like to be in a small country whose quiet ways, offensive to none, are wantonly trampled out of existence by a bully without scruple. There is a good deal to be learnt from her book, not only about the Baltic States in general and Latvia in particular, to which it is a memorial, but also about how people are likely to behave when confronted with a power which seems too strong to fight but which cannot be appeased.”
– from the introduction, by British journalist Edward Crankshaw