Museums founded by representatives of the first wave of emigration became important keepers of the memory of Russians abroad. A great number of museums are located in Paris and its suburbs. The Museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment was founded in Courbevoie (France) by Major General Ilya Oprits, author of the seminal work “His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment at the Time of the Revolution and Civil War of 1917-1920”. This museum has gathered a number of relics of the regiment, examples of equipment and uniform, ceremonial plates, military maps, and items used by officers. It preserves unique military patriotic items glorifying Russia’s military history.
Initially the Museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment was formed by Empress Catherine the Great in 1775 in St Petersburg. In the history of its active service the regiment accumulated many relics and trophies, which were gathered in a regimental museum, established on the initiative and at the expense of officers. It should be emphasized that the museum’s collection is dedicated to the history of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment, but not the Cossack movement in general.
After the revolution of 1917 the museum was evacuated to Turkey, then to Serbia, where its collections were deposited in an artillery arsenal. Despite a difficult financial situation, the officers managed to save a part of their incomes for the preservation of the museum. Each of them contributed from 12% to 20% of his salary, according to a special schedule. The regiment immigrated to France in 1923. The money gathered by the officers in Serbia was insufficient to move the museum from the Balkans to Western Europe. Nevertheless, they later managed to gather the sum needed and the museum was moved to Paris in 1929.
After the election victory of the Popular Front and rise to power of the left-wing government headed by Leon Blume in 1938, part of the collection (the regiment’s silver cutlery) was deposited in safer monarchic Belgium. Nowadays it is situated in the Museum of Army and Military History in Brussels.
The first custodian of the museum, Ilya Oprits, compiled a valuable archive about the campaign history of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment and Lifeguards Ataman Regiment. Thus he made a significant contribution to the organisation of the museum. Oprits was also the chairman of the union of the Lifeguards Cossack Regiment and the society of devotees of Russian military antiquity, which published the Military-historical Gazette in Paris. He died on August 25, 1964 and was buried in the Russian cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois.
Nowadays the museum is a unique and exclusive cultural and historical institution. No other regiment of the Russian imperial army managed to preserve such a full and integral collection of items and documents referring to its history. The museum became a spiritually uniting centre for former officers of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment and their descendants, who created the association of the same name, and by whose efforts the museum continues to function.
Alexander Bobrikov, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather served in the regiment, has been director of the museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment since 1988.
Click here to view 80 photographs of the Museum of His Majesty’s Lifeguards Cossack Regiment and its vast collection.