Leo Oscar Steveni

(1893—1972)

Colonel, Military Cross, OBE.



Leo married Laurie Chauncy 4th cousin. I belong to a group of Chauncy descendants that try to keep track of the old English Norman family of Chauncy.

I first learnt of Leo when he married Helen Chauncy in Bengal, India 23rd April 1925. Robert & I both had Chauncy cousins who served with the South India Company in India also my Bate ancestors, so the India connection was no surprise; it was more the Russian surname was adding to the mix, and that it appeared to have an English connection. Leo & Helen eventually returned to England where they both died at Oxford, with two daughters Elizabeth born in Bengal in 1926 and Barbara born in Persia at the British Consulate in 1929. By the time I had found these bare bones of facts. I also found in the 1911 English Census Leo at boarding school in England at Rugby, Warwickshire entered as being born at Visitor, Russia. I took it literally at the time blame it on convalescing from operations.

However I was hooked who on earth was this fellow, his daughter Elizabeth was a well behaved girl and did all the right things had her engagement photo taken by the royal photographer and married in high society. Daughter Barbara Mary Lesley Steveni born in the British Consulate at Persia was quite another story and left a wealth of oral biographical interviews in the British Library. Barbara jilted her high society fiancée on the eve of her wedding and ran off to live with the artist John Latham who she had met at Art College. They did eventually get married John somewhat reluctantly however his aunt saw that he did the right thing and all the pre wedding photos taken by the royal photographer were burnt. It was a good read and the parents and daughters had an amazing time socialising around London, Russia before the revolution, USA, India, and Egypt. Mum Helen keeping a tight reign on Dad Leo’s secretaries.

Leo’s story was to come not in Ancestry, some came in Google as well as the English National Archives and the British National Library.

Leo Oscar has mixed national heritage and was born in St Petersburg, Russia 1894 to a Russian business man his mother was British and somewhere in the mix is a grandmother from Sweden. The family are White Russian and Leo worked in his father’s business in England when he left school 1912 to 1914. Leo was appointed to the British Military Mission at the Russian War Office at Petogard by March 1915 Leo was a Liason Officer at the Russian Front.

 1917  Leo joins Military Intelligence Directorate London MI6

 1918  Leo was appointed Liaison Officer with the White Army in Eastern Siberia — somewhere in this period the Czar of Russia gives him a jewelled ring for loyal service which was destined to be for his eldest grandson, however Helen thought not, and that is another story.

 1918 — 1920   Leo is appointed Lieutenant with the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. (My head is getting dizzy keeping up with all of this activity.)

 1921   Appointed General Staff Officer Grade 3 (Russian Section) Army Headquarters India.

 1921   Appointed General Staff Officer Grade 3 (Russian Section) Army Headquarters India.

 1922   Appointed Military Attaché Persia Iran

 1925   Marries Helen Edith Chauncy, Simla, Bengal

 1926   Elizabeth is born in India however Leo is still attached to British Consulate Persia until 1928 and Barbara who was born in Persia 1929 says they spent many holidays there while she was growing up. Leo in 1928 was appointed Captain of 8th Punjab Regiment in India.

 1932 — 1935   War Staff Office Indian Office.

 1939 — 1942   Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army.

 1941   Appointed Director of British Intelligence in Asia.

 1942 — 1944   posted to Political Intelligence Centre Middle East (PICME) Cairo, Egypt. This included Australia.

 1945   retired.

 1972   died.

In his lifetime Leo received the Military Cross and an Order of British Empire.

Michael Smith wrote a book called The Real James Bonds and he included Leo as one of the six MI6 characters James Fleming based his character on.

According to Leo’s daughter Barbara he was dashing romantic character whom her mother kept in reign while enjoying the cocktail circuit.

Barbara went on to develop a commercial art enterprise first with British Steel and secondly with British Railways exhibiting well known art works in business premises.




Margaret Hardwick, 2017


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Web page made 17 September 2017; last edited