THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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27 posts categorized "World War One"

08 August 2017

‘A Czechoslovakian epic’: the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Revolution

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Throughout the 19th century, a growing sense of Czech national identity was a constant source of alarm to the rulers of the Habsburg Empire. Friction between Czech and German speakers increased, and the first Slavic Congress, held in Prague in 1848, consolidated pan-Slavic sympathies. Although the Congress ended without formal agreement, one important result was the proclamation of a Manifestation to the Nations of Europe, calling for an end to the oppression of Slav peoples and ‘extending a brotherly hand to all neighbouring nations who are prepared to recognize and effectively champion with us the full equality of all nations, irrespective of their political power or size’.

On the outbreak of the First World War, many of the empire’s 8,000,000 Czechs and 3,000,000 Slovaks found themselves fighting under the Austrian flag. Wherever possible, their battalions were dispatched to the Italian front to reduce the likelihood of desertion to join their Russian and Serbian fellow-Slavs. Yet as the need for troops on the Eastern Front grew ever more urgent, this principle could no longer be maintained, and by 1915 many of these men found themselves deployed in Russian Poland.

On 5 August 1914 a battalion of Czechs and Slovaks known as the Česká družina (‘Czech Companions’) was organized within the Russian army to fight against the Austrians and their allies. More regiments were added as the war continued. In July 1917, the battalion, now known as the Czechoslovak Rifle Brigade (Československá střelecká brigáda), distinguished itself at the Battle of Zborov when its troops overran Austrian trenches. After this success, the Russians authorised the mobilisation of Czech and Slovak volunteers from Russian prisoner-of-war camps. The brigade was renamed again as the First Division of the Czechoslovak Corps in Russia (Československý sbor na Rusi) or the Czechoslovak Legion (Československá legie). By 1918 it contained some 40,000 troops.

Czech Legion Dufka 2 YA.2003.a.16242

An infantryman of the Third Archduke Karl regiment, stationed in Kroměříž. Illustration from Josef Dufka’s memoir Přál jsem si míti křídla (Prague, 2002) YA.2003.a.16242.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, the chairman of the Czechoslovak National Council, Tomáš Masaryk, began planning to transfer the Legion to France to continue fighting against the Central Powers. The Bolsheviks granted permission for the Legion to travel from Ukraine to Vladivostok to embark on transport vessels as many of Russia’s chief ports were blockaded, but this was hindered when, in January 1918, the German Army launched Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front to force the Soviet government to accept its peace terms. In early March, after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had taken Russia out of the war, the Czechoslovak Legion successfully fought off German attempts to prevent their evacuation in the Battle of Bakhmach.

Czech Legion Becvar 9087.aa.29 Czech legionaries on the Siberian border, from Gustav Becvar, The Lost Legion (London, 1939) 9087.aa.29

On 25 March, an agreement was signed ordering the Legion to surrender most of its weapons in exchange for safe passage to Vladivostok. The evacuation was delayed by the dilapidated state of the railways, the shortage of trains and the constant need to negotiate passage with local soviets. There was also mutual mistrust between the Legion and the Bolsheviks. When, on 14 May, a dispute broke out at the Chelyabinsk station between legionaries heading east and Hungarian prisoners of war heading west to be repatriated, Leon Trotsky ordered that the Legion be disarmed and arrested.

This triggered what became known as the Revolt of the Legions. By the end of June, the Czechoslovak Legion had seized Vladivostok and overthrown the local Bolshevik administration. On 6 July they declared the city an Allied protectorate. By early September they had swept Bolshevik forces from the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway and taken all the major cities of Siberia, but their seizure of Ekaterinburg came less than a week too late to save Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

Czech legion Vykrik

 Výkřik (‘The Scream’), a magazine printed by the Czechoslovak Legion during the Russian Civil War. RB.31.c.832.

As the Red Army gained strength and retook several cities the Legion’s enthusiasm waned, and when the independent state of Czechoslovakia  was proclaimed on 28 October 1918, its members had every reason to wish to return home. On 18 November a coup overthrew the leadership of the Whites’ Provisional Government in Siberia, with which the Legion had made common cause, and Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak was appointed ‘Supreme Leader’. The Legion was left to defend Kolchak’s sole supply route and the gold bullion which he had captured from Kazan for much of 1919, but most legionaries were uneasy with Kolchak’s rule. On 7 February 1920, the Legion signed an armistice with the Fifth Red Army granting safe passage to Vladivostok on condition that they did not try to rescue Kolchak and left the remaining gold with the authorities in Irkutsk.

Czech Legion Dufka YA.2003.a.16242

Illustration from Přál jsem si míti křídla: ‘One day we were delighted by the news in the papers that Austria was no longer fighting and the Czech Republic had been established.’

It was not until 1 March 1920 that the final Czechoslovak train left Irkutsk, and only in September that the last legionaries sailed from Vladivostok. Many of those who returned brought their skills and experience to the newly-established Czechoslovak Army; others, including Jaroslav Hašek, author of the satirical novel The Good Soldier Švejk, joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Still others lived to write their memoirs, including Gustav Becvar, whose account appeared in English as The Lost Legion. It concludes, ‘On 20 June 1920 we crossed the frontier of our newly freed homeland, the Czechoslovak Republic. […] Here, after six and a half years of weary exile, I saw my mother again.’

Susan Halstead (Content Specialist, Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Services

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

07 July 2017

To the Finland Station in a not-so-sealed Train

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In the weeks following Russia’s February Revolution in 1917, an increasingly frustrated Lenin was stuck in Zurich, forced to follow events from afar. Like other Russian political exiles, he had found neutral Switzerland a convenient haven when war broke out in 1914, but now it was more like a cage. Not only could he play no active part in events back in Russia, but he had no chance to influence or control them as he desired, and meanwhile the new Provisional Government was taking a course that seemed too moderate to Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks

The problem for the Russian revolutionaries in Switzerland was of course the ongoing war. The logical route home led through enemy German territory. Another option would be to travel via Russia’s allies France and Britain, but the two countries’ governments would hardly offer safe passage to people they considered dangerous agitators. In her memoirs, Lenin’s wife recalls him ‘building the most improbable plans’ – flying back to Russia by plane, or using the passports of foreigners from a neutral country.

In the end, the German route offered the most realistic hope. The German government had already flirted with the idea of funding Russian revolutionaries in the hope of destabilising Russia and bringing about her withdrawal from the war. It was possible that they might now be brought to see Lenin’s return as a means to this end. 

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Fritz Platten, reproduced in Willi Gautschi, Lenin als Emingrant in der Schweiz (Cologne, 1973). X.809/19902. 

Swiss socialist Robert Grimm approached the German Ambassador to Switzerland to open negotiations, but it was Grimm’s compatriot Fritz Platten, who brokered the final agreement to allow Lenin and others exiles to travel by train through Germany to neutral Sweden. Platten was also given official responsibility for the party and helped to draw up a document to be signed by all the travellers, declaring among other things that they accepted the risk of imprisonment for treason on their return to Russia.

Reise Lenins facsim
Facsimile of the document signed by Lenin and his companions, reproduced in Fritz Platten, Die Reise Lenins durch Deutschland im plombierten Wagen (Berlin, 1924) 9456.i.18. 

At last, on 9 April 1917, Lenin and 31 other exiles embarked on a train at Zurich station. This has gone down in history as the ‘sealed train’, and and its journey became part of the mythology of the Russian Revolution, helped not least by Platten’s own account, published in 1924.

Reise Lenins 9456i18
Front cover of Platten's Die Reise Lenins...

In fact the ‘seal’ was more symbolic and legal than physical: one of Lenin’s conditions had been that the train should have extra-territorial status, so that it could not be boarded by anyone hoping to arrest the travellers. The Russians were forbidden from leaving the train, and a chalk line on the floor marked a boundary, which only Platten was allowed to cross, between them and their German guards. But the doors and windows could be opened. Various members of the party later recalled Germans coming to speak to them and to offer food or beer through the windows, and at another point in the journey a group of German socialists even came on board hoping to speak to their Russian counterparts.

To a certain extent, however, Lenin sealed himself off, settling in a separate compartment and working on what became known as the ‘April Theses’. He was impatient to reach Russia and irritated by the high spirits of his fellow travellers who could be heard chatting, joking and singing next door. Even when the party had reached neutral Sweden and were travelling more conventionally and able to communicate with the outside world, Lenin devoted most of his time to working, networking and planning his next moves.

A final challenge came on the Finnish border, where the travellers were interrogated and searched at a British military checkpoint, before eventually being allowed to continue. At last, on 16 April, they arrived (on an ordinary train) at the Finland Station in St Petersburg, where Lenin proclaimed to a welcoming crowd the ‘worldwide Socialist revolution’ which he believed was just beginning.

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Finnish Locomotive 293, which undertook the last leg of Lenin’s journey. It was presented to Russia by Finland and is now preserved at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. (Photo © by James G. Howes, 1998, from  Wikimedia Commons)

Platten, who had been so vital to the journey, was no longer with the group, having been turned back at the Finnish border. He did later enter Russia, eventually settling permanently there, and in 1918 he provided another and even greater service to Lenin. They were travelling in a car together when a would-be assassin opened fire. Platten pushed Lenin down, sustaining a minor injury himself and probably saving the Bolshevik leader’s life. Despite his services to the Revolution, he later fell victim to Stalin’s purges, and was shot on 22 April 1942 – ironically, the anniversary of Lenin’s birth.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

Nadezhda Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin. Translated by Bernard Isaacs (Moscow, 1959) 010600.c.43. (Also available online at: http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/krupskaya/works/rol/index.htm)

Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train (London, 2016) Awaiting pressmark

Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (London, 2009) YC.2010.a.13366

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying programme of events, on the evening of 25 July Historian Catherine Merridale and writer Viv Groskop will be in conversation about Lenin’s journey back to Russia. Details can be found here.

14 April 2017

La Majstro mortis!

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L. L.Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, died in Warsaw on 14 April 1917. Warsaw was at this time occupied by German troops as the war in Europe still raged and the Russian empire was already engulfed in the flames by the February Revolution.

“Normally the funeral of Ludovic Zamenhof would have been attended by at least representatives of the Esperanto Movement from most European countries; war made this impossible”, notes Marjorie Boulton  in her book Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto.

ZamenhofBoultonTitle-page and frontispiece of Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton (London, 1960). 10667.m.13

Here she describes the funeral procession:

At three o’clock on April 16th the funeral procession set out from 41 Krolewska Street, with those members of the family who were able to come, the Warsaw Esperantists and many of Zamenhof’s poor patients. Foreign Esperantists were represented by Major Neubarth and one other German. As slow procession passed through the Saxon Square and along Wierzbowa Street, Bielanska Street, Nalewki Street, Dzika Street and Gesia Street to Okopowa Street and the Jewish cemetery, the slow black serpent grew longer and longer.

At the funeral Polish poet and Esperantist Leo Belmont spoke warmly about Zamenhof in Polish and the president of the Polish Esperanto Society, poet and translator Antoni Grabowski  paid tribute to the great man in Esperanto.

ZamenhofFunebraProcesio Funeral procession from La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio. Eldonis Adolfo Oberrotman kaj Teo Jung (Cologne, 1921). YF.2008.a.12302

The news about the death of Zamenhof spread worldwide. In the memorial service in London at Harecourt Church on 6 May 1917, Belgian Esperantist Paul Blaise, married to British Esperantist Margaret Jones and living in England as a refugee, read from the yet unpublished translation of Isaiah by Zamenhof himself.

ZamenhofTheBritishEsperantistNEW The British Esperantist. Issue for May 1917. Announcement of Zamenhof’s death. P.P.4939ka.

The most famous poem about the death of Zamenhof ‘La Majstro mortis’ (The Master is Dead) was written by the Hungarian Esperantist, professional actor and writer Julio Baghy, then a prisoner of war in Siberia.

ZamenhofLaMajstromortisNEW.4322
 La Majstro mortis by Julio Baghy and the first tomb of L.L.Zamenhof in Warsaw (From La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio).

The extraordinary life of Zamenhof, his language and his ideas attracted and will attract a lot of attention now and in the future. In 2007 the sixth edition of the biography of Zamenhof (first published in 1920) by prominent Swiss Esperantist Edmond Privat was published by the Universal Esperanto Association, based in Rotterdam. On this day, 100 years after the death of Zamenhof, Esperantists from Albania to Zimbabwe and many non-Esperantists remember his life and achievements. Zamenhof’s testament from his poem ‘La Vojo’ (‘The Way’), written in 1896, is still echoing in their memories:

Straight forward, with courage, not veering nor stopping
Pursue we this Way of our own:
Ne’er faileth the water, by dropping and dropping,
To wear through a mountain of stone:
For Hope, and Persistence, and Patience together
Are watchwords in all kinds of weather;
So, step after step – such is ever the story-
We’ll come to the goal of our glory.

L.L. Zamenhof ‘La Vojo’ translated by D.O.S.Lowell, published in Star in a Night Sky. An Anthology of Esperanto Literature (London, 2012). YKL.2014.a.2549

ZamenhofPrivatNEW

Above: New edition of Edmond Privat, Vivo de Zamenhof (Rotterdam, 2007; YF.2013.a.18901), Below: new books about the life of Zamenhof (from France, Poland and Lithuania).

ZamenhofNewbiographis

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Esperanto studies

 

23 December 2016

Christmas in the Trenches 1916: a Mystery Play.

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This year I showed some items from our Low Countries collections  with a Christmas theme at the annual Christmas party for the Patrons of the British Library. I had selected three items, all of them worthy of a blog post, but I decided to pick just one: L’Adoration des Soldats, or ‘The Adoration of the Soldiers’. This year is the hundredth anniversary of its publication. It was not published in the Netherlands, or Flanders, but in London, the residence of its author Émile Cammaerts and place of refuge of its illustrator, Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers.

The Adoration is a nice example of some of the more subtle Allied propaganda during World War I. Cammaerts’ wife, British actress Helen Tita Braun, better known under her stage name of Tita Brands, translated the French text into English. The English text is printed on the left hand pages, the French text on the right hand pages. Margaret B. Calkin wrote the script.

AdorSold00TtlpgP1090297

Title-page of Emile Cammaerts, L’Adoration des soldats = The adoration of the soldiers (London, [1916]). K.T.C.26.b.29.

It was the perfect book for the occasion, because it looks like an illuminated medieval manuscript, so practically guaranteed a warm reception with the public. The text is printed on high quality, thick paper, in black and red ink, in a medieval looking font. The initials are decorated, as are the spaces on lines where the text does not run to the end. It is bound in cream cloth, resembling vellum, with gilt decorations. Just as one would expect of a publisher like The Fine Arts Society

AdorSold01InitialEngP1090287

In the Foreword it says: “The Adoration of the Soldiers is a short mystery play which was suggested to Mons. Cammaerts during a visit which he paid to the Belgian Trenches in Christmas Week.” In what year this visit took place is not mentioned. The story is set in the trenches during Christmas. The main characters are four soldiers: The Believer, The Grumbler, The Jovial One and The Sceptic. They see a rocket being fired which fails to fall down on them, but remains hanging in the air, like a bright burning star. Soon after an old man leading a donkey carrying a young woman appears, as if from nowhere. How they managed to get through enemy lines and how they know the password is a mystery.

AdorSold02JosephMariaP1090291

After some deliberations the soldiers allow the couple to take shelter in their dug-out. All apart from The Believer go to sleep. Soon an angel appears to the soldiers, bringing the happy tidings of Christ’s birth, as on every Christmas. This year He chose to be reborn amongst “…his martyrs and defenders”, of which the angel says: “Let this be to you a token of victory!”.
The story ends with the soldiers adoring the Christ-Child in their dug-out, joined by people from the local village. All sing a local Christmas song.

AdorSold03NoelEngP1090293

 

AdorSold04bMadonnaChildsmallDSCF0807

I have not been able to find evidence of ‘The Adoration’ ever being performed, either in churches or in the trenches. If anyone knows of any such performance, please get in touch.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Low Countries)

11 November 2016

Afire for peace: Henri Barbusse’s Le Feu (1916)

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The family of Henri Barbusse originated from a part of France with a strong radical tradition. He was born in Asnières-sur-Seine in 1873 to an English mother who died when Henri was three years old and a father whose Protestant forebears had lived in the hamlet of Anduze, near Alès, as far back as the 17th century. The Protestants of the Cévennes had suffered repeated persecution, and Adrien Barbusse, a journalist and theatre critic on Le Siècle, was anti-clerical and anti-monarchist by conviction. Not surprisingly, his son grew up to be an atheist, humanist and socialist, who, at the time of the Dreyfus affair, was convinced of the accused’s innocence. Henri wrote articles for La Paix par le Droit supporting international arbitration in place of war, and was also an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto as a means to this end.

Barbusse portrait Lariviere YF.2010.a.19040
Portrait of Henri Barbusse from Eklumo en la abismo (Düsseldorf, 1923; British Library YF.2010.a.19040) a translation into Esperanto of  La Lueur dans l'abîme. (Paris, 1920; 08007.ee.6)

His earliest literary efforts were in poetry rather than political journalism, and in 1892 his entry for a poetry competition launched by L’Echo de Paris attracted the attention of the renowned poet Catulle Mendès, whose daughter Hélyonne he subsequently married. His first collection of poems, Pleureuses (Paris, 1895; reprinted 1920: 011483.c.74) was followed in 1908 by his first novel, L’Enfer (W16/3331), the story of a young bank clerk from the provinces who, bored and lonely in his dingy Paris lodgings, observes his neighbours through a crack in the wall. The sense of pessimism and human isolation which permeates its pages reflects the author’s awareness of the nationalism and militarism with which France was riddled, as destructive as the cancer destroying the body of one of the characters.

How prophetic this insight had been became clear with the outbreak of war in 1914. Although aged 41 and suffering from a lung condition, Barbusse did not hesitate to enlist, and in December 1914 joined the 231st infantry regiment, serving as a stretcher-bearer in the front line. Transferred to Artois, he was twice mentioned in despatches for bravery before dysentery and chest problems caused him to be invalided out into a desk job in 1916. With time to reflect on his experiences, he began work on the book nowadays regarded as his masterpiece – Le Feu.

Barbusse Le feu 12548.tt.32. cover
Cover of Le Feu (Paris, 1916) 12548.tt.32

It was a shrewd move to publish the novel in serial form in L’Oeuvre, for this enabled Barbusse to outwit another enemy: censorship. His raw and outspoken portrayal of life in the trenches was calculated to offend the sensibilities of those who entertained sentimental notions of glorious death on the battlefield, not least by his unsparing use of the ‘gros mots’ employed by the common soldiers – farmhands, shopkeepers, manual labourers – experiencing the monotony, squalor and misery of life under enemy bombardment. With a blend of black humour and clinical precision he describes the coarse jokes and unexpected camaraderie of men all too conscious that at any time they may end up like the muddied, seared and mutilated remnants of humanity whose scattered limbs lie all around them. The first-aid post provides scant relief; the overtaxed doctors, trying to stretch their meagre resources to deal with the carnage confronting them, can do little to treat the horrific injuries of hundreds of casualties.

In Chapter 23, the narrator and his comrades spend a few days on leave in Paris, a completely different world where they encounter pen-pushers, comfortable in reserved occupations, and gushing women with romantic visions of young heroes rushing to die with a smile on their lips. The narrator swiftly realizes that there is little point in trying to convey to them any idea of the true nature of war – the purpose, as it were, of Barbusse’s novel - and the closing pages reveal an army of mud-caked ghosts stumbling about in the devastated landscape, ‘like the Cyranos or Don Quixotes that they still are’, as they acknowledge that they were no more than ‘honest killers. (…) The act of killing is always ignoble – necessary sometimes, but always ignoble’. In the final paragraph, a solitary voice declares, ‘If this present war had advanced progress by a single step, its miseries and massacres will count for little’, as a single ray of light breaks through the storm-clouds, `proof none the less that the sun exists’.

Barbusse portrait Muter 08282.a.40.
Portrait of Barbusse from Lettre aux intellectuels (Rome, 1921; 08282.a.40).

The novel inevitably provoked strong and frequently hostile reactions, but its significance was rapidly recognized, and in December 1916 Barbusse received a letter informing him that it had won the Prix Goncourt. It would pave the way for other outstanding works based on wartime experiences, including Roland Dorgelès’s Les Croix de bois (Paris, 1919; 012547.aa.12) and Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nicht Neues (Berlin, 1929; W13/8499). Barbusse himself became, in 1917, the co-founder of the Association républicaine des anciens combattants (ARAC) and a supporter of the Russian Revolution, making several journeys to the USSR and writing a biography of Stalin (Staline. Un monde nouveau vu à travers un homme: Paris, 1935; 20003.a.24). That same year, he died suddenly, aged 62, on 30 August during a visit to Moscow (some sources claimed that he was poisoned on Stalin’s orders, although his long-standing pulmonary trouble makes the official cause of death – pneumonia – at least plausible). He was also, however, one of the founders of the pacifist Amsterdam-Pleyel movement, and a prominent member of the Front populaire, attracting huge crowds to pay their last respects when, on 7 September 1935, he was buried close to the Mur des Fédérés in the cemetery of Père Lachaise.

Barbusse Le feu 12548.tt.32. dedication
Barbusse’s dedication of Le feu

Le Feu bears a dedication to the memory of Barbusse’s comrades who fell beside him at Crouy and on Hill 119. Within a month of his joining his regiment, around half the men in his unit were killed on the front near Soissons. On Armistice Day, whatever Barbusse’s subsequent political views, it is fitting to remember not only those soldiers and the fallen on both sides but also his testimony to them as a moral witness.

Susan Halstead Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Engagement

20 October 2016

In the service of the children of Serbia 1915-1947

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In 1995 a tiny book of great significance for Anglo-Serbian relations was donated to the British Library. It is a brief account of the life of Florence Maw and a record of her years in Serbia and Yugoslavia from 1915 to 1953. The book was privately printed in London in 1957 and only three copies are recorded in British public collections.

Maw

 Florence Brereton Maw (1876-1953); front cover of Una P. Moffet, Lena A. Yovitchitch, Florence Maw: the chronicle of her lifework in Serbia. (London, 1957). British Library YA.1995.a.26004.

Maw was one among the hundreds of British women who volunteered their services for Serbian people in the First World War. She was a native of Cheshire, from a Quaker family, and during the war served as a member of the London-based Serbian Relief Fund, a charity formed in 1914 to provide humanitarian aid to Serbia.

This biography also sketches a portrait of Jean Rankin, Maw’s lifelong friend and collaborator, who was among the first to go to war-torn Serbia, whose people were in dire need of help. Rankin served as a trained nurse in the Serbian Relief Fund’s first hospital in Skopje in 1914, while Maw served as an orderly in the Fund’s third hospital in Kragujevac in 1915. They assisted soldiers and civilians affected by war and lived through the great typhus epidemic  Maw took part in the gruelling retreat of Serbia in 1915.

Although only a short biography drawing on a few surviving personal records, the book provides an insightful account of the work of the Serbian Relief Fund. Thanks to the generosity of the British people the Fund organised six hospitals for Serbia, looked after 65,000 Serbian prisoners of war, and supported the education of over 300 Serbian children in Britain, among other humanitarian efforts.

After the liberation of Serbia in 1918, the Serbian Relief Fund played a prominent role in bringing relief to the devastated country. Serbia lost over 22% of her pre-war population and up to 250,000 Serbian children were orphaned by the end of the First World War. In the aftermath of the war the Fund worked with the government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to establish modern medical and social institutions primarily for the care of children, disabled war veterans and the sick people.

Funds raised by British children for Serbian orphans during the war were used for the creation and upkeep of an orphanage in the town of Niš in Serbia. In 1919 Maw was put in charge of this orphanage which, in the absence of any suitable housing, was accommodated in a dilapidated former poorhouse.

Maw Serbian orphans (1)Serbian orphans in countryside.  The Home’s annual summer camp was set up in the hamlet of Manastir in Sićevo, 20 kilometres east of Niš. From Florence Maw. 

As the work of the Serbian Relief Fund was ending in 1921, the Committee decided to invest the remaining funds in a purpose-built modern orphanage in Niš. Construction began in 1924 in the grounds of the St. Pantaleon Church, between the village of the same name and the Nišava River, two kilometres from the town centre. Maw closely supervised the building of the orphanage designed by Iulian Diupon, a Russian émigré architect.

Maw OrphangeThe Anglo-Serbian Children’s Home (Englesko-srpski dečiji dom), with British, Serbian and Yugoslav national flags flying. (From Florence Maw).

The Anglo-Serbian Children’s Home was built to accommodate 50 children and about six staff. It had a large open space around it with a garden, an orchard, and a large playground. Its inauguration on 7 November 1926 was a local and national event in the presence of Prince Paul and Princess Olga, government and church officials, British envoys and guests, and Church of England delegates. The Serbian Relief Fund was represented by Mrs Carrington-Wilde, a former president of its subcommittee for the education of Serbian children in Britain, who came from England for the occasion. She continued to visit the Home every two years on behalf of the Serbian Relief Fund estate. The Home was mainly funded by a proportion of the interest earned from the Fund’s final investment, deposited for this purpose in 1921. Other income came from donations from the local authorities, charities and people of Niš.

Maw and Rankin were responsible for the children’s upbringing, with a focus on discipline, practical training and traditional moral values. Children were brought up in the Orthodox tradition and religious holidays were observed according to Serbian and British customs. The children were directed according to their potential or abilities to apprenticeships, the army, engineering, nursing, commerce, teaching, law or religion. Maw was known in Niš and at the Home as “Sister Mother” (сестра-мајка), a term of respect used in Serbia for British nurses in the First World War. She had great authority over the children but never mastered Serbian and addressed her protégés only in English as “my child”.

The book finishes with a chapter on her precarious life under German occupation and the struggle to keep the children safe in the vortex of the Second World War. The Gestapo had taken possession of the Home and by the time the children were allowed to return at the end of 1944 the Home and its estate had been plundered and damaged, and the country was under the control of Yugoslav Partisans.

After the Second World War the communist authorities sought to undermine the Home’s strong link with the Serbian Church and to impose their own ethos and values. These pressures ultimately led to Maw’s and Rankin’s resignations and the handover of the Home to the city of Niš in 1946.

Maw and Rankin decided to retire on modest state pensions to a little cottage in Dubrovnik. In 1951 they made a final visit to Britain before returning to Yugoslavia. Rankin died suddenly in 1952 and only a few months later Maw passed away. Two of Maw’s devoted war orphans were beside her until the end.

Maw Retirement

 The cottage in Dubrovnik where Maw and Rankin lived in retirement from 1947 to 1953 (From Florence Maw).

In 1954 on the initiative of a former member of the staff of the Home, the Serbian Church had a marble plaque made with the following inscription: “To the Glory of God and in memory of Florence Maw and Jean Rankin who devoted their lives to the service of the children of Serbia, 1915-1947.”

Maw Anglo_Serbian Children_s Home 1926-1946

The Home today is a listed building widely known as “The English Home” (Енглески дом). Since 1965 it has been a hall of residence for High School Students. Photograph © Bratislav Arsić, 2016.

In 1953 the British authorities transferred the ownership of the Home to the Yugoslav authorities on two conditions: to serve its original purpose as a home for children, and to set up a Serbian Relief Fund commemorative plaque on a wall of the Home.

Maw Carrington Wilde

A 1938 bust by the sculptor Slavko Miletić of Mrs Carrington Wilde in front of the Home.The Serbian inscription reads “A great friend of the Serbian people.” The bust was removed from the courtyard in 1948 but reinstated in 2004.
Photograph © Bratislav Arsić, 2016.

The Anglo-Serbian Children’s Home is a lasting memorial to the work of the Serbian Relief Fund. It represents the outstanding achievement of a band of truly exceptional people who made a difference in the First World War. Its archives were destroyed in the Second World War, but we can assume that several hundred orphaned children were brought up by this institution from 1919 to 1946.

The Home will celebrate its 90th anniversary on the present site on 7 November 2016.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator Southeast European Collections

Further reading:

Francesca M. Wilson, Portraits and Sketches of Serbia. (London, 1920). 012350.f.15.

Simon Milčić. Engleski dom, kuća nade i ljubavi : svim domcima ma gde bili. (Niš, 2009).

Aleksandar Rastović, Marija Ranđelović. English-Serbian Children’s Home: 1926-2011. (Niš, 2014).

 

 

22 August 2016

The First World War, Ukraine, and the Birth of Independence?

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In 1914, when the First World War broke out, the Ukrainian lands were split between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. Ukrainian soldiers fought on both sides of the conflict; 4,500,000 Ukrainians fought in the Russian armies and 250,000-300,000 in the Austro-Hungarian armies.

In August 1914, while the global conflict was beginning to take shape, a small group of political exiles from the Russian-ruled area of Ukraine, who were living in Vienna, began an independence movement. It was founded on 4 August 1914 by six men who called themselves the ‘Union for the Liberation of Ukraine’ (Soiuz Vyzvolennia Ukrainy): Oleksander Skoropys-Yoltukhovsky, Marian Melenevsky, Andrii Zhuk, Volodymyr Doroshenko, Dmytro Dontsov and Mykola Zalizniak.

The Union’s first attempt to reach out to the West is held in a collection of printed ephemera at the British Library. The four page leaflet is entitled ‘To the Public Opinion of Europe’ and details their views on the need for Ukraine to be liberated from the rule of both the Russian and Austro-Hungarian governments.

To the public opinion 1

 D. Donzow [et al.] To the public opinion of Europe: on behalf of the ‘Bond for the Freeing of Ukraine’. ([Vienna], 1914). British Library Tab.11748.aa.4.(15).)

To the public opinipn 2

The leaflet was dated 25 August 1914 and it appears that the Union began to distribute them immediately. The New York Times commented on this, saying:

The Ruthenian inhabitants of Galicia, one-half the population of the country, founded a League for the Release of Ukraine and flooded Europe from the 25th of August with notifications and descriptions hostile to Russia.

In actual fact this report is a little misleading, there were not very many employees of the Union (only 42) and it was not particularly well supported by the public. What it does indicate is that the Union, and its publication, reached the ears of far-flung America.

Although this foray into printing was successful, their next attempt, a manifesto that was to be signed by the rulers of both Germany and Austro-Hungary was rejected by both countries, and the half a million pre-printed copies they had made to distribute among the public had to be destroyed. Neither Germany nor Austro-Hungary wanted to support an independent Ukraine openly, at the risk of making the political situation with Russia worse. Although the countries would not sign the manifesto, both sent the Union money to help spread the message about an independent Ukraine. After this failure to be officially recognised by the two countries, the Union moved to Berlin, and the members limited themselves to printing propaganda leaflets and distributing them along the Eastern Front. The Union had offices in neutral Switzerland, as well as Romania, Sweden, Norway, Britain and the United States, to help pass along information about their cause.

Znachinnie samostiinoi 8095.ff.86Title page of Oleksander Skoropys-Ioltukhovskyi, Znachinnie samostiinoi Ukrainy dlia ievropeiskoi rivnovahy [The Importance of independent Ukraine for European stability]  (Vienna, 1916). 8095.ff.86.

In 1915 the Union began to fight for the rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Originally these prisoners were detained with people from other countries, but the Union fought for separate, Ukrainian, camps. These Ukrainian prisoner of war camps were established, and captured soldiers could choose whether they wanted to move into these special camps with their countrymen. The Union went around the camps delivering citizenship classes, in order to try and win sceptical soldiers over to support for an independent Ukraine.

Ukrainian League songs
From: Sim pisen’. Hostynets dlia ukrainskykh voiakiv vid “Soiuza vyzvolennia Ukrainy [‘Seven Songs. A Present for Ukrainian soldiers from Union of Liberation of Ukraine’], with the stamp of the Union on the left-hand page (Vienna, 1915) 011586.aaa.10

But in March 1917 the Ukrainian Revolution began. It was begun in Ukraine, by people who lived there, and the Union (still in Berlin) had no connection to the revolution. In actuality the Union had little, if any, connections in Ukraine during the years 1914-1917. Despite the Union fostering national pride among prisoners of war, and gaining some (financial) recognition from the Austrian and German governments, the revolution has overshadowed their efforts, and they have largely been forgotten in the history of Ukrainian independence.

Ann-Marie Foster, PhD Placement Student in the British Library

Further reading:


Oleh S. Fedyshyn, Germany’s Drive to the East and the Ukrainian Revolution, 1917-1918 (New Jersey, 1971) X.800/7830.

Georg Brandes, “Fate of the Jews in Poland” (From The Day, Nov 29, 1914) in The New York Times Current History: the European War, February, 1915, by Various. ([New York], 1915). PP.4048.bd. (Available online via Project Gutenberg)

Ivan Pater, Soiuz vyzvolennia Ukraïny: problemy derzhavnosti i sobornosti.  (Lʹviv, 2000). YA.2002.a.27084

Soiuz vyzvolennia Ukraïny 1914-1918 Videnʹ (New York, 1979). YA.1987.a.2971

Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history.  (Toronto, 1994).  95/11578

Ann-Marie Foster is a PhD placement student at the British Library cataloguing the First World War Ephemera collection. Her research examines the ways in which families used ephemera and memorial objects to remember loved ones who died during war or in a disaster.

07 March 2016

A British Woman Soldier in First World War Serbia: Flora Sandes

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Among the many accounts written by foreigners who witnessed Serbia’s stoic retreat in 1915 were quite a number by women. Most of them were there in some medical capacity, including Cora Josephine “Jo” Gordon, who arrived in Serbia as an assistant to a Red Cross unit, along with her husband. In their “day jobs”, they were actually artists. Jo Gordon seems to have been tomboyish and highly resourceful. She learned Serbian quickly, outwitted exploitative inn owners during their hard journey to the coast, visited the frontline, and washed her adventures down with large shots of Rakiya.

Flora Sandes followed a course that was more unusual again. Having first served as a nurse, she joined the Serbian Army for her own safety during the retreat, and became the only British woman officially enlisted as a soldier in the First World War. (Russian, Serbian and [Austro-Hungarian] Ukrainian women also served, on different sides of the conflict). Flora’s own book is An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army, written in 1916 to rally support for the small country.

Flora_Sandes_in_uniform
Flora Sandes in Serbian Army Uniform (image from Wikimedia Commons)

When the retreat across the mountains began, Flora was as fussy as anyone from her well-heeled background, and must have been quite alarming. In her memoir, she recounts that she threw the furniture out of a scruffy hotel room and set about scrubbing the floor before erecting her own camp-bed. Later, she would distance herself from the male soldiers when they camped in the open air, relenting finally when she realised that her doing so constituted a security risk, as an ambush party might spot her.

Flora Sandes, wedding
Flora Sandes (top left), attending a traditional Serbian wedding. Photograph from her second book The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier (London, 1927) 9084.df.40

Following an injury incurred in combat in 1916, Sandes returned to medical work, but was not officially demobilised until 1922. She went on to marry a Russian émigré, Yuri Yudenitch, and the pair lived in France and then in Belgrade – where many White Russian exiles found sanctuary after the Revolution – until the Second World War. In German-occupied Belgrade, her husband died of a heart condition, and Flora spent almost three years living in poverty. After the liberation of the city, she returned to the UK, still a forceful character who chain-smoked and ploughed her own furrow.

Flora Sandes, Belgrade
Flora Sandes as a Lieutenant of the Serbian Army in Belgrade. Frontispiece from The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier

She spent her final years living near her family in Rhodesia and Surrey, and died in 1956 at the age of 82 after making a final visit to Serbia for a reunion of her old comrades of 1915. In addition to her two autobiographies (one now translated into Serbian), she is the subject of two full biographies and a Radio 4 documentary from 1971, which can be found and listened to among the Library’s sound recordings.

Flora Sandes stamp

In commemoration of the war’s centenary, Serbia Post and the British Embassy in Belgrade have recently issued a set of six  stamps featuring British women who worked in Serbia between 1914 and 1918. A set has been donated to the Library, as Milan Grba explained in a recent blog post. Flora Sandes (right) is among the women honoured, a redoubtable pioneer of equality alongside those whose medical and humanitarian work did so much to gain recognition for women in fields once reserved for men.

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

References/further reading

Jan and Cora Gordon, The Luck of Thirteen: wanderings and flight through Montenegro and Serbia (London, 1916) 9083.ff.3

Alan Burgess, The lovely sergeant: the life of Flora Sandes. (London, 1965). X.639/721

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes (Richmond, 2012) YC.2013.a.2462

Flora Sandes, An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army (London, 1916) 09082.aa.25. (Serbian translation by Spiro Radojčić, Engleskinja u srpskoj vojsci Flora Sandes (New York, 1995). YF.2005.a.27142)

 

14 February 2016

Serbia celebrates British heroines of the First World War

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The British Library has gratefully received a donation of a set of postage stamps which commemorate the role played by British female doctors, nurses and humanitarian aid volunteers in Serbia during the First World War.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia
The Serbian Mail  issued the commemorative stamps last December in partnership with the British Embassy in Belgrade which donated a set to the British Library. BBC Scotland recently reported on this initiative, while the British Embassy in Belgrade dedicated a Facebook page  to the commemoration of the First World War events in Serbia.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_2
 The stamps tell the story of the British women who arrived to Serbia to assist the wounded and sick in war. They came individually or as part of two organisations which were set up in Britain at the beginning of the war to assist the allied countries in wartime. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals was founded by the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Edinburgh through the efforts of Elsie Inglis, and the Serbian Relief Fund was founded in London by the journalist Bertram Christian, among other British experts on the Balkans.

 British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_4Stamps showing Flora Sandes (left) and Katherine MacPhail (right). Sandes (1876-1956) was officially recruited to the Serbian Army in 1915 and promoted to Sergeant in 1916. She was the only British woman in active military service in the First World War and the only female officer in the Serbian Army. MacPhail (1997-1974) worked at the Military Hospital in Belgrade during the First World War. After the war she remained in Serbia where she founded the country’s first children’s hospital in 1921.

The collection of postage stamps is accompanied by biographical details of six British women, four of whom were members of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, a voluntary organisation staffed entirely by women. The portraits of the women, together with the images, present instances of their work in Serbia and on the Salonika front.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_6
Stamps showing Isabel Hutton (left) and Elsie Inglis (right). Hutton (1887-1960) worked on the Salonika Front, transferring to Vranje in 1918 where she treated victims of the typhus and Spanish flu epidemics and, in 1919, helped to found a civilian hospital. Inglis (1860-1917) was the founder of Scottish Women’s Hospitals and established the first war hospital in Serbia. She refused to leave the hospital when the Serbian Army was forced to retreat, and was imprisoned and later repatriated.

The Serbian Mail issued the commemorative postage stamps in Serbian Cyrillic and Latin scripts in parallel English translation with captions in German and French.

The Serbian army and civilians suffered terribly from the war, cold, hunger and infectious diseases. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the Serbian Relief Fund medical units were among the first to arrive to Serbia to attend and nurse the sick and wounded. They also, together with their Serbian colleagues, doctors and hospital orderlies, gave their lives in the service of others and were among the early victims of war and disease in Serbia.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_8
Stamps showing Evelina Haverfield (left) and Elizabeth Ross (right). Haverfield (1867-1920) came to Serbia in 1915. Like Elsie Inglis, she was imprisoned and repatriated after the retreat of the Serbian Army but continued to work organising the Serbian Relief fund and later helped to establish soup kitchens on the Salonika Front. After the war she opened a home for war orphans in Bajina Bašta. (On Elizabeth Ross, see below.)

Elizabeth Ross, who came to Serbia from Persia where she had been working as a doctor, died in the Serbian typhus epidemic of February 1915. Dimitrije Antić, the director of the hospital where Dr Ross worked, left this account of her:

It is my duty, and the place is right, to mention with great respect the name of a foreign colleague from Scotland, Miss Elizabeth Ross, who came to help as a volunteer in the most difficult moments for my hospital. She tirelessly treated soldiers sick with typhus, fearless for her life, day and night. Everyone around her was falling down with typhus; she saw that very well and she was aware that the same destiny awaited her; but, despite my appeals and warnings to look after herself, she heroically performed her grave and noble duty till the end. Unfortunately, the inevitable came quickly: Miss Ross contracted typhus. She was even more courageous in sickness: severely ill, she lay quietly in her bed in a very modest hospital ward. Her only complaint was that she couldn’t provide medical assistance any longer to our sick soldiers! Indeed, one of the rare shining examples of medical sacrifice. She is buried in Kragujevac town cemetery.

Upon hearing the news of her death in Serbia, the residents of her home town of Tain in Scotland raised funds for the memorial ‘Dr Elizabeth Ross Bed’ at the Kragujevac Military Hospital where she served, and for surgical and medical needs in Serbia. The Serbian daily Samouprava informed its readers how Dr Ross managed six wards in the hospital without nurses, relying solely on the help of hospital orderlies. “There was no wood for cooking or for heating, something was always missing; one day there was no bread,another there were no eggs or milk and so on.” On the day of her funeral service all local stores were closed and large numbers of the people of Kragujevac came out to pay their respects.

The tradition of respect has been kept alive to the present day. Each year on 14 February at noon Kragujevac remembers Dr Elizabeth Ross.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South Eastern European Collections

References/further reading:

A History of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. Edited by Eva Shaw McLaren. (London, 1919). 9082.bbb.32.

Elisabeth Macbean Ross, A Lady Doctor in Bakhtiari Land. Edited by Janet N. MacBean Ross. (London, 1921). 010076.de.28

D. Antić, ‘Pegavi tifus u kragujevačkoj i rezervnoj vojnoj bolnici 1914-15’. In Vladimir Stanojević, ed., Istorija srpskog vojnog saniteta (Belgrade, 1925). YF.2011.a.22007.

Želimir Dj. Mikić, Ever yours sincerely: the life and work of Dr Katherine S. MacPhail. (Cambridge, 2007). YK.2008.b.4740. Serbian original: Uvek vaša: život i delo dr Ketrin Makfejl. (Novi Sad, 1998). YF.2015.a.24057.

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes. (Richmond, 2012). YC.2013.a.2462.

Ž. Mikić, A. Lešić, ‘Dr Elizabeta Ros – heroina i žrtva Prvog svetskog rata u Srbiji’. Srpski arhiv za celokupno lekarstvo, 2012, vol. 140, 7/8, pp. 537-542. Available via SCIndeks

 

06 January 2016

Indefatigable Pioneer, Zealous Propagandist, Organizer, Financier, Leader

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 The title of my blog is taken from ‘An Appreciation’ for an extraordinary Englishman, published for his funeral in the winter of 1916. Captain Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, born in January 1880, was accidentally killed in France “while on active service” on January 6, 1916.

MudieAppreciationBetterVersionDSC_0076
 “H.B.M”. An Appeciation. (Letchworth, 1916). 010854.de.56

The carefully-prepared Appreciation is published in two languages, English and Esperanto, which reflects how important they both were in Mudie’s life. English was his mother tongue in which he received a good education; he used it working as a successful financier. At the age of 22 he discovered another language, Esperanto, and fell in love with it. Soon he became an ardent advocate for the promotion of Esperanto worldwide. In November 1903 he founded the gazette The Esperantist with a financial guarantee from William Thomas Stead. Fourteen issues were published; all of them are now available in Project Gutenberg. W.T. Stead’s editorial, which opens the first issue in 1903, is worth reading. The spirit of the pioneering period of the Esperanto movement, full of hope and belief that the solution for the multilingual diversity of humankind was finally found, is alive there.

MuddieThe EsperantistDSC_0075CROPPED
   The Esperantist Issue 1 1903 (British Library P.P.4939.k.)

In January 1906 The Esperantist united with The British Esperantist, published by the Esperanto Association of Britain. Mudie joined its editorial committee, and took part in the first Esperanto congress in 1905.

TheBritishEsperantistIMG_20160104_103543Cropped
The British Esperantist Issue 1 1905 (P.P.4939.ka)

Then in 1907 Mudie himself became one of three legendary Esperantists (together with John Pollen and George Cunningham) who organized the very memorable Third World Esperanto congress in Cambridge. La Kongresa Libro (012902.eee.22) is one of the most interesting in the history of the Esperanto movement. It includes not only a lovely description of Cambridge and its wonderful colleges, and a translation of ‘God save the Queen’ but gives also menus and advertisements, including ones for whisky and cigarettes called ‘Esperanto’!

MudieViskioEsperantoDSC_0077
 Viski Esperanto from La Tria Universala Kongreso de Esperanto. Kongresa Libro. (London, 1907). 012902.eee.22

MUDIELATRIOPORLATRIAla_tri02

Postcard  La Trio por la Tria (from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1903 Mudie was among the founders of the London Esperanto Club. In 1908 he became the first president of the newly-founded World Esperanto Association. A good linguist and an excellent orator, he was also a member of the Lingva Komitato, the precursor of the current Akademio de Esperanto. Alongside these numerous activities he found time to translate from Latin. The British Library holds his translation of Swedenborg, La dogmaro pri la vivo por la Nova Jerusalemo (London, 1908; 3716.de.19), published by the Swedenborg Society.

Even during his holidays he used Esperanto a lot. A very interesting report in two languages is published in The Esperantist vol. 2, nr 6 for 1905 entitled Mia libertempo:

But, for my present readers, it is not well that I should describe this city, but better that I should hasten to beautiful Malta, the fruitful island whose past history has been so bloody and full of interest. Even ere the ship had come to a standstill in the harbour I recognised our energetic comrades, Dr. Busuttil and Messrs. Agius and Dominic Chiantar. These three devoted friends kindly drove me over the beautiful surroundings, and took me into the luxurious hall of the Knights of St. John of olden time, and into various churches. Will they kindly accept my renewed thanks! And ever the same language, intelligible without difficulty! But it was not in Malta that I terminated my Esperantic wanderings, for, after a broiling visit to the interesting Syracuse, I found in Palermo the genial Dr. Nalli, Secretary of the Sicilian Society. He kindly devoted a whole day to me, and proved that he who has not visited Palermo has missed a city of many charms. There also I enjoyed an excellent lunch à la Palermo, while my fellow tourists lost more than two hours waiting in vain at a French hotel.

“As A Leader – noble and large-hearted – he commanded the respect of all his colleagues, who will greatly miss his capacity and calm judgement” (from ‘Appreciation’). Harold Bolingbroke Mudie is buried in the cemetery of Forges-les-Eaux . To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, French and British Esperantists are gathering today at his grave in this small town in Normandy. This blog is my poppy laid on his tomb.

Robert-Mudie1912KarikaturoCROPPED
Bolingbroke Mudie. Caricature from 1912 (From Wikimedia Commons)

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto studies