Intimate Voices From the First World War

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2004-12-13
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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The story of World War I is brought to life through the gripping personal narratives of those at the center of the storm. World War I was waged by young people from twenty-eight countries in an era without the advantages of military "embeds," satellite phones, and streaming media coverage. Intimate Voices from the First World War fills in the gaps in the history of the world's first global confrontation with excerpts from recently uncovered letters and diaries of those on the front lines and their friends at home. In their reflections on the vastness of the enterprise of war, these combatants, victims, and eyewitnesses re-create the scope of the conflict with immediacy and tenderness. Written with the frankness and intimacy of words not intended for public eyes -- full of private passions, prejudices, humor, and vivid insights -- these communique s speak to us directly from within the war itself and from all sides of the conflict. These marvelous historical narratives not only immerse readers in an,ongoing dialogue about the meaning of human conflict but also serve as reminders of the individual perspectives and beliefs that sometimes get overlooked during times of global strife.

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Foreword ix
Professor Hew Strachan
Preface xiii
The First Shots 28th June--30th July 1914
Setting off to the Front August 1914--January 1915
Children at War August 1914--September 1915
The Siege of Przemysl October 1914--June 1915
The Eastern Front January--December 1915
Gallipoli April--December 1915
A Vertical War May--August 1915
In the Bush November 1914--October 1916
The Somme and Verdun May 1916--April 1917
Empires at War 1914--1917
The War at Sea September 1914--December 1917
In Captivity June 1916--August 1918
The Brown Shirt and the Red Commissar March 1916--March 1918
The Final Push December 1917--August 1918
Victory and Defeat October 1918--March 1919
Postscript 365(11)
A Note on the Sources 376


Intimate Voices from the First World War

Chapter One

The First Shots

28th June-30th July 1914

On 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated during a state visit to Sarajevo, capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The fatal shots were fired by nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb who wanted Bosnian unification with Serbia and independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Ferdinand, as a member of the ruling Habsburg family, was a symbol of that ancient, multi-national empire and the repression of its minorities. Unknown to his assassin the archduke, who was an advocate of political reform, had recently given an after-dinner toast: 'To peace! What would we get out of war with Serbia? We'd lose the lives of young men and we'd spend money better used elsewhere. And what would we gain, for heaven's sake? A few plum trees, some pastures full of goat droppings, and a bunch of rebellious killers.'

Now he was dead. The Austrian army's Chief of the General Staff thought differently about a war with Serbia. On 23rd July, Vienna will issue an ultimatum with demands unlikely to be met in Belgrade. Five days later Austro-Hungarian troops will invade with the backing of Germany. Two Balkan wars had gripped this unstable region in the early twentieth century. But this time what could have been the third Balkan War will become a world war.

The youngest of the assassins involved in the plot to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand left an account of his role in the assassination. Seventeen -year-old Vaso Cubrilovic, a Bosnian Serb from Basanska Gradiska, was educated in the Bosnian town of Tuzla, then part Of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Habsburgs had only recently wrested control of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled large parts of the Balkans for four hundred years. While Bosnia exchanged one imperial rule for another, for over three decades neighbouring Serbia had been an independent kingdom. The very existence of Serbia inspired many still living under foreign rule to hope for independence. This, in turn, threatened the stability of the Habsburgs who ruled an empire of at least ten different nationalities, any one of which could have attempted to follow Serbia's example. Like his fellow assassin Gavrilo Princip, Vaso Cubrilovic was a member of Young Bosnia, an underground organisation with one main aspiration: the creation of a southern Slav state, Yugoslavia, which would unite Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, be they Orthodox, Catholic or Muslim, in a new state free from both Ottoman and Habsburg influence.

Vaso Cubrilovic is spared execution for his part in the plot, as he is under twenty. In a letter to his sisters, Vida and Staka, written while serving a sixteen-year sentence in prison, he explains how he came to participate in one of the world's most notorious assassinations.

Zenica Prison, 1918

I shall write as much as I can remember about the assassination. I first thought of it in October 1913 in Tuzla, incensed by the fights we had with our teachers, the mistreatment of Serbian students, and the general situation in Bosnia. I thought I'd rather kill the one person who'd really harmed our people than fight in another war for Serbia. All I'd achieve in a war is to kill a couple of innocent soldiers, while these gentlemen who were responsible for it would never come anywhere near the war itself.

In January 1914 I was expelled from high school in Tuzla. I wavered for a while, unsure whether to escape to Serbia or come to you in Sarajevo. Finally, I decided to come to you. It was while staying with you in Sarajevo that I was introduced to various students, mainly to those who felt the same way as I did.

And then came April. I remember clearly reading in Srpska Rec [Serbian Word] and in Pobratimstvo [Fraternity] that Ferdinand was coming to Sarajevo. I immediately began thinking about an assassination. With all the anti-Austrian feelings at college, I was convinced that someone else must be planning it too. I knew that Lazar Djukic had gone to jail in 1910 for his role in a similar plot against the emperor. He was bound to know if anyone was plotting, and I decided to find out. I would join them, or at the very least persuade Djukic to hide the weapons I planned to obtain in Tuzla. While we were out walking one day he was telling me about the emperor's visit in 1909. I casually remarked that now Ferdinand was coming. 'Yes,' answered Djukic.

I said, 'We ought to welcome him.' That was our code for assassination.

'Ahem, yes, if we can find the people to do it,' he said.

'The people are there, but they've nothing to do it with.'

'Weapons can always be found, if people really want them,' he responded.

Up until now our exchange seemed light-hearted, but at this point it got serious. I told him I was willing to do it and that my mind was made up. I just couldn't find the weapons.

Djukic introduced me to Danilo Ilic. He would also get me two bombs, a gun and some cyanide. All that Ilic told me was that there would be three others, apart from us three, and that Serbian officers were supplying the weapons. I asked if the Serbian government knew about it. He said no, in Serbia everything was being done in secret. We didn't talk about it any more.

We worried that the Sarajevan police might decide to remove us all from the city [during Ferdinand's visit]. Besides, I wanted to leave you before the assassination, to avoid causing you problems. This is why I kept nagging Staka to let me leave before the exam results came out ...

Intimate Voices from the First World War. Copyright © by Svetlana Palmer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Intimate Voices from the First World War by Svetlana Palmer, Sarah Wallis
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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