The Great War - on the road to Czech independence
Most people, especially the younger generations, do not know much about the “Great War” (World War I – 1914-1918). It often is comprised into a few sentences.
1n June 1914, Hapsburg crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in the Serbian capital Sarajevo. This started World War I. When it finished in 1918, the “Great War” had cost over 15 million lives, with another 20 million military personnel mentioned as wounded or missing. After the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was split up and several states regained or obtained independence, including Czechoslovakia.
The one other fact most people remember is the trench warfare on the Western Front, from western Belgium to Verdun in France.However, the history is much wider, and it is important even – or especially – a century later to preserve and remember that heritage. The links and similarities with contemporary conflicts is large. In the Austrian-Italian mountains, the “forgotten front” (Isonzo front) claimed as many dead, missing and wounded as the trench warfare on the Western Front, Verdun. Today, mountain ranges still show rock trenches and simple bunkers. In the midst of bitter cold winters, soldiers of the Central and Allied forces faced off for several years, with little gains on either side. Food for humans and transport animals had to be hauled up onto steep hills. Burying fallen comrades or hauling wounded to the back was a near to impossible task.
As a war diary mentioned it:
the Italians attacked us during day with mortars and riffle charges, during the night we tried to repair the barbed wire and trenches protecting us. This time, we had to beat them back with bayonets. We lost five men today, the Italians about double.
The Great War has a special importance in Czech village life and for our museum. In 1848, the failed revolution started the demise of the Habsburg Empire by abolishing serfdom and granting the villagers much more freedom. The war brought much harships also to the local villagers who were pressed for raw materials and food for the soldiers at the front, and had to cope with refugees and POWs as well. However, the end of the war also brought the independence of the Chechoslovak State on October 28, 1918.
Statue by Jan Kojan for soldiers from Kojakovice fallen abroad during WW I
As with our other exhibitions, we pay no attention to the main events or high rankning people. We try to show the life of the villagers during the war and of the soldiers at the front from a personal view. The only exception is Archduke Franz Ferdiand, due to a direct link with our region. He and his family were at their summer residence in nearby Chlum u Trebone when Franz Ferdinand and Sophia left for Sarajevo. Their children stayed here. Later, his assasin, Gavrilo Princip, was intered in Terezin Fortress, where he died of tuberculosis on April 28, 1918.
Most Czech villages have small monuments commemorating the fallen. What most people do not know, is that all of these soldiers were killed far away from home; on Czech soil, no fighting took place! Some even died in POW camps in Sicily, Italy, far away from any front.
As part of a Student Exchange for the NETWORLD project, Czech blacksmith apprentices forged commemoration poppies, that were placed at the renovated monument for Czechoslovak soldiers fallen at Mnt Mrzli Vrh, Slovenia.
The exhibition is also part of an ongoing effort to link the names of soldiers fallen as mentioned on the monuments to the events and places of their deaths. This way, we can help place the events in a wider context and show people from the region where their loved onse fought and died.
More details about the Great War and our project can be found at our website The Forgotten Front.