Remembering Sarajevo

Following on from our blog last week, this week we are continuing to look back at the commemorations of the Great War.

Saturday 28th June marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, by the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb national Gavrilo Princip.

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand's car was driving across in 1914

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand’s car was driving across in 1914

Over the years the assassination has been widely overlooked as focus has been placed mainly on the battles and horrors the combatants suffered through. However the importance of Princip’s actions should not be glossed over. There has been much written about the consequences of those bullets that killed Franz Ferdinand have had, to the point that even many conflicts today and most conflicts throughout the 20th Century can be traced back to that fateful day in 1914.

The plaque on the street corner of Sarajevo where Princip fired his gun from

In Sarajevo there is a plaque on the street corner where Princip pulled his revolver and fired into the Archduke’s car and a small museum dedicated to the 28th June 1914. There are planned commemorations as well as Sarajevo remembers being the centre of the European Political Universe on that fateful day.

In Vienna, the Heeresgeschitliches Museum or military history museum has a whole room dedicated to the assassination called the Sarajevo Room. Amazingly as we approach the 100th anniversary the WWI and Sarajevo exhibitions are currently closed, they are not due to open until the 29th of June, the day after the assassination. According to the front desk the exhibitions were in an urgent need for repair!

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna's Military Museum

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna’s Military Museum

The Military museum is one of Vienna’s least visited, as tourists tend to flock to the palace of Schonbrunn, the Belvedere or the Fine Arts Museum. Even for those not interested in Austria’s military involvement throughout the ages the museum is worth a visit for the amazing architecture.

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

Originally built as an Arsenal to house weaponry for the defence of the city, some of the rooms resemble more of a palace than an armoury. They even hold classical music recitals in the main hall room on the first floor.

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

When the WWI exhibition reopens on the 29th of June the showpiece will surely be the room dedicated to the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Situated in the room is the car the Archduke was riding in during his visit to Sarajevo as well as his blood stained tunic he was wearing that day. The room details the lead up to events, black and white photos including the last photos taken of Franz Ferdinand before he was killed and also photos of the would be assassin, Gavrilo Princip. Amazingly the most famous photo of Princip is not even Princip himself, it is of an innocent-bystander grabbed off the streets a man called Ferdinand Behr!

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The museum also has a fantastic collection relating to the 30 years’ war that decimated much of Central Europe in the 1600’s and a vast collection of weapons plundered from the retreating Ottoman Turks after the Siege of Vienna.

For anyone who has a keen interest in Military history and particularly WWI history the Heeresgeschitliches Museum should be high on your list of things to visit in Vienna, even if to stand and stare at Ferdinand’s car and tunic and think what if…

– Dean

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A Glimmer of Hope in Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row…

– John McCrae

This year marks the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, the war to end all wars.

Sadly the Great War was not the conclusion of hostilities but rather the beginning of one of, if not the bloodiest centuries in World History.

The next four years will see major battles remembered, historical debates reignite, blame and finger-pointing intensify, because for many countries WWI was a defining point in their history.

Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders are all spoken with a deep-seated respect and reverence as thousands laid down their lives, often in appalling conditions fighting a war that no one could comprehend but felt compelled to participate in.

The battles in Flanders were some of the worst, soldiers fighting in waist deep mud and freezing conditions during the winters of 1915-1917.

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

However during this dark time, a ray of light, a glimmer of hope sprang from the small town of Poperinge. The village is situated about 12 km from the town of Ypres, today know as Iper and during the war as ‘Wipers’ by the Commonwealth forces.

The front facade of Talbot House

The front facade of Talbot House

This glimmer of hope was called Talbot House. Talbot house was founded as a ‘every mans’ club by army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It was set up without discrimination of rank as a respite from the horrors of war. Men could shower and sleep in a clean bed often for the first time in months. Even if only for a short time, Talbot house was designed to allow men to forget the war and atrocities associated it, like Tubby Clayton said, it was “An Oasis in a World gone mad”.

 

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Now days Talbot House is not only a museum but also a guest house with nine rooms in the original building and three rooms in the garden block. Staying at Talbot House truly gives you a very unique experience and a historical link to your Battlefields visit. The staff are very friendly and incredibly knowledgable and more than happy to sit down with you and help you plan your visit to the surrounding sites. Their hints, tips and advice all designed to ensure you get the most from your visit of the region, and it certainly helps getting some insider knowledge of out of the way places, monuments and cemeteries.

Talbot House is a great base to explore the region. From Poperinge you can easily visit the Tyne Cot Cemetary, largest in the region, or the Canadian Memorial commemorating the first use of mustard gas. Not far from Poperinge are some intact German trenches where Adolf Hitler served and was almost captured by Canadian troops and numerous other cemeteries and monuments.

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

Most convenient of all is the proximity to Iper which houses the stunning In Flanders Fields Museum and the famous Menin Gate. No visit to the region is complete without attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. At around 8:00pm every evening the Last Post has been played uninterrupted, (except during the Second World War) since 1928 and is an absolute must if in the area.

The Menin Gate in Iper with 54,896 missing soldiers names engraved on it

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

The next four years will be a sombre time for reflection and remembrance for the thousands of lives lost many of which perished in the mud of Flanders Fields. However while it is important to remember the tragedy that was the Great War, we should also remember men like Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton and celebrate what they did to help alleviate the suffering of those weary soldiers. By basing yourself in Talbot House you are honouring their efforts, in a special way you are remembering those who fought and most importantly, you are keeping this amazing piece of history alive.

– Dean

“In all my experience I have never known a place so vital to morale as Talbot House”

– General Sir Herbert Plumer, 1928