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Plucky Little...Serbia?


aiwac

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What was the attitude of the average British soldier towards the country that indirectly started the whole conflagration? Negative the whole way through? Sympathetic after its occupation?

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I've no idea what the attitude of the 'average British soldier' (if such a person ever existed) was but in July 1914 Horatio Bottomley writing in an editorial in John Bull famously wrote, and is frequently quoted, 'To Hell with Servia', going on to say., 'Servia must be wiped out. Let Servia be removed from the map of Europe'. What prompted this response and is less often quoted is the article published on July 11th headlined 'The Murdered Archduke. Complicity of the Servian Government. Our Astounding Revelation' which caused a diplomatic furore across Europe and an envoy of the Serbian Government attempted to pay Bottomley off to cease his campaign.

John Bull was a populist and popular publication, and Bottomley even put his message on posters on buses. His campaign must have influenced popular opinion.

On July 30 the Liberal Daily News declared, 'We must not have our Western civilisation submerged in a sea of blood in order to wash out a Servian conspiracy'.

In a pamphlet published by OUP in 1915 Nevill Forbes wrote, "At the outbreak of this war one often heard the question, 'What have we to do with Serbia?' and to such a question it

could until the end of July 1914 with a considerable amount of truth have been answered, 'Nothing.'"

I doubt a 1916 conscript gave it much thought.

Ken

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Given some of the things going on in 1913 including ethnic cleansing etc (depressingly familiar) one is not surprised at some hostilty.

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Serbia had escaped from Ottoman clutches and had not desire to fall into the Aurto-Hungarian ones. Seems very reasonable to me. Off course the causes of the war were a lot more complex than Serbia.

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nigelfe,

"Off course the causes of the war were a lot more complex than Serbia"

Of course. It's just that Serbia was (one of) the proverbial spark(s), so I was curious on the subject.

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I have no idea of the answer, but a relevant question might be, how many regular soldiers could point out the location of Serbia on a world map? My impression is that most people, including soldiers, were prepared to go to war with Germany after the invasion of Belgium but had little interest in what went on in the Balkans.

Old Tom

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In his book 'The Last Great War' Adrian Gregory warns that generalisations about public attitudes are difficult to make but suggests that there was 'a widespread sentiment of sympathy for France and a sense of moral obligation. At the same time there was a prevalent dislike of Russia and a downright contempt for Serbia'.

However this again is at the start of the war and I doubt the average soldier gave Serbia a thought come 1916

David

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I agree about generalisations, but how does Adrian Gregory come to that conclusion?

Let's not forget that Britons had long supported the small states of south-eastern Europe who had been under the Ottiman yoke for centuries. I remember an Italian lady telling me that as a child her class had been told about Lord Byron fighting for the Greeks, so becoming a hero in Greece and Italy. A century later, Joyce Cary would volunteer to serve as a medical orderly during the Balkan Wars, and as soon as the Great War broke out, many Britons, men and women, volunteered to help beleagured Serbia.

Perhaps the man in the street didn't think give much thought to faraway Serbia, probably because they could not comprehend the in-fighting and fractured nature of the region, but the average Briton usually supports the underdog. Having been subjected to Ottoman rule, then bullying from Vienna and Berlin, it is hard to think Britons' sympathies were elsewhere; and those with the time, money and inclination were soon booking passages to offer practical help.

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That might have been true before mid-1914, Seb, but I very much doubt if that was still true after that. The assassination would have been in all the newspapers, with maps, and the subsequent maneuverings between Serbia and Austria-Hungary must have made people nervous since there was a line of dominoes in place that, if they toppled, would inevitably lead to a widespread European war. While there may not have been the same sympathy for Serbia as there was for Belgium, I think most people would have been aware of events in the Balkans. When you add in that, in the previous three years or so, there had been the war of liberation against the Ottoman Empire followed by a war between the earlier allies it's hard to imagine that many people were completely ignorant of that turbulent area.

Keith

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It is worth recalling that the Balkans had seen a lot of political unrest and rivalry in the decade or so prior to 1914 (and for several decades before) and would have been in and out of the press regularly.

Serbia was not the most docile of states; but perhaps with good reason.

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Serbia had escaped from Ottoman clutches and had not desire to fall into the Aurto-Hungarian ones. Seems very reasonable to me. Off course the causes of the war were a lot more complex than Serbia.

And was busy annexing all sorts of territory from its neighbours,treating any local resistance with great severity. Ethnic Albanians for example who ended up in newly acquired Serbian territory were very harshly treated,

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I agree about generalisations, but how does Adrian Gregory come to that conclusion?

The 'dislike of Russia' may have been influenced by the fact the largest number of refugees in the East End of London at the turn of the twentieth century were Russians fleeing the Tsar and his Secret Police. Servia, (or Serbia as it became once it was on our side - a letter to the Times Jan 1915 from the head of the Serbian Legation congratulated them on their editorial policy and promoted the 'Serbian National Hymn!') was seen as a 'hotbed of cold blooded conspiracy and subterfuge' and was guilty of war crimes as noted at post 3. In 1914 the Liberal establishment did not wish to ally themselves with such violent and repressive regimes.

Once war was declared it's fair to say Serbia was portrayed as a 'plucky underdog', and it's reputation redeemed in the popular press and especially among certain sections of the community. Whether or not that included 'the average British soldier' is arguable, he may have had other priorities than, for example, Christabel Pankhurst who demanded 'three hundred thousand men be sent to the Balkans'.

The soldier was probably familiar with organisations such as the Serbian Relief Fund founded in 1914; June 28 was celebrated as 'Kosovo Day' and the resulting publicity was an opportunity to support the Serbian cause, in 1916 events on the Western Front a few days later may have made a bigger impression on the 'average soldier' though that did not stop the Archbishop of Canterbury holding a Kosovo Day Service in support of Serbia at St Pauls on July 7th 1916.

Ken

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  • 3 months later...

Don`t know about the average British soldier, but I know my dad aged eight at the time carried a placard "Plucky little Serbia" in the victory parade in Jarrow.

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  • 2 years later...

I was puzzled for a while by the "Kosovo Day"

designation, but then remembered that it was

on June 28, 1437 (I think, from memory) that

the Serbs and their Albanian allies stood and

fought the Turks, and lost, on Kosovo Polje,

"Kosovo Field". I've been there, and also

visited the shrine to the intestines of the

Turkish sultan, killed after the battle by a

Serbian captain meeting with the sultan to

negotiate over prisoners, etc.

I also spent several days in and north of

Beograd looking for the body of the Serbian

prince who lost the battle of Kosovo Polje,

finally finding it in an unlikely place. Was

also startled in a darkened room in a Serbian

monastery in Frushka Gora by a Serbian nun

popping out of the shadows offering me the

shirt that the prince wore when he was

beheaded for me to kiss. To my everlasting

regret I was so startled that I neglected to

kiss the offered shirt sleeve.

Although the Albanians fought and died besides

their Serbian allies, when the defeat was final

the Albanians rolled over and accepted the

extremely generous conditions that the Turks

offered to the nations they conquered, this

generosity being the secret of the extraordinary

success of the Turkish Empire over about 600

years, till the Empire began to unravel in the

19th Century. I understand that the Turks

remember the Serbs as the most stubborn of the

60-odd nations that they conquered.

I understand, or at least know that some students

think that Serbija, of all the combatants in WW I,

had the highest proportion of civilian and

military deaths in the Great War. That

stubbornness, combined with Austo-Hungarian

ineptnitude, led to Serbija's initial success in

WW I that may have changed the course of the war.

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I ask only because I don't know. When and why did Servia become Serbia?

As noted in post 13 the Serbian Legation wrote to the Times on January 2 1915 ' to express the gratitude...for the kindness you showed to the Serbian people by adopting and propagating the correct spelling of 'Serbia' and 'Serbian' rather than Servia and Servian. The latter orthography suggesting a false derivation from the Latin 'servire' is, of course, highly offensive to the people to whom it is applied...'

Though it did occasionally appear in th Times until later in 1915.

The link given by Mike shows the Serbian Legation was still lobbying for the change of use in March.

As with most things nobody cared too much until they became our allies. I don't think there was a formal announcement, though happy to be corrected, but in much the same way we recognise some words and phrases can be offensive to those to whom they are applied it seeped into the language. Whether or not the users of the form 'Servia' recognised this offence became irrelevant as the preferred usage was adopted.

Ken

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When Serbian was written with Latin letters, it is,

or at least very recently was written "Serbija".

But since the breakup of Jugoslavija the Serbs use

a little or no Latin, going back to the Cyrillic,

which incidentally is not identical to Russian

Cyrillic. I can't recall, from memory, how "Serbia"

was spelled in Serbian Cyrillic, if they have

something corresponding to the "j" in there.

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