WWI: Happy birthday, Miroslav Krleža

Miroslav Krleža as a cadet in 1914In 1914, today was Miroslav Krleža’s 21st birthday. He was born in Zagreb, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and had been educated for a career as an officer in Pécs and then at the Ludoviceum military academy in Budapest. In 1912, he had defected to Serbia, with a view to enrolling in the Serbian army, but he had been turned away as a suspected spy. On his return to Austro-Hungary, he was demoted in their army and served on the Eastern Front as a common soldier throughout the war. His career as a writer in his native language, Croatian, was to win him both the Herder Prize and the Laureate of the International Botev Prize.

In debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 7th July, Captain Walter Faber was asking questions about army recruitment of the Liberal Secretary of State for War, H. H. Asquith, who was also the Prime Minister. The questions were answered by the Under-Secretary of State for War, Harold Tennant, MP for Berwickshire.

(Captain Faber was the Conservative MP for Andover: he had inherited the seat from his older brother George when his brother became a member of the House of Lords in December 1905. Despite the loss of many Conservative party seats in the pre-WWI years, Captain Faber won the election for Andover in both the 1906 elections and in the 1910 election. The 1910 election was the last before WWI, and the last UK election to deliver the largest number of seats in the Commons to the Liberal party, though they could not gain an overall majority.)

Captain Faber asked the Secretary of State for War

whether the depot of the Hampshire regiment and the head quarters of its Special Reserve battalion 886 are remaining at Winchester; whether the Special Reserve battalions of the Royal Rifles and Rifle Brigade are also to recruit in Hampshire; whether the latter used to recruit at Woolwich and not in Hampshire; whether he is aware that the Hampshire Special Reserve will be injuriously affected as regards recruiting, seeing that many men are also recruited for the Navy from that county; and will he say what the reason is for upsetting the equilibrium of recruiting by this change?

Walter Perkins, the Conservative MP for the New Forest, and Colonel Arthur Lee, the Conservative MP for Fareham (retired from the military in 1900) also joined in the questioning of Harold Tennant. Most of this is the jostling we’re familiar with today, of Opposition to Government, when all MPs expect there to be a general election soon. (There would have been a general election in the UK before January 1915, if not for the war.)

Harold Tennant answers:

The depot of the Hampshire regiment and the headquarters of the Special Reserve battalion remain at Winchester. The Special Reserve battalions of the King’s Royal Rifles and the Rifle Brigade are allowed to recruit in Hampshire. The recruiting figures, however, go to show that this arrangement has not so far interfered with the recruiting of the Special Reserve battalion of the Hampshire regiment, as the Rifle Battalions are drawing very few recruits from Hampshire, A close watch, however, will be kept, and steps will be taken, if they become necessary, to safeguard the interests of the Special Reserve battalion. It is the case that the 3rd battalion Hampshire regiment has been allowed to recruit in Woolwich and Stratford. This arrangement was adopted independently of the change of the Rifle sub-depot from Woolwich to Winchester, because, with the Hampshire area alone to recruit in, the battalion had not been able to maintain its establishment.

In 1914, while other countries in Europe would have had a stronger army, the UK had the strongest navy. As we see from debates in the Commons, recruitment had already increased for the British army – but massively increased for the British navy, as Arthur Lee pointed out:

Has the War Office received a protest against this change from the Lord Lieutenant of the county? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware there is a very strong feeling in the county against the proposed change in view of the fact that already there is an exceptionally heavy strain thrown on the county by the very large recruiting for the Royal Navy?

On the same day, M. Yov. M. Yovanovitch, the Serbian Minister at Vienna, wrote to Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs:

In influential circles the excitement continues undiminished. Though the Emperor has addressed a letter to the Prime Ministers of Austria and Hungary respectively, and to the Minister of Finance, Herr Bilinski, in which an appeal is made for calmness, it is impossible to determine what attitude the Government will adopt towards us. For them one thing is obvious; whether it is proved or not that the outrage has been inspired and prepared at Belgrade, they must sooner or later solve the question of the so-called Great Serbian agitation within the Habsburg Monarchy. In what manner they will do this and what means they will employ to that end has not as yet been decided; this is being discussed especially in high Catholic and military circles. The ultimate decision will be taken only after it has been definitely ascertained what the enquiry at Serajevo has brought to light. The decision will be in accordance with the findings of the enquiry.

In this respect, Austria-Hungary has to choose one of the following courses: either to regard the Serajevo outrage as a national misfortune and a crime which ought to be dealt with in accordance with the evidence obtained, in which case Serbia’s co-operation in the work will be requested in order to prevent the perpetrators escaping the extreme penalty; or, to treat the Serajevo outrage as a Pan-Serbian, South-Slav and Pan-Slav conspiracy with every manifestation of the hatred, hitherto repressed, against Slavdom. There are many indications that influential circles are being urged to adopt the latter course: it is therefore advisable to be ready for defence. Should the former and wiser course be adopted, we should do all we can to meet Austrian wishes in this respect.

Miroslav Krleža: If I had to go through all again, I would choose drugs
Miroslav Krleža, 1972: If I had to go through all again, I would choose drugs.

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