Serbia’s Great War in photographs : the May 2017 Slavonic item of the month

The Kingdom of Serbia’s involvement in the First World War saw a proportional loss of life which far outstripped that of the other Allies.  Ratni album (War album), published in Belgrade in 1926, commemorates the war with both reverence and realism.  From photographic portraits of victorious generals to pictures of the combatant and civilian dead, this extraordinary volume captures it all.

The front cover, with a standard ruler along the left to provide scale.  Close-ups of some details of the cover are provided at the end of this post.

The book is absolutely enormous – 33 cm high and 46 cm across – and weighty with it, each of its 448 pages printed on quite heavy gloss paper.  Photographs make up by far the lion’s share of the contents.  A brief introductory preamble leads on to 372 pages of photographs, a few given over to enormous reproductions of single photos but most featuring several pictures.  While the album does focus on the Serbian war experience, the whole sweep of the Great War is included, from the Western Front to the East (including the Russian Revolution).

A great deal of the captions and photographs come from the book’s assembler, Andra Popovic, a lieutenant colonel in the army.  The album is multi-lingual, with Serbian texts and captions followed by French and English translations.  The book ends with a brief history for the war, which concludes with the proclamation on the 1st of December 1918 of the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (its name would be changed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929).

The pictures above show the arrest of Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife; an Austrian punitive force preparing to march on Serbia; the burial of the dead after battles at Macva; and the transporting of the wounded in ox-led carts.

Ratni album is by no means the only photographic record of World War 1 in the UL.  Its subject heading World War, 1914-1919–Pictorial works is shared by scores of other items, but our volume provides a fascinating view of the war from one of its less well-known fronts.  Bought only in recent years and in extraordinarily fine condition, it is a handsome and valuable recent addition to our collections, if also one that is poignant not only in what it shows of the atrocities of the Great War but also in the clues it unwittingly gives about the tragedies that the following decades would bring to the area.  Resentments from this age, after all, would surface bitterly and bloodily more than once in the remainder of the century.

For readers of this blog who cannot easily make a trip in to see our copy (or for local readers unequal to the not undemanding task of manhandling the volume), Belgrade University Library has digitised their copy:  http://ubsm.bg.ac.rs/engleski/dokument/103/ratni-album-1914-1918

Details of the front cover, showing the quality of the physical publication.

Mel Bach

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