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Diary of a Prisoner in World War I/Austrian Army—1914

Austrian Army—1914

September 26, 1914

Having passed a four-week training[1], we are leaving[2] Plzeň [Pilsen] for Budějovice [Budweiss][3], Gmund, and Vienna[4] to the Serb front. We are going to kill people who have done us no wrong. "It is God's will," said the army chaplain in his sermon!

Passing through Salzburg, Semmering, I am leaving this charming sight of a foreign country unnoticed. It is hard for me to part with our beautiful homeland. I am thinking of my parents and feeling sad. Shall we ever see each other again? Will I come back alive?

Sramek Josef 1.jpg
Josef Šrámek in 1914
September 30

We passed Slovenia, then Bosnia, and now we are getting off in Doleni Tuzla. Two days' rest, then we marched to Zvornik. We walked to the mountains in terrible heat for 2 days. When we approached Zvornik we heard the guns' salutes. We crossed the Drina River.

October 2

Now we are in Serbia. It's a sea of mud—that Serb mud I've gotten to know so well while lying in it. We are walking forward. We see burnt kutchas [cottages], the initial signs of raging war.

October 5

Having wandered hopelessly without food and bread for 3 days, we found our battalion today. It is located 6 hours from Zvornik, and it took us a full 3 days to get here! Warm welcome—everybody found somebody they knew—but I am alone here! Met Capt. Jupa, he's from somewhere near Unhost. A nice man. He's bringing in bread at a time of shortage and hunger. Snow and rain, and we do exercises.

October 8

Building deckung [shelter] in mud and water; I sleep in water pools. The water has flooded our dwelling. We are building a new one on a hill. It rains hard every day.

October 10

We patrolled, walking for 4 hours; we could barely get there, and now we must get back. I stayed behind. I got back in the morning, and the battalion was about to move, so I followed slowly behind. I cannot go any farther. I am out of strength. I follow my battalion for 3 days, eating and sleeping with the regiments I meet.

October 13

I found my battalion in new trenches at the verge of a forest today. Hunger every day, too little bread available. Dysentery is spreading is among us. A portion of bread costs 3 crowns. Jupa furnishes me with bread from the kitchen. I am expecting packages from home in vain—feldwebels[5] stole them. The same happens to rum and wine! Officers are drunk. They push us around and beat us with sticks.

October 15

We exercise "Marsch einz" [March] daily while our stomachs rumble. We are still in reserve. What will it be like when we are at the front? I write letters home and to Ústí[6] often, but I seldom get a letter.

Being in the army is getting tougher day by day. One is hungry so he eats a canned meal—so they tie him to a post for twelve hours, and he has to pay a 3 crown fine. The officers are drunk every day! We even lack water.

October 19

We were in the middle of our march when shrapnel started to hit us, so we ran away. Dysentery is on its way. So are the first lice. Patrols are getting tougher—we are expecting Serbs. My deckung is safe, but what if I have to go out?

October 24

Serbs killed our corporal while he was on patrol. Beautiful weather. Jupa went shopping to Zvornik so we are now bargaining with tobacco, chocolate, etc.

November 2

We were attacked at night. The Serbs assaulted us—but failed. Our officers were hidden like rats. I was lucky—a bullet went in through the loophole[7] just by my head. The next night there was another attack, a heavier one. It is getting tough. A control wire leads from my trench to a bomb. Patrolling in the forest at night, the enemy was some 300 meters away from us!

November 5

Forward! This morning at 5 we put our bayonets on and scrambled to attack. At 8 we hit the Serbs, and there was a scramble. They are well-hidden in corn and blow us away with their machine guns. 32 people out of my platoon of 56 men are hurt or dead. My hat caught a bullet when I raised my head carelessly. At last the Serbs retreated in the afternoon, but their artillery played some music for us. I'm spending the night in a hole dug just so-so. My friend Šimeček was hit by a bullet in his neck.

November 6

Getting up all freezing, marching on, eating in the forest, and shrapnel hit us. The major and the captain are hurt. Marching on, we got into a real bullet rain. A bullet missed my head but hit my coat. I counted 23 holes in it. We stay in Serb trenches.

November 7

We entered Krupanja and patrolled the entrance to the town. We cooked hens. The artillery is going toward Valyevo, which still endures. With great enthusiasm we think we have now won the war; there are even some prophets saying we will be home by Christmas. After all that's what Wilhelm the Almighty[8] said!

November 13

Going to Zavlaka, doing a parade in front of the corps leader at night. Me and cadet Brejnik go to patrol in the hills. We are covered with snow by the morning. It's freezing. We find half of a pig and cabbage—we are cooking. We stay in the kutchas and eat dried plums.

November 16

Back to the camp. There are many prisoners in there—we are taking 1300 of them to Lozhnica. It was terribly muddy on the way back so I stayed in a kutcha overnight. I went to Zavlaka the next morning and found the village covered by water. The hard rain, and maybe the Serbs too, caused the flood. Our train and the bakeries are underwater. The battalion is gone, and I am in the water, which reaches up to my waist, for an hour-long journey. I am looking for the battalion. I have plenty of time.

November 21

After 3 days I finally caught my battalion in Valyevo. I didn't have a bad time on my way there. When the night was about to come, we [the batallion] found a kutcha, killed a sheep, and roasted it. When we left Valyevo, it was freezing and snowing. We slept in the fields—hungry, freezing, exhausted. Going on patrol, I was caught in a rain of grenades. Miraculously I survived.

We are pretty near the Serbs who occupy the hills. Scrambles on patrol are our daily job. No bread—there is one portion for ten men. We stay without meals for 3 days, and the soup has not been salted for a month. Searching for food all around—anything goes, mostly apples and plums.

November 27

Progressing in snow that is up to our knees. We reached the hills that the Serbs defended so tenaciously. A dead Serb is in every trench; they are frozen. Repeated scrambles. We progress as well as retreat every day. We are hungry while the Hungarian soldiers[9] near us have bags full of meat.

December 1

Something is going on. I think we will run away. We are here as the "rückzugbedeckung."[10] We lie in the snow, hungry every day. It is really strange that I have been escaping an injury or death so far.

December 6

It is all in vain! We've been firing for the 4th day now. The Serbs are all around. For 4 days now, we've had no food, no officers, and we've kept the last hill. Today I was in a real rain of bullets 3 times. The unit is destroyed; each of us has run a different direction. Grenades crackle in the snow around me. I am dead tired. At night I sit at the fire with the Hungarians.

Suddenly the Serbs were here: "Bacaj puški!" [Drop your guns.] I was taken prisoner. The Serbs robbed us immediately. I didn't want to give them my bag. A Serb hit me with the butt end of his gun, and I fell down. Then the Serb artillery came in, and I was saved.

  1. Military boot-camp
  2. Probably by train
  3. Within the Czech homeland a.k.a. Bohemia
  4. In Austria—for the author a foreign colonizing state
  5. Sergeants.
  6. Ústí nad Labem—author's city of residence
  7. Opening in fortification to shoot through
  8. Wilhelm II, German emperor, ally of the Hungaro-Austrian empire
  9. Their allies within the Hungaro-Austrian empire
  10. Defense on the retreat.