The assassination and Austrian mobilization only made young Stevan more conscious of his Serbian ethnicity. The unsettling events drew him back into musing on the mythologized epic of his people.
But where was this new war? The men of his village were mobilized into the Austrian army, but members of his family were too old or too young to have to go.
But after about a month, war came to Stevan's village:
The family pulled both Stevan and his dying father away. Soon he realized that his only hope of escaping would be to swim the River Sava to Serbian territory.
Stevan's escape had been watched by a Serbian patrol -- he was taken in by the Serbian army and made a soldier. Over the next 15 months he survived skirmishes, a bout of typhus and hideous privation in snow and often without food. The Serbs were ground down by better equipped Austrian and then Bulgarian forces; their "allies," Britain and France, were little help. At length
And so began the Serbs' harrowing trek over rugged mountains to the sea.
Stevan and most of his unit survived this death march, staving off hunger through some hunting successes and a little barter with Montenegrin and Albanian peasants. They were billeted on the island of Corfu and fed by French and English ships. One day Stevan received perhaps the most amazing surprise of his unimaginable war:
And so it came to pass that Stevan Idjidovic was shipped to Oxford University in England to study Forestry for the duration. Serbians and their allies fought on, finally making a breakthrough on the Macedonian front. After the war, it was estimated that the Serbian forces suffered 25 percent casualties, higher than any other combatant nation.
So far as his mother and siblings knew, Stevan had died in the war, like so many others. They treated his return in peacetime much like the appearance of a ghost. But that's another story.
I cannot recommend this gripping tale highly enough. Insofar as we have any images at all of the horrors of World War I, they tend to be of mud-filled trenches spread across France and Belgium on the "Western Front." Just maybe we know of the misbegotten slaughter of Australian and New Zealand troops at landings at Galipoli aimed at the Ottoman Empire. The war in the Balkans remains obscure in our imaginations, as the Balkan nations themselves tend to, a region of strange historic antipathies and unfathomable carnage. Perhaps if we knew a bit more about the lives and feelings of these peoples, we'd not be so taken aback by more current developments.
I did not know him in any significant way. My mid-American parents never stopped thinking of him as an exotic. I doubt he felt any connection to them. He felt prickly to me as a child -- that is not perhaps surprising in a man of his difficult trajectory to Buffalo, NY in the '50s. Here's Stevan with one of his daughters in that time.