Church to mark the real centenary of the start of First World War

Service will commemorate the initial declaration of war by Austria-Hungary against Serbia that ultimately led to all the other declarations of war by the other great powers

In Britain and western Europe, events to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War are being held on  4 August, as attention is focused on the German invasion of Belgium and the British declaration of war.

But the Temple Church in London is holding a service today, as Monday 28 July, is arguably the real centenary of the conflict’s start. Representatives of the Austrian and Serbian embassies will be among those attending a public service at the church, built in the 12th century for the Knights Templar. They will commemorate the initial declaration of war by Austria-Hungary against Serbia that ultimately led to all the other declarations of war by the other great powers.

The first hostile act of the war also took place 100 years ago today when Austro-Hungarian troops seized two Serbian river boats carrying ammunition and mines. Then, on the night of 28/29 July, the Serbs blew up the railway bridge between the two countries – to prevent Austro-Hungarian troops using it to invade Serbia. The first actual shots of the war were fired just after 1am on 29 July when Austro-Hungarian naval vessels on the river Sava opened fire on the Serbian sappers who had blown up the bridge and on Belgrade itself.

Remarkably, the gunboat, the Bodrog, from which the first shots were were fired still survives today, largely forgotten, moored at the side of the river Danube in Belgrade.

New research by a British Historian, Dr. Alexander Watson of Goldsmiths college, University of London, is about to reveal the horrendous scale of mass hangings of civilians by the Austro-Hungarian military. According to a new book (Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918) by Dr. Watson, due out on 7 August, at least 30,000 Ukrainians, Serbs, Jews and Poles were arrested and executed.

“Most were hanged merely because they belonged to minority ethnic groups which, in the feverish atmosphere of the time, the Austro-Hungarian authorities suspected of disloyalty,” said Dr. Watson.

“The great majority were denied a proper trial,” he said.

His book is the first to reveal the full extent of Austro-Hungarian atrocities and to analysis why they were carried out.

“The mass killings in what are now western Ukraine and  Central and eastern Poland in 1914 are virtually unknown. A proper historical account of what happened has sadly had to wait literally a century to be told,” said Dr. Watson. The Austro-Hungarian gunboat in the present day The Austro-Hungarian gunboat in the present day

He believes  that around 25,000-30,000 Ukrainians, at least 4,000 Serbs and  hundreds of Jews and Poles were executed. Virtually all were civilians and many were Austro-Hungarian citizens. In an atmosphere of mounting distrust and paranoia, the Austro-Hungarian military believed that minority ethnic communities were involved in spying and helping enemy forces.

“Usually people don’t perceive World War One as a partially ethnic conflict. It’s more often seen through the prism of the Western Front and thus perceived as solely a great power conflict but the reality is that a significant percentage of the initial non-combatant deaths and suffering on the Eastern and Balkan fronts  was ethnically-determined with tens of thousands of civilians losing their lives and tens of thousands more being  held in internment camps,” he said.

“It was the Austro-Hungarian army – not the German nor even the Russian military –  which was by far the bloodiest and most brutal military force of 1914,” he said.

The Austro-Hungarian river vessel which fired the first shots of the war was a 56 metre long gunboat with a 79 strong crew called the Bodrog.

Remarkably it still survives today, largely forgotten, moored at the side of the Danube in Belgrade.

Its future is currently unclear. It is protected under Serbian heritage law – and plans, never implemented, were drawn up some years ago to turn it into a floating museum.  However control of it recently changed from Serbia’s Ministry of Culture to its Ministry of Defence. The vessel is understood to be in need of considerable conservation – but has a reputation for survival, having seen action in five naval battles and having been scuttled (and refloated) twice – in 1941 by the Yugoslavs and in 1944 by the pro-Axis Croats.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn