On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the breakthrough of the Salonika Front, on the day of our 18th birthday, we have launched an initiative to build a memorial dedicated to the connection between humans and animals.
Heroes of War
A shining example of the defense of values, an example of courage, dignity and heroism that should serve generations. This is how the Serbian army which stepped over the Albanian highlands, is often described, and advanced during the breakthrough of the front from the south of the continent to Belgrade.
It is less known that this war was the most powerful demonstration of the human attitude of the Serbian soldiers towards the animals, with whom they shared the good and the evil that the war carried with it, before, during and after the Albanian Golgotha and the breakthrough of the Salonika font. The Serbian war story is a testimony to the travails of the Serbian army, but also to the strong connection between humans and animals in their shared destinies and sufferings in the war. Serbian soldiers wrote moving testimonials on animals that humans relied on during the war and often saved lives of their masters, many of which of these testimonials remained unknown.
Other poignant images remain of the exhausted Serbian soldiers, who tearfully refuse the Allied command’s order to destroy the exhausted horses, while the poem “King Peter’s four oxen” (“epic about the ordinary Serbian ox”) by French poet Edmond Rostan, strongly encouraged the French to help “La Serbie heroiljue.”
The First World War was the last war in which animals were massively exploited. Horses, elephants, dogs, pigeons and other animals were irreplaceable. Some of them hauled carts, food and cannons, others carried soldiers and wounded on their backs, while many participated in the transmission of messages between battle lines.
Golgotha path – Shifting of horses to Corfu
The retreat of the Serbian army to the Adriatic coast proceeded in three directions, through Montenegro towards Skadar and through Albania towards Lješ and Drač. Humans and animals were exhausted, starved, sick and cold. According to the directives of the Allies, it was necessary to travel further to Valona and Medova in order to transfer via ships to Corfu. That road, about 240 kilometers long, was only 40 kilometers long, and the rest of the route ran across ditches and swamps.
Lack of animal feed, medicines and veterinary supplies for the needs of cattle hospitals, the occurrence of infectious diseases and various injuries, have led to great losses. The situation worsened even more during crossing of the ruthless Albanian gullies and cliffs and arriving on the Adriatic coast. A large number of animals were starving to death and were eating sand, leading to severe disruption of the digestive system – sand colic. In addition to the lack of food for so many animals, only two veterinarians were left to care for them. Serbia entered the First World War with 75,400 horses and 75,800 oxen, of which a huge number were lost in the territory of Albania. Just over 10,000 heads survived the Albanian Golgotha.
King Peter’s four oxen
There are strong images of the connection between humans and animals during the Albanian Golgotha, many of which have attracted the worldwide attention. The great French poet Edmond Rostan, an academic at the age of 31 already, wrote in 1916 the poem “King Peter’s Four Oxen”, inspired by the picture of Vladimir Becic, which was published in the French newspaper “Ilistrasion” that same year. A picture of the exhausted seventy-year-old King Peter the 1st on a carriage, drawn by four oxen through the mud of Jankova klisura canyon, further and further away, toward the snowy peaks of the Albanian mountains. This “biblical sight” that portrayed “all the power of the invincible spirit of Serbia” encouraged the French to help the Serbian people and the army.
The cry of Serbian soldiers
An emotionally strong and striking picture of the humanity of Serbian soldiers was brought with them by French soldiers and veterinarians who watched with amazement at the Serbian soldiers crying after their horses.
When they landed in France after the retreat in 1916, the Allied Command requested that all horses in poor condition be killed and used for feeding. And almost all the horses were in poor condition after a long retreat. The Serbian soldiers stood beside their horses, protecting them and thus refusing the order of the higher command. If it weren’t for them, there would probably have been a shootout, because an order is an order. The higher command relented, and along with the soldiers they boarded their horses and transported them to France, where they recovered together. They were then returned to the Salonika Front and liberated Serbia after breaking through that front.
A monument to horse called Acko
Probably one of these horses would be Acko. Thanks to the journalist and the author of the show “Kvadratura kruga” (“Squaring of the circle”), Branko Stankovic, the public became familiar with the story of this horse and his master Vladislav Petrovic. This man built a monument to his horse in 1926, with which he fought for eight years in both the Balkans and the First World War. This monument is also a reflection of gratitude to the horse Acko, who has repeatedly saved his life. On the monument built by Vladislav, he carved the following text: “Here I buried my horse Acko, who served his master throughout the Balkan and European war and fought in the cavalry from 1912 to 1920. He lived for 24 years. Majk’o March 26, 1925.”
What could we do today?
In his show, Branko Stankovic correctly noted that in the past, none of the rulers and warlords remembered to build a monument to horses, oxen and other animals that not only shared the good and the evil with humans, but also played an important role in the military’s combat readiness and enabled many of the heroisms we admire today.
We want to get this right.
I believe that the time has come for today’s generations to make these little and big stories, images movingly filled with respect for animals, eternal, and to provide them with a lasting memory. I believe that in addition to humans, animals are largely credited with breaking through the Salonika Front. The time has come to build a monument of human and animal connection in Belgrade. On the centennial of the breakthrough of the Salonika front, ORCA launched this initiative and I believe we will provide support for it.
The memorial we want to build is conceived as a landscaping unit, that is, a green space, and not as a classic monument. We want to make it a meeting place for people, especially children and animals, who can enjoy the natural environment together. A place where they will remember difficult times, celebrate loyalty, courage and friendship. A place where current and future generations will enjoy the freedom and joy of life. A place where we will raise and educate future generations in a spirit of respect for all living beings, a spirit of compassion and progress for all of us.
This will be another way of affirming the positive attitude of humans and animals, but also of sending a picture of former and present Serbia to the European and world public – an image of compassion, humanity and love for life.