Review of “Belgrade in the Great War”

Belgrade during the Great War: the city through the eyes of those who lived in it 1914-18
by Miloš Brun
translated by Ivan Kovanović
paperback ISBN 978 1 912390 63 2
97 pages plus introduction, bibliography, index. Illustrated.

An unusual and welcome book but not the easiest to read.

History graduate, journalist and now working at the National Library of Serbia, Miloš Brun has trawled local newspapers and other sources to produce a very thought-provoking and at times harrowing account in life in the beleaguered capital city of Belgrade. Despite its central role in the genesis of the war and that it fought on under the greatest of pressure, Serbia seems to attract little attention from Western European historians. “Belgrade during the Great War” had certainly provoked my interest and I hope that it plays a part in bringing balance to our assessment of the conflict.

The story of the city unfolds: war comes quickly, for Belgrade lay on the border with its belligerent neighbour, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The city soon endured shell fire, enemy occupation and a total break down of normal life. Food supply, transport, education, medical services and normal commercial trade all essentially cease to function. Citizens were exposed to shortages, profiteering, epidemic disease and many other trials of war. Serbia is believed to have lost 25% of its mobilised strength, a greater proportion than any of its allies, and “Belgrade during the Great War” is also a reminder of the suffering of ordinary people during enemy occupation.

The author has in effect created a compendium of the tiny details of life, mainly assembled into thematic chapters, which together produce a vivid picture of life and death in the city. It makes for very interesting reading and I am sure I will not be alone in finding that I knew next to noting of this story. But it is hard going for the reader. I presume that this edition has been translated into English, for the language is not completely fluent. Things are not helped by virtually every detail being referenced to a footnote, most of which inform us which local newspaper supplied the information.  This leads to several footnotes on each page and, especially given the nature of the references, could in my view either have been omitted entirely from this edition or moved to endnotes.

Buy it


Article on Great War memorials in Belgrade (Balkan Insight external link)