There are very few things more depraved, more cruel, more immoral than child-soldiers.
Yet, this post is a homage to a boy-warrior, the youngest soldier of the Great War. His story is unique, though–he wasn’t recruited; nobody used him for military propaganda; there was no “children brigade” in the army he joined. His name was Momčilo Gavrić, he was eight in 1914, and the war just happened to him and to a good part of humankind. (The war to “end end all wars”, as it was called; in truth it was just a prelude to even more horrible slaughter and destruction that will soon follow.)
At the very beginning of the war, in August 1914, Austro-Hungarians attacked his village, in central Serbia, then a small, independent kingdom. They annihilated his entire family, among many others — his mother, father, grandmother, three sisters and four brothers, all perished within minutes — and burned the village. Momčilo (the meaning of his name name is “bold guy”) survived by pure chance–earlier that day, he’d been sent away by his father to do some chores. Fleeing from his home after the massacre, Momčilo stumbled upon a Serbian artillery unit. Not knowing what to with the shell-shocked child, the commander, Major Stevan Tucaković, let him stay with them until they found him a new home.
It never happened. Behind them, in front of them, on the left and on the right was only destruction and devastation. The boy stayed. The commander had a uniform made for him and assigned a comrade-in-arms to be Momčilo’s caretaker.
With his “adopted family”, the 6th Artillery Division, Momčilo went through all the major battles. He was demobilized in 1918, age eleven, in the rank of lance sergeant, the youngest one in all the armies of the Great War.
Later, he was sent to England, where he finished school at Henry Wreight School in Feversham.
Later still, he married, worked, got arrested twice by Germans during WWII, had some disagreements with the new government after the war and spent some time in jail.
Other than that, he had more or less ordinary life. He lived to be eighty-seven.
Imbedded is a song, relatively recent, about a soldier returning home after the Great War.
I have two more stories from WWI for this Remembrance Day. One is about the most decorated woman of the Great War and the other one about a military trumpeter.
Oh, that poor child. I am glad he survived, but how traumatic.
Such a remarkable resilience, but did he have any other choice? It was the third war in the row he lived through (after the two Balkan Wars, in 1912 and 1913) and it wasn’t over.
Unfortunately, the wars never truly end, they just change the shape and location.