At the weekend, Benešov once again became a garrison town. Life in the town returned 100 years into the past, so that citizens and visitors could commemorate a tragic event in European history. This event was the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the last private owner of nearby Konopiště Castle, who died together with his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. This tragedy, which was one of the triggers of the First World War, was commemorated in a number of events from Friday to Sunday in Benešov, Konopiště and the surrounding region. These culminated in an international meeting of military history clubs entitled ‘My Nations 1914 – Benešov 2014’. According to organisers, this attracted 7 000 spectators.
Soldiers, although this time in period uniforms, returned to Benešov after five years. More than 200 members of military history clubs – soldiers and cavalry – from the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland met up in the authentic location of Táborská barracks, in which the famed 102nd infantry regiment was based and commanded by Franz Ferdinand. An extensive variety of uniforms were on display. The soldiers presented themselves in a march through the town, at various training exercise demonstrations, and as part of a moderated programme commemmorating the Sarajevo assassination in its historical context entitled ‘Mobilisation 1914, or Home in time for the Plums!!!’.
‘Many people, especially the young, have only now discovered that Benešov used to be a garrison town,’ says deputy mayor, Tomáš Podhola. As such, he was pleasantly surprised by the interest shown in the event. ‘We’ll do everything to ensure we maintain this tradition; I’m not saying every year, but perhaps at five-year intervals we want to commemorate what Konopiště means for us, who lived there and what happened,’ adds the deputy mayor.
One of the visitors was Miloslav Zikmunda of Kralupy nad Vltavou. ‘My dad was born in 1893; when he was young he enlisted in the Austrian army, he was a corporal in the Gebirgsjäger mountain troops, and he had to grow a moustache to do so,’ he remembers with a smile. He was particularly interested to see which military uniforms he would see at the event. And there were a lot to see, such as at the cavalry parade and training exercise, where riders in the uniforms of Uhlans, Hussars and Dragoons on horses filed past visitors.
Great weather also contributed to the success of the event. Crowds of people waited on Saturday morning for the symbolic arrival of Franz Ferdinand and his family and staff at Benešov’s train station. They could also view the saloon carriage which the Archduke used on his travels. The Habsburg family also got a friendly welcome in the square and at Konopiště Castle, where visitors were able to meet them on its terraces, or in the Rose Garden.
A historic military camp with field kitchen, military hospital and police station was open from Saturday morning in Táborská barracks. The programme also included a fashion show of period costume, and games for children, although its main feature was military displays. Organiser of the meeting of military history clubs, Jaroslav Pelíšek, said rather cheekily of the event: ‘St Peter gave us the ideal conditions; they didn’t shoot the Archduke, and although we were worried, nobody was injured.’
A mass took place on Sunday morning in Benešov’s Church of Saint Nicholas for the victims of the Great War. The Cork Pavilion was opened at Konopiště, and a copy of the flag of Franz Ferdinand of Austria was presented and consecrated. At the Church of St James and St Philip in nearby Chvojen, a ceremonial blessing of all transport and travellers took place in the afternoon.
Organisers of the commemorative events for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination and the outbreak of the First World War, the town of Benešov and its partners, prepared an extensive programme which began in April and runs until November. It includes exhibitions, lectures, discussions, masses and commemorative events. A new exhibition was opened in Konopiště Castle, and a number of books and publications have been produced. You can find a detailed programme at www.benesov-city.cz and www.posazavi.com.
Soňa Vanhoecke, Town of Benešov spokesperson
tel: 734 173 371
Posázaví o. p. s., Konopiště Castle, Benešov Museum of Art and Design, Podblanicko Regional Museum, Friends of Konopiště Society, Cultural and Information Centre, p. o., Friends of Chvojen society o. s., Konopišťský medvěd o. s.
Danone, a. s., Mavel, a. s., Ferdinand Brewery, s. r. o., Rádio BLANÍK, QUO, s. r. o.
Česká spořitelna, a. s., Jasa, s. r. o., Kooperativa pojišťovna, a. s., Pinko, a. s.,
Sellier a Bellot, a. s., VHS Benešov, s. r. o.
The Association of Czech Museums and Galleries, Czech Radio, Jiskra, Rádio BLANÍK, www.velkavalka.cz