Friday 27 June 2014

28 June 1914

A hundred years ago today two pistol shots that changed the world. On 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip and five other Serbian nationalists were lining the streets of Sarajevo, awaiting the arrival of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who had come with his wife to open a hospital. They were armed with pistols and hand grenades and carried cyanide capsules. It was to be death or glory.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Dutchess Sophieat Sarajevo on 28th June, 1914.
The Archduke and his wife arriving in Sarajevo on the fateful day

As the cortege passed, one of the conspirators hurled a hand grenade at the Archduke’s car. The grenade had a ten second delay on it; the chauffeur accelerated away, the grenade hit the fourth car, exploded and seriously wounded two of the dignitaries inside. The other conspirators were unable to react as the archduke’s car sped off. The attack had failed.

Later the archduke decided to visit the wounded in hospital. As the car made its way by another route, the chauffeur took a wrong turn. Realising his mistake, he attempted to back. The car stalled. It was about 10.45. By pure chance Princip was standing on the pavement by a cafĂ© as the car ground to a halt. This was his moment. He stepped forward and pulled the trigger. At five feet it was impossible to miss. The first shot hit the Archduke in the neck. Princip took aim again – this time at the Austrian governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina – but members of the crowd were trying to grab him. The archduke’s wife had flung herself in front of her husband but was hit in the stomach as the second shot flew wide. The archduke lived long enough to murmur to his wife “Sophie, Sophie don't die, stay alive for our children." By 11 they were both dead.

Princip tried to swallow a cyanide capsule but it failed, and the pistol was wrested from his hand before he could shoot himself. He was hauled away:

Too young to be executed he died a lingering death from TB  in prison in 1918, before the end of the war that the shot had launched, killing some 16 million others, including a quarter of all Serbians. The car, the pistol and the Archduke’s bloodstained shirt are in the Military Museum in Vienna and Princip is a Serbian national hero. I share my birthday with the date of his ‘lucky’ shot.