Bicentenary of the First World War

The display “Bicentenary of the First World War” was opened in the Museum of Town and District History in November 2014. It presented photographs, printed publications, and personal documents dating back to 1914-1918 from the collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky Historical, Architectural and Art Museum-Reserve.

The Remembrance Day commemorating Russian soldiers who had been killed in the First World War was first celebrated in Russia on August 1, 2014. This date corresponds to the day when Germany declared war on Russia in 1914. Globally, the war began on July 28, 1914, and lasted till November 11, 1918. It was concluded with an armistice between Germany and the Entente. Therefore most of the participating countries commemorate their soldiers who fell during the First World War on November 11.

The First World War is considered to be one of the largest armed conflicts in human history. Its scale was unprecedented. It was a total war that cost many countries great sacrifices in blood and treasure. According to different sources, several causes operated to bring on the war: economic imperialism, trade barriers, militarism and autocracy, local conflicts occurring on the eve of the war, territorial ambitions and allied obligations of the European states.

The immediate trigger for the war was assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, by 19-year-old Serbian nationalist, student from Bosnia Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. He was a member of the movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) that fought for the unification of all South Slavic peoples in one state. The Austrian and German establishment decided to use this assassination as a pretext for unleashing of the European war.

On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia and almost all great powers of Europe entered it during a week. Thus, the military conflict that broke out in Europe spread over the Middle East and the Fast East and turned into a world war.

They began to use the title “First World War” only after the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. During the Inter-War Period, it was called “The Great War”. In the Russian Empire, it was known as “The Major War”, “The Second Patriotic or the Great Patriotic War”, informally - “The German War”, and then in the USSR – “Imperialistic War”.

The First World War became an important landmark in the human history. It started fundamental changes in the economy, inside politics, international relations, culture and, certainly, in the outlook and behaviour of people.

The First World War was of particular importance for the Russian state. It became a terrible ordeal for the country that lost about two million people at the fronts. It led to the revolution, devastation, the civil war and the fall of the Russian Empire. But the history of the First World War also contained glorious pages for the country. The Russian army loyal to the heroic traditions of the past replenished its chronicle with new outstanding feats: the Battle of Galicia of 1914, the Erzurum Offensive in 1915-1916, and the Brusilov Offensive of 1916. The captainship talent of such outstanding commanders as A.A. Brusilov, N.V. Ruzsky, M.V. Alexeev, N.N. Yudenich, A.I. Denikin and others was revealed on the battlefields.

Unfortunately, it was exactly in Russia where the First World War was little-known in many respects in view of a number of external and internal reasons, its history was full of distortions and omissions and its heroes fell into oblivion.

The goals of the display “Bicentenary of the First World War” were to reconstruct the history of the war and participation of the residents of the Kirillov district in it using documentary materials, to pay tribute to the Russian soldiers who did their duty to the country.

By the beginning of the First World War, the Kirillov district (uyezd) was the uttermost northeastern part of the Novgorod province. Its area was 2,5 times larger than the present-day Kirillov district (13078,8 square versts). It consisted of 23 volosts where 120004 people lived according to the first national population census of the Russian Empire in 1897. Mobilization in the Kirillov district began already during the first days of the war – on July 20-25, 1914. In all, 206115 people liable for military service (12,2 percent of the population) were called up.

The first heroes were awarded in the battles already in 1915. In all, 10 residents of the Kirillov district who participated in the military operations were given the Cross of St. George of different degrees during the First World War. We can note M.N. Voronin, M.L. Bochkaryova, G.V. Gubin, D.A. Zaonegin, and P.V. Kotov. They became the Full Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George.

The exhibition in the Museum of Town and District History was based on the unique documents from the Archive and Manuscript Section of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve that reflected the important stages and events of the last war of the Russian Empire. Among them there were description of feats, service lists, recollections of the participants and contemporaries of the war. Some exhibits told about the arrangement of the army and rear, munitioning, care for wounded, war prisoners in the Kirillov district, wartime heroes who were awarded the Cross of St. George, and the events in Russia in 1917.

Patriotic postcards evidenced the wartime realities. Many of them were published by the Skobelev Committee of Care of the Wounded. Some of them were given to the museum by D.F. Yekimova in 2002.

The postcard compositions made by artist S.I. Sergeev were inspired with hope of the victory and soldier’s return home. We could read the following text on one of the postcards: “The wind is blowing; it is so strong that blood is growing numb, but when I come home, my darling will warm me!” This card was given to the museum by V.I. Gostinshchikova in 1993 as a part of an album.

Several residents of Kirillov and the Kirillov district, participants of the First World War, were depicted on documentary cards from the museum holdings. For instance, Sergey Alexeevich Melnikov (1894-1973), one of the oldest Russian aviators. Three postcards sent by him and his uncle to the relatives during the war were handed over to the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve his sister V.A. Antonova in 1984.

Front-line pictures of Nikolay Maksimovich Shabalov and his fellow soldiers have come down to us on two postcards of 1917. N.M. Shabalov (1888-1966) served in the hospital of the field force during the war and, judging by the inscription on the photo card, participated in the military actions on the Stokhod River in the Volhynian province. These postcards were handed over to the museum by his son G.N. Shabalov in 1988.

You could see the scenes of fraternization of Russian and German soldiers during the armistice in Dvinsk of the Vitebsk province in December 1917 on the postcards handed over to the museum by P.A. Piskunov in 1969.

Two postcards with the depiction of Russian cruiser Oleg was sent by Sergey Petrovich Ryabkov (1895-1942) to his relatives. He served as a motorist in the Baltic Fleet and participated in the assault of the Winter Palace. These postcards were given to the museum together with documents and photographs of S.P. Ryabkov in 1965.

All presented exhibits were divided into five thematic blocks: mobilization of soldiers, participants of the war, charity work, prisoners of war in the Kirillov district, soldiers’ return home.

The following items from the museum holdings supplemented the display: awards, pieces of the uniform, examples of the arms of the First World War, personal articles of the war heroes.

A part of the presented documents, photos, and museums articles had never been displayed before. Visitors had a unique chance to see them for the first time.

E.S. Petrushova, research officer of the Scientific Department

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