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The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

World War 1, which is often defined as a colossal and brutal fight between Britain and Germany, actually began on the streets of Sarajevo in Yugoslavia, with one man and a gun…


n 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, arrived in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia on an official visit, to watch army manoeuvres. Cheering crowds lined the city's streets, from the train station to the City Hall, to greet the royal couple. However, hidden among the well-wishers were members of Young Bosnia, an anti-Austrian terrorist group.

The scene soon turned violent – a hand grenade was thrown at the Archduke’s car as it made its way through the crowd. The royals survived, but many local people were injured in the blast. When the Archduke arrived at City Hall, he interrupted a speech being given by the Mayor, saying: “I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It’s outrageous!” Later that day, the Archduke and Duchess went to see the injured in hospital. But as they left, their driver took a wrong turn into a side street, leaving them vulnerable to the Young Bosnia group’s assassins. As the royal car reversed up the side street, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip walked up and shot Franz Ferdinand in the jugular vein, and Sophie in her stomach. The Archduke’s bodyguard, Count Franz von Harrach, who was in the car when the assassination took place, described the scene: “As the car quickly reversed, a thin stream of blood spurted from His Highness’s mouth onto my right check. As I was pulling out my handkerchief to wipe the blood away from his mouth, the Duchess cried out to him, ‘For God's sake! What has happened to you?’ I seized the Archduke by the collar of his uniform, to stop his head dropping forward, and asked him if he was in great pain. He answered me quite distinctly, ‘It is nothing!’”

10 ❮ WW1 Centenary Special

The Archduke died within minutes, and the Duchess passed away en route to hospital. Although no one realised it at the time, at 10.45am on 28 June 1914, World War 1 got underway, and the deaths of the Archduke and the Duchess would be followed by 16 million more before the end of 1918. Commentators quoted American poet Ralph

Waldo Emerson when they described Princip’s actions as a “shot heard ‘round the world”. The fatal bullet subsequently ricocheted throughout Governments across Europe: Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II offered his support to Austria against Serbia. When Russia sided with Serbia, the already fragile peace that held Europe together in 1914 was shattered and, one by one, countries began to declare war across the Continent. Austria declared war against Serbia on 28 July 1914. After that, Germany declared war on Russia, then France, and invaded Belgium. On 23 August 1914, German troops entered France, setting the scene for World War 1. ■


Before he was assassinated, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was served a fine lunch of consommé en tasse, ouefs a la gelée, boeuf bouille and poulets a la Villeroy. For dessert, he enjoyed fruits au beurre, Ritz compote and, rather ominously, bombe a la reine.

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