Czech and Slovak forces at the Battle of Zborov - part of Russia's 'Kerensky Offensive' in July 1917 - featured by Milan Kabelka in his centenary calendar for 2017 (Photo © Milan Kabelka)

Focus on Prague photographer's tribute to the Czechoslovak Legionnaires

Posted on on 09 December 2016
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Centenary News looks at a collection of dramatic pictures, taken by photographer Milan Kabelka, commemorating the actions fought by Czech and Slovak volunteers who sided with the Allies during WW1 in pursuit of independence.

These evocative images, available to buy in the shape of a 2017 calendar, highlight aspects of the First World War that may be less familiar beyond the borders of the former Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

Next July marks the centenary of the Battle of Zborov in 1917, which did much to raise the profile of Czechoslovak units fighting Austria-Hungary alongside Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Czechoslovak volunteers also fought on the Western Front in France, and towards the end of the war, in Italy.

But the Great War divided loyalties. Many Czechs and Slovaks were mobilised to serve in the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which then ruled  Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, leaving them on the 'wrong side' after independence in 1918.

Even a century later,  this is still a 'highly sensitive' issue in the Czech Republic, Milan Kabelka acknowledges.  

Starting with a general interest in WW1, he was inspired to focus on stories of the Czechoslovak Legionnaires after meeting the organisation dedicated to preserving their legacy.

Locations for the photoshoots in the Czech Republic included a ruined castle, trenches, mountains and a replica of a legionnaires' train. Armoured trains played a key role in deploying their forces along the Trans-Siberian railway during the Russian Civil War.

Remembering Czechoslovak soldiers on the Alpine front at Monte Baldo, 1918 (Photo © Milan Kabelka)

The Czechoslovak Legionnaires' Community advised on historical events, costumes and props.

"After the completing the images we decided to create a calendar to give people an opportunity to see this project and own a part of it, " Milan Kabelka explains. "I think the results are great but they must be judged by other people." 

Czechs and Slovaks living outside the Habsburg Empire started enlisting with the Allies from the outset of the First World War in the hope of achieving independence from Austria-Hungary.

In France, they initially served in the French Foreign Legion, suffering heavy casualties in the Arras battles of 1915 against Austria's ally, Germany. Autonomous Czechoslovak army units followed in the last year of the war, together with French recognition of the right to an independent state.

On the Eastern Front, Czech and Slovak emigré troops played a prominent role at the Battle of Zborov in Ukraine, part of the last offensive ordered by the new Russian leader, Alexander Kerensky in 1917, before his provisional government was toppled by the Bolsheviks.

In the later stages of WW1, volunteers were also recruited among captured Czech and Slovak soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both in Russia and Italy.

100 years on, debate continues over the choices made in the heat of war - between fighting for a free Czechoslovakia, and staying loyal to the Habsburg monarchy.

Visit Milan Kabelka's website to see more of his pictures, and information about buying the calendar dedicated to the memory of the Czechoslovak Legionnaires.

Images © Milan Kabelka

Posted by: CN Editor