Ivana Lepojev’s Today’s commemoration
1888 – 5 October 1973
h/t Dirk Puehl
Originally shared by Ivana Lepojev
I was a grenadier in three wars. I was always there where it was the most difficult : to destroy an enemy observation post or machine-gun nest… Somehow, it was easy for me. What helped me most was an instinct for throwing a grenade from where I was, from far away, because I was very strong. Everyone was amazed. Actually, I never even learned how to throw a grenade. we shepherds used to play various games. One of the most popular was shooting at a marker. We would take an object, a stone or a stick, thrust it in a meadow and try to hit it from a certain distance with stones. I almost always won. That’s where my skill in throwing grenades comes from… I always carried four Serbian grenades, the Vasić grenades. It fits best in hand, Since it’s square, and it stops there where you’ve thrown it, and explodes. At Salonika Front, I had problems with the French grenade. It’s round and oval, and where you throw it, it does not explode, but roles to the left or right. ― Milunka Savić
Forty years ago today, in her 84th year, Milunka Savić, the most decorated woman of the Great War, died at her apartment in Belgrade. She was not only the holder of the greatest national medals (Karađorđe Gold Star with Swords, the Miloš Obilić Gold Medal for bravery) but also the Legion of Honour of the 4th rank (Officer), The Legion of Honour 5th rank (Chevalier) and the French War Cross, along with few others. Except for being a national hero, and hero of the Allied forces, Milunka also, along with raising her own daughter, adopted three more children, while around 30 she herself put through school – even though after the war she worked as a cleaning lady. Once called The Serbian Joan of Arc, and although she was initially supposed to, she was not buried in the so-called Ally of the Greats, in Belgrade; instead, she was buried in a family tomb. Almost unmentioned in history books and practically completely forgotten by most, Milunka did get a few streets in Serbia and, eventually, one very ugly monument, near to where she was born. Now, in the wake of centenary of the Great War, and since it is 40 years after she passed away, the House of the Army of Serbia made a long due exhibition in her honor, the national television prepares a docu-drama and there’s talk of a monument that shall be placed in Belgrade.
As the story goes, and her grandson confirms it, Milunka joined the Army as one of 25 000 volunteers of the First Balkan War, in late 1912; she did so with her hair cut short and wearing man’s clothes, disguising herself as a man by the name of Milunko Savić. She did this to spare her brother from having to leave the farm and go to war. Her true identity came to light during the Battle of Bregalnica in 1913, when she was wounded in the breast. She again joined the Army with the outbreak of WW1, this time as a woman and to Prince Michael’ Second Infantry Regiment no less, also called Iron Regiment by the enemies, for the bravery they showed during battle. She participated in all major battles and was awarded a medal for bravery; in 1915 she even got severely wounded in the head, and still, despite her condition, retreated with Army through Albania. She was one of those sent to Bizerta, Tunisia for recovery, after which she was sent to Salonika Front. For the bravery she shown in battles she was again awarded a medal, this time the highest decoration which a non-comissioned officer of the Serbian Army could receive – Karađorđe Gold Star with Swords, which was presented to her by the Crown Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević himself. For the same deed, she was awarded French Legion of honour of the 5th rank. No wonder : the deed that so impressed, among many others, was the capture of no less than 23 enemy soldiers, which she had done single-handedly ! Since during this she was wounded again, two times, she was again sent to Tunisia and then France, to recover. For her bravery and contribution to the Allied cause, on 4th July 1918, she was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre, and then also the Legion of Honour of the 4th rank.
After the War, Milunka worked as an assistant cook, an army uniform checker, and a nurse. In 1929 she was employed as a cleaning lady in the State Mortgage bank, where she worked the most of her career. Her grandson in an interview said that although the Communists didn’t care that much about her, nor she about them, she still managed to get by – with a pension she was eventually awarded and living in a small apartment that was given to her by the state. He remembers that she was in contact with her soldier friends from France – among them some generals – but that she gladly gave him her medals to play with as a child. Still, how she managed to support four children, plus all those others that she helped through school – is beyond me.
Here are scans from the exhibition catalogue (with original captions and photos done by Rista Marjanovic); with that a few snapshots I made on the exhibition. Interestingly, although relatively little is known about her, quite a few photos remain. They are extremely interesting testament to the epoch.
Coincidentally, dear Dirk Puehl also chose a warrior lady to write about for his #onthisday series 🙂 Be sure to read that one as well, it is a marvelous story of another „Joan of Arc” 🙂