Sunday, October 2, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times

May You Live in Interesting Times: Family History

Great grandfather Yakov was an Adjutant General in the Russian Cavalry, 11th Dragoons.
Photo circa 1880s, pictured wearing a St. George's Cross on his chest, and a St. Vladimir's Cross on his neck.

We come from a long line of fervent monarchists. Our great grandfather (on our father's side) Yakov, was an Adjutant General in the Russian Cavalry, 11th Dragoons, at the end of the Nineteenth Century. He was personally acquainted with Russia's Czar Alexander III. The family lived on an estate somewhere near Moscow.


The general had at least two sons, one of which was our grandfather, Vasily Yakovich. As to be expected in that era, grandfather also joined the Russian Cavalry. A seventeen year old cadet in 1913, he received a commendation personally from Czar Nicholas II commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty.


Commemorative medal grandfather personally received from Czar Nicholas II in 1913 (penny for scale)


Grandfather rose to the rank of Captain of Engineers during World War I. He was awarded a St. George's Cross during the war for heroism in battle.

Grandfather's St. George's Cross, 4th Class (penny for scale)

Of course, the Russian war effort and the Russian monarchy ended badly. Following the Bolshevik (or October) Revolution, Russia descended into years of Civil War, from 1917 to the ultimate Bolshevik victory in 1923.


Grandfather eventually joined the officer corps of Baron Wrangel's White Army, based in the Crimea in southern Russia, part of the White Movement fighting the Bolsheviks.

Baron Wrangel, tall man in center of photo
Grandfather appears front right, wearing the cavalry boots
(He's wearing his St. George's Cross on his chest)

During one of Baron Wrangel's campaigns, grandfather was wounded in battle and entered a White Army hospital. There he met a nurse that he came to fancy:

Our grandmother Maria, in her White Army nurse's uniform, circa 1920

As they say, the rest is history. Grandfather married grandmother. They had a couple of kids: our aunt Vera, and our father, Vasily Vasilyevich.


When Baron Wrangel's White Army collapsed in 1920, Vasily and Maria, along with our newborn aunt Vera, fled from the Crimea to what was then still called Constantinople, using French Letters of Transit.

Grandfather's Letter of Transit, issued by the French Consul of Constantinople
Grandfather is pictured still wearing his White Army uniform

With the Turkish Revolution against Allied control of the old Ottoman Empire, our grandparents were forced to move once again, this time to the new state of Yugoslavia. They settled in Belgrade. Grandfather went to work as a royal engineer for King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, and they had another kid, our father, Vasily Vasilyevich. There they were able to live in peace until the Nazi invasion in 1941.

The lives of our grandparents bring to mind the old Chinese proverb: May you live in interesting times! They certainly did.

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