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MEMORY LANE: The warning shot that rang out across Europe

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and The Duchess of Hohenburgh (both obscured) leaving the Town Hall of Sarajevo two minutes before they were assassinated, an act which led directly to the outbreak of the First World War. Photo: PA Wire.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand and The Duchess of Hohenburgh (both obscured) leaving the Town Hall of Sarajevo two minutes before they were assassinated, an act which led directly to the outbreak of the First World War. Photo: PA Wire.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, climbed into an open-top car with his wife, Duchess Sophie, and set off on an official tour of Sarajevo, capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1908 Bosnia Herzegovina had been annexed by Ferdinand’s uncle, Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria, and now, Ferdinand was there on a customary visit to ‘check on the troops’.

But it soon descended into chaos. Many of the native people of Bosnia, and neighbouring Serbia, resented being ruled by Austria, and dreamt of becoming an independent nation which united ethnic Slavs from all the southern Balkan states.

That summer morning, six members of the underground Serbian Black Hand terrorist movement aimed to make that dream into reality - positioning themselves along the streets of Sarajevo, armed with bombs and guns, ready to assassinate Franz Ferdinand as the royal car passed, and begin their bid for freedom.

At first, the plan disastrously unravelled; a bomb thrown by one conspirator bounced from the car’s hood, exploding in the crowd and injuring policemen instead.

Panicked by the commotion, the five other would-be assassins fled their posts, thinking their chance had passed.

But, by a stroke of fate, the route that one - Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old Bosnian student - was taking home happened to cross with the Archduke’s new route, redirected after the bomb.

Seizing his pistol - and his place in history - Princip fired two perfect, fatal shots at Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

Most of Europe’s reaction to the deaths was initially muted, dismissing them as nothing but an act of small-minded Serbian terrorism.

But that was soon to change. Three weeks later, on July 23, Emperor Franz Josef decided to use his nephew’s death as an excuse to suppress Slav rebellion, issuing an ultimatum to Serbia that insisted they must comply with strict terms, like suppressing all anti-Austrian propaganda.

They refused, and five days later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia. It was a declaration that would plunge Europe headfirst into the deadly Great War.

 

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