The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife occurred on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. The assassination led directly to the First World War which spread rapidly. The southwest battlefield front, part of which was the Isonzo Front, also spread to Bohinj that became an immediate front hinterland.
The territory west of the Sv. Janez Hotel (close to current Jezero Hotel) was closed to civilians. The movement of civilians in Bohinj was strictly limited. Supply tracks ran via Bohinj. The car road to Savica, a wide horse track to Komna and two cargo cableways were built for this purpose. Army barracks were built in Ukanc and locals had to host soldiers in their houses. Numerous diseases occurred due to a large number of soldiers, including cholera.
In 1918, the war ended and the results were quite severe for the people of Bohinj. Many men and boys had died on the battlefields in Russia, at the Isonzo Front and in Tirole. The Bohinj ridge was occupied by Italians who kept their positions above the Lower Bohinj Valley. The new state border with Italy dealt a severe blow to the promising tourism development. It cut off Trieste and Gorizia, which had presented an important tourist setting before the war.
Two preserved WWI cemeteries, one in Ukanc and the other at Rebro in Bohinjska Bistrica, prove how strongly the war affected the life in Bohinj. The collectors of documentation about the war, who upon the initiative of Janko S. Stušek and Tomaž Budkovič in 1982 founded the Small War Museum Association, helped preserve the memories of wartime, as well as the collection in the Bohinj History Museum in the house of Tomaž Godec.
Anja Poštrak describes the Small War Museum collection in her monograph: Mirno spite vojaki večno spanje: Gorenjska in Gorenjci 1914–1918 (Soldiers, Sleep Peacefully Your Eternal Sleep: Gorenjska and the People of Gorenjska 1914–1918) that the people from Gorenjska brought items from the war from the former Krn hinterland to the valley. “The Krn mountain range as part of the Isonzo Front still remains the monument and the remainder of the war events, since there are still many remnants of dugouts, bunkers, wire fences and military shelters.” The collected items were used in 1989 for the exhibition entitled “The Front in the Julian Alps Museum” in the house of Tomaž Godec. This was the first exhibition about the First World War, that was set up more than a decade before the museum in Kobarid.
Anja Poštrak, the curator and manager of museums in Bohinj, commented: “The thunder in the mountains as a constant reminder about the war settled more than a century ago, but the collectors from Bohinj and their collections preserve the memory of that time. This collection is one of the most extensive and well-preserved collections of that time and importantly contributes to the history of Bohinj. As such, it motivates us to think about the suffering and straits that soldiers on both sides of the border experienced, and consequently about the rationality of war.”
The collection features more than 600 items that speak about the stories at the front stretching from the edge of Banjška Planota plateau to Mrzli Vrh, and from Krn to Rombon. With various items, it leads us “from the hinterland with war propaganda and pamphlets to food coupons and other coupons that speak about the lack of materials and social problems, to the organisation during the war including the railway, cableways and supply stations. Products made from linden sticks (picture frames, crosses) are a reminder of the Russian prisoners of war who worked in the hinterland.
A major part of the collection is dedicated to the front in the high mountain range, especially the weapons and tools used for survival. Many grenades, bombs, guns, pistols, mines, bayonets, missiles, maces, swords and metres of barbed wire are the remnants that speak about the bloody battles and about the fighting method. The collected tools include various tongs for barbed wire, chisels, drills and spikes for the construction of caverns, shovels, axes and mattocks. The items from the cavern show the soldier’s everyday life. There are many such items in the collection, ranging from personal items (e.g. toothbrushes, buttons, wooden and porcelain pipes, bottles for medicines and ink …) to mess tins, beer bottles and tableware. The last part of the collection, i.e. the memorial symbols, reminds us about death and killings.
A very important part of the collection includes memorial medals, badges, rings and coins as well as other memorial items (e.g. vase from grenade casing, iron ashtray …). The items are supplemented by photographs, maps and other documents (postcards, newspaper cuttings, brochures about the war …).
The items and the collection as a whole are especially interesting from two aspects. Initially, from the aspect of the environment from which they emerge. It refers to the high mountain battlefield where battles occurred in a specific situation. It was very cold. The first battles were followed by a winter with a thick layer of snow, therefore, warm clothes, mountain shoes, hiking poles, crampons or spiked soles, spats and skis were required and presented obligatory equipment. On the other hand, the unique items that were used by soldiers to adapt to their stay on the front and which show the soldier’s soul and man’s desire to survive the hardest moments, are very interesting (e.g. a colander made from a soldier’s helmet, grater for parmesan made from a mess tin, or candlestick made from a tin and which was used as the only source of light in the cavern). The items have been preserved very authentically, which is mostly the result of diligent conservation methods, where no major interventions were made to attain their original condition.”
The Small War Museum collection was supplemented by the Gorenjski Muzej with original metal plates from wooden crosses on the graves of the soldiers who died during WWI, i.e. from the cemetery in Ukanc, which were stored and preserved during restoration works in 1993.
Source: Anja Poštrak: Zbirka Malega vojnega muzeja. In: Mirno vojaki spite večno spanje: Gorenjska in Gorenjci 1914–1918. Gorenjski muzej, Kranj 2014, p. 26–29.
World War I left an indelible mark on our soil and its traces are still visible in Bohinj. When Italy joined the war, Bohinj became an important supply centre for the northern part of the Isonzo Front, since it had a traffic connection by railway and it was remotely located in the hinterland of the battlefield that was outside the reach of cannons.
Today, the Bohinj themed trail is part of the Peace Trail that runs along the remnants of the Isonzo Front and as part of the former hinterland of the front has special meaning thematically and infrastructurally. You cannot see any trenches, caverns, bunkers or military fortresses, but you will see and read many war stories.
Hikers spend a few days walking the entire trail, which starts in Bohinjska Bistrica, continues to Ukanc, the Krn mountain range and the Tolminka valley. The trail is not only surrounded by the magnificent beauty of nature, the Julian Alps and the Triglav National Park, it also includes exceptional stories about human ingenuity, persistence and the personal destinies of soldiers, captives and locals. This themed trail is a unique natural and cultural and as well historical monument.
The view that reaches 100 years back along this trail, displays exceptional scenes of human endeavour. Enormous quantities of military supplies, weapons and equipment came to Bohinj. Soldiers, wounded soldiers and captives came to the valley from both sides. Bohinj became a vast logistics centre with storage areas, hospitals, barracks, cemeteries … Even civilians were included in military activities and the needs of battlefield supply – the lives of all Bohinj people changed significantly