The Dutch “Florence Nightingale” for the Serbs during WWI
During the First World War (WWI) several medical mission were active in the Balkans. In Serbia they all know about the Scottish women hospitals (link), Flora Sandes, Archibald Reiss and more. Less known are the Dutch Red Cross medical missions with the doctors Arius van Tienhoven and van Dijk and others doctors, nurses and supporting staff.
During our research to the fate of the 91 Serbian WWI soldiers who died in the Netherlands we found a heart-breaking article from 23rd February 1919 in the “Telegraaf”, a national newspaper in the Netherlands. It was written and sent to the newspaper by Ludovica Dominica Jeannette Koning, a nurse who served during several Red Cross missions on the Balkans. In July 1913 she served during the Second Balkan War (Serbia) and in July 1915 she served back again in Serbia during the First World War (most possibly in Kragujevac). In 1916 she served in Thessaloniki and Bitola until the summer of 1917 where she helped the wounded Serbs again. In January 1919 she is an active member of the committee who helped the Serbian Prisoners of War in the Netherlands. On behalf of that committee she wrote to the newspaper, here some extracts:
-BIJ DE ZIEKE SERVIËRS- (WITH THE SICK SERBS)
Nurse L. Koning writes to us:
“On behalf of the Serbian envoy in the Hague, I traveled to various cities and hospitals the where Serbs are being treated so I pay these poor people a visit. When we provided care during the Balkan war to these good soldiers with their great powers of resistance, we could not have imagined that we would see a part of them again in a state in which they are now: exhausted, sick and without energy.
Later in the article she writes about an benefit evening which she helped to organise: In Amsterdam there was an art evening was which was held the 23th January for the benefit of the sick Serbian soldiers in our country and 1000 guilders were collected that evening.
The committee was therefore given the opportunity to provide the Serbs with some refreshments. Through such small acts of sympathy, the sick soldiers forgot their griefs for a moment which consists of ever-recurring melancholy reflections.“What will Serbia look like? Will my parents still be alive, my wife, my children, my brothers, my sisters? In what condition will I see them again? Does our house still exist? Are we, as we used to be, or did we become poorer? “How many died of hunger? Only a few people live in Serbia somebody told me.
When I asked if somebody wanted to sing the Serbian national anthem or any other song, the answer was: “In 4 years we have not sung, we cannot longer do it; we have had little laugh. We only worked hard, often for little or no food “. How Serbia was, I do not remember, said one, I do not know anything about Serbia anymore, but I longing for it.
When I came to bring their lemons, there was a cheer. In Germany there were no lemons or only for 30 Mark each, a Serb informed me, but in Serbia, they were cheap. The Serbs use lemon in tea, in wine, cognac, in sugar water or drink it undiluted. When I told the Serbs that I visited their country several times, their faces were filled with joy and I had to mention in which places and hospitals I worked, which doctors and soldiers I knew.She ends the article with: I left them with the thought: “How will these undernourished, weak soldiers still come through the long journey? “The Committee for the benefit of the Serbian soldiers in our country – of which the Consul General M. Merens is honorary chairman – is still willing to receive money, cigars, cigarettes, chocolates, chocolates, fruit (lemons), compote and illustrations. Many Serbian soldiers died in our country. Anyone who helps to give the survivors and the sick a few sunny moments do a nice job.
After her charity work for the committee for Serbian WWI soldiers in the Netherlands she continued to do good deeds for the Serbs: she started to work for a civil mission in Serbian and American service for orphanages in April 1919. Unfortunately it is not known until now what she did exactly, only we know that in November 1921 she moved back from Belgrade to Amsterdam. She died in an elderly house in Amsterdam in 1955, she became 81 years.
It is a pity that we could not find more information yet, but we should not forget those who took care of others and that also the Netherlands, although a neutral country during WWI, contributed to help the wounded and the sick Serbian population and its soldiers.