Serbia - The 1915 ‘King Peter in the Battlefield’ Issue

12/11/2014     Serbia

As we have recently commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War we felt it would be a good idea to present a stamp that illustrates an area of that conflict often overlooked by those of us in the UK.

On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. It was supposed to be a short campaign, the Austro-Hungarian Empire having much larger and better equipped army (at least on paper) then the small Kingdom of Serbia.

The design for this issue was made from a photograph of King Peter observing the fighting near Garevica during the Battle of Kolubara.

On the morning of 17 November 1914, the seventy year old King Peter decided, to the consternation of his royal entourage, to visit the front line. He entered the trenches, spoke to several soldiers and even fired a few test rounds. At one point Prince George created a seat for his father out of a stone slab and ammunition crates. The photograph was taken as the king sat down and observed the battle with S. Stepanovic, Commander of the Army, holding binoculars, Prince George, holding a map and the king’s aide Col. Knezevic standing behind him. The photograph was widely published in the Serbian and foreign press.

Seeing the impact of the King’s visit to the front, the Serbian government decided to use the photograph as a template for a postage stamp. That way everyone could see how the king personally inspired his soldiers! This was the first Serbian commemorative stamp, and unique as no other ruler was photographed on the front lines during the entire war. Also, unique in Serbian history, was the use in October 1915 during the Austro-German-Bulgarian invasion, of these stamps as currency - because small change was very scarce.

Originally, the stamp was to be produced by Bradbury, Wilkinson of London and an essay in copper was prepared but it was later decided have the master die engraved in steel in Paris by M. Daussy. The clichés, essays & proofs were also prepared in Paris but the printing of the stamps was done by the Serbian Government Printing Works early in October 1915. The set consisted of seven values – 5pa yellow-green (rarely olive-green), 10pa vermilion, 15pa greyish black, 20pa brown, 25a blue, 30pa dark olive-green and 50pa red-brown. Through an error caused by the insertion of 15pa cliché at the position 33 of the 25pa sheet the 15pa is known printed in blue. The stamps were printed in sheets of 100 on chalky medium thick paper and line perf 11.5. The stamps were officially issued on 15 October 1915 but most post offices never received this issue because of the rapid movement of enemy forces into the country and the retreat of Serbian army. Only the 5pa and 10pa values were actually used and they are very rare on cards or covers. This issue was demonetized in November 1915 when the country was completely occupied.

The Austro-Hungarian army under Field Marshal Potiorek crossed the border with Serbia at the beginning of August and started the first invasion of Serbia but were quickly stopped and defeated by the Serbian army at the Battle of Cer between 15 and 24 August. A second invasion followed that September (Battle of Drina) but after some limited successes the Serbians counterattacked and the front became bogged down for month and a half of trench warfare. The third invasion started on 5 November, the Serbians initially had to retreat and even abandon their capital Belgrade but they were able to stop the Austro-Hungarian offensive (Battle of Kolubara) and launched a large counteroffensive on 2 December. They liberated Belgrade on 15 December and pushed the Austro-Hungarian army out of Serbia. A long stalemate followed because the Austro-Hungarian army was preoccupied with the war with Russia, and also with Italy who had entered the war in May 1915. On 7 October 1915, the Austro-Hungarian army together with German army launched a large offensive which the Serbian army couldn’t withstand. The fate of Serbia was sealed when Bulgaria joined the war and attacked the Serbian rear on 14 October. The Serbian army was defeated and had to retreat through Albanian mountains to the Adriatic coast. The retreat in the bad winter weather with very little supplies cost lives of many Serbian soldiers and accompanying civilians. The remnants of Serbian army were evacuated by the Allied ships to Corfu by the beginning of February 1916.

In our current sale we are delighted to offer a range of Serbian proofs, including those of the 1915 ‘King Peter on the Battlefield’ design.

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