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Aid mission of Swiss scouts in World War I

A hundred years ago, the First World War broke out, which had brought hardship and misery to Europe and the theatres of war in the Middle East, Africa and East Asia over a period of four years, causing 17 million deaths.

In the Sarajevo assassination attempt on 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian crown, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were murdered by members of the revolutionary underground organisation Mlada Bosna, who was or was connected with official authorities in Serbia. The main motives were the liberation of Bosnia-Herzegovina from Austro-Hungarian rule with the aim of unifying the southern Slavs under Serbia's leadership. On 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia. The enthusiasm for war all over Europe was great and the interests of the great powers and the German military planning (Schlieffen-Plan) caused the local war to escalate into continental war within a few days with the participation of Russia (German declaration of war of 1 August 1914) and France (German declaration of war of 3 August 1914). The German troops attacked France from the northeast, violating the neutrality of Belgium and Luxembourg. This led to the onset of the war by the Belgian guarantor Great Britain and its Dominions (British declaration of war of 4 August 1914).

In Switzerland, the Federal Council decided on 31 July 1914 to place the army on a stand-by position, and on 3 August the general mobilization and conscription of the expatriates and the armed forces, with their mobilization telegram sent on 1 August 1914. For the first time, Landsturm units were commissioned to cover the mobilization and deployment of troops.

Switzerland remained neutral, but was surrounded by warring powers. In Switzerland, the First World War is also known as the 1914-1918 border occupation. The war years confronted the people and the army with severe internal problems. On 3 August 1914, the Federal Assembly elected Ulrich Wille as General of the Swiss Armed Forces. The total population of the active field army was about 250,000 men and 77,000 horses. On top of that, the first aid service provided around 200,000 men.

On average, a soldier worked about 500 working days on average and did not receive any compensation for loss of earnings, as the compensation scheme was only introduced during the Second World War. The troops founded welfare funds for men in distress, which were financed by the proceeds from the sale of the soldier's stamps. Wehrmänner could send and receive their private mail free of charge.

Among the recruiting soldiers were also scout leaders. So she was able to use the field post free of charge for her correspondence in connection with her work as a scout. Such a receipt is described in detail in the newsletter 1/2013.

The volunteers were dressed in civilian clothes. The characteristic feature was the Swiss federal armband in red with a white Swiss cross. There were also scouts who wore their uniform. Various photos and postcards testify to their use. It is not known whether the helpers who were deployed by the state and the army, and thus also the scouts, received free postage for their mail. The fact that not a single piece of evidence of such a postage exemption is known to date makes this more likely to be ruled out.

Werner Kradolfer

Historical Encyclopedia of Switzerland, Wikipedia. org