We had to leave our hotel at 10am but our bus to Logatec didn’t leave Kobarid until 1.30pm.
What to do in the meantime?
We left our rucksacks at the Tourist Information office – just around the corner from our hotel and then went to the museum.
We were there for well over 2 hours. It was one of the most engrossing museums I had visited.
It was focused on portraying the Soca valley during the 1st World War.
In 1915, the Italians invaded Slovenia. They sent a huge army into Slovenia. In the Soca valley a brutal war resulted – which was vividly described in Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Hemingway lived for a time in the Soca valley and witnessed events first-hand.
In the museum there were the usual artefacts from a war including guns, bayonets, shells, uniforms, gas masks and so on; there was a movie using original reels, in English – but for me, the most dramatic of the exhibits were the reprints of original black and white photos taken at the time by both the Italians and Germans. There were a 100 or more of them. I couldn’t believe it: I was looking at the very same valley which A. and I had walked through during the last 10 days.
How different it looked!
Moving from one photo to the next – and taking photos of the photos as I went – was a transforming experience. It made me realise that everything we had seen during the last 10 days was nothing but a moment in time; a thin slice of history. There was nothing eternal about the dense, almost jungle like forests, the snow-clad peaks, the silence – punctuated by the sound of frogs and birdsong. That amazing natural world was as recent as us.
The photos in the museum revealed a brutal reality of which we had only got the slightest hints of during our walks – the overgrown ruins of artillery batteries and look out posts; the remains of laboriously dug roads and galvanised iron shelters.
After leaving the museum, we sat outside on a pavement café in Korabid’s square. The sky was perfectly clear and the mountain sides a rich green. Tourist season was beginning. Most of the tourists were Germans and Italians. Yes, it was a fine day for the privileged of the world, A. and I among them; people whose main concerns were rafting, kayaking, paragliding, trekking, fishing for trout, eating out and drinking.
People blissfully unaware of the ghosts from the past.
During the 3-hour trip to Logatec, an idea occurred to me: I could place on Serious Travel Images one set of photos taken during our time in the Soca valley; and then another set of black and white photos which I had photographed during my visit to the museum.
The past and the present alongside one other; Beauty and Horror: a mirror reflecting all the perplexing strangeness of our existence…..
Kobarid before the 1st World War – like the other towns in the Soca Valley, a traditional village…
In May, 1915, the Italian Army invaded the tiny country of Slovenia, which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was an opportunistic, indeed, somewhat cowardly attack, motivated by the Italians’ belief that Austria, Hungary and Germany, being preoccupied with a war on two fronts (the Western and Eastern fronts) would not be able to offer much resistance. Over half the Italian army was involved in the invasion. Still, it took the Italian army almost a year before it reached the Soca valley in the north.
Suddenly, life in the valley was turned upside down….
Many of the villagers fled. Their houses were turned into barracks. The Italians’ plan was to drive up the Soca Valley and eventually launch an invasion of Austria. But nothing came of that plan. The resistance put up by the badly outnumbered Austrians was enough to bring the Italian army to a halt. It then dug itself in and used the valley as a forward post to prevent any future attempt by the Austrians to march back in to Slovenia.
In the process, the valley was stripped of its vegetation and the trees removed….it was turned into a desert.
Casualties mounted as the Austrians continued to fight back and regularly shelled the Italians…special wagons relayed the bodies back to Italy…
Severe winters also took their toll….
In 1917, German troops, released from the Eastern Front after the capitulation of Russia, moved into the Soca Valley. A massive counter attack was launched, starting with a gas attack. The Italians suffered enormous casualties and retreated…
Hemingway, who witnessed the counter attack and joined the Italian army as it fled back to Italy, wrote
‘The German is a born soldier.’
The Italian invasion of Slovenia was over. A million men died in the valley.
In her novel ‘All Our Worldly Goods’, the Jewish novelist Irena Nemirovsky describes the feelings of a French mother as her son departs for the trenches at the outbreak of the First World War:
‘…..she knew he would come back. Yes, despite her grief, despite the tears she had shed, a secret voice within her heart whispered that others might be killed, mutilated, wounded, but her son would come home after the war. And on that evening every mother in France was thinking the same. Each one of them believed that a guardian angel would protect her son…’
Next blog: ‘Beautiful Austria!’: