Discussing Franz Ferdinand on the top deck of the bus

The man and his wife and three children came up to the top deck of the bus. Bound for the beach, they carried bags with beachwear, towels and a picnic.

Emaciated, and shaky, the man had taken a day off from the fish and chip shop in which he worked. This was to be a day of which he would make the most.

He sat behind me, noticed a blue scarf and asked where I was bound. I told him and we chatted about sport. Then he asked me what I did, I told him and we began a discussion.

He said he loved history and had been watching a documentary on Franz Ferdinand. It prompted me to refresh my own recollections.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, an empire that included much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. On 28th June 1914, his visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, one of the countries in the empire, aroused hostility among those in Bosnia who sought independence.

Nedeljko Čabrinović, one of the Bosnian nationalists, threw a grenade at the archduke’s car. Čabrinović’s act of terrorism failed; the grenade exploded behind the car carrying Franz Ferdinand and injured the occupants of the vehicle following them.

Franz Ferdinand was enraged. Going to the residence of the imperial governer, the archduke protested, “So this is how you welcome your guests – with bombs!”

It was not as though political assassinations had not happened before and not as though the imperial administrators were not aware of tensions in the city. As the man on the bus pointed out to me, an elementary understanding of security would have told them that Franz Ferdinad should not travel further that day, and, when he did move, should only do so under strict security. Instead, astonishingly, he and his wife were allowed to leave the residence in an open car, to visit the hospital to which those wounded by the grenade attack had been taken.

Even the foolish decision to travel the streets need not have been fatal, had the drivers taken the correct route, there would not have been a problem.

No-one had thought to tell the driver of a car, that had been subject to a bomb attack that same morning, that  the route had changed. The drivers of the vehicles had to turn around, which need not have given an opportunity for further attack, were it not for the fact that one of the cars stalled, bringing the whole line to a halt.

A competent administration would have ensured the archduke’s car was immediately surrounded by policemen or soldiers, but Franz Ferdinand was left unprotected.

Gavrilo Princip, another Bosnian nationalist was sat at a cafe and saw what had happened. He walked across the street and took out a low-powered pistol, at which point one might have expected him to have been brought down by gunfire from those charged with the archduke’s protection.

Princip did not even shoot Franz Ferdinand first; he shot the duchess Sophie in the abdomen before shooting the imperial heir in the neck. The archduke died at the scene, the duchess on the way to the hospital.

The incompetence of the imperial authorities contributed much to the conversation on the bus.

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