On 28 June 1914, young Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Europe had been in a state of uneasy tension for several years, and this act became the trigger that launched some European nations into action. Exactly one month after the assassination, 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War.
For most Australians and New Zealanders, the focal points of the war were Gallipoli, Palestine, and France and Belgium on the Western Front. However, the war was also fought in a number of other theatres, including the Balkans. As a result of the war, and a concurrent typhoid epidemic, Serbia lost 28 per cent of its population, by far the highest casualty rate in proportion to any nation involved in the conflict.
Although the vast majority of Australian and New Zealand involvement in the First World War took place in the theatres listed above, there was a small but significant number of Australians and New Zealanders directly involved in military and medical operations in Serbia. Before the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli in 1915, Australian and New Zealand medical volunteers were already in Serbia, treating wounded soldiers and fighting the typhus epidemic. As many as 1,500 Australian and New Zealand soldiers, airmen, sailors, doctors, nurses and medical staff have been identified to date as serving on the Serbian Front during the First World War.
Although a long way from the Antipodes, Serbia and its desperate plight was widely reported on in the Australian and New Zealand press with great sympathy.