Josef Merunka

* 1890  †︎ 1979

  • “There, I witnessed the 1st battalion of the 21st infantry regiment which had been in Hradec Králové about two years earlier and which was then garrisoned in Brčka, Bosnia. Our lads did all kinds of mischief in Bosnia. Well, in a nutshell, they would steal like mad there. In Bosnia, the people weren’t used to that and thus they’d not lock the doors or anything – there were no door locks or keys there at all. And our lads would – for instance – go to a shop and steal as much stuff there as they could. They’d steal postcards, pencils and all kinds of stuff. This made the locals more cautious and after a while, they started to protect their property from the soldiers. For example, the merchant would tie the bottles with liquor and plum brandy that were exhibited on a shelf together with a piece of cord. When we, the new recruits, arrived in Bosnia in 1912, they threw themselves at us: ‘guys, do you need postcards, pencils’? They had stolen all of this.”

  • “There, we stayed in the trenches, I believe it was in 1916. There were four of us in our shelter. It was a small dug out in the ground, which was mostly stone. A grenade hit the back wall of our shelter and exploded. They only shelled us with the smaller grenades, about six centimeters in size. The larger ones were harder to take aim with. Well, it impacted at the back wall and its shrapnel hit all of us. We were all hurt. It hit me in the eyes. It also tore off a tiny bit of my ear and pierced my pocket which was crammed with postcards and letters. It tore up all the postcards and came all the way to my skin, leaving a huge bruise on it. It also hit me underneath my knee where it came through the pants, ripping them up and scratching my leg. But the worst part was my eyes. At that point, I was really saying goodbye to the world as I thought I was dying. The whole world turned black, I couldn’t see anything and I went deaf. The explosion was very close to me, just about one meter away. So I put my hands on my knees and thought to myself: ‘this is what it must look like when you’re dying’. I was certain of my near death. But then it got a bit better and so I pulled out my hands and started tapping my injuries. My whole body was a single bruise, little stones, splinters and my whole face was covered in blood, everything was, in fact.”

  • “Once, when we were advancing towards the lines of the Russians, we got to a balk that offered us a shelter. We took cover there and when it was getting dark, I realized these columns, about a meter wide. In Galicia, they probably play a similar role like the crosses at home – there are some holy pictures on them. So I took cover behind one of the columns and took a nap. I put my kitbag underneath my head and hunched up nicely but as I slept I must have stretched my legs and a bullet hit my leg in the dark. It stayed in my leg until 1919, I think. It stayed there for so long. The place of impact was here, right above my ankle. You could tell the place where it immersed itself underneath the skin. It was probably somewhat tilted towards the ankle, stuck in the bone. They only put it out in the hospital long afterwards. I think it was in 1919.”

  • “Next door, there was such a nice garden where I used to go to pick plums. It might have been by August and there were really nice plums growing on that tree. As I was picking the plums, a gipsy girl came to me, she was about sixteen years old. It was a sort of a vulgar girl. She was constantly trying to attract and making out with the soldiers. I think that she even had a boyfriend who’d usually accompany her. So she came there and she saw that I was picking plums. She wanted some plums from me. So I bent one branch towards her and gave her some plums. But she wouldn’t leave. She would just hang around. She just got stuck there with me and didn’t want to leave. So I told her to go away but she still wanted to stay. As she wouldn’t go, I mounted the bayonet on my rifle and told her to leave immediately. She thus finally left with that boy. After a while, I also left the garden and as I walked along some slaughter house by the river, I noticed her rolling on the ground with some man behind the fence. In the meantime, the boy she was with was waiting by the fence. I think that the boy then collected some money from that guy. Well, every time I saw her later on, I drove her away. She also knew a number of the officers.”

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    Havlíčkův Brod, 01.01.1975

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    duration: 34:48
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I was conscripted for the first Balkan war

Josef Merunka - contemporary portrait (detail)
Josef Merunka - contemporary portrait (detail)

Josef Merunka was born on February 12, 1890, in the village of Veselice nearby Německý (today Havlíčkův) Brod. He grew up in neighboring Papšíkov and attended school in Poděbaby. After he completed primary school, he had to take up a job in order to help provide for his family consisting of 8 family members. He worked in the textile family of Václav Veselý and left for Police nad Metují after becoming a master in his craft. In 1912, he enrolled to the Austrian army and was drafted as an active soldier to the First Balkan war in Bosnia, where the territorial partitioning of the peninsula was at stake. After the outbreak of WWI, he fought in Galicia and later at the Italian front nearby Trent. This is also where he suffered a serious injury of his sight. He was recovering from this injury at first in Ljubljana and subsequently in Prague, before he was transferred to Hungarian Eged, where he awaited his release from service. He returned back home from war in 1917. Thereafter, he at first worked as a medical assistant in a hospital in Německý Brod before returning to the textile industry. He married in 1920 and in 1932 his family moved to Brod. He died in 1979 in Havlíčkův Brod.