Former Pupils


The Story of Živojin Kovaćević

by his granddaughter Jelena Stanković

Zivojin Kovacevic

My grandfather was born on 6 April 1901 in the Serbian city of Kruševac in central Serbia. His parents were Mirko and Mileva Kovaćević. Mirko owned a construction company, building roads and bridges in the vicinity as well as houses in his home town.

My grandfather had two older sisters and two younger brothers and one younger sister. There was a considerable difference in age between my grandfather and his older sisters, because two or three baby boys died before my grandfather was born. In keeping with Serbian custom, to protect their latest son from being taken by the devil, their pierced his ear to trick the devil into thinking he was a girl. But children teased him and he took the earring off when he was four years old.

He was a bright boy and an excellent pupil who also learned to play the violin. Because of his intelligence Mirko had big plans for my grandfather, whose name "Živojin" in Serbian also had a magical connotation, being connected to the Serbian word for "life". However his family and friends shortened it to "Žika".

At the beginning of the war, in 1914, Živojin's father Mirko was mobilised. He became a sergeant in a unit acting as rear guard for the retreating Serbian army, during late 1915, just prior to their defeat.

When the Austro-Hungarian army was advancing towards Kruševac, my grandfather's mother decided that my grandfather, accompanied by a young neighbour who was a teacher, should retreat towards Albanian mountains with the Serbian army. His sisters had sewed gold coins in the belt of my grandfather's trousers and those coins helped him to survive on the way.

When crossing the Vezir's Bridge in Žljeb in Albania, my grandfather stumbled across his father Mirko, who was astonished to see him. Mirko told my grandfather that he could not stay with him because his unit was the last defence against the advancing Germans, Austrians, Bulgarians and Albanians, who were attacking, killing and robbing the retreating Serbian soldiers and civilians. "May God protect you and our neighbour on your way," he told Živojin.

Živojin succeeded in crossing the Albanian mountains. He was then taken to Corfu and, together with a small group of pupils, was transferred to Corsica and from there to the United Kingdom. In Edinburgh, Živojin and Konstantin Stanković (from Pirot) were taken in by Mrs. Tomory*. She took care of the two boys while they were in school in Edinburgh and till their departure in 1921. She came to visit my grandfather's mother and father in Kruševac in 1922 and also to visit the Stanković family in Pirot. She said that she considered the two boys as her own sons.

*Mrs Tomory was the matron of the "Serbian Boys' Hostel at 1 Kilmaurs Terrace, where several of the boys lived. At the end of the war, after most of the boys had returned to Serbia, she helped raise money which allowed Živojin Kovaćević and Konstantin Stanković to remain in Edinburgh to complete their engineering degrees at Edinburgh University. Mrs Tomory's daughter, Phyllis, visited them in Yugoslavia in the 1950s.
She went out in 1920 to visit some of their parents and had a wonderful time. I had the privilege of going to Yugoslavia a few years ago and saw some of our friends and their families. Conditions are not easy out there for the independent..."