Because of his involvement in the Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) movement and friendship with the notorious Gavrilo Princip, there has been an understandable focus on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s activities during the First World War amongst historians. Even here in the Archive we’ve tended to focus on his dramatic escape from Germany in August 1914, and his bold attempts to establish himself as a journalist and teacher in his adopted British home. In the inter-war years, Mitrinović positioned himself at the heart of a large network of psychologists, artists, writers and intellectuals. In the space of a few years he founded the Adler Society, Chandos Group, New Europe Group, New Britain Movement, Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs and House of Industry League. As might be expected, those organisations that were still operational when war broke out in 1939 were all severely affected. The only organisation that emerged intact in the 1940s was the New Europe Group, though it too suffered losses.
Some group members joined the armed forces, breaking up Mitrinović’s “Senate of Youth” organisation. Orion Playfair became an RAF pilot and died in an air crash in 1941. A great favourite with Mitrinović, he was mourned by the New Europe Group.
John Harker became a somewhat reluctant army surveyor, serving in East Africa. His letters grumble about “militaristic nonsense” and document his efforts to maintain an intellectual life in difficult circumstances. His great comforts when far from home were the novels of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. Harker was curious about Africa, recording his observations about the people, languages and wildlife he encountered. Harker’s story reminds us of just how truly global the war was. He was killed in 1944 when his transport ship was torpedoed off the coast of Madagascar.
Others in the Group were more fortunate, including one of the women in the group who had also ‘joined up’. Ellen Mayne joined the Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.) in 1939. Her experiences there are recorded in a charming series of photographs, notes and printed ephemera which seem to convey a sense of genuine camaraderie amongst the women involved.
Not all members of Mitrinović’s circle were of an age or inclination to join the Services. However they were far from inactive during the war and a future blog post will explore their experiences on the Home Front.