Although I am no doubt fairly aware of history and the importance of the date November 11, somehow WWI never felt very personal for me. Of course, I was always grateful for the sacrifices that were made, but I didn’t feel personally connected to those events. WWII yes, since that’s the reason my Latvian family came to Canada and I even exist today. But WWI seemed like less of a big deal somehow. No one in my family that was here in Canada fought in the war, and my Latvian family, although they had to flee their homes for a few years, didn’t seem like they had it too bad.
Last week though, I stumbled upon a page that made me reconsider these sentiments. I am only just in the beginning stages of learning about this, but I found my great grandfather’s name in a list of those who served with the Latvian Riflemen (Latviešu Strēlnieki), who were aligned with the Russian army – being that Latvia had not yet gained independence from Russia. The notes I found are all from 1917, which was a turning point for Russia in the war – as they and their allies began to emerge victorious, Russia was descending into revolution at the hands of the Bolsheviks. It’s a pretty messy point in Latvian history because Latvia too had it’s own battle going on for independence.
My great grandfather Janis Akerfelds would have been 18 years old when he is first mentioned in this database – August 20, 1917. He could have been conscripted, or perhaps he joined on his own accord. He was first in the 2nd Riga Strēlnieku Pulks, then transferred to the Siberian army corps headquarters a few months later.
I am only just beginning to understand his role in these complicated events, but I thought it was quite fitting that I discovered this tidbit a week away from November 11. Latvians also celebrate November 11, however it is in remembrance of not the end of WWI, but for the victory a year later resulting in Latvia’s first independence. Latvia had declared their independence at the end of WWI, but still struggled against dominating powers from Russia and Germany until 1920. It is called Lāčplēša diena in honor of a Latvian folk hero who had the strength (and ears) of a bear. You can read more about it if you click the link. In the mean time… I guess I have some reading to do in order to fully understand Janis’ time in the military.
What was WWI like for Latvians? Check out Antra Celmina’s blog, where she has translated a family member’s diary from that complicated time in a series of posts – it is quite compelling.
AKERFELDS Jānis Jēkaba d. – 2.Rīgas LSP 2.rotas strēlnieks 1917.20.08. no LSRP iedalīts pulkā, 1917.17.10. piekomandēts 2.Sibīrijas armijas korpusa štābam ar uzdevumu atvieglot krievu karavīru kontaktus at vietējiem iedzīvotājiem, noņemts no pulka apgādes, 1917.20.11. ar pavēli ieskaitīts atpakaļ pulkā (LVA 45-1-19)