On December 1st we had the great opportunity of seeing and obtaining needlework done by the Serbian Refugees in Corsica.
Miss Radford, the organiser of the workrooms, gave a short lecture, in the course of which she gave us a picture of the life and character of the Serbian people, and very surely enlisted our sympathy for the gallant and suffering little country, that, after centuries of wars and foreign oppression and struggles for freedom, has during the war suffered more than ever in the course of her stormy history, and suffered as perhaps no nation has ever suffered in the world’s history.
She told us how in the autumn of 1915, when it was apparent that Serbia was to be overrun by the enemy, a good number of people from the towns and south and east parts of the country fled down to Salonika, and took with them what they could of their household and personal property. A refugee camp was improvised, for which a handful of English people made themselves responsible. As Salonika, from strategic reasons, was obviously unfit for a permanent encampment of refugees, it was arranged by agreement with the French, English, and Serbian governments, to ship them all to Corsica, there to be housed and cared for partly by the French authorities, and partly by an English relief milt belonging to the Serbian Relief Fund. Three large transports brought the refugees to Corsica from Salonika, and a month later a fourth arrived bringing those who had escaped from the north and west across the mountains of Albania or Montenegrin coast. These came empty handed, many ill and worn-out with exposure and privation. Most were peasants, the majority of them women. Among them were also 200 to 300 boys, rescued from Schools and brought away by the army in its retreat. (Many of these are now in England being educated in various schools and cared for by local Committees under the S.R.F.)
Thus was formed a colony of several thousand Serbs in Corsica. Gradually the men have been called back to the army or to Government service behind the army, or in Salonika or Corfu, till now some 2500 are left, women, children, and some men (mostly old), and boys. The attempt was to make real Serbian colonies with their own life. The houses were decorated with the carpets and woven cloths the refugees brought with them. There were French Schools and Serbian kindergarten for children, and a Church in each centre.
Their festivals were kept, especially the anniversary of the battle of ‘Kossovo, a day of national mourning, kept since the 14th century, but celebrated with songs and national dances.
Workrooms were established at first to supply necessary clothes. Then came the gradual development of their handicrafts. Embroidery designs taken from old carpets and national costumes, cotton weaving, native material as used for dresses, shirts, and household linen, wool weaving, rugs, carpets. The wool was bought raw in Corsica and the cleaning, spinning and primitive dyeing was all done in the workrooms. Carpenters made furniture, and also the looms, spindles, &c., used in the workrooms. Cobblers mended the shoes and made the native sandals.
In their decorative art a great many of the designs are purely Serbian, others are influenced by Turkish and, indirectly, Persian designs.
The Serbs are a primitive people with a real culture and civilisation. Their historic sense is very strong. They sing at their work, are poetic, and in speech epigrammatic, and are fond of proverbs. They are grave, sad, courteous-mannered, affectionate, humorous, and democratic. There is no’ class feeling, which is especially noticeable in a workroom of 150 women of every class. They make use of “brother,” “sister,” as a form of address.
After this very interesting lecture we saw their handiwork-woven wool rugs, woven cotton embroidery from old national designs, costumes, peasant socks and shoes, &c.
The Exhibition represented the effort of English friends of Serbia to keep alive the courage and national spirit of these exiles till the day when they shall return to their own country.
Miss E. Radford played a national dance, and Miss M. Radford sang one of their folk songs.
The sale was very brisk and with the silver collection at the door realised £52 for the Fund.
We were most grateful to Miss Radford for making the whole picture so vivid and understandable. We were glad of the opportunity to possess some of the beautiful work, and in that way help the refugees.
MILDRED P. WESTLAKE.