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Julius Singer

(1894-1968) – Austrian cavalry officer

Julius Singer was a promising music student in Vienna when war broke out. A cavalry officer in the Austrian army, he took a camera to the Eastern Front and survived. Coming to Britain in 1939 he found little of the design values of the 'Wiener Werkstätte' he knew in Vienna until he visited the Leach Pottery.

Credit: Leach Pottery, St Ives, family and Bernie Pettersen photos

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Visiting the Leach Pottery by car on Cornish holidays in the 1950s-60s was a revelation for Julius (whose nickname was Julci) and his wife Maruska.  Maruska had been part of the Wiener Werkstätte (‘Vienna’s Workshops’, a community of visual artists) in Vienna in the 1920s, designing silk needlepoint clutch bags.   For the first time since arriving in Britain in 1939, they came into contact with well-designed objects of the sort they were used to from Vienna.  They bought two Leach cereal bowls as souvenirs. 

Julius came from a family of Jewish pedlars and cantors from Moravia. His father married a Viennese Catholic widow and settled in Vienna.   At the start of the First World War, Julius was a student at the prestigious Music Academy in Vienna.

His war is recorded in his photos taken in Galicia and the Eastern Front.  These are dated March 1916 to February 1917.  Julius was a cavalry officer of the 84th division.  The first set of photos show a halt on a route march, heroes graves, a child army 'mascot', the army butcher at work, trenches and camps, a wounded officer and transport systems. The second set shows the barber shaving soldiers on the eve of the Brusilov Offensive, awaiting the attack in the Dubno cornfields and one of the first shells of the offensive taken on 5 June 1916 which began on 4th June 1916.   The next photos date from July and include a searchlight, Julius on horseback and new positions and camps in woodland.

The Brusilov Offensive, which led to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian force in Galicia, was a daring advance by the Russian general Brusilov.  By 12th June over a third of the Austro-Hungarian army were taken prisoner but the Russians were unable to follow up on their success because their supply lines were too long. In October 1916, the 84th division of the Austrio-Hungarian army dug in at the Boldurka Line, 35 miles from the original front.  It was a harsh winter and there was little food for the horses.  The third set of photos show water-logged conditions, two field masses and Hadow church, a sentry box and watch tower, delousing, big guns pointed skywards and sentry duty in the snow. By this time Julius was part of a big gun team and had won several medals.  

At the end of the war Julius resumed his music studies but, after what he had seen, couldn’t perform light opera roles any more – ‘To stand in the limelight singing of the great amour, it all seemed so funny’.  Knowing that his war medals would only impress young Nazis for a short time, Julius and his wife fled Vienna.  After sojourns in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, they came to Britain as domestic servants.  Julius joined the British Army in January 1940, changed his name to Stuart and settled in North London.  The Stuarts later designed and made costume jewellery using the British Museum as inspiration.

Key words: trenches [?]

Credit: Leach pottery, St Ives, family and Bernie Pettersen photos