Monday, August 11, 2014

Czech military service in the past

Rose Green asked if I can write a bit about Czech military service history. She had several questions and I decided to answer at least some of them. So, here are Rose's questions: How common the military service was? Was it ever mandatory, and if so, for how long? Did they generally serve locally, or were they sent far away? How common was it for a soldier to marry a local girl? And did the soldiers bring spouses and children along? Let's see if I'm able to answer these questions.

Czech military service 1649-1918
This part is more of less translation of a post on website.

1649 - First stable army was created in Czech lands as a part of Austrian army (mercenaries or ad hoc armies before this date). Soldiers entered army on their free will, but were enlisted for life. If there was no war in place, they could have vacation (even for few years) and work as farmers or craftsmen.

1781 - Emperor Joseph II. estabilished military duty for the poorest. Noblemen, churchmen and intelligence were exempted from this duty. Voluntary recruitment was replaced by conscriptions which were often forced (and therefor violent); the service was for life and those long-term vacations were still in place.

1802 - End of for life service. 10 years for infantry, 12 years for cavalry, 14 years for artillery.

 Czech military uniforms, 1809. Source:

1845 - Military service was shortened to 8 years. Long-term vacations were still in place and conscriptions were held periodically.

1868 - General liability for service was estabilished through new military law. Since them most of Czech men were included in the military service. The service took three years for infantry, cavalry and artillery and 4 years for marines. Soldiers were for 7 more years in reserves and 2 additional years in land defence.

1912 - Military service was shortened to 2 years (special arms 3 years, marines 4 years). 7 years reserves were still in place as well as two years in land defense. The conscriptions took place twice a year.

How common the military service was?
It depends on time of history. Generally, since 1868 almost every young man was liable to the military service. It means that they joined the army around 20 years of age and two/three/four years later they were back home. They were for another 7 years placed in the military reserves so they were called to arms in case of need. In such case you can see a word "reservista" in Czech and "Reservist" in German records. 

Was it ever mandatory, and if so, for how long?
Answered in the overview above.

Did they generally serve locally, or were they sent far away?
There were several places - residences of the regiments. They were usually placed in military towns or forts and it depended where the ancestor lived. But they could be sent quite far away, it was nothing strange if someone from Southern Bohemia servers in Opava, Silesia.

How common was it for a soldier to marry a local girl? 
If you mean a girl from a place where he served it was not too often from my experience. They usually waited with marriage after the military service - they returned home and then found a girl to marry. 

And did the soldiers bring spouses and children along?
Soldiers (until certain rank) were not allowed to marry because they wouldn't be able to support a family from their wage. If they became professional soldiers and they were allowed to marry they took the family wherever they served.
But there was another case - even the fact the soldiers were not allowed to marry, their partners often followed them to the place where they served. The soldier lived in barracks and his "wife" with children in the town or village near the barracks. Children were legitimated after the military service or when the soldier was allowed to marry. That's why you can find many illegitimal or legitimated children in towns where the residence of regiment was (such as Terezín, Josefov or so). 

If there are any more questions, just let me know in comments. :)


  1. Was Prestice a town where military was regimented? I have illegitimate great grandfather and his siblings who lived there with their mother and grandmother. Thanks! Sue

    1. Prestice wasn't a regiments residense as far as I know, the nearest military residences were in Písek and Plzeň.

  2. My gg grandfather's 1860 marriage record says "Karl Spohr, musiklehrer und kapellmeister beim k.k. priviligierten Schützenkorps in Eger." I am trying to find his military records at the family history library in Salt Lake City. I looked at a microfische for Eger and he was not in those records. I read something today that says their conscription was based on the village of birth. He was born in Salesl (present Dolni Zalezly) but only lived there a few years. His father's ancestral village was Merzlitz (present Mrzlice). He was married in Graslitz (present Kraslice). Where do you suggest I look next? Thank you very much!

    1. I would suggest contacting Czech Military Archives to find out more about the service - it's central Czech archive for military records. Try to write there an e-mail (to ) with your gggrandfather's name, date and place of birth - they will let you know if there is any record concerning him.

  3. Thank you, Blanka, for that explanation! That helps me understand why some of those men getting married for the first time were so old, too--first they had to do their time in the military. 10-14 years, wow. That sounds like a hard life!

    1. It definitely was a hard life in the time of wars. And that long term service was the reason why soldier were often followed to the church by a bunch of their own kids. :)

    2. So was it pretty common for soldiers to have children out of wedlock? I believe my great-grandmother was illegitimate but I haven't been able to find her birth record and the story I was told doesn't add up with other records I have. I know my gg-grandfather was in the military.

    3. Yes, it was really common. If your gggrandfather was in the army, the possibility some of his children were born out of wedlock was really high.

  4. That's very interesting! Would the birth of the illegitimate child be recorded in the parish book, even if they were Catholic? My great grandmother told everyone she was born in Vienna but her father was from Bozejovice. I find him in the records but not her. I wonder if the military records would shed a clue on where he would have been stationed. I'm not sure she was really born in Vienna. it's a big mystery!

  5. great post Blanka,thanks!!!
    some of my ancestors were in the army,and also in the czech legion.

  6. My ancestor Pavel Petrucha is listed as an "invalid, border guard," in Straznice in 1820s. Is this a military occupation? Thanks, Mike Kukral