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 John Biggins

The Two-Headed Eagle

In which Otto Prohaska takes a break as the Habsburg Empire’s leading U-Boat ace and does something even more thanklessly dangerous


Since border changes resulting from the two world wars have altered beyond recognition many of the place names used in this story, a glossary is attached giving those most commonly used in 1916 and their modern equivalents.

The names given here attempt to follow Austrian official usage of the period. However, most of the story takes place in the regions where the old Danubian Monarchy bordered Italy, and in no other part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—except perhaps for Transylvania—was there such complete anarchy as regards local place names. Virtually every settle­ment above the size of a hamlet had three names—Italian, German and Slovene—and there seem to have been no hard-and-fast rules, even in official documents, about which one would be used; except that in 1916 German or Italian would still normally be preferred to Slovene when the speaker was an educated person. Thus the small town which is nowadays called Bovec was quite likely to have been referred to as Plezzo by an Italian—or as Flitsch by a German-speaker.

The use of place names in this story should therefore not be taken as implying endorsement of any territorial claims, past, present or future.

Adelsberg   Postojna, Slo.     R. Eisack   R. Isarco, It. 

Arbe I.   Rab I., Cro.     Feistritz  Bistrica, Slo. 

Asinello I.  Ilovik I., Cro.    Flitsch  Bovec/Plezzo, Slo. 

Bozen  Bolzano, It.     Gorz  Gorizia/Gorica, It. 

Brixen  Bressanone, It.     Klausenburg  Cluj/Koloszvar, Ro

Bruneck  Brunico, It.    Laibach  Ljubljana, Slo. 

Caporetto  Kobarid/Karfreit, Slo.    Leitmeritz  Litoměřice, Cz. 

Castagnevizza  Kostanjevica, Slo.     Lundenberg  Brěclav, Cz. 

Cherso I.  Kres I., Cro.     Lunga I.  Dugi Otok, Cro. 

Dornberg  Dornberk/Montespino, Slo.     Lussin Grande  Veli Losinj, Cro.

Eger  Cheb, Cz.     Lussin Piccolo  Mali Losinj, Cro. 

Marburg  Maribor, Slo.     Selbe I.  Silba I., Cro.

Meleda I.  Molat I., Cro.     Selva di Ternova Trnovski Gozd/Ternauerwald, Slo.

Monte Nero Krn, Slo.     Toblach Dobbiaco, It.

Monte Santo Skalnica, Slo.     Tolmein Tolmin/Tolmino, Slo.

Monte Vecchio Sveta Gora, Slo.     Trautenau Trutnov, Cz.

Neumarkt Egna, It.     Trient Trento, It.

Oppachiasella Opatje Selo, Slo.     Ulbo I. Olib I., Cro.

Pago I. Pag I., Cro.     Veldes Bled, Slo.

Prerau Přerov, Cz.     Wippach Vipava/Vippaco, Slo.

Ranziano Renče, Slo.    Wocheinersee Bohinjsko Jezero, Slo.

Sansego I. Susak I., Cro.     Zara Zadar, Cro.

Santa Croce Sveti Kriz/ Heiligenkreuz, Slo.


The Austro-Hungarian Empire set up by the Compromise of 1867 was a union of two near-independent states in the person of their monarch, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Thus, for the fifty-one years of its existence, almost every institution and many of the personnel of this composite state had their titles prefixed with initials indicating their status.

Shared Austro-Hungarian institutions were Imperial and Royaclass="underline" “kaiserlich und koniglich” or “k.u.k.” for short. Those belonging to the Austrian part of the Monarchy (that is to say, everything that was not the Kingdom of Hungary) were designated Imperial-Royal—“kaiserlich- koniglich” or simply “k.k.”—in respect of the monarch’s status as Em­peror of Austria and King of Bohemia; while purely Hungarian insti­tutions were Royal Hungarian: “koniglich ungarisch” (“k.u.”) or “kiraly magyar” (“k.m.”).




Recorded at

SS of the Perpetual Veneration

Old People’s Home

Plas Gaerllwydd


West Glamorgan

Undated—probably autumn 1986

Strange, I always think , how the pettiest and least signifi­cant things—some banal tune playing on the wireless, the smell of the floor polish they once used at your old school—can set off a train of recollections; even when one has not thought about the matters in question for decades past, and even in someone like myself, who has never been one of nature’s chroniclers or—at least until lately—much ad­dicted to reverie, never even kept a diary except when required to do so by service regulations.

It was the television that set it off, yesterday evening in the residents’ lounge: that draughty, high-ceilinged hall converted (I would imagine) from the one-time drawing-room of this dilapidated Victorian mansion, built out here on the tip of peninsula so as to be as far as possible upwind of the Swansea copper-smelting works which provided the money for its construction. I was sitting near the back of the room, in the armchair where Sister Elzbieta parks me each afternoon and which I occupy by vir­tue of my position as the Home’s eldest resident: a hundred and one next April if I last that long. I was sitting there with a blanket over my knees, trying to read a little, in so far as cataract allows me, and to absorb some of the feeble warmth radiated by the Plas Gaerllwydd’s monstrously inef­ficient central-heating system. My young friend Kevin the caretaker fired up the boilers the day before yesterday to counter the autumnal chill cast by the Bristol Channel fogs, but one would be hard put to it to notice any difference.

It was only just after supper but the television was already jabber­ing away at the front of the room, surrounded by its circle of devotees intent on their evening act of worship. Normally it disturbs me little. My English is quite creditable—as well it might be, considering that I began to study it about 1896 and that I have spent the best part of half a century in exile in this country. But I find that programmes in what is still (for me) a foreign language are something that I can easily shut my ears against. In fact, since the Sisters moved me down here from Ealing in the summer the position has been doubly satisfactory in this respect, since a good half of the programmes each day are in Welsh, of which I think that I may be forgiven for not understanding a single word.

It never ceased to amaze me even back at the Home in Iddesleigh Road how the residents there (I try hard not to call them inmates) would cheer­fully spend sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, watching programmes in a language which many of them still barely understand. So what shall I say of them down here in south Wales? No, I sat undisturbed and thought, and read a little, then thought again: all the long-forgotten events which have been coming to the surface these past few months, like oil and wreck­age from a sunken ship, since the photograph album turned up and they brought me to this place and I began telling these improbable yarns of mine to young Kevin. I could have continued like that until they came to put me to bed. But then the insufferable Major Koziolkiewicz strode in on his bandy cavalryman’s legs and, without asking anyone, walked over to the television set and turned up the volume (he is deaf in one ear and half deaf in the other, but the vanity of old age prevents him from wear­ing a hearing aid). Bored with my book, and wishing anyway for some respite from memories which were not always entirely welcome, I sighed and turned resignedly to watch the programme.



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