Years of service
Silver Medal for Bravery 2nd class
1901 (age 87), Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina
1988 (aged 87), Damascus, Syria
Elez Dervišević (1901 – 1988) was a Bosniak soldier of the Austro-Hungarian Army and one of the youngest soldiers in the First World War.
He was born in 1901 to a prominent Bosniak merchant family in Bijeljina, Bosnia. His parents were Sulejman and Munevera. He had two brothers, Osman and Mehmedalija and one sister, Safija.
At the beginning of the First World War, during the mobilisation of the Austro-Hungarian Army, Adem Mesić recognised the danger on the southeastern border of Austria-Hungary, on the river Drina that was under threat from Serbia. With his own funds, Mesić mobilised 450 volunteer troops and stationed them on the Austria-Hungary border on the river Drina. Dervišević's brother, Mehmed, joined the group and was later promoted to captain. Immediately after the proclamation of war against Serbia by Austria-Hungary, the Serbian Army controlled the eastern side of the Drina. At age eleven, Elez left school to defend Austria-Hungary with Mehmed."
Battles of the Isonzo
When Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, the 91st Czech Infantry Battalion was ordered to Soča. The teenaged Dervišević volunteered to help the Czech infantry at Soča supplying food for the battalion. The Czech officer stationed there, Alois Martinek, asked the local Protection Corps commander to help guide him via the river Sava and the region of Slavonia, to which he agreed. However, Dervišević abandoned his task to jump on the train with the army to become a soldier. He was discovered only after he got to Soča. After hearing of this, Martinek ordered him off the front line. At first, Dervišević was a courier. Then a commander brought him to see the Bosniak forces in action. From a safe distance he watched as the Third Regiment of the Bosniak attacked and overran the Italian positions. Dervišević and an officer captured three Italian soldiers, and because of this the boy was promoted to corporal. At fourteen he was the youngest soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army. After nineteen months of service Dervišević was hit by shrapnel in the lower jaw and Martinek sent him to a hospital in Vienna. When he recovered he was stationed in Wielburg castle. He took care of the Ernsthaler family, who enrolled him in cadet school in Bratislava.
After the war
At the end of the First World War, Dervišević returned to Bijeljina. Upon arriving he was greeted by the mother and the brother of Osman Munevera. In 1925 he visited the Ernsthaler family and the Archduchess Isabella who lived in Hungary. As a gift from her, he received 5,000 florins. He used the money to start an agricultural export company. He became a successful entrepreneur and his business flourished until World War II. After the end of World War II he went to Syria, where he took the rank of major in the reserves of the Syrian Army. He died in Syria in 1988. He is buried in Damascus. He was survived by a daughter.
For his service in World War I, Elez Dervišević received the Silver Medal for Bravery 2nd class, the Bronze Medal for Bravery and the Medal of Military Merit. When the Bulgarian King Ferdinand I asked, as Elez stood in front of him in uniform with a slightly skewed fez: "Are you a Turk?", he replied: "No, I'm a Bosniak!"