Recently, Canada celebrated the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, the 1917 battle that gave Canada a seat at the table as an independent power. However, this remembrance is about someone on the other side of that war.
It actually all begins 50 years before World War I. With all of Jutland occupied by Prussia and Austria, King Christian IX of Denmark signed the Treaty of Vienna on October 30, 1864. Denmark had gone to war over the Duchy of Holstein and ended up losing both Holstein and the Duchy of Schleswig to Prussia, which was to become the nation of Germany under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck.
What does this distant event have to do with family history? The Bendixens were living in Brørup at the time, which meant it was on the Denmark side of border with the new German Empire. However, other ancestors were not so fortunate, and it had tragic consequences.
A Bendixen cousin in Denmark, Peter, has provided me more information about the family of Anna Hansen, the paternal grandmother of my sister-in-law, Paula. I have found a few records confirming Peter's research but I have a lot more work to do. However, Peter certainly appears to be a very diligent and passionate genealogist and I trust the thoroughness of his research.
My sister-in-law's grandparents were Christian Bendixen, born in Brørup, and Anna Marie Hansen. According to Peter, Anna's parents were Andreas Christian Hansen and Hansine Magdalene Pederson. While I haven't yet found a record that proves this relationship, Paula's memories of her grandmother's family stories match the records very well.
Hansine was born March 24, 1891 in the town of Nyby, Læborg Parish, Malt Hundred, in the County of Ribe. Læborg Parish is only a few kilometers from Brørup, where the Bendixens lived at that time.
Hansine was the first child of Mikkel Pederson, 35, and Anne Marie Schmidt, 38. However, this was Anne's 2nd marriage, she was a widow of Hans Petersen Lund, and she had several previous children. It's very likely that the Bendixens still have many distant cousins living in this area.
Hansine appears on the 1906 census with her parents and siblings. However, she is absent from the home on the 1911 census, possibly because she was no longer in Denmark. She may have been working in a home as a servant or staying with other family. Regardless, she married Andreas Christian Hansen in 1912.
While Andreas was Danish, he lived in Haderslev, about 70 kilometers southeast of Læborg, which was in the Duchy of Schleswig, which meant that he was a subject of the Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II.
Andreas and Hansine had at least 2 children together: Kristine and Anna. Since they are absent on any Danish census at this time, it's likely that they lived in Haderslev or some place nearby. Andreas worked as a miller and helped operate the machinery to grind up grain into flour. Sadly, their family life would be very harshly interrupted.
On June 28, 1914, a Serbian, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of the Austrian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. This spark lit the fuse of the war to end all wars, which later became known as World War I.
Denmark was to remain neutral throughout the war, although it faced a small German invasion near the end of the conflict. However, the Hansens did not live in Denmark but inside the borders of Germany and, consequently, faced the prospect of mandatory military service. Andreas avoided conscription into the regular forces but instead had to serve 12 years in the ersatz (supplementary) reserve.
Unfortunately, as the war dragged on, Germany called up all their reserves, including Andreas. All told, thirty-thousand Danish men were called up into service.
Andreas served as infantry in the 394th regiment, 7th company, in the 2nd Ersatz Reserve division. He was called up in late 1916 or early 1917 to become one of the millions of men digging an endless network of trenches across France. He would have hid down in the bottom of the trench when the Allied artillery pounded his location with fire and shrapnel. He would have leaned out of his trench, firing his rifle, when thousands of Allied soldiers and tanks swarmed his position. And, when his officer blew his whistle, he would have crawled over the top of his trench to crawl through a kilometer of barbed wire, mud, and bodies to rush into Allied machine gun fire.
The regiment had its first man killed in March, 1917, as the British attacked their positions on their withdrawal back to the Hindenburg Line. Two months later, on May 13, 1917, near the French town of Pargny, Andreas, the 28 year old son, husband, and father of 2 girls was killed in action.
After Andreas was returned to Haderslev and buried, Hansine and her family returned to Denmark to live near the rest of her family.
Less than 18 months after Andreas' death, Germany collapsed, formally surrendering to the Allies on November 11, 1918. Denmark remained outraged over the deaths of 6,000 Northern Schleswigers “forced to fight for a cause that was not their own”. In 1920, Denmark "reunified" with Northern Schleswig, claiming they already paid the price for the territory with the lives of their sons.
After the unification, Denmark set up a commission to provide pensions to invalids, widows, and orphans. Hansine was one of the first to apply, with application 13. That application appears to indicate that as of 1920, Hansine had not remarried. If I can locate that file, hopefully without having to travel to Denmark, perhaps we can learn more details.
In 2013, Danish historians compiled a list of all the Schleswigers killed in the war and placed new plaques at the The South Jutland Cemetery in Braine, France.
If anyone has any further details or family stories that could add to or correct any information here, I would love to hear it!