DON’T FORGET TO PICK UP AN ITALIAN ON THE WAY HOME
They say war is hell. A brutal, unrelenting experience with no real winners when all is said and done. That is, of course, unless you happened to be a member of the army of Liechtenstein—the tiny principality that sits snugly between Switzerland and Austria—in the mid nineteenth century. Then you might find war to be a rather enjoyable affair and, what’s more, a great chance to make new friends.
Our story begins back at the start of the Austro–Prussian War in June 1866. With conflict brewing all around his home nation, the then Prince of Liechtenstein Johan II opted to side with Liechtenstein’s old ally Austria—a decision that led to the eventual mobilization of all 80 men in the Liechtenstein armed forces.
Johan II of Liechtenstein: loved medals. Less a fan of detailed hands in paintings. (Wikipedia)
Although he’d taken a side in the conflict, Prince Johan didn’t much like the idea of war. So to avoid his army having to risk spilling any blood (or having any blood spilt, for that matter), Johan posted his troops to a picturesque and little-used mountain pass on the Austria–Italy border. There they remained for the remainder of the war, seeing no wartime action (nor indeed the enemy, at all) and suffering a grand total of zero casualties.
But just when this particular tale couldn’t get any more uneventful, while a total of 80 of Prince Johan’s loyal subjects marched off to war in June 1866, a total of 81 men marched home again seven weeks later.
It soon transpired that, so uninterested in fighting had the soldiers been in their cosy mountain retreat, they had taken in an Italian soldier to the camp who had happened to pass by “looking for work”. The troops took it upon themselves to escort the gentleman back to the Liechtenstein capital, Vaduz, and find him a job back home.
The Austro-Prussian War ended swiftly, with the signing of the Treaty of Prague on 23 August 1866—earning the conflict the more familiar name of the Seven Weeks’ War—and two years later in 1868 the Liechtenstein Army was officially disbanded. The country’s 80 not-so-battled-scarred veterans were promptly relieved of duty, and the principality never went to war again.
As for the Italian workman, quite what happened to him is alas unknown.