Ecaterina Teodoroiu, 1894-1917 : “Forward! I’m still with you!”

And, to complete a hat trick (and because I have an admiration and liking  for things Romanian), we turn now to Ecaterina Teodoroiu, The Heroine from the Jiu

She was born one of eight children to a poor peasant family in Targa Jiu in Southern Romania and spent her earlier years studying to become a  school teacher.   Certainly she looks the part.

Of course, looks can be deceiving.

Romania did not enter the war until 1916.  In the early years, the kingdom exploited all manner of unlikely resources, including the Scouts.  As a nurse with that organization (they were instrumental in moving and tending the wounded), she was able to visit her brother, a sergeant, at the front. She came to appreciate the patriotism and camaraderie that war can create in a group of men. 

When her brother was killed in the 1916 Battle of Porceni, she decided that she wanted a more active role in the war.  She stepped forward to take his  place.

Officialdom took some convincing, and she had to press the issue several times before they finally gave in.  Unlikely resources again.  She was the first women to engage in direct combat, notably in the October 1916 Battle of the Jiu where the Romanian First Army under General Ion Dragalina initially repulsed the German Ninth before being forced to retreat.  The story goes that it was she who rallied the forces to keep them on the far side of the bridge.

Better attested is the story that as the Romanian army was forced back,  she was taken prisoner.  How the Germans dealt with this anomaly is not related.  Not that she gave them much time to think about it.  In short order, she managed to kill at least two, possibly three, of her guards and escaped, all this with a wound to her right leg.

War can quickly devolve into a tedious line of indistinguishable movements and skirmishes, and her particular movements are not recorded.  The next real highlight in her career was a serious wounding by mortar which put her in hospital. As soon as she was able (March, 1917), she was back to the front, newly promoted to second lieutenant and recipient of the Military Virtue Medal 1st class.

The odds were ultimately against her as much any front line soldier in that war – those indistinguishable movements and skirmishes again.   In September of 1917, a burst of machine gun fire struck her in the chest as she was leading her  platoon against a unit of entrenched Bavarians.  The story goes that her last were were cries of encouragement to her comrades: “Forward! I’m still with you!”

She is buried at Targu Jiu, and is a national heroine similar in stature to Queen Marie.

She was the subject of two  films of the same name, and quite rightly, too.  In a culture given to trivia and trash,  we need all the reminders of genuine selflessness we can get.

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  1. Pingback: World War I: The Libel Against Women | gabriel's wharf

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