I was taken to (subjected to, if you like) the Sound of Music while in single digits, and the one thing I could not understand was how the Austrian Captain Von Trapp could possibly be a naval officer in a land locked country.
Turns out those every mountains he climbed were far from his birth place in the now Croatian city of Zadar on the Mediterranean coast; his choice of a naval career was keeping things in the family, as his father was in the service. He was apparantly up to snuff, served on the armored cruiser Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia during the Boxer Rebellion in China . The ship arrived late to the happenings, but soon enough for Lieutenant von Trapp to get decorated for bravery.
In 1912, he married Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of the Englishman Robert Whitehead, the inventor of the torpedo. This may have lead to his interest in submarines. Certainly the U-boat was his choice of service afloat when the First World War broke out.
He distinguished himself in those hostilities, and seems to have learned only now just how distressing war really is (what had he missed in China?). His ships patrolled the Adriatic and Mediterranean, sinking a good number of Italian and French ships. Not with out mixed feelings, but he did remarkably good service, ending up as the most decorated officer in the Austrian Navy, a recipient of the Military Order of Maria Theresa which brought with it an automatic knighthood (Ritter), which was later up-graded to an hereditary Baronage.
Of course after the war the geographical lines were redrawn and his home town became part of Italy. His wife died in 1922, and the family was so distraught that they upped stakes and moved to Salzburg. Here one daughter became ill and needed a tutor.
You know the rest. Maria from the abbey coming to the house and eventually marrying the widowered man. Come the Great Depression, the Baron lost his money in the bank collapse and his particular skills were in short demand, least of all in now land-locked Austria. The servants were let go, boarders were taken in, and Maria began the music thing. It was humiliating for Georg to see the family turned into stage performers, but there wasn’t much for it. Least of all when the enterprise began to make money.
While it is true that the Captain had no interest in working for the Nazis, or flying their flag, or singing for the Fuhrer, that climbing every mountain thing was Hollywood bushwa. The family took a train back to his home town by the Adriatic, reclaiming the family’s relatively new Italian citizenship. From there it was off on a world tour of singing, which ended in the US in 1939, where they bought the farm in Stowe, Vermont. Good air in Vermont, not good enough to cure the lung cancer that originated in those submarines. Or the heavy smoking. He died in 1947.
Two years later his widow wrote the memoir that launched the musical and movie.