Wars are nasty because you could be hit by bullets and the shells anytime, making it seem like you already have one foot in your grave. Once a nation goes to war, it is not just government against government or troops versus troops. The lives of innocent civilians, both young and old, are also included. Lives are changed forever. Young men and women who knew nothing about warfare were forced to march and defend their nations.
There had been many stories of underaged boys sneaking into the war, just like Sidney Lewis, who was just twelve when he served during WWI, after claiming that he was 18. His counterpart, although not officially enlisted, was a girl named Maria Zaharia, who died just before the Battle of Mărășești.
Battle of Mărășești
The Battle of Mărășești during World War I occurred on the Romanian front between the German Empire and the Kingdom of Romania from August 6, 1917, to September 3 that same year. At that time, Romania was mostly occupied by the quadruple alliance of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria, known as the Central Powers. They wanted to take over Mărășești because it was part of the strategically important area of the Focsani Gate. Having control of this area meant easier ways to attack several Romanian regions.
Before the battle, the Romanians, along with the Russians, launched a joint offensive against the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army situated around Mărăști and the lower part of the Siert River. The result was the Battle of Mărăști, which was an initial success for the Romanian-Russian offensive, although the Central Powers in Galicia were able to mount an effective counteroffensive. What followed after that was The Battle of Mărășești. It was the most important battle that the Romanian Army fought after managing to completely stop German Field Marshal Mackensen’s intended invasion of Moldavia. The Romanians suffered around 27,000 casualties, while the Germans had about 60,000.
Small Girl, Big Brave Heart
Maria Zaharia, also known as Măriuca Zaharia, was a Romanian girl born in Padureni, Vrancea County, in 1905. She lived in the orchard with her grandfather in the village of Haret, Vrancea County, a place that was just an arm’s distance from the military skirmishes.
His grandfather’s orchard offered a perfect overview of everything going on in the front, so the Romanian troops set up an observation post up in a walnut tree. From there, the assigned soldier transmitted all the attacks coordinates of the artillerymen using a telephone. This was an extremely important job, as the success of relaying this information led to the retreat of the enemy troops. Maria, who was 12 years old, befriended the Romanian soldiers and being inquisitive asked and learned about their work as artillery spotters. Being young she was also sharp-eyed and was helping the Romanian troops do spotting with the use of a large field binocular set that one of the soldiers lent her.
Final Moments of Bravery
On August 5, 1917, just a day before the beginning of the Battle of Mărășești, a Romanian sentry assigned to observe from the orchard was killed by an enemy bombardment. Instead of hiding or running away, Maria bravely took the place of the fallen soldier in the night and continued to transmit info on enemy troop movements and dispositions.
The commanders on the other line were perhaps baffled at first on why it was suddenly a voice of a child that was transmitting the information. She told them, “I want to do something for my country,” and she did. The information that she provided was valuable and resulted in the blockage of the German troops that were advancing. Unfortunately, the Turks had the orchard zeroed in and put an artillery round down right on top of her.
As Florinel Agafiţei, a history professor from Focşani said,
“It was a gesture of great courage when the little girl took the place of the soldier who was kidnapped by the Germans, she ended up the same. That’s why she is in the largest mausoleum in the world dedicated to the heroes of the First World War. It is important that Măriuca is a heroine of the Romanian nation.”
Her remains were buried in the Marasesti Mausoleum. A monument dedicated to her was also erected in front of the Haret School. Her story was told in the film “Ballad for Mariuca” as well as in the book “Historical Stories” by Dumitru Almaș, according to World Record Academy.