Milunka Saviƒá was born on the 28th June 1888 in the Serbian¬†town of Koprivinica. Little is known of Milunka’s childhood, however we do know she had a brother, Milun Saviƒá, as in 1912 she joined the Serbian army in her brother’s name to fight in the Balkan Wars. Milunka was part of an infantry regiment called the “Iron Regiment” and fought in both the first and second Balkan wars until it was discovered she was a woman dressed in a male soldier’s uniform. At the Battle of Kolubara, Milunka helped fight off the third invasion of Austro-Hungarian troops and was awarded for her valour. She received the Kingdom of Serbia’s highest honour, the Order of the Star of Karadjordje with Swords, becoming one of the only women to ever receive such a medal in battle.
During the Battle of Kolubara, Milunka is reported to have crossed no-man’s land by herself, thrown grenades into Austrian trenches and captured twenty Austrian soldiers as prisoners single-handedly. In 1917, a similar event occurred when she captured twenty-three Bulgarian soldiers and was again awarded the Star of Karadjordje with Swords. The Serbian army retreated to the Albanian coast where they were rescued by British and French naval ships. Milunka’s unit become a Serbian unit within the French army and she saw further action in Tunisia and Salonika. Milunka was awarded even more medals for her bravery including the Legion d’Honneur twice from France, the Russian Order of the Holy George for courage, the British Order of St. Michael, and the only women in WWI to be awarded France’s highest military honour, the Croix de Guerre.
After the end of WWI, Milunka took on a selection of different jobs and eventually married, having one daughter and adopting three more. She was almost forgotten until the 50th anniversary of WWI in 1964, where she attended commemorations in Belgrade. Milunka is now remembered as a Serbian war hero and even has a neighbourhood in Belgrade named after her.