Jaroslav Charfreitág: František Charfreitág in Fire brigade uniform, 1903-1906

Negative 13×18 cm

František Charfreitág (1820-1906), father of Jaroslav, was apprenticed to a gingerbread maker. At age 15 he went to Vienna as a journeyman. There, he admired the soldiers, with their smart uniforms and white tunics. He was 15 years and 9 months old when he applied to join the army. Because he was too young, the army wrote to his father to ask if the boy had his father’s approval.

The answer was to quote the Czech proverb: “Who wants to go where, let’s help him get there”, and thus young František became a soldier. He was very young and small, he barely lifted his pack, and his rifle dragged on the ground, but he had his white tunic. In 1866, aged 18 years, he was sent to the Prussian-Austrian war.

Later he reminisced: “When the battalion began to run away, I hid in an empty shop, the whole population of the village having fled to the forests to hide from the bullets and bombardment. In the basement, I found alcohol and food. I drank and ate so much that fatigue, fear and alcohol overcame me, and I only woke up a few days later, to find that the war was over”.

He served in the army for 12 years, 3 months and 6 days, the final 3 years as a corporal. For his service in the Prussian war he was given a war medal, and in 1876 he was released from service to his country, with a discharge letter written in both Czech and German.

When he returned to Žamberk, he took care of his father’s business and married Antonie. He quickly became a successful businessman and respected citizen. Famous for his singing, he founded the local choir. He rose to chief of the Žamberk fire brigade, and was awarded a golden fire-fighter’s helmet, with two swords and a signet ring. He ran his own shop until his death, after which it passed to his second son František.