December 11, 2013
Britić would like to thank George Stojsavljević for sharing this tribute to his Strina Boja Stojsavljević which was recited at her funeral in Letchworth on Monday 9 December 2013.
My Strina Boja was born on the 15th of August 1922 in Velika Popina, in the region of Lika, in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. One of six children born to Miloš and Maria Stojsavljević, she was born into an age and environment where children grew up quickly and from a very young age, she and her siblings had already become accustomed to tough physical work – working on the land, felling trees for fuel and caring for the livestock. Their livelihood and survival depended on each member of the family young and old doing his or her part and knowing Strina as I did, I’m certain she did more than was asked or expected of her. That said, Strina Boja was an intelligent, perceptive and resourceful woman and I wonder what more she could have achieved if she had more than just a slither of elementary education and had her circumstances been different. She had a razor sharp mind which was still very much in evidence even as she drew her last breath at 2.05pm on November 27th in the presence of her nearest and dearest.
Strina Boja’s striking physical presence was matched in equal measure by her resilience. Just the other evening when Jelena, Svetlana and I were piecing together the information for Vera’s eulogy, we were overcome with tears and emotion as we reflected on certain chapters of her life where her Faith, courage, strength, determination and resilience helped her overcome tragedy, trauma and hardship.
Barely out of her teens, Strina Boja bore witness to an unimaginable and horrific event that none of us would ever want to experience. On the day of our Slava, November 21st 1942, her family home in Velika Popina was attacked and set ablaze by the Communists. These callous and cowardly thugs didn’t even spare the livestock which was left tethered in the barn. Over the years she recounted to me on numerous occasions how she had looked on helplessly covering her ears to block out the screams of the animals as they were burned alive. The food the family had set aside to see them through the winter months was looted and not content with the crimes they had already committed, this brutal band of cut-throats captured Strina Boja’s father and 5 of his neighbours – four elderly men and a pregnant woman. These poor innocent souls, martyrs, were taken away to be horribly tortured continuously for three days and then murdered. On discovering the whereabouts of her father’s mutilated body which had been casually dumped in a ditch, she collected his remains with her own hands, placed them in a blanket and brought them back to Velika Popina to be given a proper burial.
Homeless, fatherless, hungry and driven by self preservation, Strina Boja joined the ranks of the Chetniks, fighters loyal to King Peter and the exiled Yugoslav Government in London, as a medic. She tended to the battle wounds of these brave men under extremely challenging and dangerous conditions with limited means and supplies. In 1944, she married my uncle Nikola who commanded a Chetnik unit. In early December that year, the legendary and valiant Dinaric Chetnik Division to which uncle Nikola belonged was facing complete annihilation at the hands of the numerically superior Communists and in spite of heavy casualties, the beleagured Division covered itself in further glory by breaking through the enemy strangle hold at the village of Padjene in Northern Dalmatia. But the tide of war was stacked against these brave men and they had little choice but to beat a withdrawal under constant enemy fire and in freezing cold weather across Lika to Slovenia and then onward to Italy. Some of these heroes are at rest in this very cemetery including my uncle Nikola who rests before us. We are also privileged and honored to be joined by surviving veterans from this dwindling rank of men who have come here today to pay their respects.
And so as 1944 drew to a close, her heart overflowing with sadness and fearing the worst, Strina Boja who was heavily pregnant with Ilija at that time, said a tearful farewell to the man she loved. Twelve arduous years would pass before they would be reunited and father and son would meet each other for the very first time.
As the wife of a Chetnik commander, Strina Boja was arrested on trumped up and false charges by the Communists and was imprisoned. Incarcerated in a freezing cold and damp dungeon which she shared with my grandmother, she often told me how the two of them slept on the same bunk and huddled together to keep warm. Strina Boja recounted how my grandmother would tell her off in very colorful language, for fidgeting as they lay on the bunk. But it wasn’t her who was fidgeting to get comfortable but her unborn son, my cousin Ilija, moving around in his mother’s womb signaling his imminent arrival. During their imprisonment, they would be taken out of their cell by their sadistic tormentors to receive brutal beatings and electric shock torture. Strina Boja was released from prison shortly before Ilija was born on February 3rd 1945. Sadly, my grandmother, Strina’s cell mate wasn’t so lucky for she was to be executed by firing squad.
Shunned by the Communist regime and treated like third class citizens, tragedy struck yet again when Strina Boja’s mother died in 1954. Left to bring up her son without her parents and husband by her side, she made persistent and countless applications and appeals to the regime to be allowed to leave Yugoslavia which were always met with malicious rejection. Then after years of single minded and determined effort, she and Ilija were finally issued with exit visas and in November 1957 they would be reunited with Stric Nikola at the family home here in Letchworth. Strina would never return to her native village of Velika Popina although she did go to Belgrade to attend her grand-daughter Sanja’s wedding in 2002.
Strina Boja settled and adjusted to life in her new country and in October 1958, she and Stric Nikola were blessed with the birth of a daughter, my cousin Jelena.
It was here in Letchworth with her husband and two children that Strina Boja had finally found peace, normality and above all, security. For the first time in her life, she was safe from danger, persecution and oppression.
An excellent home maker, host, (people were always made welcome in her home), wife, mother, grand mother, great grand mother, aunt, neighbour and friend, she assimilated well and as her own children were growing up, she found the confidence to go out to work – first at Marmet, then at Letchworth College and finally at Standalone farm.
It mattered little that she hadn’t become fluent in English because she quickly gained the affection, respect and popularity among her work mates and supervisors. This in itself says volumes about her.
Yet personal tragedy and loss were never far away in her life and in 1975, Strina Boja learned that her much loved and only brother Ilija had died under suspicious circumstances in Velika Popina. Her beloved husband and soul mate uncle Nikola would be taken away from her in 1984 and in 2005, her daughter in law Radojka to whom she was very close, would pass away unexpectedly.
A God-fearing and dignified woman, Strina Boja was a regular church goer and an active member in the Serbian cultural scene having served for a while as president of Letchworth-Bedford chapter of the Serbian Women’s Circle. She drew immense comfort and strength from her Faith. Even in her chronically weak state of health and bed ridden, on the day of our family’s Slava on November 21st, and in accordance with custom, she managed to touch and kiss the Slava Cake, the symbol of Christ’s body. This she did in the presence of Father Vido and the closest members of her family.
The last ten years or so of illness and infirmity may have taken their toll but true to character, she kept on fighting refusing to surrender. During this time, she was well looked after by her immediate family and the team of carers from Sage Care to whom the family extend their deepest gratitude.
I would like to end this tribute by saying – Strina, you were one of a kind! I will always remember you with great fondness and affection. I will never forget the many chats and discussions we had over the years and I bitterly regret that I won’t be able to read to you more passages from the book I recently bought about the history of Velika Popina which you so enjoyed. Your generous and giving nature knew no bounds and I will never forget the countless dinners you gave me as a kid when I would come to Grange Road starving hungry to pick up my bike after spending the whole day at Letchworth swimming pool. I know it gave you immense satisfaction and joy to see me tuck into the food you had prepared knowing well that had I more than compensated for Jelena’s fussiness which you found so infuriating.
Your entire family and friends will miss you dearly as you set out on journey to be reunited forever in Heaven with your beloved Nikola. God bless you Strina and thank you for being the person you were.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org