“Finding Maksim” – Andy Evans, co-author of “Displaced”, remembers his Serbian grandfather Maksim Ćulumović / “Britic Magazine” #18 2011
“Despite now being over twenty years since his death there is not a day goes by without my thoughts retracing the happy times I spent within his presence.”
-Andy Evans, co-author of Displaced,
speaks about his grandfather Maksim Ćulumović
Displaced is a true account of the parallel lives of a Yorkshire lad and Bosnian Serb lass. Despite neither knowing about the other, they eventually discover they are family, connected by extraordinary grandfathers.
Andy Evans was born and raised in a tight knit mining community in West Yorkshire. He simply idolised his grandfather Maksim. Growing up, Andy realised his secretive Deda seemed to have no past, simply appearing in post-war Britain as if from the sky. By the time the miners’ strikes were over, freeing Andy to return to the task of discovering his grandfather’s story, Maksim had passed away. Yet Andy refused to allow that book to remain closed. His quest brought him out of his comfort zone, indeed to gunpoint.
Vesna Kovac grew up in Yugoslav Bosnia, an unwilling witness to the nation’s descent to war. To survive, she worked at the colossal munitions factory in Novi Travnik, hostage to its increasingly strategic importance during the course of the war until she eventually escaped to live in the US.
Then one day, Vesna caught word of the curious expedition by a Yorkshire man in search of memories of his grandfather. A search which stirred up fond memories of her own deda, a certain Ostaja Ćulumović…
Author Andy Evans told Britić he cannot fully explain what drove him to overcome such odds to seek out his deda’s past:
“Maybe it was the mystery surrounding him, maybe it was simply that he was an extraordinary character which has continued my close connection to him despite the passing of time.
“I deeply regret that Granddad never sought to ‘Serbianize’ me. Although he followed the British way of life, he also maintained the proud heritage held close within him,” says Andy, who remembers being envied as a child for having not one but two Christmas Days a year and has more recently re-adopted his family slava of St George.
He shares memories of his grandfather which may resonate with some readers: arguing about politics while playing chess; a life of near complete self-sufficiency growing even his own tobacco in allotments; or how he would stand each morning, stripped to the waist, and bathe himself at the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, he notes the decline in local Serb communities means that chances to share such experience with other British Serbs is being lost.
“Each generation sadly seems to lose a little more of its heritage and tradition. Thankfully Britic Magazine has helped me to keep up to date with events that may be happening within the Serbian Community. For once I now feel less of an ‘Island’, cut off from those with a similar background to that of my own.”
Andy acknowledges there are some mysteries he has yet to uncover, for example the position and division his grandfather held in the Chetniks:
“I remember once asking Granddad what rank he held within the army. As if playing a game he asked me to guess.
“Corporal?” I asked. With a smile and a gesture with his hand he simply replied “Higher.”
“Sergeant?” Now captured by the game I asked.
Again the hand gesture and “Higher,” came the reply.
With a smile he turned and left the room. Before reaching the door he voiced the words,
In his final weeks, and with the cancer now spread to his brain, he began to live out his past from the hospital bed.
He would speak of leading his men through the mountains towards Italy. He would relate to thousands losing their lives and only fifty men crossing the border to safety.
Throughout the whole of my twenty year search I have however only uncovered two photographs of him online. One is of the Ravna Gora Corps pictured near to Požega in Serbia, the other depicts him kneeling in front of a group of Chetniks with King Petar in a displaced persons camp in Germany.”
Maksim was always reluctant to be photographed and was fearful of Tito’s agents. Andy points out, “To point the camera was like pointing the gun. No way could a picture ever be taken.”
When Maksim first came to the UK he was offered a stark choice: work the mines or face deportation quite probably to his death. He never felt bitter or cheated, despite the fact that he broke his back in the Yorkshire mines:
“The only time I ever heard Granddad display any bad feelings was if there were ever mention of Winston Churchill. He would say that Churchill had betrayed his people and was responsible for the death of thousands. He refused to claim British Citizenship…[saying] that if he were to return home then he would do so as a Serb and not as an Englishman.”
Often Serb families do not relay traumatic experiences in vivid (or any) detail to the next generation, despite long suffering. Andy has his own opinions about
“Granddad dealt with his particular horrors and held them deep within himself. Mom recalls, as a child she would often be awoken to his screams and cries as sleep opened up the scars of his experiences.
“On rare occasions he would lose himself in sorrow and speak momentarily of having witnessed his own son being tied to a wooden stake and repeatedly stabbed by laughing madmen until he was dead.
“Looking back I feel that Granddad had suffered and witnessed so much hatred and bloodshed that he wanted to spare us from his own experiences in the hope our own lives would never be tarnished as it had so cruelly been for him.”
Andy and Vesna took the deliberate approach of avoiding casting blame or retribution. Instead the book was about a twenty year search to uncover truths often buoyed by humour and a keen observation of the absurd.
After his first meeting with his newfound family he looks forward to going back frequently and admits, “The essence of the country is like a drug running through my veins. For me it felt as if a magical veil had enveloped me and continues to draw me deeper into its fabric to this day.”
Andy’s pursuit has been life-changing. He has caught the writer’s bug and plans to write a book of Serbian children’s folklore stories.
“I realise now that everyone we meet has a story within them.I feel saddened at times to realise so many of my generation never got to ask the questions I had raised. With the death of our loved ones so too dimishes the past, a past and history I feel deserves to be uncovered and held with pride and hope for the future.”
Displaced is available from
“DISPLACED” – The amazing story of a 20 year search for a Serbian grandfather’s unknown past…
Aleksandra’s Note: Through the years I have been contacted by various people I have never met who are looking for answers as to the history of their close relatives. They wish to know who their fathers and grandfathers were “long ago”. They wish to know the details of the journey that led them to a new life in America or Canada or Australia or England or any number of other places where Serbian patriots migrated because they could not return to their homeland and be guaranteed that they would be allowed to remain alive, much less be allowed to prosper and live in freedom. Andy Evans was one such “seeker”, and it is with pleasure that I’m announcing here that his own personal journey to discover his beloved grandfather’s personal history has culminated in “DISPLACED”, a book that is now published and available to the public. This search has been a true labor of love for Andy. It is also a poignant reminder about how important it is for our parents and grandparents and other family members to communicate and share their personal histories, no matter how painful or how seemingly inconsequential, with us who follow in their footsteps. So many descendants remain without knowledge of who their ancestors really were. Heritage is so important – especially for those of us who wish to preserve it. But we cannot preserve it if we do not know it.
My sincere thanks goes out to Andy Evans and Vesna Kovac for publishing this important story that I hope will serve as an inspiration and as a reminder to “share your stories” with your loved ones. You are the one that can tell it best. Let the stories of your life serve as the record of your existence, no matter how brief, on this earth. Your survivors will be grateful.
“Bosnia is the back drop to this fascinating insight into a twenty year search to uncover the true identity of a man displaced from his country and loved ones. Genealogy today is big business. Websites now offer their services to uncover the truth about our heritage. Lost royal bloodlines can be uncovered at the click of the mouse. Family tragedies of old can be revisited once more, memories cherished at last forever. Imagine however if no records of our existence remained. DISPLACED tells of such a search of no recordable beginning. The story strives to uncover the shrouded blanket, kept in secret for over sixty years, of my own grandfather’s life before his appearance in England in 1947. Yugoslavia’s bloody and violent times of her past are revisited within my own travels of my modern day quest of understanding.”
To purchase a copy of this book,
offered in various formats,
please click on the link below: