Austro-Hungarian Web Site

Hungarian Military Service

© by Felix G. Game

Almost everyone researching a family's history eventually finds himself wondering about the details of military service. Who had to serve, when, for how long, could it be avoided? In today's column I will try to answer these questions in the context of the Royal Hungarian Honvéd army as it existed after 1867. Since this was initially a standing army of 70,000 (in 1869) consisting of 82 infantry battalions, the effort and the system for its replenishment was considerable, and quite complicated.

Basically, every Hungarian citizen between the ages of 20 and 36 was subject to compulsory military service (the starting age was changed to 21 after 1890). Total service imposed was 12 years, divided into active service, and reserve service. Active service was initially 12 months, then increased to 21 months, and as of 1890 was 24 months.

The imposition on the individual's time differed in that (until 1883) those drafted for active duty could be called up any time during a four-year period. After 1883 they could be called during any two-year period and at any time of the year. In contrast, those doing their reserve duty only had to participate in the autumn maneuvers of every second year if they were needed.

It goes without saying that there were minimum requirements to be "accepted" by the army. The most obvious requirement, and also the most frequent reason for disqualifying someone, was the requirement that the recruit be at least 1.530 meters (5'2") in height. While this is by no means tall, many could not measure up. It says something about the average height of Hungarians.

For those who did qualify, exemptions from, and modifications to this general, obligatory service were possible, and were extended to people in the following categories: The son, or son-in-law of a father who was unable to support himself, or who was a widower. An only grandson, if he was supporting grandparents who were unable to support themselves. The employed brother of orphaned minors. All of these received temporary relief, which lasted as long as the reason for the relief existed.

Those about to matriculate, and students of colleges and universities could have the duration of their active duty reduced to one year if they joined during their studies. The well-off could choose the year and the location where they wanted to serve, providing that they assumed the cost of their clothing, equipment, and food supplies throughout their term of duty. Into this category fell graduate physicians, veterinarians, and pharmacists, who did not go through basic training, but were occupied instead with tasks related to their field of expertise. These made up the group referred to (in Hungary after 1883) as "One Year Volunteers" and their purpose was to provide the army in times of war with reserve officers, doctors, etc. Candidates for the priesthood of the various denominations also came under special rules. They were drafted along with the others, but they were not called up until they had been ordained, at which time they automatically became padres in the Honvéd army (after 1889 they volunteered). They were, however, only required to physically join the army as padres during times of war; in effect they were relieved of the obligation of compulsory military service. A further group which could pick its own convenient time for basic training were student teachers, and teachers of elementary schools, and owners of agricultural estates if they resided on the estate and personally operated it for the purposes of feeding a family of five.

Apart from the above groups who obtained partial relief, there were those that were entirely excused from the obligation of serving in the military, those whose work was declared essential to the administration of the state or a county, or an institution of education. This group also included the administrators of the estates of the Imperial Family. The opportunities for patronage and influence-peddling must have been numerous. All these exempt people were, however, captured in yet another organization by the name of "Replacement Reservists", and although their numbers were pegged at 10% of the recruits, they did participate in some of the field exercises to maintain a familiarity with the military. The difference between Reservist and Replacement Reservist was that the former's role was to bring peacetime numbers of the army to wartime numbers, while the role of the latter was to replace war losses.

The earlier mentioned division into 82 battalion recruitment districts was intended to bring the army to the people - not so much to allow them to serve closer to their homes, but because the poorly developed network of highways and railroads could not cope with the frequent and continuous transport of military personnel coming and going from their often distant garrisons. Since the 1871 reorganization it can be assumed that most people served near their homes.

In closing I must mention the Hungarian Muster Rolls available on microfilm through the LDS. They are worth looking at because they contain considerable detailed data. Selecting the correct film can, however, be a bit tricky, so here are some pointers: You will be dealing with at least two kinds of dates when selecting films, the year of the call-up, and the birth years of people being called-up. For example, if you see a film labeled "Muster Rolls 1914 (1878-90)" you are looking at a film that covers the call-up in the year 1914 of all the people born during the twelve years from 1878 to 1890 inclusive. If selecting a film of Budapest, the task will be further complicated by the fact that starting with 1914 (the start of World War I) the muster rolls are by district. So you will have to know which district your ancestor lived in. It goes without saying that the films are in Hungarian.

 Definition of Honvéd: The Hungarian equivalent of the Austrian Landwehr; according to paragraph 8 of Law XL of 1868 its role was "To assist the army, and internal defense during war. In peacetime, in exceptional cases, also to maintain internal order and security".

 Reference: Adam Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch. Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848-1918. Band V. Wien, 1987.
Send comments to:

To Table of Contents meter Last changed: 3 Aug 2002