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Georg's Early Years

von Trapp family, 1917

Left to right: Agathe von Trapp, Werner von Trapp, baby Hedwig von Trapp, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp, Maria von Trapp, Rupert von Trapp, and Baron Captain Georg von Trapp

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Just as it seemed Georg & Agathe had managed to regroup and move forward, a scarlet fever epidemic struck the public school in Klosterneuburg. The children were infected, bringing the highly infectious disease into the house. Christmas 1921, five children were isolated and being taken care of. Agathe spent extra time with her youngest who was worse than the others. By mid-January 1922 she too fell ill and was sent to a private hospital in Vienna. Her father had been there 20 years earlier fighting cancer. For seven months her severe case was treated. Agathe never fully recovered.  Even a last trip, to stay with family in the Hungarian countryside, failed to strengthen her. Seven days after returning home, September 3, 1922 her young life was cut short in the early hours of the morning. The incalculable loss, of her loving strength and spirit, descended on Georg. In the end they and their seven children were only given 33 months’ time together, after WWI ended. Georg (42), Rupert (near 11), Agathe (9), Maria (near 8), Werner (7), Hedwig (5), Johanna (3), and Martina (1 & half) stayed a close family unit for the rest of their lives.  The 10 years of Georg and Agathe’s loving partnership was the foundation and legacy that each of the children built on, as their futures unfolded. Their seven children would later become the famous "von Trapp children", popularised in the musical, The Sound of Music.

​By 1908, Agathe had grown into a beautiful young woman with a kind and caring nature whose character brought lightheartedness and laughter wherever she went. She had developed a wonderful sense of humor and felt comfortable in the three cultures she had grown up in, Italian, English, and Austrian. With her 18th birthday around the corner, Agathe dreamed of soon having a family and home of her own. [see 'Marriage & Family' below]

Marriage & Family

FAMILY HISTORY: Georg & Agathe

Whitehead Torpedo Factory, circa 1910
Austro-Hungarian Empire 
Today Rijeka, Croatia

Georg & Agathe's Children, 1921

 Front row: Johanna von Trapp, baby Martina von Trapp, Hedwig von Trapp, and Werner von Trapp

Back row: Rupert von Trapp, Maria von Trapp, and Agathe von Trapp

Photo was taken on the occasion of their Aunt Mary Whitehead's wedding to Baron Gino Malfatti.

Pola (1911-1914)

Georg by this time was Commander of SM U-6, training submarine crews. The newlyweds moved to Pola (today Pula, Croatia) where the submarine base was. A newly built Villa was awaiting them. Their beautiful home over-looked the Adriatic and became a frequent destination for the close knit extended family and officer friends. Life was filled with the promise of Georg’s career and raising a family. Two children, a son-Rupert (November 1911) and a daughter-Agathe (1913), were born in quick succession. In 1913, Georg was relieved of submarine duty to get further training on ships in the naval fleet. Agathe had settled into her role as wife of ‘Lieutenant von Trapp’ and mother of two lively toddlers. She managed their large household with grace and kindness. Being parents was their greatest joy.

Agathe and the extended family spent the war years in Zell am See, contributing to the war war effort, by knitting socks, and rolling bandages. Managing the food shortages and hardships that had befallen all in the Empire became the new norm. Agathe visited wives of naval personnel living in the area and made sure the children’s lives continued as normal as possible. They spent anxious days waiting for news of their loved ones. Both Georg & Agathe lost their brothers. First Werner von Trapp fell in Galicia on the Russian front and then John Whitehead Jr., as pilot trainee, to a plane crash in Great Britain. On November 21, 1916 Emperor Franz Josef I passed away; his nephew Emperor Karl I became the last reigning Monarch of Austria-Hungary.

During this time three healthy children, Maria (1914), Werner (1915), and Hedwig (1917) were born to Georg & Agathe. They brought joy and happiness in the midst of so much heartache.  The uncertainties continued, the war news bleak, the country side increasingly lawless. Natural resource and food shortages continued as parts of the empire refused to supply coal and grain. The final curtain call came on November 1st 1918.  The Austro-Hungarian Navy surrendered, lost its coastline and ceased to exist. Georg was retired from a career he loved.  His commander in chief and sovereign, the next Emperor Karl I of Austria-Hungary, “renounced state of affairs”. The absolute Habsburg Monarchy of almost 400 hundred years was no more. Austria’s territory shrank to approx. 1/5 its size and became a landlocked Republic.  New nationalities had to be established for territories that used to belong to the Empire, such was the case for the Adriatic Coast. As Georg had been born in Zara, Dalmatia, when Dalmatia was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in the post-war land distribution, the family was given Italian citizenship. After WWII, it was a part of Yugoslavia, today Croatia.

Cadet Georg von Trapp, 1900

Perth Western Australia

on second global circumnavigation

Georg's Youth & Cadet

Villa Whitehead (1891-1911)

Life at the Villa Whitehead was busy with the comings and goings of cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, extended family, friends, and sometimes royal personages, who came to the nearby spa town of Abbazia (today Opatija, Croatia) and inevitably dropped in for either a tour of the factory or to visit. Her parents entertained buyers of commissions for torpedos from all over the world. Agathe’s childhood was shared with her three brothers John, Frank and Robert, and two sisters Mary and Joan. Aside from the regular daily routines, their lives were filled with creative pass times. Writing and performing plays was a favorite. Schooled at home by tutors, Agathe was given piano, violin, and voice lessons as well. Agathe spoke English, Italian, and German fluently. She loved to hike, sail, garden, knit, and sew. Since her mother was an accomplished pianist, evenings were often spent making music together.

Photo: ©Georg & Agathe Foundation

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Photo: Courtesy of von Trapp family

Zara-Trieste-Pola ​(1880-1884)

​Georg Johannes Ritter (Knight) von Trapp was born April 4, 1880 in Zara, in Dalmatia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Zadar, Croatia). Brown haired and brown eyed, he was the oldest son and second child of Captain August Ritter (Knight) von Trapp (1836-1884) and Hedwig Wepler (1855-1911), who immigrated from the Duchy of Hesse (today a part of Germany) to the Adriatic Coast. His father’s career in the Austrian Imperial Navy had the family stationed, for a time, at all the Empire's four main ports of Trieste (today Trieste, Italy), Pola (today Pula, Croatia), Zara (today Zadar, Croatia) and Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia). Georg’s early years and adult life were spent on these beautiful stretches of coastline and he would have heard Italian, German, Croatian, and many dialects from throughout the Empire spoken each day. 

His family eventually settled in Pola, a bustling port town with an old Roman Arena, the naval arsenal and ships of the imperial fleet anchored in its harbor. His family's lives were well entwined with the navy and his father’s appointments as Commandant (Captain). Close knit, they kept strong ties to extended relatives spread throughout Europe and as far away as the United States. ​Both Georg’s parents were musically gifted and created a family life filled with piano playing and singing. His parents, August and Hedwig raised their children with a quiet, loving hand, bringing much warmth, and kind guidance into Georg’s formative years. It was therefore, an unforeseen tragedy, that on June 7, 1884, August von Trapp succumbed to typhoid fever at the young age of forty-eight. He left behind a loving wife and three children Hede (6), Georg (4), and Werner (2). Hedwig went on to raise them as a single mother; she never remarried, the future and welfare of her children was her paramount focus.

Agathe's Early Years

Zara, Dalmatia, Adriatic Coast, circa 1890 

Austro-Hungarian Empire
Today Zadar, Croatia

A Love Match

​By 1908, ​the Austro-Hungarian Naval activities around Fiume had increased. Whitehead's Torpedo Factory was branching out and building submarines. The Navy assigned  Lieutenant Georg von Trapp to Fiume to study, first-hand, the design, and construction of their newly commissioned submarine and torpedo. By then, Georg had grown into, what his fellow naval officers described as, a 'Gentlemen's gentleman', warm with a fun sense of humor and a profound sense of being honorable. At the same time, Agathe's family and friends described her as intelligent and quietly capable, warm and loving with a great wit.​ On February 10, 1909, one of the newly built U-boats was ready to be launched; on this day both Georg & Agathe's life was to change forever. 

Young Agathe Gobertina Whitehead had the honor of christening U-boat SM U-5, its launch was attended by Naval representatives including Georg. At the celebratory ball that evening, Georg became enchanted by Agathe. She and her mother played music together as the guests listened and danced. He fell deeply in love. Agathe too had noticed the handsome naval officer and soon discovered their feelings were mutual. Upon hearing this, her mother invited Georg to the ‘Erlhof, the family's vacation home in inland Austria. After a two year courtship, Agathe and Georg were married January 14, 1911, at the Naval Academy chapel in Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia). The joyous celebration brought family from throughout Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The torpedo factory staff and employees came out to cheer, give congratulatory speeches and present gifts. Georg & Agathe’s send-off into their life together was a chorus of “hurrah”.

Captain Georg von Trapp &

Agathe Gobertina Whitehead

Wedding Photo 1911 

Photo: Public Domain

Growing Up

The beautiful Adriatic Sea was on the door step of the family's Fiume Whitehead Torpedo Factory  and Villa Whitehead. Ships of all kinds plying the waters would have been a familiar sight. The Factory provided many jobs to the local population. Their well respected family, along with other manufacturing company owners, were the backbone of the Fiume economy. As a free port many an entrepreneur had been attracted to this location. Agathe’s young life was entwined with her family’s business activity on the one-hand and visiting her mother’s relations, spread throughout Europe, on the other-hand. Family gatherings and regular visits to each others homes filled the summer and holiday calendar. 

As the century turned it became apparent her father was very ill. The diagnosis of a stomach tumor was the beginning of a two year effort to save his life. In and out of a private clinic in Vienna, John Whitehead lost his battle with cancer on April 9th, 1902.  He left behind a loving wife, Countess Agathe von Breunner and six children John Jr. (13), Frank (12), Agathe (10), Robert (near 9), Mary (6), and Joan (2). Her mother never remarried and raised her children as a single parent whose paramount focus was the future and welfare of her children. The management of the Whitehead Torpedo Factory  passed to another member of the family. To escape sad memories and the hot summers in Fiume, Agathe’s mother took the children on a vacation to the ‘Zeller’ lake in Austria. Falling in love with this area, she later purchased land on the lake shore, and designed and had a homestead built, named the ‘Erlhof’. It became the family summer vacation home where they gathered for generations to come.  

Photo: ©Georg & Agathe Foundation

Photo: Courtesy of von Trapp family

Eisenach-Graz (1884-1894)

After the passing of Georg's father, for a short period of time, Hedwig and the children moved to Eisenach, Duchy of Hesse (today Germany), where her family lived, for support and a place to plan the future. Eventually they settled in Graz, Austria-Hungarian Empire (today Graz, Austria), where Georg’s mother set out to create a loving oasis for her children and keep the memory of their father, alive. Over the next years, school took up much of Georg’s life. Graduating from middle school in 1894, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Georg applied to and was accepted into the naval academy in Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia).

Fiume-Pola (1894-1918)

By the time Georg graduated Cadet 2. Class in 1898, Georg had been instructed in 31 subjects, including: German, Italian, French, English, oceanography, meteorology, shipbuilding, ship machine building, naval tactics, naval law, naval signals, ship maneuvers, sailing vessel rigging, and etiquette. Learning an instrument was compulsory - he learned to play the violin. Valor and honor were stressed and expected of a future naval officer. From 1898-1901, he circumnavigated the world twice, once in a wooden sailing vessel, the SMS Saida II and the second time in the iron preventive torpedo cruiser, the SMS Zenta.  As part of the Zenta’s crew, he fought in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, for which he received commendations for bravery. From 1901 onward, he completed further courses at the naval academy, graduated to Frigate Lieutenant in 1903 and Ship-of-the-line Lieutenant in 1908. With his naval career well on track, Georg volunteered to learn about and train in the newly invented submarine-type craft. He was sent to Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia) where, the Whitehead Torpedo Factory was building two Holland class U-boats: SM U-5 and SM U-6. When SM U-5 was ready to be launched, Georg received an invitation to attend the christening and evening festivities. His life was to change in a wonderful way on that day. 
[see 'Marriage & Family' below]

Birth & Royal Visit (1891)

Agathe Gobertina Whitehead was born on June 14, 1891 in Fiume, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Rijeka, Croatia). Blond haired and blue eyed, she was the first daughter and third child of John Whitehead (1854-1902), Partner at the family's Fiume Whitehead Torpedo Factory, and Countess Agathe Gobertina von Breunner (1856-1945), Austro-Hungarian nobility. Her birth coincided with a visit from the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I to the Adriatic coast from June 23th - 28th and on his itinerary was a stop over at the Whitehead Torpedo Factory.  The Whitehead & Bruenner families had known the imperial family for many years. 

For the Emperor's arrival, the whole British Mediterranean squadron, Admiral Hoskins commanding, had been sent to Fiume for this occasion to pay respect on the part of England for the person of the Kaiser. This was still the age of Victoria, who had a very high regard for Franz Josef I.  Wherever the Kaiser's standard (imperial flag) appeared, the squadron offered a salute of 101 cannon salute. But since the Kaiser went back and forth on the coast mostly by various boats, “per mare” (by sea), there was frequent “cannonading” going on most of the day. Across the street from the coastal factory complex was the Villa Whitehead, in front of which family members were assembled. Baby Agathe and her mother were sequestered in an upstairs bedroom, when the Emporer arrived to a warm welcome.

Agathe's Grandfather

Agathe's Grandfather was the British engineer Robert Whitehead (1823-1905). He first migrated in the 1860s from England to the Adriatic Coast, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1866, he received royal acclaim when his new steam powered engine, installed in the flag ship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, was instrumental in giving the Austro-Hungarian fleet an edge in winning the famous sea battle at Lissa. In the same year, he gained international fame with his demonstrations for his invention of the self-propelled torpedo. 

Photo: Public Domain

Honoring the von Trapp 
​and Whitehead Heritage

Photo: ©Georg & Agathe Foundation

Agathe with her children, 1919 

Left to right circle: Hedwig von Trapp, Agathe von Trapp, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp, Rupert von Trapp, Maria von Trapp, Werner von Trapp, baby Johanna von Trapp

Agathe Whitehead, 1910

​Engagement photo

Klosterneuburg & Shipping Companies (1920-1930)
The new year of 1919 heralded many changes. Georg & Agathe proceeded to pick up the pieces; decisions had to be made. Pola had become Italian and Georg was on the war criminals ’wanted list’, for sinking Italian ships (even though he now had Italian citizenship). He and Agathe decided to opt for Austria and made their temporary new home close to the Erlhof. Their sixth child, Johanna (1919), was born. In anticipation of relocating to Klosterneuburg near Vienna, Agathe went back to Pola to pack up the household.  Her hopes and dreams of raising her family on the beautiful Adriatic coast of her childhood were packed in crates, boxes and suitcases ready to be shipped. She too was feeling tired and spent after the wear and tear of the last 4 years. Her good humor and kindness had gotten the children through this tough time, but the situation across Austria was still dire and the cities especially were suffering. Leaving the countryside held its risks.

Upon moving to Klosterneuburg, Georg threw himself into two new enterprises.  By early 1920, he managed to have the financial backing for Vega-Reederei-Hamburg/Greiswald a fleet of small schooners, plying the waters of the North and Baltic Sea (which he sold a few years later). In 1921, he founded his second maritime company the Rhein-Donau-Express-Schiffahrt’s-A.G. (a decade later had become so successful that the established competing “Donau-Reederei” companies, bought him out). Simultaneously, Agathe was busy setting up the new household and began to reestablish a familiar family rhythm.  Running the entire estate and staff efficiently, was again in her charge.  Soon the older children were enrolled in public school, the little ones taken care of in the nursery and a seventh child, Martina (1921), arrived. Slowly the interrupted life of the war years was being reclaimed. The 1921 wedding of Agathe’s sister, Mary Whitehead to Baron Gino Malfatti, capped off this feeling. 

Agathe's Youth

A Love Story...
​Between ​Captain Georg von Trapp & Agathe Gobertina Whitehead, parents to the first seven von Trapp children, set against the backdrop of the Adriatic Coast.

Zell am See (1914-1920)
1914 was the year that changed everyone’s lives forever. On June 28, 1914, the tragic assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo brought this idyllic life to an abrupt end. In short order the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war and well-ordered lives were disrupted everywhere across Europe. The family found their respective countries on opposing sides. The Whiteheads, as British citizens, were considered enemy combatants, not permitted to leave the country. Their assets were frozen overseas. Most horrible of all, the potential existed they would be pitched against each other in battle. In and around Pola and Fiume, evacuations of all non-military personnel was ordered. The coastal areas emptied out, with masses of people moving inland to be relocated. At the same time troops were moving into coastal areas, ready to man defensive positions all along the Adriatic coast line.

The family had to separate. Agathe and the two children left for Zell am See to stay with her mother and younger siblings, at the Erlhof. Georg stayed behind at the villa in Pola. The peacetime naval career was no more. With orders to patrol the Ontranto straights he was given command of Torpedo boat 52 and stationed at Bocche di Cattaro, the eastern end of the Adriatic Sea. From here on, to the end of the war, he would only get to see his family on furlough.

From April 1915 onward, Georg captained two submarines, SM U-5  and SM U-14, patroling the Ontranto Straights. On April 27, 1915, in SM U-5  he and his crew executed the second night time, but first ever night-time underwater torpedo attack in the Adriatic, and sank the French ship Léon Gambetta. He was honored with the Austro Hungarian Empire’s Knight's Cross and Baron title of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Sinking 11 further ships with a total of 45,669 GNT (gross nautical tonnage), Captain Georg von Trapp would go on to become one of the most decorated and successful WWI commanders of the Austro Hungarian Navy.  

Photo: Public Domain