Willie and Nikki – and Zia

[A century ago saw the meeting of minds of two emperors in Europe that began a chain of events that in my view unintentionally led to World War I. I don’t intend to add to the plethora of writings by well-known authors on the subject who might object to my conclusion. In fact, this is a post that relies on what I consider to be historic material not generally in the public domain, because I am bringing it forth for the first time.]

Willie was the familial nickname of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last emperor of Germany, and Nikki was what the Kaiser called his cousin, Tsar Nicholas, the last emperor of Russia. Each owned Queen Victoria of England as his grandmother, with the Prussian actually winning her over as her favored grandson.

Not generally known was that my maternal grandfather, Mirza Ziauddin Akmal – known as Zia to close friends and colleagues – was the last of a fabled family in India who were directly descended from the imperial Mughal rulers of pre-British India. [Photo alongside was taken when he was attending the University of London’s School of Oriental Studies.]

It was during my late grandfather’s last visit to our home in Delhi when he was 90 years old (pictured below) that he divulged to me the adventurous time he’d spent abroad – mainly in England, Germany and Hungary, as well as Turkey, Cuba and South Africa – before returning home. His recollections were remarkably vivid and clear, backed by his extensive writings on travel and languages. Indeed, there was a snippet on him in the 1938 Who’s Who in India that in part reads as follows:

From the age of 17 to 39, a globe trotter with a love for adventure. Lived in London during the Sinn Fein outrages; visited Turkey during the Turco-Greek war of 1897; Hungary during students’ riots; Cuba during the rebellion of 1899; and South Africa during the Boer War and the Zulu rebellion. 

Then, there were his series of articles entitled “An Imperial Diary” that appeared in the Durban press: they dealt with his years in Berlin during which time he served as Private Secretary to the Kaiser, starting in or around 1905. His position required him to accompany the emperor when the first of several meetings with his cousin, the Tsar, took place on the Baltic on August 4, 1907. Willie arrived aboard the white imperial yacht Hohenzollern. Nikki arrived aboard the black Kronstadt. As was the custom of European royalty, the two emperors wore each other’s uniforms. Willie wore the uniform of a Cossack colonel, Nikki the uniform of a Prussian dragoon colonel. They both swore eternal friendship and at night two letters were lit bright in the night sky – N and W.

Zia’s closing excerpt from the Kaiser’s diary of October 6, 1908 has the emperor noting at that last meeting of the two cousins: “My dear Nikki, I shall wish you every success in acquiring as much of the Turkish territory as you like, and as my share of the spoil, I should be content to possess  the German-speaking Provinces of Austria.” When I had finished speaking, the eyes of the Little Father of all the Russians sparkled with greed and pressing my hand with a fervent grasp, he explained, ‘Dear Willie, rest assured of my wholehearted support, the world is yet large enough for a Tsar and a Kaiser.’
p. p.  K______W_____m
Lamka, Private Secretary”

Zia used his nom de plume above – the spelling of his surname Akmal in reverse.

The Kaiser did not start World War I. He didn’t want it. The most that can be said is that he didn’t do enough to try to control the actions of Austria-Hungary and prevent the outbreak of war. In the end, his failing was that he accepted it.

My family memorabilia; Wikipedia; YouTube footage of the two emperors.

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