Emigrees that have left Albania for different reasons at different times have consistently demonstrated that that they have never forgotten their motherland. It’s worth noting that thousands of them even offered up their lives to defend their homeland during the First and Second World Wars.

The USA joined the Allies and entered the First World War in April 1917. An Albanian Organization called Vatra (The Hearth) that was based in Lausanne, USA had 3,000 members. Colonel Aubrey Herbert, through Mehmet Koniza, tried to encourage Albanians in America to join America’s war effort on patriotic grounds. During this period Vatra sponsored Mihal Tourtoulis as a lobbyist and publicist. The focus of this organisation was transformed when the USA entered the war, especially as President Wilson showed sympathy for the principle of the national self-determination.

However, while Albania was a neutral country during those times, Aubrey Herbert and Vatra saw this as an opportunity for Albanians to gain some political credibility by being on the side of the Allies.

There were other examples in Europe of creating an army from emigrees. The Polish army was formed under French supreme command from prisoners-of-war and emigree volunteers in June 1917. Similar Czechoslovak armies developed in Russia, France and Italy. Vatra was really enthusiastic and wanted to form a brigade of 5,000 Albanian-American men. This unit would have been called the Albanian Brigade and was to be led by Aubrey Herbert under Italian supreme command. Aubrey Herbert was planning a strategy for the Albanian Brigade to attack Austrians and Serbs by liaising with other British politicians and Italian army commanders back in Albania.

Aubrey Herbert on 26 December in his diary notes ‘I was informed by the Albanian cheifs in America that 2,000 Albanians had already been enrolled’ and he continues, ‘At this point the disaster of the 2nd Italian Army occurred and I took no further steps’. Italy suffered a strategic reverse at the battle of Caporetto between 24th October and 4th November 1917. Italian fortunes did not recover by the end of the war and the plan for American-Albanian involvement never came to fruition.

Colonel Aubrey Herbert’s devotion to the Albanian cause never diminished and the willingness of the Albanians who had emigrated to America to give their lives for Albania is a treasure that Albania today, must never forget. (This account is taken from “Albanian’s Greatest Friend”).