Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

The signs and symbols of the Greater Poland Uprising in 1918-1919

Jarosław Łuczak

Select Pages

Another example of referring to the emblem of the SPC is the banner of the 1st Czarnków Battalion. On the left side of the banner, in the middle, there is an eagle with an open crown on its head, in a diagonal position (with the eagle’s head oriented towards the top of the staff). The eagle, previously embroidered with silver threads in different shades on a thick base, was sewn onto red damask. The open crown was added above the eagle’s head. Above that, the emblem of Czarnków was sewn on red silk. Under the eagle, a U-shaped inscription “I. BAON CZARNKOWSKI” (“The 1st Czarnków Battalion”) was sewn, and the date “1919” was embroidered below in silver and golden threads. On the sides, floral decorations representing oak and laurel branches were embroidered with colourful cotton threads. In the centre of the reverse side which is made of white damask, there is sewn a colourful image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, the lower part is decorated with branches of lily. Around the image, an inscription reading “KRÓLOWO KORONY POLSKIEJ” “MÓDL SIĘ ZA NAMI” (“Queen of the Polish Crown, pray for us”) was embroidered. The banner was edged with golden fringes. The banner, originally made in 1919, was probably modified in 1923 by cutting out the embroidered parts and sewing them on again onto a new surface. The original banner would then have been made of a smooth silk fabric (red and white). 

It is not known whether a specific design for these banners, made for the first voluntary units of insurgents, was developed, or if previously created signs were used. One should certainly appreciate the efforts taken in different places, frequently very distant from each other, aimed at introducing relatively unified signs to be used by the insurgents of Greater Poland. The banners of other units were made according to the above pattern or according to individual ideas. They also used white-and-red flags. Let us remember that apart from organising insurgent armed forces in extremely tough conditions and in dynamically changing circumstances, great efforts were also taken to provide the soldiers with the best uniforms possible and signs that would distinguish them.

The artists of the design of the first standard for the regular armies of Greater Poland, handed to the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment in Poznań on 26 January 1919, also made a reference to the emblem of the Supreme People’s Council. To the left, on the square-shaped fabric made of red damask and edged with galloon, an eagle with an open golden crown on its head was embroidered. Under the eagle, the year in which the regiment was formed: “19” “19.  / 1.” “19.”, was embroidered. On the reverse, made of white damask, there is a Golden Virtuti Military War Order with the image of the eagle as above (on a smaller scale) on a red surface in the centre. In the corners of the banner, there is the abbreviated name of the regiment: “1.” “P.” “S.” and “W.”. The letters and numerals were sewn with golden thread. A third and identical image of an eagle was placed on the ribbon, added after the regiment’s return from Lviv, with an inscription reading: “1. / pułkowi / strzelców / wielko- / polskich” “Za / obronę / kresów /wscho- / dnich / 1919.” (“To the Greater Poland Rifle Regiment / For defending the Eastern Borderlands”). The emblems of four cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Lviv and Vilnius were later added in the corners, and the emblem of Poznań was sewn above the eagle.

Soon afterwards, i.e. on 4 February 1919, the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Reserve Regiment was given a standard of an entirely different shape, presumably from one of the Gymnastic Societies - “Sokół”, Central Command decided to introduce a new, unified design of standards, partly based on the standard of the 1st Greater Poland Rifle Regiment. The emblem of the Supreme People's Council was applied on new and statutory standards for the Greater Poland Armies. The design was approved in the daily orders of the Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Former Prussian Partition no. 89 and 90, of 3 and 4 April 1919. “Queen Hedwig’s Eagles”, as they were called in the orders, were placed not only in the centre of the sheet of the standard, but also on the central shield of the image of the Virtuti Militari Order. 

Despite making the drawings of the standards available at the Scientific Division of Central Command, there were some deviations from the guidelines. Moreover, the standards were made by different tailors. The shape of the square was soon replaced by a rectangle but the galloon edging was kept, a Knight’s Cross dividing the main side of the standard into zones was introduced, and the standards of the cavalry were additionally decorated with the image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. It was also characteristic that the flagstaff was wrapped in fabric fastened with decorative nails and 4 rings (on cavalry standards). The method of embroidering the abbreviations of the names and dates of regiment formation (or other important events) and of embroidering inscriptions (regiment slogans) from the founders of the standards remained the same. Inscriptions and decorations were chosen freely.

The following inscriptions were placed on the standards made according to the adopted pattern. The 1st Greater Poland Rifle Division: on the standard of the 2nd Greater Poland Rifle Regiment (GPRR) there was an inscription reading: “Z Bogiem za Ojczyznę” (“With God, for our motherland”), on the standard of the 3rd GPRR – “ŻYCIE, TRUD I MIENIE, ZA PRAWO I WOLNOŚĆ OJCZYZNY.” (“Life, hardship and property, for the right and freedom of our motherland”). The 2nd Greater Poland Rifle Division: on the standard of the 6th GPRR – “Mocą Bóg celem Ojczyzna” (“God is our power, the Motherland is our destination”, of the 7th GPRR – “Ojczyznę, wolność zachowaj nam Panie” (“Lord, help us keep our freedom and our motherland”) and of the 8th GPRR  – “Nie rzucim ziemi skąd nasz ród” (“We will not forsake the land where our ancestors were born”). The 3rd Greater Poland Rifle Division: on the standard of the 9th GPRR – “Ku chwale ojczyzny” (“For the glory of our mother country”), of the 11th GPRR “Za wiarę i ojczyznę” (“For faith and for our motherland”). 

The Pomeranian Rifle Division, on the standards of the Toruń Rifle Regiment – “WSPÓLNA MOC TYLKO ZDOŁA NAS OCALIĆ” (“Only our joined forces can save us”), the Grudziądz Pomeranian Rifle Regiment – “ZA HONOR NARODU, ZA WIELKOŚĆ OJCZYZNY.” (“For the honour of the nation, for the might of our motherland”), the Starogard Pomeranian Rifle Regiment – “AŻ DO OSTATNIEJ KROPLI KRWI” (“Until the last drop of blood”), and the Kaszubian Pomeranian Rifle Regiment – “PONAD ŻYCIE, PONAD ŚMIERĆ, PONAD SIEBIE SAMYCH” (“Above life, above death, above ourselves”).

The Greater Poland Cavalry Brigade: on the standard of the 1st Greater Poland Uhlan Regiment (GPUR) – “KU CHWALE OJCZYZNY” (“For the glory of our mother country”), of the 2nd GPUR – “Biały sztandar wzniosłe czyny.” (“White standard, fine actions”) and of the 3rd GPUR “Pod Twoją obronę uciekamy się” (“We fly to Thy protection”).

Furthermore, on the standard of the Poznań Garrison Regiment there is an inscription reading “Z BOGIEM W SERCU, Z BRONIĄ W RĘKU WOBEC WROGA OJCZYZNY BEZ LĘKU” (“With God in heart, with gun in hand, against the enemy without fear”), and on the standard of the Greater Poland Voluntary Cavalry Regiment there is an inscription reading: “Pod Twoją obronę…” (“Under Thy protection...”), of the 7th Greater Poland Mounted Rifle Regiment – “Pod Twoją obronę uciekamy się” (“We fly to Thy protection”), and of the 1st Greater Poland Sapper Battalion – “TAK NAM DOPOMÓŻ BÓG” (“So help us God”).

The standards of the Greater Polish Armies were decorated with ribbons and strings with fringes. In the upper part of the flagstaffs, there were “Napoleonic eagles” - silver, full-bodied eagles sitting on spheres. Although the orders only described signs for 12 infantry (riflemen) and cavalry regiments, other formations received standards made according to the above pattern. 

The concurrently organised units of the People’s Guard, the members of which were to include experienced soldiers (above 30 years of age) and persons who had not served in the army before, adopted their own design of the standard, characterised by different colours, galloons and white eagles referring to... the military eagles used on the stamp  of Central Command. Due to the lack of time and the hasty introduction of the signs for all of the guards, it was impossible to unify them. The majority of guards received standards made according to their own patterns. 

The Polish national signs and colours were also present on the insurgents’ uniforms. Most frequently these were uniforms of German origin. Silver eagles and red-and-white cockades were sewn on caps in different versions, sizes and materials. As well as the eagles, considered to be Polish patriotic jewellery, there were the eagles of; the Polish Armed Forces formed since 1917 by the German occupant armies on the Polish lands of the former Russian Partition, the Riflemen’s Association, the Polish Legions, etc. Red-and-white national cockades or strings tied in ribbons were also pinned to uniform coats and jackets. Bands, also in national colours, were worn on the sleeves.

Major Stanisław Taczak, the first commander of the uprising, tried to unify the method of placing Polish signs on insurgents’ uniforms. Central Command’s day order no. 5 of 8 January 1919, stated that officers and privates from military units had to temporarily wear the following insignia: on caps – a small silver eagle made of any metal, sized 3.5 x 3.5 cm and [meaning “or” – J.Ł.] a red-and-white cockade. On both sides of the coat and shirt collars, a 1 cm wide vertical red-and-white stripe was to be sewn 1.5 cm away from the edge. The red part was to be closer to the buttons. Insignia representing officers’ and non-commissioned officers’ ranks were to be discussed in further orders, according to the regulations applicable in the Polish Armed Forces. In practice, cockades were not worn together with eagles, and soon they were no longer used, because the national colours were already worn on collars. 

Under Central Command’s day order of 11 January 1919, the formation of a regular army started. It was decided that, in the Grand Duchy of Poznań, the Polish Army for the Prussian Partition would be formed, composed of infantry units, machine guns, heavy and field artillery, cavalry, pioneers, wagon forts, telephone units and gendarmerie. The Commands of individual Military Districts were responsible for their organisation. At the first stage, “lower” military units, such as battalions, batteries, units, squadrons and cadres for special armies, were to be formed. At the second stage, “higher” (tactical) units: regiments, brigades and divisions were to be set up. 

Select Pages