Behind the Scenes of the Greater Poland Uprising

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

Jarosław Łuczak

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When on 16 January 1919 the command of the Polish Armed Forces of the former Prussian Partition was taken over by Lieutenant General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, the formation of regular armed forces started, initially based on the Poles who were born in 1897, 1898 and 1899, who were obliged to join the army under a resolution of the Supreme People’s Council published by the Commissariat of the SPC on 17 January 1919. Older men stayed in the units fighting on particular fronts. The oldest ones, able to carry weapons, were taken to People’s Guards formed in Poznań and in many other towns as part of mass mobilisation.

In his order of 18 January 1919, the new Commander-in-Chief stated that the look of uniforms would be determined by the Supreme People’s Council, that appropriate steps had been taken to this end, and that the soldiers should continue wearing their old uniforms “with the eagle on the cap”.

In day order no. 14 of 19 January 1919, General Dowbor-Muśnicki wrote that all the men recruited in the former Prussian Partition were a part of the “armed forces of the former Prussian Partition”. He reminded that giving honours, by means of saluting by raising the hand and touching the centre of the visor with the index and middle finger, with the remaining fingers bent, was obligatory to all military men, and that it was not an insult, but rather an expression of military politeness and a sign of being a member of the armed forces. According to the Commander-in-Chief, “touching the national emblem on the visor with two fingers shows who and for what purposes the soldiers serve.” 

The day order no. 17 of 21 January 1919, included the following information: “With the consent of the Commissariat of the Supreme People’s Council, I hereby determine, as annexed, what the uniforms of the armed forces in the former Prussian Partition should look like.” It was added in the commentary that the design choice was affected by the will to use all existing stocks of uniforms and to promptly adjust the uniforms. The Head of Supplies was obliged to provide the adjusted uniforms to the 1st Rifle Regiment, the 1st Uhlan Regiment, the technical battalion and the artillery battalion as soon as possible. 

According to the order, the new four-cornered [“rogatywka”] caps should be worn on duty, outside the barracks and in the field. Older caps were to remain in daily usage and to be worn during “front activities”. Only a small eagle fastened to the brim was allowed to be worn on them. At the same, it was forbidden to wear any other badges on the caps. It was also announced that the description of the uniforms for the uhlans and technical units would be provided “very soon”. 

According to the “Description of uniforms for riflemen (infantry)”, shirts [jackets – J.Ł.], coats and trousers were to be made of grey fabric, while the shirt and coat collars were to be of grey-and-green fabric. Buttons were also to be covered in fabric. Blouses and coats were to be single-breasted. Other details to be complied with included buttons on top of shirts and double-breasted officer’s coats, dark red creases or stripes (also on trousers), and sleeves with profiled cuffs. Boots were supposed to have long uppers or leather calf guards.

The four-cornered [“Rogatywka”] caps, which were the most characteristic element of the Greater Polish soldiers’ uniforms, were to be made of grey fabric edged with a dark red band along the stitches. The strap [liner – J.Ł.] and visor were to be in camouflage colours. The rosette [in the shape of a vertical club – J.Ł.) was to be made of string, in camouflage colours, and with “an eagle without a gorget” on the joint of the brim with the cover.

The collars were to be decorated with 1.5cm wide red and white ribbons 1cm from the edge. Next to this, the number of the regiment should be located – silver or another metal, written in Arabic numerals “across the collar”. Grenadiers, telephone operators and musicians had to wear proper insignia.

Rank insignia, as described in the section entitled “Rank insignia on uniforms and coats”, were placed, not on the epaulettes which were on the shirts and coats, but on their sleeves. The rank of lance corporals and non-commissioned officers was to be signalised by 1-1.5cm wide grey bands sewn 1cm away from the cuff. For lance corporal – one band, for corporal – two, for master corporal – one band with a rosette [a single loop – J.Ł.], for sergeant – one band with a (upper) rosette and a (upper) straight band, for staff sergeant – one band with a rosette and two straight bands. The distance between the patches should be 0.5 cm.

Officers; and generals’ patches were to be made of a 1.0cm wide silver galloon with a zig-zag and a 0.3cm wide silver band. For second lieutenant – one galloon, for lieutenant – one galloon and one band, for captain – one galloon and two bands, for major – one galloon with a rosette, for lieutenant colonel – one galloon with a rosette and one band, for colonel – one galloon  with a rosette and two bands, for general second lieutenant – one galloon with a triple rosette, for lieutenant general – one galloon with a triple rosette and one band, for general of the branch – one galloon with a triple rosette and two bands.

A similarly complex method was described in the section “Rank insignia on ‘rogatywka’ caps.” These were circles made of white or red woollen or silk string, placed on the lower part of the club-shaped rosette, above the button. For lance corporals, non-commissioned officers and senior officers – red and white were used. For staff officers – silver, for generals – gold. For lance corporal – one red circle, for corporal – two red circles, for master corporal – one white circle, for sergeant – one white and one red circle, for senior sergeant – one white and two red circles. For second lieutenant – one red circle, for lieutenant – two red circles, for captain – three red circles, for major – one silver circle, for lieutenant colonel – two silver circles, for colonel – three silver circles, for second lieutenant general – one golden circle, for lieutenant general– two golden circles and for general of the branch – three golden circles.

The uniforms of the artillery soldiers were to be similar. The only differences were a different colour of creases (black instead of dark red) and edging epaulettes with a modified stripe. In the section concerning insignia on collars, “two crossed metal cannons [only the barrels – J.Ł.] – silver, 2 centimetres each” were added under the regiment's number.

The “Description of uniforms, continued”, enclosed in the daily order no. 23, of 27 January 1919, stated that the same uniforms as for infantry applied to pioneers [sappers – J.Ł.], telegraphers and radio-telegraphers, with the only difference that the epaulettes of privates and officers were to be edged with a red crease in the shade of scarlet. Officers’ trousers were to be the same as in the infantry, but with additional black lampasses on both sides of the external stitches, width 2.5 cm, with a red crease in the centre. Black creases around the brim of “rogatywka”, and a metal silver pioneer’s sign: a shovel, a pickaxe and a hatchet, and a bomb on the crossing point, on the collar, under the silver number of the regiment. Telegraphers’ insignia was different – it was a metal, silver sign of telegraphers, and for radio-telegraphers – the radiotelegraphic sign.

The soon published “Description of uniforms for the 1st Greater Poland Uhlan Regiment” introduced an uhlan-type jacket similar to the one used by privates and officers, with crimson creases (only on the right side of the chest), double-breasted, with eagle-shaped buttons. The jacket had standing collars and uhlan-style epaulettes. The pocket flaps were edged with a crimson crease (stripe). The side pockets were sewn diagonally. Single-breasted coats were for the uhlans and double-breasted coats for officers. The coats were to be made of a grey fabric, with convertible collars. Epaulettes were to be without protrusions, with a buttoned flap in the back and two pockets on the sides. The sleeves and back flaps were to be edged with a crimson crease (stripe). Trousers, matching the long boots, were to have crimson lampasses and a crease. The “Rogatywka” cap, made of grey fabric, was to be edged with a white crease along the stitches, and with the strap and the visor - as in the infantry - in camouflage colours. To the left, a rosette made of string in camouflage colours and an eagle without a gorget on the joint of the brim with the cover. There was to be a crimson lampass [brim – J.Ł.] around the “rogatywka” cap and a white crease along its top edge. For officers, a rosette made of silver string and silver loops was on the strap [liner – J.Ł.]. Pennants, with white top and crimson bottom, were sewn on the collars of the uhlan jackets and coats. Boots were to be high [long – J.Ł.], with spurs fastened with straps of the same colour as the boots.

Subsequent “Descriptions of uniforms” were published soon afterwards.  An annex to Central Command’s day order no. 43 of 16 February 1919, described an exemplary uniform for a field gendarmerie unit at the staff of the Central Command of the Polish Army in the former Prussian Partition, an annex to the Central Command's day order no. 46 of 19 February 1919, provided a description of an exemplary uniform for the health services, while an annex to the CC’s day order no. 47of 19 February, described an exemplary uniform for the judiciary services, etc.

For the People’s Guard, round caps with an eagle and a blue brim were introduced. Rank insignia were separate, sewn on jacket and coat sleeves above the elbow. From February 1919, the officers of the People’s Guard wore the uniforms and insignia of the Greater Poland Armed Forces. In June 1919, uniforms for the Greater Poland infantry and for the National Defence (“Obrona Krajowa”), organised on the basis of the People’s Guard, were introduced. They were characterised by the metal letters “O.K.” placed directly on the collar, without patches.

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