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Greater Poland Uprising

November 1918 brought a cease fire at all fronts of World War I. The armistice signed on 11 November in Compiegne provided for the return to frontiers as of 1 August 1914, which meant that Greater Poland remained within the German state. Amid the prevailing revolutionary chaos in Germany, the Polish community in the Greater Poland did not give up, however, and chose their own representation: the High People's Council. Poles had their own military formations: the People's Guard and the Service and Security Guard. Military training was also started in the 'nests' of the Polish Gymnastic Society 'Falcon'. Alongside independist organisations such as the Polish Military Organisation in the Prussian partition more and more numerous independent storm groups operated. Plans included an uprising covering all the Prussian partition. In such a scenario, help would be needed and it was hoped that it would come from the Polish Army in France and Entente troops.

The atmosphere was becoming increasingly tense. On 26 December 1918, Ignacy Jan Paderewski was greeted enthusiastically in Poznań. The next day brought events unexpected by the leaders of the Polish independist movement, who anticipated a later date for armed uprising. In response to Polish demonstrations, Germans decided to manifest their presence in Poznań staging a march on 27 December 1918. At the fore marched soldiers of the local garrison, arriving at the Bazaar Hotel, where Paderewski stayed. There were fire exchanges in many parts of the city. Poles established their control of the city on 6 January 1919 with the capture of the Ławica airport.

The outbreak of fighting in Poznań triggered uprising in the province. First volunteer units made usually of inhabitants of a single town or village would form spontaneously. The adopted organisational structure was similar to the German army model. The insurrects used the element of surprise and the generally low morale of the German troops, liberating most of the Poznań province. In the northern part of Greater Poland the liberation of Gniezno and Września was of great importance. From here the uprising spread to Pałuki north-east of Gniezno, to Western Kuyavia and territories along the Noteć river. The organisational centres were located in Grodzisk and Kościan, for the western and southern part of the Greater Poland, respectively. The toughest fighting took place in Chodzież, Inowrocław, Kopanica, Międzychód, Nakło, Rynarzewo and Szubin.

The success of the uprising and accomplishments in terms of military organisation owe a lot to both commanders-in-chief: Major Stanisław Taczak and General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki as well as to the officer corps. In mid-January 1919 the insurgent forces numbered 15 thousand volunteers and a month later twice that number. A strong army was created, which fielded more than 102 thousand soldiers in June 1919, 70 thousand of which as front-line troops. At the end of January 1919 a common pattern of uniform was introduced and the Greater Poland soldiers used to wear a tall peaked hat with a club-shaped loop on its left side and military rank insignia sewn onto the cuffs and hats.

The organisation and maintenance of this army required significant financial contributions from the inhabitants of the Greater Poland. Till November 1919 the financing issues were in the competence of the High People's Council. It used the financial reserves of the Greater Poland banks and companies as well as donations offered by people. A special issue of Government Bonds was launched with a view to raising funds for the state. General J. Dowbor-Muśnicki expressed his particularly high opinion of society's contribution to the creation of the army: 'I would not have created half of that army if it had not been for the assistance of the whole society (?)'.

On 28 June a peace treaty was signed in Versailles. The shape of the Polish Western border owed a lot to the victory in Greater Poland, since the border line encompassed territories captured by the insurgents. The incorporation of areas not seized by insurgents, such as Bydgoszcz, Leszno, Rawicz and Zbąszyń was a major success.

Professor Janusz Karwat
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań