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95th Anniversary of First Cadre Company March Out

The outbreak of World War I, in which the states who had partitioned Poland for the first time faced each other in mortal combat, increased the Poles' hopes for regaining independence. At that time, Polish independence aspirations concentrated first of all in the Galicia region. The man who played the leading role in them was Józef Piłsudski. In response to the outbreak of the war, he ordered mobilization of the Riflemen's Association 'Strzelec' on 29 and 30 July 1914, and on the next day subordinated the Polish Rifle Squads to his command. The troops of riflemen from both formations were concentrated in a pavilion in the Oleandry park, near Cracow's Błonie Meadows. On 3 August 1914, the First Cadre Company, formed out of the members of the 'Strzelec' Riflemen's Association and the Polish Rifle Squads, was sworn in there by Józef Piłsudski. The function of its commander was entrusted to Tadeusz Kasprzycki 'Zbigniew'. According to various sources, the company numbered between 144 and 172 soldiers, organized in four platoons.

At about 4 o'clock in the morning of 6 August, the First Cadre Company marched out of Cracow's Oleandry towards the north, in the direction of Miechów, heading to the border of the Kingdom of Poland under Russian rule in order to trigger off an anti-Russian uprising and engage in combat with Russia. Still on the same day, at 9 o'clock in the morning, the company reached the border in Michałowice, where the riflemen symbolically knocked down the border posts and entered the Russian partition area. After the liberation of Słomniki, Miechów, Jędrzejów and Chęciny, the city of Kielce was taken on 12 August. On this route, the First Cadre Company was reinforced by newly formed troops which followed its tracks. The Company's forces grew step by step ? it entered Kielce already as a cadre battalion, with Commander Józef Piłsudski at its head and staff preceded by cavalry.

However, further march towards Warsaw had no chances of success. Owing to the reluctant attitude of the population, the Company failed to foment a nationwide anti-Russian uprising. The military operations of the First Cadre Company were of negligible military importance, but they played an enormous role in the consciousness of the Poles. The Company was the first regular division of the Polish army since the end of the January uprising of 1863-1864, which set off to fight for independence. Up to that time, the Poles had been conscripted by force to serve in the armies of the partitioning states. They were forced to fight under foreign banners and die in the interests of other countries on faraway battlefields. Only in 1914 could they appear as a uniform formation in Polish uniforms, and with Polish eagles on their caps. The First Cadre Company initiated the process of reconstructing the Polish Army, which turned out to be so essential in playing out Polish matters during World War I and later, during the fight for borders of the re-emerging Polish state.

With time, troops subordinated to Piłsudski grew in number. Towards the end of August 1914, they were used to form the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legion, which in December 1914 was transformed into Brigade I of the Polish Legions, and its commander ? Józef Piłsudski ? was appointed a Brigadier. At a later time, Brigades II and III of the Polish Legions were consecutively formed. These were the origins of the legendary formation, which in 1914-1917 fought in the area of the Kingdom of Poland, Podhale, Eastern Carpathians and in Volhyn, and greatly contributed to Poland's regaining independence after 123 years of bondage.

Part of the history of Brigade I of the Polish Legions is the badge For Faithful Service (Za Wierną Służbę), established by Commander Józef Piłsudski through an order of 6 August 1916, on the second anniversary of the Cadre Company's march out of Oleandry.

A permanent place in the history belongs also to the famous song March of the First Brigade, which was a joint work by Andrzej Tadeusz Hałaciński and Tadeusz Biernacki. In the interwar Poland, that song was considered as almost a national anthem by Polish Legions' veterans. It was also the favourite song of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who called it 'the proudest soldiers' song ever'. The song was often performed during official state and army ceremonies. After World War II, in the People's Republic of Poland, it was doomed to oblivion for political reasons. The song regained it rightful position only after the political transformations of the year 1989, and at present is again very often performed during state and army ceremonies.

Wojciech Krajewski
Polish Army Museum in Warsaw