Haller’s Army

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One unusual record source for those with Polish ancestry is Haller’s Army records.  What was Haller’s Army?  During World War I, Poland did not exist on any “official” map of the world.  General Jozef Haller formed a regiment of Poles in France to join the fight in the name of their homeland, with the ultimate goal of Polish independence.  They were also known as the Blue Army because of the color of their uniforms.

Many people have never heard of Haller’s Army or of their contributions during “the Great War”.  Because it isn’t well known, many Americans of Polish descent may be very surprised to find out that their ancestors, who had already immigrated to the U.S. prior to 1917, volunteered to fight for the Polish Army in France under Haller.  It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Polish men, immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, volunteered and fought in France.  Most were recent immigrants who had not yet become American or Canadian citizens.  Despite immigrating to a new country, these young men were fiercely proud of their homeland.  They willing volunteered to fight for Poland’s democracy and independence.  Because of the Partitions of Poland, none had grown up in a free Poland, and Haller’s Army was the first free Polish Army since Napoleon’s time.  At the war’s end on November 11, 1918, when Poland officially regained its independence, Haller’s Army continued the fight in the Polish-Soviet War until 1921.

Did Your Ancestor Volunteer?

The Polish Genealogical Society of America holds the recruitment records, and while the records themselves are not available online, the index is searchable by surname at the PGSA site.  If you find a match, the records can be obtained through PGSA by mail for a minimal donation – see complete information on how to order copies at http://www.pgsa.org/hallerreqform.htm.

I’ve referred to this as an index of those that volunteered for Haller’s Army, but if you find your relative’s name it does not necessarily mean they served.  A search for the surname “Pater” found several matches, but I was surprised to find “Ludwik Pater” from Philadelphia.  Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis, my great-grandfather.  I ordered a copy to see what I could learn.  The form is in Polish, as are the applicant’s responses, but the volunteer who looked up the record also provided a translation for most of the entries.  An online copy of the form is available in English here.  For the responses, a Polish-English dictionary will help.

The record provides a wealth of genealogical information including date and place of birth, address, marital status and number of children, name and address of nearest relative in both America and Poland, and a full physical description.  The U.S. WWI Draft records are similar and from the same time period, but the form for Haller’s Army is more detailed regarding relatives both at home and in Poland as well as the physical description, which includes not just the eye and hair color, but also height, weight and other features such as teeth, chin, and “distinguishing marks”.

Another feature of the Haller’s Army recruitment papers is some very detailed questions that could offer clues for searching other records.  The form asks:

  • Are you a citizen of the United States of America (second papers)?
  • Did you serve in the Army?  Type of arms?  How long?  Rank upon discharge?
  • What Polish organizations in America do you belong to?
  • If you belong to the Falcons, for how long…and do you hold any office?

Responses to these questions could lead you to naturalization, military, or fraternal organization records.  [Note: The Falcons were established in Chicago in 1887 as an immigrant aid society concerned with physical education, Polish culture and heritage, and gaining Polish independence.  The organization still exists today.]

My great-grandfather filled out his registration card for the U.S. Draft on June 5, 1917.  At the time, he was 23 years old with a wife and 3 young children.  On November 12, 1917, he volunteered for Haller’s Army.  I had never heard about military service during a war by any member of the family, so I assumed he wasn’t accepted because he had a family to support (which is why he was not drafted by the U.S.).  As I researched this article and found the English translation of the form, I learned, with some surprise, that he was sent to the training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on November 18, 1917 – less than a week after he volunteered.  But the information provided by the PGSA didn’t indicate an actual record of service in the Army, so what happened?

I’m not sure, and I’m rather puzzled to finally notice that he went to training camp!  I will have to investigate this further.  I do know that he was home in Philadelphia by May, 1918 because his fourth son, Victor Pater, was born the following January.  If he did make it through the training camp successfully, he could not have served in the Army long enough to make the journey to France to fight.

It does speak volumes about the Polish character if young men like my great-grandfather were willing to fight for their homeland – even though they no longer lived there.  My great-grandfather immigrated at the age of 14 and had lived here ten years by the time he volunteered, but he felt strongly enough about the cause for Polish independence to fight in a foreign land.

If you have Polish ancestry, it’s worth typing your surname into PGSA’s index search to discover if your ancestor played a role in Haller’s Army.  The Haller’s Army website best describes these Polish immigrants, recent arrivals to a new country but with a deep love for the old country.  The site proclaims: “They fought for their family. They fought for their ancestors. They fought for their freedom. Most of all they fought for their homeland – Poland.”

[Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image: Polish_Army_in_France_WWI_recruitment_poster.jpg]

For more information on Haller’s Army:

[Posted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: research experiences and techniques.]

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13 thoughts on “Haller’s Army

  1. I have the full army of American/ Canadian recruits databased and can searched by 130 categories per man. (most categories do have answers).

    There were approximately 24,000 accepted from a pool of 32,000 applicants. Haller’s Army was also comprised of Poles recruited in France, Italy, England and even Brazil.

    If you think you may have a relative or not sure, feel free to send me an email.

    Paul S. Valasek

    Hallersarmy@aol.com

  2. Hello, Paul,
    I have a question & unfortunately- it’s a long story:
    I am researching my ancestral roots via my Mother and Uncle (born: 1921 & 1918 respectively in UHRYNOW Sredni(e), Galicia (NOW Ukraine). They emigrated to Canada in 1922 with their Mom WARWARA (Romanow) KOROL. She was sent for by her hubby PROKOP KOROL who had left Galicia in 1913- to make a better life and set up for his wife & THEIR kids. Finally he sent for her (THEIR children had died, one by one during the war/s – but she had 2 more and was told to bring them). She arrived with Mom and my Uncle and died shortly thereafter (less than a year). So, the children were put up for adoption- I have the entire FILE.

    On the intake form Peter (as Prokop was now called) said: “These children are not mine- I do not blame my wife as no woman was safe from the soldiers.” On the intake form- KOROL was crossed out and WUJAK was written in as the children’s name (of course- I don’t know if it is spelled correctly- or WHOSE Army this fellow served in)……I have to assume this is “the soldier’s name” there was no documentation provided to back it up.

    I have Uncle John’s (Taras’) Baptismal certificate and unfortunately AND MYSTIFYINGLY (as it is IMPOSSIBLE!) it states the father as Prokop Korol- so there is no help there. (Why that could be so I have NO explanation or idea- unless it simply meant Prokop was Warwara’s LEGAL husband?)

    My question: Is WUJAK a correct spelling? What Nationality might that be? Is there any way you can think of that I could find out who this man – MY GRANDFATHER – was? COULD he have been in Haller’s Army?

    Any suggestions/ideas/comments are welcome (and quite frankly: NEEDED!)
    Thanks for your time!

    Melanie Pereira

  3. While Haller’s Army was in France most of its members did, indeed, come from the United States and Canada. But it also contained:
    ➢ Remnants of the Bayonne Legion, consisting of Polish members of the French Foreign Legion; this unit had suffered severe casualties earlier in the war.
    ➢ Remnants of one division of the Polish Legion under Haller’s command; it had fought on Germany’s side, then participated in the chaotic warfare that followed the Bolshevik revolution. With British help, they made their way to France via Murmansk.
    ➢ Poles from South America, predominantly Brazil.

    After its move to Poland after the 1918 Armistice, however, it filled its ranks with:
    ➢ Poles conscripted by the government of newly independent Poland.
    ➢ Other units of the Polish Army, mainly those manned by Polish soldiers who had served in other armies during the war.
    ➢ Volunteers from within Poland.
    ➢ Volunteers recruited in Allied POW camps, mostly Poles who had fought in the Austrian army and been captured by the Italian army.

    It is not clear how much action the North American recruits saw in Poland. According to Stanley R. Pliska’s article, “The Polish American Army,” published in The Polish Review, Summer 1965:

    “even during the most trying days of the Bolshevik invasion, the Army was not called into action. Thousands of its soldiers idled away lonely hours awaiting return to the United States. … The Polish government had no means to transport them back to the United States; the Polish organizations in the United States were unable to finance the passages; and the United States government had no jurisdiction over them.

    “When all appeared lost, [a bill passed the American Congress] which would permit the Atlantic Transport Fleet to bring these men back to the United States. The disabled and those over 55 years of age—and there were ninety of these—returned earlier. The real return of the Polish-American segment of this army did not begin till April 1920 when 1,166 veterans reached Fort Dix, New Jersey. From this date on through Feb-ruary 1921 some 19,000 returned in seven separate trans-ports. Of their own choosing, 5,000 of the “Americans” de-cided to remain in Poland. [Most of them evenutally decided to return to America.]”

  4. to
    Melanie Pereira

    (My question: Is WUJAK a correct spelling? What Nationality might that be? Is there any way you can think of that I could find out who this man – MY GRANDFATHER – was? COULD he have been in Haller’s Army? )

    hi, i see today your message on

    What’s Past is Prologue

    the name is coming from east prussia, today polonia.my father and grandfather was born there

    greetings from germany

    bernd wujak

  5. Bernd;
    Thank-you so much! It was good of you to take the time to reply!

    So would your Grandfather have spoken Polish?
    How would YOU go about researching a solider (no first name known) as per my original message-who somehow ended up in what is now Ukraine. I need to find this man, and find out about the connection to my Grandmother, Uncle and Mother?

    Thanks for any additional light you are able to shed on this!

    Warm regards from Victoria, BC Canada!

    Melanie

  6. Hi Melanie,

    i don`t Know what my grandfather was spoke polish or german.my father was born in 1926 in Friedrichshof
    (today Rozogi) in the near from Ortelsburg(now Szczytno).
    my grandmother was born there in 1900, in this time the
    country was german. i will look at home (i`m now on work)
    if i find, where my grandfather is born. His name was
    Adam wujak and he is missing in WW II

    wish you all the best!

    Lg
    bernd

  7. Looking for info on Piotr p Tolusciak
    He was a pilot for the french Esc BR 39
    and with 16 Eksrada with Haller’s army 19-21
    and as a pilot for the USMC 22-25

    any info or picture would be great

    regards

  8. MY FATHER WAS A MEMBER OF HALLERS ARMY
    HIS NAME WAS STANISLAW SLIWA FROM LOWELL MASS HIS DOB WAS 11 10 1900
    IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION OF HIS SERVICE OR IF YOU KNOW WHERE I MAY GET THIS INFORMATION PLEASE EMAIL ME AT
    ejswila@netzero.com or call 714 993 989

    EDWARD J SLIWA
    431 ARAPAHO PL
    PLACENTIA CA 92870 1523

    I HAVE A PICTURE OF HIM IN UNIFORM IF YOU WANT A COPY

  9. Edward,
    Your best start would be to go to the PGSA website under Haller’s Army Index.
    If your father’s name is there, you can order a copy if his enlistment papers.

    Good luck.
    Barb

  10. If you have a relative who served in WWI in Haller’s Army I would recommend sending for a copy of the enlistment papers, especially form C from PGSA. This form gives personal information including town, county, province in Poland, home address in America, and next of kin. It is very helpful information if you do not have much to go on. There is also a ceremony at Niagara-on-the- Lake, Ontario on the second Sunday in June to remember Haller’s Army.

  11. I recently I contacted the PGSA about obtaining a copy of my grandfather Michal Siaweleski’s enlistment papers and was overjoyed to receive them. I remembered being told as a child that my grandfather went back to Poland to fight AFTER immigrating to Bayonne, N.J. I decided to do an internet search to see the circumstances at the time that would have made it necessary for him to make this sacrifice. I was very lucky to find the Haller’s Army web site and thus begin the search for my grandfather’s history. He had been a mystery to me because he died 8 years before I was born. I found him using the Haller’s Army search index and was then able to obtain the papers from the PGSA. HINT:Try variations of the surname spellings. Polish names tended to get misspelled by those transcribing them. It was well worth the effort as I am immensely proud of my grandfather and was able to share that pride with our family.

    Phyllis Siaweleski Novkovic
    Proud granddaughter of Michal Siaweleski

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