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Haller’s Volunteers Will Always Be Remembered
Cemetary in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
is Site of Annual Pilgrimage That Honors World War I Heroes

1998 Polish American Journal
by Stan Z. Biernacik

When the First World War erupted in Europe in 1914, Polish patriots all over the world eagerly seized that opportunity in order to actively promote the idea of free and independent Poland.

The Polish Nation, which at the end of the 18th Century was partitioned by her neighbors—Russia, Prussia and Austria—was now very anxious and ready to bring an end to the tragic situation, which was by force imposed upon her by the occupying powers.

With the nations of Europe engaged in war, Poles all over the world felt that the hour of freedom for their Fatherland had finally arrived. They were also convinced that the armed conflict, in which their enemies were now embroiled, provided the most opportune moment to reach their long-awaited goal. Committees were formed in many countries, but mainly in France and the United States, with the explicit purpose to recruit volunteers for a Polish Military Force. After completion of the necessary training, this force would fight on the side of the Western Allies, France and England, and would ultimately augment the Armed Units which were already forming on the Polish soil.

The efforts of the Polish organizations in the United States centered mainly around the nests of "The Sokols" (The Falcons), and resulted in the recruitment of many young Polish Nationals, who because of internal regulations in the United States, were not able to train locally, and for that reason, were dispatched to military camps in Canada.

At that same time, Poles from all parts of the world began arriving in France, and on June 5, 1917, French President Raymond Poincare issued a decree allowing the Poles to form their own army under their own flag, but under the French Supreme Command, for the duration of the war.

In the United States, Ignacy Paderewski approached President Wilson requesting the American Executive to issue a decree similar to that proclaimed in France. With Congressional approval, the President formally signed that document October 5, 1917.

The Ontario city of Niagara-on-the-Lake was selected as the main assembly center for the volunteers and for the nucleus of General Haller’s "Blue Army." The officer in charge of the center, which was named "The Tadeusz Kosciuszko Camp," was a Canadian Colonel, Arthur D’Orr LePan. He also commanded from 1917 until 1919, the "Camp Borden," where future officers of the "Blue Army" received their military training. On June 9, 1917, the Polish-American Citizens Committee was formed in Buffalo under the leadership of Rev. Cezary Krzyzan and Dr. Francis E. Fronczak, who at the time performed the duties of Buffalo’s Health Commissioner and was also a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris, France.

Supported by many local Polish organizations, the committee proceeded with the arduous task of housing, clothing, feeding and providing transportation for the volunteers on their way to the camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. According to the statement issued by the Canadian Ministry of National Defense, printed in the 1923 publication of the Niagara Historical Society, there were 22,395 volunteers at the "Kosciuszko Camp" at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and 20,720 of them were shipped to join Polish Army units in France. Many of them passed through Buffalo and received here all the necessary assistance from members of the Polish-American Citizens Committee.

During their time of training, an epidemic of influenza broke out on the Niagara Frontier, and took the lives of 26 recruits. Those in charge of Camp Borden contacted the Pastor of the local church, St. Vincent de Paul, who with the consent of the Parish Council, allocated a parcel of land in the St. Vincent de Paul cemetery, where the recruits were buried, and where yearly a Pilgrimage is conducted in their memory.

A local resident and trusted friend of the Polish fighting men, Mrs. Elizabeth Asher, a Canadian citizen, volunteered her services in taking care of the needy and sick. She also took care of the graves of the men who died during the epidemic.

When Poland regained its freedom in 1918, Canada informed the Polish Government that it would donate the cemetery to Poland as part of Polish soil. As World War II broke out, the Polish Government-in-Exile was not capable of taking care of the cemetery, and notified the general headquarters of the Polish Army Veterans Association in New York City that it was placing the care and responsibility in their hands.

The association, in turn, entrusted the care of the cemetery to the District 12 P.A.V.A., located in Buffalo, New York, practically across the river from Niagara-on-the-Lake. The P.A.V.A. continues today, as it has for the past many years with the Polish-American Citizens Committee, to honor those brave men who volunteered to fight for the freedom of the land of their forefathers.

During the annual Pilgrimage to Niagara-on-the-Lake, all those present are reminded constantly of the heroic effort of the Blue Army volunteers who trained there, sacrificed their lives during the war, and some of those who died there before reaching their destination in France and Poland.

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