Camp Kościuszko: Daily Life & Training

By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Uniforms at Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum


The new recruits arrived at the camp with a variety of civilian clothing, but they were quickly outfitted with surplus rifle green or dark blue uniforms of the pre-1907 Canadian Militia era. The Officers of the Polish Army were issued the red Canadian Militia tunics and the peaked cap of the Canadian Army with a special Polish cap badge. Some of the men at the camp were  fortunate enough to be issued the sky-blue French uniform with square Polish czapka hats (seen on both the men on the far right and left of the above image) or with the peaked cap. 

Polish Army Cap BadgeNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Polish Army Cap Badge

School of Infantry Polish Army Camp.Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Daily Life

Daily camp life depended on the men’s rank and the time of year. For the Polish officers-in-training at the Provisional School of Infantry, their day was taken up with courses in marching and rifle drill, musketry, and the machine gun.

Images from Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Non-Commissioned Officers’ also received lectures and practical training under the supervision of Canadian and Polish Officers’. During most of the year, officers and men encamped in canvas bell-tents, with 1-2 officers per tent vs. 8-9 men per tent. 

Images from Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

At any one time, there were up to 4,000 volunteers who would undergo at least three weeks of training. Their day began with Reveille followed by a mandatory shave with, cold soapy water and only two notched razors and two towels per platoon of forty. Their hours of training were taken up with extensive physical and bayonet training, marching drills and field manoeuvres. No musketry or rifle training was given, except to the Probation Officers at the School of Infantry (as former Falcons, most of the men were already familiar with a rifle).

Images from Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Sports such as football, baseball, boxing, ice hockey and tug-of-war were encouraged to ease boredom and increase stamina.

YMCA Tent, Niagara CampNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

During off-hours, most of the men headed for the YMCA tent and recreation hall or wandered into town. The YMCA, staffed by both men and women, offered free live concerts and ‘moving picture shows’ during the week. Here, the men were encouraged to write home with stationery and pens provided. Polish language newspapers and books were also available. The staff organized various sports and cultural activities and all proceeds from the canteen were directed to the men in camp. The YWCA established a “Blue Triangle” ‘Hostess House’ in town, providing comfortable lodging and gardens open to women visiting their loved ones stationed in camp.

Polish Army Band Polish Army BandNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Music and dance were never far from the minds of many of the recruits. A bugle band and two brass bands were usually training in camp.

Polish Army Band Polish Army BandNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

These marching bands were in demand for concerts in camp, venues in town (including dances), and on recruiting drives in Canada and the USA. But, they were eventually dispatched to France.

The Polish Army at Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Drum used by the Polish Army BandNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Many members of the Town's band were off fighting overseas. These instruments were no longer being used, and so the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake loaned some of the instruments, including this one, to the Polish Army Band.

Polish Army BandNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

During the summer months, the soldiers would indulge in ‘bathing parades’. The Polish Army, sometimes with 1,500 men, headed by their brass and bugle bands, would march through Town to the bathing beach near Fort Mississauga.

Major F. P. Kenricks' Pocket Watch Major F. P. Kenricks' Pocket WatchNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

This watch was given to Captain (later Major) Frank P. Kenrick in Niagara-on-the-Lake on October 20, 1917. Kenrick was the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Depot Battalion at Camp Kościuszko and a staff member at the Canadian School of Infantry at the University of Toronto.

Major F. P. Kenricks' Pocket Watch Watch InscriptionNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Flagpole and Insignia of the Polish Army CampNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

You may have noticed that the Polish Flag at the camp doesn't look quite right. That is because for over 125 years, the national flag of Poland had not flown over a Polish Army Camp. When the camp officially opened, the Polish flag was raised and it proudly flew until the camp closed in March of 1919. Since the Polish flag had not flown for well over a century, the soldiers did not know which way the flag was supposed to go; it was flown upside-down for the duration of the camp. 

Armistice Day Parade with the Polish Army troopsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum


A day or two before a draft of recruits left, ladies from the Motor and Canteen Corps of the American Red Cross would arrive from Niagara Falls, New York to present each volunteer with a comfort kit, socks and tobacco. The following day, men in full uniform marched through the streets of Niagara, lined with locals and fellow recruits, to the Michigan Central train on King Street. Polish, French, Canadian (Union Jack) and American flags flew amongst frantic waves and cheers.  In the words of one recruit: "The long awaited day is here…let Him lead us onto the field of glory, to the field of victory, to a free Poland".

Images from Camp KosciuszkoNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

These recruits were transported to France for further training, where they eventually became a part of the ‘Blue Army’, aptly named for their horizon-blue uniforms, or ‘Haller’s Army’. Most of these men participated in combat on the Western Front and, after armistice was signed, they entered Poland in April 1919 to fight in the Polish-Soviet War.

Credits: Story

From November 11, 2017 until November 15, 2018, Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917-1919 was on display at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Camp Kosciuszko, where thousands of soldiers of Polish descent trained before being shipped off to free Poland from 123 years of foreign occupation. This exhibition could not have been possible without the work from guest curators: Dr. Richard Merritt, and members of the Polonia Canadian Institute for Historical Studies, Andazej Kawka and Roman Baraniecki. Thank you for the time and dedication that each of you put into helping us tell this unique part of Niagara's history. Without you this exhibit would not have been possible.

Images are courtesy of: The Polish Amy Veterans Association of America, Inc. Archives, New York; Carol Baggot-Forte; Andazej Kawka; The University of Toronto Archives; the Polish Falcons of America; the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum; the Polonia Canadian Institute for Historical Studies; and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps