By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Colonel Arthur D’Orr LePan
LePan was born in Owen Sound, Ontario to an affluent family. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Engineering and upon graduation, he accepted a position as Assistant Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at the University. His military career began in the 31st Regiment, and at the outbreak of war, he oversaw the Canadian Officer Training Corps (COTC) program, which produced several thousand Canadian Army officers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was also the Officer Commanding of the School of Infantry, where he supervised three Polish officers’ training camps. On September 24, 1917, LePan was notified that he was to be the Commandant of the Polish Army Camp. He was admired by many of the Polish recruits. He showed great empathy for the struggle for Poland’s independence and made sure that all Canadian staff treated every volunteer with respect and admiration for their patriotism. His efforts dedicated towards the Polish cause were not forgotten; he was recognized by the French and the new Polish Government. The former awarded him the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the latter the insignia of Commander of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
Lt. Col. A.D. LePan, Commandant and Staff Polish Army Camp, With Major M. Mercadier and Attachéd French Officers (1919-01-15/1919-01-15)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
On September 24, 1917, LePan was notified that he was to be the Commandant of the Polish Army Camp. He was admired by many of the Polish recruits. He showed great empathy for the struggle for Poland’s independence and made sure that all Canadian staff treated every volunteer with respect and admiration for their patriotism. His efforts dedicated towards the Polish cause were not forgotten; he was recognized by the French and the new Polish Government. The former awarded him the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and the latter the insignia of Commander of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
Lieutenant Lucjan Chwałkowski
Chwałkowski, born in occupied Poland on December 6, 1894, emigrated to New York with his parents at age 11. He became involved with the Polish Falcon organization, where he took part in field training exercises which allowed him to advance to a position of leadership.
First graduating class of Polish Officers trained at officers at the Canadian School of InfantryNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Lucjan was a part of the first class of Polish Officers’ to undergo training at the School of Infantry in Toronto. Upon graduating in April 1917, he attended Camp Borden for additional training. When Camp Kościuszko was established, Lucjan attended the camp to serve in the First Battalion, which departed the camp for New York on January 1, 1918.
Canadian Officers’ Training Corps Certificate of Military QualificationsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Lucjan's Canadian Officers' Training Corps Certificate.
When Lucjan arrived in France, he was assigned to the First Regiment of Polish Riflemen. On the night of July 8, 1918, Chwałkowski led his troops towards the German trenches near Rheims, France. During the battle, he was mortally wounded. As he lay dying on a stretcher in a field hospital, his last words were: “It is for Poland”. He was the first Polish officer killed in action in France. His death received international attention. A special remembrance service was held at Camp Kosciuszko. For his service, Chwałkowski received, posthumously, the Legion of Honour, the Order of Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Merit.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Paderewski was born in 1860 in the Russian-occupied part of Poland. At a young age, his father was imprisoned for his role in the January 1863 Uprising. He grew up to become an internationally-acclaimed virtuoso concert pianist and composer with an unwavering love for Poland and its culture. Paderewski was sent to America in early 1915 by the Polish National Committee in Paris as a political activist. His mission was to inform the Americans of Poland’s rich heritage and culture and to convince the government to sanction the training of a Polish Army on American soil for service in the War. Ignacy visited towns and cities where he would ask for funds and volunteers for the proposed Polish Army. The reaction to his pleas for recruits was especially enthusiastic among the members of the numerous Falcons organizations. He forged many friendships with high-ranking members of the American President’s staff, who in turn became sympathetic to his cause.
Paderewski at Camp Kosciuszko, 1917Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Paderewski visited the camp on two occasions, including this one in November of 1917.
Wiącek was born to a peasant family in the Austrian-controlled part of Poland. In 1912, he emigrated to the United States, where he settled in New York and became a member of the Polish Falcons. He completed the Falcons’ instructor course in Philadelphia and Wiącek was part of the inaugural Polish Officers’ School of Infantry class at the University of Toronto. In the summer of 1918, he joined the First Rifle Regiment and in the spring of 1919, Wiącek was transferred to Poland to take part in the Polish-Soviet War, where he was put in command of his own company. In May of 1920, Antoni was shot in battle near Lipowca-Napodowski. Even though he was injured he carried on leading his company. His actions were regarded with the highest honour. He would go on to repeat these actions again in battle near Rowne, where he was seriously wounded.
After being discharged from the army, he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, Croix de Guerre and the Cross of Valour (three times). After the war, Wiącek stayed in Poland to help his country regain its independence. Antoni, like many Polish Army officers, was executed in what has become known as the Katyn Forest Crime, where 15,000 Polish Army officers were executed by the Soviet Army during World War II.
Clarence Richard Young
Young was born in Prince Edward County, Ontario, to a United Empire Loyalist family. A structural engineer by training, he was a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering when the Great War began.
Major Young became an officer of the University’s contingent of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps, serving on the staff of the School of Infantry at Niagara Camp. When the Polish Army began training at Niagara he became its Adjutant, for which he was later honoured as Commander of the Order Polonia Restituta.
In the articles Young wrote after the war, he commented on the Poles’ high spirits and patriotism as reflected in their songs and music. Proficient in the Polish language, Young maintained close ties with several Polish veterans and was an active member of the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Friends of Poland. In addition to his extensive consulting practice and a distinguished writing career, he served as Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.
John “Jack” Luckasavitch
Jack was one of at least 28 men from the predominately Kashub community of Wilno/Barry’s Bay, Ontario, who enlisted in the Polish Army. Even though these men were Canadian, and had no military training, they volunteered to fight for the repatriation of Poland, the homeland of their grandparents.
Jack enlisted in 1918, at the age of 21, and headed to Camp Kościuszko. After just nine days of “training”, Jack departed on a train bound for New York with a depot of recruits, and then boarded a steamship to Bordeaux, France.
Jack and Eddie LuckasavitchNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
On board were his brother, Eddie (pictured), and several other Barry’s Bay men, including Alex Chapeskie, Paul Coulas, John Galka, and John and Antoine Trebinskie. After arriving in France, Jack attended an Officers’ school for a month, was outfitted in a French uniform and then sent to the Western front, where he was promptly promoted to Corporal. When the war ended, he stayed behind to fight in the Polish-Soviet War. He returned to Canada in 1920, only to find that the promise of equal pay to the French Army was not being kept. In the end, Jack did not receive any payment for his services.
Albert Burchat Photograph and Identification Card Albert Burchat Photograph and Identification CardNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Albert Burchat was also one of the young men from Wilno, Ontario who enlisted in the Polish Army.
Albert Burchat Photograph and Identification CardNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Rydlewski was born in occupied Poland in 1868. He emigrated with his parents to Pittsburgh, where he joined the Holy Ghost Congregations as a postulant at the age of 17. After graduating from secondary school, he went to France, where he studied theology. At the time of his enlistment in the Polish Army, Rydlewski was a pastor at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. He was a zealous proponent of the Polish cause and it was no surprise that he was one of the first chaplains to enlist in the Polish Army. In early 1918, he arrived at the camp to serve as senior chaplain, where he comforted the recruits who were dealing with the thoughts of being sent off to war; he performed regular masses both outdoors and in the Canadian YMCA tent. On August 8, 1918, Rydlewski left with a depot of recruits for France, where he later served as chaplain in Haller’s Army. After the war he was discharged from the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Rydlewski remained in Poland after the war, where he opened and ran an orphanage. When Poland was invaded in September 1939, Rydlewski was imprisoned in a Nazi internment camp in Lubin. He died at the camp in 1941.
Pela, born in Adams, Massachusetts to a patriotic Polish family, joined the Polish Falcon Association as a young man and trained as a cadet at the Alliance College in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. He graduated as a second Lieutenant with the second group of Poles in the Canadian Officers’ Training Course at the University of Toronto in 1917. Having accompanied the first depot of men from Camp Kościuszko to the overflow camp at St. Jeans, Quebec, he shipped out aboard the first transport of volunteer Polish Americans, SS Niagara, bound for France.
Fighting both in France and later Poland, he was seriously wounded. He was the youngest American volunteer to be awarded the Order of Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military award for bravery. Back home in Detroit, Michigan, both he and his wife became very involved in various Polish community and veteran organizations
Captain Wincenty Skarzyński
Skarzyński (pictured on the right) was born in 1887 in the Russian-controlled part of Poland. During a Revolution in 1905, he was arrested and deported to Serbia by tsarist authorities; but he managed to escape. Wincenty emigrated to America in 1908 and enlisted as a volunteer in the United States Army. He was eventually persuaded to leave the army to join the Polish Falcons movement.
In September 1916, Skarzyński travelled to Ottawa with Andrzej Małkowski, where they met with Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of War, and Major-General Willoughby Gwatkin, to propose the formation of a Polish Army in Canada.
Skarzyński was the first to graduate from the Polish Officers’ training at the School of Infantry on February 24, 1917 and was given the rank of Lieutenant.
When Camp Kościuszko opened, he served as the Polish adjutant. During his brief stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he married his wife, Wanda, on November 12, 1917, and he departed for France a few weeks later on November 26, 1917. When Skarzyński was discharged in 1921 following the Polish–Soviet War, he was honoured with the Croix de Guerre and the Polish Cross of Valour.
Wincenty Skarzyński perished during the Second World War in the Soviet Starobielsk Prisoner of War camp on April 22, 1940.
Captain Alexander George E. Smith
Alexander, son of Cayuga chief Alexander George E. Smith Sr., lived on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. He enlisted in the Canadian Militia and became an officer in the 37th (Haldimand Rifles) Regiment which, in the pre-war years, made their journey to Niagara for the annual summer camp. When the First World War began, Alex went overseas with the Second Contingent and fought as a commissioned officer in France with the 20th Battalion. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery on the Somme, and was promoted to Caption, but was sent home in April of 1917. When the Polish Camp opened he was appointed adjutant.
Smith was admired by many of the Poles at the camp and for his services he was named an Officer of the Order of the Black Star. As such, he was one of the most highly decorated Natives officers of the Great War.
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.