Who Goes There? Old Kaiser Bill and The Crown Prince

PolishSoldiers001

I was unaware of the story behind this unusual postcard when I purchased it at an antiques fair last fall however my research has uncovered an interesting tale. The photo shows a young driver from the Canadian Army Services Corps pulling a wagon with “Old Kaiser Bill” locked up in a wooden cage. The card is not dated but includes a hand-written message on back which reads:

“These are the polash (sic) soldiers that acted up these pictures. See Old Kaiser Bill in the cage and the Prince with his white pants and bound in rope.”

The Prince, presumably Kaiser Wilhelm’s oldest son Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst, is wearing what appears to be a 19th Century Canadian Militia 7-button tunic with “Austrian Knot” cuffs. The wagon is surrounded by a handful of other characters including one wearing a home-made pickelhaube and holding a sign that says “Von Luddendorff”.

There is no indication of where the photo was taken however I can confirm that it was in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In 1917 a Polish Army was established at Camp Niagara where Americans and Canadians of Polish descent were trained before heading overseas to fight with the French army. For a detailed and fascinating look into this establishment I highly recommend you read The Daily Life of Polish Soldiers in Niagara Camp, 1917-1919 (PDF) by Stan Skrzeszewski, Curator of the Museum and Archives of the Polish Armed Forces in Mississauga.

Further research led to the discovery of a Niagara Historical Society Museum publication entitled First World War Collection Research Guide (PDF). This document contains a wealth of photographs and other ephemera related to the war in this region and in particular to Camp Niagara.

While browsing the images in their collection I not only discovered my own postcard but also a handful of similar images captured on the same day. Most featured Old Kaiser Bill and an assortment of other characters, some holding “Burn the Kaiser” and “Can’t Get to Paris, We’re Bound for Hell” signs. The images, which appear about a quarter of the way through the document, are attributed to a False Armistice parade in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1918, likely on or near November 7th when rumours of a German armistice triggered premature celebrations around the world.

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