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August Szymanski
August Szymanski  
QUESTION: Good morning,

I am hoping that you can help me identify the uniform worn by my great-grandfather in the attached picture.  Here's what I know:

He was born in 1889 in Poland, apparently either right on the German border or in a German speaking area.  He came to America in 1913, so I'm guessing that this picture was most likely taken sometime between 1907-1913.  I've heard stories that he may have served with a German cavalry unit, but I'm not sure if that's true.  

Any information that you can provide would be helpful.

Thanks,
Scott

ANSWER: His uniform looks German but to be sure I will ask my good friend Lt. Colonel S. Bojerud for help. He is an expert on old uniforms among other things.
As soon as he has replied I will come back to you. With Poland I suppose you mean the country before it was dividend up during the 18th centrum between Austria, Prussia & Russia. So Poland in an old ethical sense though not independent. If he did serve in the German Army Cavalry he most likely lived in the Prussian areas of Poland. The German emperor was emperor of Germany and king of Prussia. So Prussia and other German states like for example Bavaria were like New York State in USA but in Germany. The army & navy were imperial but the regiments belonged to the states - like the National Guard units in USA. So you talk of the Imperial German Army but a Royal Prussian Regiment. Bavaria had a king of its own but below the emperor in the chain of command so to speak.

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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for the info!  I'm eagerly awaiting your reply once you talk to your friend.

In tracing family history, some of the US census reports show his country of origin as Poland, with German as his primary language, and others show his country of origin as Germany with German as his primary language.  So it would make sense that he was from a Prussian area of Poland.

ANSWER: Yes. That makes sense. Poland in a strictly political or legal sense did not exist at that time. The king of Poland as a title was the Russian Tsar (emperor).


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Colonel Bojerud and I have discussed the matter. The uniform is German. It is from before 1907. 1907 the German Army introduced Feldtgrau (= field grey) uniforms. This is not one of them, it is older. Of course not all uniforms may have been replaced at once but the German Army was rather strict in enforcing changes. It was also very strict in enforcing military conscription before the age of 20-21. So he may have entered the army at the age of 18 and was then equipped with one of the old uniforms. The uniform is NOT one used by any German cavalry regiment! On the other hand he has a cavalry style saber (sword) at his belt. That was NOT used by infantry soldiers, they had bayonets. His cap shows 2 signs. At the top that of the German Army. Below it that of the Prussian Army (= one of the Royal Prussian regiments). So now we know that indeed he came from a Prussian-Polish area. The cuffs of his uniform indicate that he belonged to the army engineers or maybe to the artillery. The cuffs are what British text books for some reason call "Swedish style" and those were used by those 2 services. Both these 2 services used horses extensively at that time and that probably explains his sword and your family rumors that he belonged to the cavalry. We are unable to find any regimental signs on his uniform. So we can not tell you which Prussian regiment he belonged to. That would also have solved the question of he belonged to the artillery or the engineers. Colonel Bojerud has a feeling that it is the engineers but we can not be sure.  If you want to investigate this further I can only suggest that you contact the military attaché of the German embassy in Washington DC. Most probably it has a home page so you should be able to find it. You know the name and birth date of your ancestor and the general area where he came from. The chances that the German Army of today will be anle to locate him in its files are not too bad. So try! Good luck!


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---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Draft card
Draft card  
QUESTION: Not so much a question, but some follow up info.  I read your response and dove back into my research on ancestry.com and found the attached document - his WW1 draft registration card.  According to this, he had two years experience in the artillery in Germany!  It looks like it says he was born in NADENBUR Germany, which may be NEIDENBURG.  Neidenburg became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701, and part of the German empire in 1871.

Thanks for opening the door to further research for me!

Answer
Thanks! So it seems we were not that far off! But it was artillery not engineering though we considered both! The artillery men did ride horses with their guns which were pulled by horses. So it was very much like being in the cavalry though it was not. With that card the German Army must be able to find his files unless they have been lost due to 2 World Wars etc. Good luck!

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Claes-Gustaf Nordquist, M.D.

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I`m a retired Swedish military physician-surgeon with a big interest in military history - mainly European and especially of the Nordic-Scandinavian area. This also includes the history of military medicine.

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