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What uniform are these four guys wearing, and what medal is the central guy wearing? Possibilities are likely something Austro-hungarian or Romanian, possibly around 1900. Bonus question: what are they drinking?

This photo belonged to my wife's late grandfather, who emigrated to the U.S. from Poland (Galicia) in 1921. That's about all I can tell you. If you're interested in the medal, the photo is grainy enough that I can't see any more detail. Now, if the cord is a marksmanship award established in 1926, that creates a temporal problem; though perhaps the photo was mailed to him later.

enter image description here

Here's a closeup of the medal and coincidentally, the bottle.

enter image description here

More notes: The grandfather in question, Solomon Zeidenstein, was born in 1904 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1921. There is some resemblance between him (though he's much older in all photos) and the soldier at left. There's also some resemblance between his older brother Abraham and the soldier at right. But that would mean a 16-year-old in uniform in 1920. Was anyone that young called up during the war with Russia, even when Warsaw was in danger?

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    Please VERBOSELY visually describe the uniforms eras gender cues for search engines and the visually impaired. – Samuel Russell Jul 15 at 19:20
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    Interesting photo - four appear to be in a military outfit, but the other is in a suit. Maybe he was just a friend stopping by? – BruceWayne Jul 16 at 15:11
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    Can you provide more context for the provenance of this photo, where you got it from etc? Also, while the size and resolution is already quite good, when zooming in the jpeg-artifacts start to get into the way; can you scan this once more and provide another version of it (upload limit here would be 2MB) ? – LаngLаngС Jul 16 at 16:19
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    Here's a closeup. – John Harshman Jul 16 at 21:02
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    @BruceWayne: I'd guess a group of students of whom some had already enlisted and one hadn't. – gktscrk Jul 22 at 13:17
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The distinctive collar 'snake' pattern as well as the eagle worn by the guy sitting in the centre suggest that this is a Polish uniform:

enter image description here left guy has it already

A wire wężyk braid, also used for displaying ranks (plWP: Barwy broni i służb Wojska Polskiego II RP), occasionally worn during the war from its start, in Polish legions, with various combinations of uniforms (French, Russian, mostly Austrian. If in-war, the breast pocket flaps or most likely Russian?)
(— Nigel Thomas: "Polish Legions 1914–19", Men-at-arms, Osprey: Oxford, 2018. Providing pictures of most of these combinations. French Polish officers had the zig-zag pattern on their hats.)

More typical, post World War One, but not much later, as the collars were eventually not stand&fall and then usually much more tapered towards the 30s:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

srcs1, srcs2, srcs3

Example for the temporal development of the collar:

Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski

in 1915: enter image description hereenter image description here

in 1916: enter image description here

in 1917: enter image description here

in 1938: enter image description here

The seated man with his decorations might be wearing two isosceles cross medals — somewhat similar to a Greek cross or Cross pattée.

The details visible are not very clear for both, but the upper looks at first somewhat like a Virtuti militari, but the quite plain appearance with straight outer edges in this picture makes me think of an Odznaka Za Wilno:

enter image description here

The lower decoration then might be an Odznaka Pamiątkowa Frontu Litewsko-Białoruskiego (Commemorative Badge of the Lithuanian-Belarusian Front) which came in no less than 9 versions.

enter image description here enter image description here

If that's indeed the case, then it is obviously post World War.

That same persons chord seems to be not the akselbant but a Sznury strzeleckie a 'shooter's chord' (marksmanship) as there seem to be two 'acorns' attached to it (although wearing it would be typically on the shoulder, not fastened below a breast pocket. Note that it looks indeed like he is wearing a Polish type in a somewhat 'kuk Austrian fashion':
enter image description here).

If it is one of exactly these, then the date gets shifted to after 1926. But the variations that existed for the forms and ways to wear them seem to be offering a dazzloing array of possibilities, a few of these decidedly earlier than 1926, the first of the following examples being accompanied with a description of '18/19':

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

In contrast to the 'general' Austrian 'pompom/balls' style: enter image description here

enter image description here (src: sznur naramienny, strzelecki ? – dobroni.pl)

There are no rank insgnia visible to my eyes on the shoulder boards, and together with the relatively low elaboration pattern on the collar, this might indicate quite a low rank.

The drink? Some strong schnaps is all I could identify now, judging by the size of botles serving five and the small size of the glasses. The bottle shape might give away more?


For an excellent overview of the difficulties involved in visually identifying 'Polish' uniforms from 1914–1931 (the outer limits for this picture, with my best guest indeed gravitating towards early 1920s), look at the outline of the "history of the 51st infantry regiment of the Borderland Riflemen" (Zarys dziejów 51 pułku piechoty Strzelców Kresowych): Formed in Italy and named after Garibaldi from Austrohungarian prisoners of war clad in Italian uniforms. Sent to France to join Poznan soldiers recruited from German prisoners which had now French style uniforms. After being back to Poland they retained their hodge-podge uniforms and were issued new ones as well. Until the end of the twenties this mixing and matching seems to have persisted.

Update concerning 'age of soldiers':

Stanisław Wycech (June 27, 1902, Sadoleś – January 12, 2008) was, at age 105, the last Polish veteran of the First World War. At the time of his death, he was, at age 105, the youngest living veteran of the war. Wycech was underage when he enlisted in the Polish Military Organisation in 1917 aged only 15 and participated in the disarming of German troops on November 10, 1918. He did not participate in the Greater Poland Uprising due to contracting typhoid, but was also a veteran of the Polish-Soviet War.

Underage soldiers were found in all armies at the time.

enter image description here
As many as 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army during World War One. BBC. heartbreaking photographs child soldiers wwi-wwii

And perhaps highly relevant:

Lwów Eaglets (Polish: Orlęta lwowskie) is a term of affection that is applied to the Polish teenagers who defended the city of Lwów (Ukrainian: L'viv), in Eastern Galicia, during the Polish-Ukrainian War (1918–1919). […] Among the most notable Eaglets to be buried there was the 14-year-old Jerzy Bitschan, the youngest of the city's defenders, whose name became an icon of the Polish interbellum.

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  • Thanks. Any way to distinguish an Austrian-sponsored Polish uniform from that of independent Poland? Pre or post Russo-Polish War? Apparently the photo is much later than I had supposed. – John Harshman Jul 15 at 20:43
  • Also, does the cord on the middle fellow represent a staff position? – John Harshman Jul 15 at 20:50
  • Wait, the badge in the closeup on the left has the eagle right-side up, but the lettering upside down? Is that like the Inverted Jenny, or was that intentional? – FreeMan Jul 16 at 14:02
  • @FreeMan I can only speculate: it's from WP, attributed to the 'Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum'. Since it's a three piece medal of simple construction, my guess is that it's been not issued in this form, but when the eagle became detached, it got 'repaired' in this 180° rotated way with simple wires on the backside? – LаngLаngС Jul 16 at 14:18
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    @BruceWayne No reason other than 'strong drink' (& association with German/Austrian side); perhaps vodka indeed, moonshine, or siwucha, Śliwowica, bimber, Krupnik-style, homemade? – LаngLаngС Jul 16 at 15:30

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