The Bride Wore Sea-Foam – It Happened Today, February 10, 2017

Sometimes things are just too easy to ridicule. Like Poland's "Wedding to the Sea" on February 10, 1920. It was so popular there that they had another one in 1945 under the Communists. In fact quite a few. But we should not let Communism, or cynicism, spoil things for us. And in fact the 1920 ceremony, though absurd, is also touching.

The reason it happened, or at least the occasion, was that following World War I Poland had regained access to the Baltic Sea, lost more than a century earlier in 1793 when its neighbours had partitioned it again but not for the last time. Including in the 20th century when Hitler and Stalin did it in 1939. Poland is in a bad neighbourhood and quite frankly has deserved better of history than it has usually received.

It was partly dismembered in 1772 by Prussia and Russia. They did it again in 1793 at which point Poland lost access to the sea, and then in 1795 they and Austria did it and Poland lost access to Poland, vanishing from the map.

It was briefly sort of resurrected by Napoleon, as the Duchy of Warsaw, after which Russia created a Kingdom of Poland from which it later removed another chunk including Warsaw itself which you’d think was sort of clearly Polish. And after crushing a Polish uprising in 1831 the Russians decided to teach their ungrateful slaves a lesson and recrushed them. Ditto after the 1863 uprising when they tried to replace Polish with Russian.

Things were better in the Austrian bit. But not, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, the Prussian one. Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that after Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary all managed to lose World War I, Poland reappeared thanks to the Treaty of Versailles. Russia attacked again, of all things. But lost.

Back to our wedding.

In October 1919 General Jozef Haller was given the task of peacefully reoccuping formerly German formerly Polish Pomerelia, which has Gdansk in it. As the Germans mostly yielded it peacefully, with a bit of sabotage, the 16th Infantry Division under Haller reached the Baltic Sea. And at Puck, which has nothing to do with hockey or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Haller conjured up a rather touching if theatrical ceremony with a sermon, raising of the Polish Navy flag to a 21 gun salute, and after local fishermen cut a hole in the ice Haller threw in a platinum ring and said "In the name of the Holy Republic of Poland, I, General Jozef Haller, am taking control of this ancient Slavic Baltic Sea shore".

A commemorative post was erected and, predictably, destroyed by the Nazis 19 years later. But a replica now stands in the Port of Puck next to Haller’s bust.

Obviously the great pride and relief Poles took in getting their nation back was short-lived as they got brutally rumbled by their neighbours again and then subjected to hideous Nazi and Stalinist tyranny. And it took some gall for the Stalinists to pose as liberators in 1945 right down to permitting new versions of the ceremony. But there are still reenactments to this day.

OK, so it’s not exactly canonical. But despite the superficial absurdity, when I think of all that Poland has endured, I find it endearing, even moving.

Happy anniversary.