The Mermaid of Warsaw
If you’re visiting Warsaw or live here already then you’ll notice around the city the logo of a Mermaid holding a sword and shield on everything from buses, lampposts, taxis, shops, government buildings and much more.
In this article we are going to cover the history, mystery and legend that is the city of Warsaw’s coat of arms.
The complete true behind the logo is not for sure known, There are various legends about the Warsaw mermaid. The main one used in the City’s literature and by tour guides says that the mermaid was swimming in the river when she stopped on a riverbank near the Old Town to rest. Liking it, she decided to stay. Local fishermen noticed that something was creating waves, tangling nets, and releasing their fish. They planned to trap the offender, but fell in love with her upon hearing her singing. Later, a rich merchant trapped the mermaid and imprisoned her. Hearing her cries, the fishermen rescued her, and ever since, the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been ready to help protect the city and its residents.
Sometimes this legend is expanded to say that the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen is the Warsaw mermaid’s sister and they went their separate ways from the Baltic Sea.
Another legend states that she assisted a prince when he got lost hunting and he founded the city in her honour.
Exactly when the mermaid was added to Warsaw’s coat of arms is not known but it was already in place in 1390 with a shape very different from today’s. It presented the animal with a bird’s legs and a torso covered with dragon scales. On the seal of 1459, it already had feminine characteristics, the torso of a bird, human hands, the tail of a fish and bird legs with claws. The first presentation of the traditional mermaid dates from 1622.
The adoption of such a coat of arms was thought to be a medieval fashion, which recommended the adoption of the symbols of the newly established town’s mythology. The presentation of the coat of arms was probably derived directly from the 2nd century book Physiologus.
Gradually the male head and body was replaced with that of a female, and by the end of 16th century the tail was also changed from that of a dragon to that of a fish. The only remaining parts of the original coat of arms are the sword and shield.
The Modern Day
The current official design of the symbol that you’ll see around the city of Warsaw today was introduced in 1938, but it was only used in this form until the beginning of World War II. After 1945, Communist authorities changed the emblem by removing the crown. The insignia was restored to the pre-war form on August 15, 1990.
In addition there is a “Great Emblem of the Capital City of Warsaw” (Herb Wielki Miasta Stołecznego Warszawy) used only for ceremonial occasions. It includes a depiction of the Virtuti Militari medal, which was awarded to the City to honor the bravery of its citizens during World War II. It also adds the second motto to the emblem — Semper invicta (Always invincible).
United Kingdom and Maid of Warsaw
Every member of the Queen’s Royal Hussars of the United Kingdom light cavalry wears the Maid of Warsaw, the crest of the City of Warsaw, on the left sleeve of his No. 2 (Service) Dress. Members of 651 Squadron Army Air Corps of the United Kingdom also wear the Maid of Warsaw on the left sleeve of their No. 2 (Service) Dress.
In 1939 the 2nd Polish Corps joined the 8th Army and was tasked with the final assault on Monte Casino, a formidable position, Just before the attack the Polish were informed by their Corps commander (General Anders) that Britain could no longer Guarantee the integrity and freedom of Poland, Britain had declared War on Hitler’s Germany!.
General Anders was offered to withdraw his troops from further operation in light of Britain’s new stance, He refused and the 2nd Polish Corps captured Monte Casino, They continued to fight right up to the end of the campaign in 1945, and you will find today many Polish soldiers in Allied cemeteries in Italy.
The 7th Hussars were detached from the 7th Armored Brigade in Italy to join General Anders and fight alongside his 2nd Polish Corps, their first objective together was to secure the strategic port of “Ancona”, two day of hard attritional fighting took place before Ancona fell in all the Germans had in the region of 800 Killed, and over 2000 wounded while we took over 800 prisoners.
The 7th along with their Polish Comrades moved on from Ancona to the Gothic Line and fought side by side until in September 1944 the 7th were again re-tasked and bade farewell to their Polish allies. On October the 10th 1944 the Fine service that the 7th Hussars had given whilst fighting along side the 2nd Polish Corps was recognized and the Commanding Officer Lt-Col R F G Jane received the following Communication from the Corps Commander:
With the approval of Lt-Gen Sir Oliver Leese, Commander of the Eighth Army, my Corps order No. 117 dated 9th October, 1944, confers on your regiment the authority for wearing the Polish Corps sign in commemoration of your regiments distinguished services shoulder to shoulder with the 2nd Polish Corps. In accordance with your wishes i shall forward two plaques as soon as they are completed, to be placed in both the Officers and Sergeants Messes.
I once more wish to thank you most fervently for the magnificent work of your regiment. From june to August, 1944, you played your part in the battles on the Adriatic Coast in an exemplary manner true to the highest tradition of your fine regiment and the British Army.
Your Work and co-operation in many operations, notably those for Monte Torto, Monte la Croce, Monterado and Cerasa will live as fine examples of Heroism and successful action under difficult and trying circumstances.
( Signed ) W. Anders, Lt Gen.
During their period of fighting together with the Polish Corps, their regard was held so high that in one eye witness account at a Field Dressing Station, it is said that whenever a Soldier of the 7th were bought in they were taken at the insistence of both Staff and Polish casualties to the front of the queue to be treated first.
The tradition of wearing the Maid of Warsaw on the service dress was continued with the Queen’s Own Hussars and still exists in today’s regiment The Queen’s Royal Hussars. Every member of the Regiment wears the distinctive scarlet and silver crest of the City of Warsaw on his left sleeve in recognition of their valour in support of the Polish Forces during the Italian Campaign in World War
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