The Romanian army’s entry into Alba Iulia and the Great National Assembly were part of the same project, although there was no mutual determination between the two. At the end of November, the Romanian government was still in Jassy, and repeated its military campaign of August 1916, when the country had begun its participation in the First World War, with the goal of uniting Transylvania with Romania and protecting Romanians living beyond the Carpathians. Although the act of 1 December 1918 was not directly supported by them, the Romanian regiments offered a guarantee of its lasting effects.
On 15 December 1918, the newspaper Unirea saluted the arrival of the 5th “King Ferdinand” Hunters Regiment in Blaj, an elite unit recruited in Dolj County, part of the 1st Hunters Division. The same newspaper reported on the participation of the “Mărășești heroes” (so named after a battle in August 1917, in south Moldova, where the Romanian Army defeated an assault by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies) in a divine service in the cathedral and on a “huge Romanian round dance of perfect unity” in which ladies, officers, soldiers, intellectuals and peasants participated.
After three days, the Romanian soldiers boarded a train to Alba Iulia. Until then, on a route of hundreds of kilometres, they had been warmly welcomed by Romanian communities, but they had to treat cautiously the presence of the Hungarian army and National Guard for whom they represented the enemy. An encounter occurred in Teiuș railway station, where a vanguard unit and the Romanian National Guard chased away, after a short clash, the Szekler guards. The crossing of the bridge over the River Mureș had special tactical significance. The river marked the most important segment of the border between the areas controlled by the Hungarian army and those of the Allied forces. Romanians crossed that line on the order of the Entente.
On the evening of 18 December, the train carrying the Fifth Hunters Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Vasile Gagiu, arrived in Alba Iulia railway station. These were the first Romanian Army soldiers seen by the inhabitants of Alba Iulia, who were still under the strong impression that had been made by the Great National Assembly at the beginning of the month. Not only citizens of Alba Iulia came to welcome the Romanian Army, but also villagers from the neighbouring villages. The honour company was commanded by Captain Florian Medrea. The welcome discourse was given by Mayor Camil Velican. The road to the centre of the city was flanked by an honour cordon of the Romanian Legion and lit by torches held by its members. Thousands of citizens and villagers acclaimed Greater Romania, the Romanian Army, and King Ferdinand.
To use the colourful expression of the journalists, “the elite of the public of Alba Iulia and surrounding areas” and “a beautiful garland and ladies and young ladies” were in the city square. The members of the Romanian National Council were on the balcony of the Hotel Hungaria, which was renamed the Dacia on the spot, as the press reported. They were led by Vice-president Vasile Urzică, the Greek Catholic archpriest. In his discourse, which reflected the spirit of the moment, the archpriest outlined a noble historical series of events, emphasising the triumphant entry of Michael the Brave into Alba Iulia Fortress, followed over more than 300 years later by the Great National Assembly which decided upon the unification of Transylvania with Romania, and several days later, by the army sent by King Ferdinand coming to complete Greater Romania.
A solemn ceremony marking the 5th Hunters Regiment’s symbolic entry into Alba Iulia Fortress took place on the following day, 19 December. Lieutenant Colonel Vasile Gagiu was welcomed as a triumphant commander and the unit flag, which reminded of the Mărășești battles, was revered with military honours.
There were meetings with, and presences of the Romanian officers at various events, all of them receiving a great deal of respect. To mark this event in the local memory, the route from the railway station to Michael the Brave Square, in the centre of the city, which was used for the arrival and departure of the Romanian soldiers, was renamed “Fifth Hunters Regiment Street”.
After a couple of days, Lieutenant Colonel Gagiu and his soldiers continued their way towards the River Tisza. The idea that the prestige of the city of unification had to be maintained with military elements remained. The garrison of a unit called the Ninety-One Infantry Regiment Alba Iulia was established here in 1919. This unit was regarded as the successor to the Imperial and Royal Fiftieth Infantry Regiment, from whose soldiers were recruited many of the members of the Romanian National Guard in the area. In 1923, two more military units appeared in Alba Iulia, the 6th Pioneers Regiment and the 6th Heavy Artillery Regiment. (V.M.)