Poles in Britain 1940-2000

Poles in Britain 1940-2000

After the fall of France in 1940 members of the Polish Armed Forces escaped to Britain to continue the fight against Germany. They were sent to Scotland and were initially located in tented camps in towns in Lanarkshire. Later they moved to the east coast of Scotland and were given the task of defending the country against the threat of invasion by Nazi Germany. These Polish troops were formed into the 1st Polish Corps and elements of them would later become the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade and the 1st Polish Armoured Division.

Agreements between the USA, UK and USSR at the Teheran (28 November - 1 December 1943) and Yalta (February 1945) conferences led to Poland's borders being shifted to the west and to Poland becoming a communist state under the domination of the Soviet Union. The Allies won the war but for the Poles in Britain there was no free country to return to. Many of the Poles were also from the eastern part of pre-war Poland which had been given to the Soviet Union. For them there was no home to go back to. By 1946 there was around 250,000 Poles in Britain and the British government reluctantly agreed to allow them to settle in Britain.

The book The Poles in Britain 1940-2000 describes the experiences of the Poles in adapting to life in a foreign country. The book is divided into a number of chapters, written by different authors, which consider the development of the Polish community in Britain.

  1. Introduction
  2. Towards and Beyond Yalta
  3. The Establishment of the Polish Section of the SOE
  4. The Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile 1945-1992
  5. The Poles in Scotland 1940-50
  6. General Stanislaw Maczek and Post-war Britain
  7. Homeland Memories and the Polish Community in Leicester
  8. Oral History and Polish Emigres in Britain
  9. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum and its Archival Holdings

(4) The Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile 1945-1992

The Polish government after the defeat of 1939 went into exile in Romania. The cabinet of the Polish government was then established in Paris until November 1939 after which it moved to Angers (France) until June 1940. The defeat of France led to the government-in-exile moving to London.

Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz was President of the Polish government-in-exile from 30 September 1939 until his death in June 1947. He was succeeded by August Zaleski who died in office on 8 April 1972. On 30 September 1939 General Wladyslaw Sikorski was appointed as Prime Minister of Poland. After his death on 4 July 1943 Stanislaw Mikolajczyk (Peasants' Party) became Prime Minister. He was succeeded on 24 November 1944 by Tomasz Arciszewski (Polish Socialist Party). On 5 July 1945 the UK and USA withdrew their recognition of the Polish government-in-exile in favour of the communist regime established by the Soviet Union in Poland.

In December 1990 after the election of Lech Walesa as President of the Polish government in Poland the last President of the Polish government-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski handed over to Lech Walesa the flag of the Republic, the presidential seals and the original of the Constitution of April 1935. The Polish government-in-exile was now dissolved.

(5) The Poles in Scotland 1940-50

Remnants of the Polish Army began arriving in Scotland in 1940 after the fall of France.

In these early days, the Poles were well received by the Scots, who regarded these strangers...with a combination of intense curiosity and admiration...reinforced by the Poles' invariably smart appearance, impeccable manners, strong sense of discipline and overall exemplary behaviour. (p.49)

Attitudes began to change when the Soviet Union joined the Allies in their war against Nazi Germany. The fighting of the Red Army on the Eastern Front was admired, pro-Soviet sympathies were expressed in British government propaganda and opinion turned against the Poles.

In 1946 the Polish Resettlement Corps was established in order to find jobs for Polish soliders being demobilised from the armed forces. Polish communities became established in a number of Scottish towns and cities, namely Glasgow, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Kirkcaldy etc. In 1946 the Polish Ex-Combatant's association was formed and its branches helped to nurture and maintain Polish traditions.

(6) General Stanislaw Maczek and Post-war Britain

General Stanislaw Maczek commanded the 1st Polish Armoured Division. The division fought in north-west Europe after its arrival in France from Great Britain in August 1944. It liberated large parts of Belgium and Holland including the Dutch city of Breda. Maczek had earlier fought against the Soviet Union in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-20. He retired from the army in September 1948. The British government offered him neither a position nor a pension.

General Maczek chose to live in Edinburgh in Scotland and undertook menial jobs to support his family. In 1961 he published his autobiography in Polish and in the mid-60's it was translated into French. He died on 11 December 1994 aged 102. His funeral took place in Edinburgh and he is buried at the Polish military cemetery in Breda in the Netherlands.

(7) Homeland Memories and the Polish Community in Leicester

The Polish born population in Leicester, England, peaked in 1961 at a total of 1,509.

The majority of the Polish people who ended up in Britain at the end of the war...endured forced removal from their homes on the eastern side of Poland and deportation to Siberia at the hands of the Soviet Army...estimated as many as 75% of all Poles who came to Britain after WW2 had experienced this type of deportation. (p. 70)

Polish traditions at Christmas, Easter and All Souls Day were maintained in Britain. The general tradition of Polish hospitality was also preserved.

Several interviewees mentioned the phrase gosc w dom, Bóg w dom, literally meaning, "guest in the house, God in the house", claiming that even though this was an old tradition, the historical attitude of welcoming friends and strangers into the house has continued. (p. 81)

(9) The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum and its Archival Holdings

On 2 May 1945 the General Sikorski Historical Institute was formed. It was to house the archives of the Polish government in exile and the Polish Armed Forces together with a large collection of historical exhibits. The Institute was a private organisation in order to avoid the Communist regime in Warsaw trying to lay claim to the archives.

Helena Sikorski, the widow of General Sikorski, donated her husband's memorabilia to the Institute. In 1946 the Institute purchased 20 Prince's Gate, Kensington, London in order to house the collection. The General Sikorski Historical Institute and the Polish Research Centre (founded in 1939) were amalgamated in 1965 to form the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. In 1988 the archives of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust were amalgamated with the Institute.

The holdings of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum extend to over 1.5 km of shelving. They cover three distinct periods in Polish history.

  1. 1st World War and Independence of Poland until October 1939
  2. Polish government and Armed Forces' in exile in France and Britain
    • War Diary of General Wlarsylaw Sikorski. Daily itinerary of whom he saw as Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief until his death in 1943.
    • Cabinet Office papers.
    • Documents of the President of the Republic.
    • Files of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    • Papers on the Polish Armed Forces.
  3. Papers of the Polish Government in Exile post 1945

The Poles in Britain 1940-2000 - From Betrayal to Assimilation

Editor - Peter D Stachura
ISBN - 0 85974 013 7
Publisher - Frank Cass Publishers (London) in 2004.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - BookFinder

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This page was added on 05 December 2009.