89 Books about Poland | Polish War Graves in Britain
On 1 September 1939 Count Edward Raczynski, Polish Ambassador to London, received news from the Polish Embassy in Paris that the German attack on Poland had begun. He was asked to officially inform the British Government that Poland was at war
Edward Raczynski told Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary, that German planes had bombed Wilno, Grodno, Brest Litovsk, Lodz, Katowice, Gdynia, Cracow and the capital city of Warsaw. He advised him that the Polish Government requested assistance from Britain in accordance with the recently signed British-Polish Treaty of Mutual Assistance. Two days later Britain declared war on Germany.
Polish Appeals for Assistance
On 8 September a Polish military mission arrived in London, consisting of General Norwid-Neugebauer, who was accredited to Britain, and General Burhardt-Bukacki, who travelled onward to Paris. General Norwid-Neugebauer asked British General Ironside for assistance on several occasions. He was not successful. On 17 September Poland suffered a further blow when the Soviet Union invaded from the East. The Poles had been stabbed in the back.
Message to the Mayor of Warsaw
On 20 September Edward Raczynski sent a message to Stefan Starzynski, the Mayor of Warsaw, via the Polish Service of the BBC. He said:
My dear Mayor Starzynski: Every evening we have been listening to you with a lump in our throats as you described the sufferings of the capital...the thunder of the enemy guns, battering at the walls of our beloved city, is a reminder to our Allies of the reckoning which must be and will be paid...About half an hour later I heard Starzynski's reply, transmitted by short wave..."Our spirit is stronger than the invader's and he shall not prevail". (p. 36-37)
Stefan Starzynski was arrested by the Germans a few days after the fall of Warsaw. He was held in a Nazi concentration camp and shot there four years later.
A New Polish Government
The pre-war Polish government escaped capture by the Germans by fleeing to Romania. There they were interned. Efforts to get them released proved unsuccessful. At the end of September Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz was appointed as the new President of Poland and General Wladyslaw Sikorski as Prime Minister and Supreme Commander. General Sikorski visited Britain between 14 and 20 November 1939. He inspected the Polish submarines Wilk and Orzel at Dundee and at Rosyth the Polish destroyers Grom, Blyskawica and Burza.
In June 1940 France surrendered to Hitler's Germany. Polish armed forces in France continued the struggle by escaping to Britain. On 5 August Britain and Poland signed a military agreement in the Cabinet room at 10 Downing Street.
Nazi Germany Attacks the Soviet Union
In June 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Great Britain now included the Soviet Union as part of the anti-German alliance. The Polish government-in-exile in London was divided over how to react to this development. A Polish-Soviet Treaty was signed on 30 July 1941.
[The]...treaty did not give us redress for what we had suffered or any effective guarantee of our rights. This was what critics said at the time, and so it proved in the course of years. This gave rise to much bitterness in Polish hearts, and to an immediate crisis in Polish political life...I am...convinced that an agreement on exactly the lines we hoped for could not have been achieved at that time...explicit recognition of Poland's right to her frontier of September 1939...the agreement brought about the deliverance from prisons and labour camps of large numbers of Polish prisoners of war and deportees. (p. 99)
August Zaleksi resigned as Polish Foreign Secretary over the agreement and Edward Raczynski was appointed as Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs in his place. Raczynski also continued in his role as Ambassador to Britain. He considered that his chief task in foreign affairs was to defend Polish rights, its frontiers and its citizens in the Soviet Union.
...whatever the Russians might promise, they had not altered their aims or their methods, and neither sought nor cared about Polish friendship. Their purpose, as of old, was to gain control of Poland and subject it entirely to their will, with a view to absorbing it completely. Our only possible line of defence at that time was to insist politely, but firmly, on the fulfilment of all their obligations under the treaty. (p. 100)
General Sikorski visited Moscow in December 1941. He discussed with Soviet leaders the state of the Polish Army in Russia. This army was being formed from the Polish prisoners released by Stalin, from labour camps, in accordance with the treaty signed in July.
In the summer of 1942 about 72,000 Polish troops and 44,000 civilians left the Soviet Union for Persia.
In April 1943 Berlin radio announced that the Germans had discovered a mass grave of thousands of Polish officers in a forest at Katyn, near Smolensk, in Russia. The Germans accused the Russians of the crime of killing them. The Soviets denied they were responsible. Both the Polish and German governments asked that the Red Cross should investigate. On Easter Sunday 25 April 1943 the Soviets broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish government-in-exile.
Death of General Sikorski
On 4 July 1943 General Sikorski was killed in a plane crash at Gibraltar. He was returning to Britain after visiting Polish troops in the Middle East. The Governor of Gibraltar sent the following message:
Most deeply regret to inform you that aircraft taking General Sikorski back to UK from Gibraltar crashed into the sea at 2300 hours on taking off. General Sikorski and all his staff were killed, including Madame Lesniowska, General Klimecki, Colonel Marecki, M Kulakowski, Lieutenant Ponikiewski, Colonel Cazalet and Colonel Gralewski, courier from Warsaw. Body of General Sikorski has been recovered...(p. 149)
The President of Poland conferred posthumously on General Sikorski the Order of the White Eagle. General Sikorski was buried in the Polish Air Force cemetery at Newark in Nottinghamshire on 16 July.
Mikolajczyk was appointed as the new Prime Minister and General Sosnkowski as Supreme Commander. Edward Raczynski was replaced by Romer as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Prime Minister Mikolajczyk wanted to reach a compromise with the Soviet Union which would enable the Polish government and Army to return to a democratic Poland. President Raczkiewicz had a meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 24 September 1943. Churchill said that he would not defend the integrity of Poland's pre-war frontiers.
In January 1944 Churchill and Eden met with Polish leaders in Downing Street and urged them to accept German territory as far as the River Oder in exchange for lands East of the Curzon Line. Edward Raczynski states that the Polish leaders' requests for assurances and guarantees met with no definite answers.
Visits to Scotland and Yorkshire
On 14 June 1944 Edward Raczynski accompanied President Raczkiewicz on a visit to Scotland. The President presented a standard to the Polish Parachute Brigade which had been sent especially from Warsaw. They had first visited Tulliallan Castle, the home of Colonel Mitchell, where the President stayed when visiting Scotland.
In July 1944 Edward Raczynski took his family on holiday to Scarborough in Yorkshire. There they saw soldiers of the Polish Armoured division in nearby towns and villages. The division was preparing to go to France to take part in the fight against Germany.
On 1 August 1944 the Polish Home Army attacked the Germans in Warsaw. The Warsaw Uprising had begun. General Sosnkowski upbraided both the Soviet Union and Great Britain for not providing assistance to the people of Warsaw. Edward Raczynski states that the British put increasing pressure on the Polish government to remove General Sosnkowski from office. On 30 September President Raczkiewicz dismissed General Sosnkowski and replaced him with General Bor-Komorowski the head of the Polish Home Army. On 2 October, after 63 days of fighting, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans.
Outcome of Yalta Conference
In November 1944 Mikolajczyk resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Arciszewski the former leader of the underground Socialist Party in Poland.
In January 1945 the Soviet army captured Lodz, Czestochowa, Cracow and the ruins of Warsaw. The USA, USSR and Great Britain met at Yalta in the Crimea in February. The response of the Polish government-in-exile to the decisions taken at Yalta was to issue a statement which said:
The Polish government declare that the decision of the Three-Power conference concerning Poland cannot be recognised...The Polish government will consider the severance of the Eastern half of the territory of Poland, through the imposition of a Polish-Soviet frontier following the so-called Curzon line, as a fifth partition of Poland, now accomplished by her Allies. (p. 267)
On 5 July the British Government recognised the Soviet imposed government in Poland and withdrew recognition from the Polish government-in-exile in London. Edward Raczynski presented a note of protest to the British government on 6 july 1945. He states that:
Poland was abandoned to the Soviet Union as a part of Moscow's exclusive sphere of influence. The Western Powers did little to uphold the Big Three resolutions which were supposed to justify or palliate this transaction, but which were never put into effect. Therefore, in Polish minds and hearts, the Western action remains branded as a betrayal. (p. 294)
Count Edward Raczynski died in London on 30 July 1993 aged 101. Adam Zamoyski wrote in The Independent (UK) on 31 July 1993.
Edward Raczynski was the last surviving figure of the Polish world which was shattered in 1939, and the figurehead of the Polish community in Britain...Like other Polish Anglophiles who had never doubted Churchill's word and continually reassured their compatriots on the subject, he found the Allied betrayal of Poland at Yalta doubly hard to live with...During his state visit to Britain in 1991, President Lech Walesa insisted on making a special pilgrimage to see him (as he had in the darker days of the early 1980s).