Posts Tagged With: Poles in the UK

General Sikorski’s traces in London

A short post today. Recently we had a 73rd anniversary of Gibraltar aircrash. Three years ago I attended at the Polish Embassy in London a ceremony celebrating 70th anniversary of the catastrophe. Continue reading

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70th anniversary of Gibraltar aircrash

I have such a backlog that I guess I’ll have to take a few days off to catch up. I’ll say a few words today about the banquet at the Embassy on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the death of General Sikorski (04/07/1943). I had a little dilemma, what to wear, especially that due to the impending departure I wanted to wear out my clothes and decided not to buy new, but I had to look presentable so I bought new shoes and a suit jacket 🙂

The event consisted of several parts, including a series of lectures, of which the one from Mr Andrew Suchcitz’s I found the most interesting. It was about the documents which have been extracted from the wreckage after the crash of Gibraltar. These documents can be seen on the temporary exhibition at the Museum of Sikorski. I am inviting you because they are not available for the viewing on a daily basis. Below you’ll find a few photos taken a couple of weeks ago at the Museum.

In addition to the lectures I had the pleasure to listen to a concert performed by Simon Komasa (baritone) and Julia Samojło (piano). The program included songs from the repertoire of Paderewski, Karłowicz, Chopin and Moniuszko. At the end an extra-curricular performance of Red Poppies on Monte Cassino  touched many of the participants, including the writer’s humble person.

There were a few people present from the Sikorski Museum, including two young (read at my age) guides, who come only on Saturdays, so I did not have the pleasure to meet them before. In addition, a group of veterans was present, including some veterans of the Polish 2nd Corps.

Next, it was time for something for the body – good food and a glass of wine. I had a good time during a very interesting talk with Mr. Waclaw, head of the guides, who, using a “conspiracy” whisper explained to me what the most important persons are with a related gossip 🙂

Overall, I felt very honored to be invited and I felt that I am doing something good by volunteering at the museum and writing this blog. I hope you, my dear readers take pleasure in reading this blog. I’m going to write some entries from Lithuania pretty soon, because something about Morocco would have to be written as well, and in September I’m going to Poland, where it is always a lot going on 🙂

Exposition

Exposition

The lid of the coffin used to transport General's body from Gibraltar to England; the Polish Naval Ensign used to cover the coffin and Polish National flag that covered the coffin during the funeral.

The lid of the coffin used to transport General’s body from Gibraltar to England; the Polish Naval Ensign used to cover the coffin during its transport and Polish National flag that covered the coffin during the funeral.

A silver cigarette case with General Sikorski's signature

A silver cigarette case with General Sikorski’s signature

Objects extracted from the wreck, including General's shoe and blank Virtuti Militari certificates

Objects extracted from the wreck, including General’s shoe and blank Virtuti Militari certificates

Hotel bill from Egypt

Hotel bill from Egypt

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We remember

I’ve been planning to visit the Gunnersbury Cemetery for a long time and finally I did it. The funniest thing is I used to work in Chiswick, 15 minutes walk from the cemetery but never could find time. It was a rainy Thursday afternoon when I got there and I guess that was the reason for only a few visitors apart from me. The main purpose of my visit was Katyn Memorial at the centre of the cemetery. The Memorial is thought to be the first one to be erected in Western Europe (unveiled on 18 September 1976) but the first place to commemorate the Katyn Massacre was the Church of Divine Mercy in Manchester where in 1964 an urn with soil from Katyn and a cross made of a monastery’s wall in Kozielsk appeared. Three years later a plaque was unveiled at St Andrew Bobola Church in London and on 16 November 1975 a Katyn Memorial was unveiled in Stockholm.

The idea of Katyn Memorial faced a lot of opposition in the UK. Moscow and Warsaw were protesting and there was no support from the British Government but despite all that Polish Government-in-exile secured the support of a few British politicians like Winston Churchill, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. Around 8000 people attended the ceremony on 18 September 1976, including delegations from few embassies. However there was no Western European delegation, the British PM also failed to show up. Who would’ve thought that even 30 years after the WWII Brits would have no balls to oppose the Soviets (a New Year’s resolution – I’ll try to choose words more carefully 🙂 ).

Katyn Memorial

Katyn Memorial

DSCN1957

DSCN1958

Walking towards the Memorial I started noticing a lot of Polish names. I slowed down and started reading the names. I guess at least 20% of people resting there were Polish. Suddenly I realized almost every tombstone had an emblem of Polish Eagle or Poland Fights On. Sometimes it would only say: “Born in Lviv”.

Zygmunt Witymir Bienkowski - 303 Squadron Commander (01.12.1942-04.07.1943)

Zygmunt Witymir Bienkowski – 303 Squadron Commander (01.12.1942-04.07.1943)

General Malinowski fought in Polish Legions and then under Gen Haller.

General Malinowski fought in Polish Legions and then under Gen Haller

Zbigniew Stypulkowski - one of the defendants in the Trial of the Sixteen

Zbigniew Stypulkowski – one of the defendants in the Trial of the Sixteen

Kamil Bogumil Czarnecki - one of General Maczek's officers

Kamil Bogumil Czarnecki – one of General Maczek’s officers

Poland Fights On

Poland Fights On

At the Memorial I had a chat with a Polish woman who belonged to Solidarity and arrived in the UK more than 30 years ago. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that post-war and new wave of Polish immigrants are not very well connected. Well, there’s a similar situation when it’s about post-Solidarity immigration. I didn’t want to listen to the accusations against the post-war immigration so I quickly asked her to show me the way to some graves. It really takes a war for us, Poles to stop barking at each other… But thanks to her I got a name of a Polish priest who’s involved in taking care of Polish graves in London. She also saved me some time by showing me graves of the second to last Polish President in Exile Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat and general Józef (Joseph) Haller who in 1920 seized Pomerania and performed a symbolic “wedding ceremony” of Poland and the Baltic Sea (as the woman described him – “the one who married the sea” 😀 ). She failed to show me the grave of general Bór-Komorowski, the Home Army’s commander – a coincidence? I hope so 🙂

Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat - the second to last Polish President in Exile

Kazimierz (Casimir) Sabbat – the second to last Polish President in Exile

General Jozef (Joseph) Haller von Hallenburg (“the one who married the sea” ). I think it was the best looking tombstone at the cemetery

General Jozef (Joseph) Haller von Hallenburg (“the one who married the sea” ). I think it was the best maintained tombstone at the cemetery

General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, cavalryman, Olympian, Home Army's Commander, Warsaw Uprising Commander, Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister

General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, cavalryman, Olympian, Home Army’s Commander, Warsaw Uprising Commander, Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister

Oh, by the way, only 161 days left 🙂

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My first time

Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum

Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about my sexual experiences. Yesterday was my first time as a volunteer at the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. I was a bit stressed about it, because I thought I’d have to deal with visitors, but fortunately it was only a “first impression” meeting.

I met with Waclaw (I feel strange using first name of someone whom I’ve just met and who is much older than me, but sometimes English is so… simple), a gentleman who’s “in charge” of volunteers at the Institute. I’ll just mention that majority of them are veterans of WWII and I might be the youngest one there 🙂 Of course we started our meeting with… a cup of tea. There were a few other people sitting there, having tea or a glass of red wine, as it was Waclaw’s brother’s name day – a great start!

After tea, Waclaw gave me another tour, telling new stories about exhibits and Poles. We spent a good few minutes talking about Polish cadets in Middle East, as Waclaw was a cadet in Palestine. He was 10, when his family was forced by Soviets to move from western Ukraine to Kazakhstan. From there, together with General Anders’ Army he arrived in Palestine. He had to lie about his age in order to be accepted – he added himself 3 years. It was in Palestine where Waclaw saw General Sikorski, when he visited the cadets’ camp. Waclaw’s brother was sent on that day to scrub the pots, so he missed the whole show. After the war Waclaw arrived in England where he joined Polish Resettlement Corps, thanks to which he graduated from University and became a civil engineer. He spent 30 years in Africa building roads.

General Sikorski visiting cadets in Middle East

One of the volunteers is Irena (again much older than me, but Madame Irena sounds strange in English, doesn’t it?) who was sent with her family to Siberia. I don’t have to tell you that her journey was a totally different experience from today’s transsiberian railway tours. But she survived and later on served with 2nd Corps in Italy, where she met Woytek the Bear. She told a few funny stories about Woytek. He was bought as a cub, so he grew up hearing Polish all the time. Apparently he could understand when soldiers were swearing and he was showing his discontent by purring. Setting Woytek free was a good idea if soldiers wanted to have a beach just for themselves 🙂 He loved beer and cigarettes which he was eating. In Edinburgh’s zoo he was a kind of celebrity, he had a few veterinaries and an accommodation with heating just for himself 🙂 Irena was asked to tell about Woytek in a few documentaries made for Polish and English TV.

Woytek the Bear

Father of Mr Barbarski – current Chairman of the Institute, was serving under General Maczek (1st Polish Armoured Division) and was present at the capitulation of the entire garrison of Wilhelmshaven in 1945. He also took a part in the patrol sent to liberate the Oberlagen camp, where almost 2000 Polish women, including Home Army soldiers from Warsaw Uprising, were kept. Later on Mr Barbarski’s father married one of the women from that camp. It almost sounds like a movie screenplay, doesn’t it?

Oberlagen liberation

I spent a few hours at the museum listening to stories like these. I can’t wait to go back next week to find out even more!

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A Little Piece of Poland

The 4th of July was a sad day for Poles. It marked 69th anniversary of Gibraltar catastrophe and death of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Chief Commander of Poland and Prime Minister of Polish Government-in-Exile. I decided to honour General by visiting The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London.

The Museum’s main hall

The Museum is a home to many documents, regimental colours, uniforms and personal effects of statesmen, soldiers and ordinary men. The Museum’s building was bought right after the WWII, it’s located at 20 Princes Gate, 5 min walk from all the museums in South Kensington. The Museum is open Tue-Fri from 2 to 4 pm and on the first Saturday of the month 10:30 am – 4 pm.

I don’t think 2 hrs is enough to see everything but there’s a chance you will be the only visitors on a weekday. The whole attention of Mr Romuald Kostrzewa, who was our guide, was focused on me and my brother. And believe me, his knowledge is so vast that he could talk for hrs… Stories I heard made me feel like I moved back in time. The fact that Mr Kostrzewa is a veteran makes the whole experience even more amazing – he joined Pulk Ulanow Karpackich (Carpathian Uhlans) in 1943 (unit this fought in North Africa and in Italy).

One thing I heard saddened me a lot. Apparently “the new immigration” that arrived after 2004, doesn’t visit the museum, doesn’t want to connect with the “old” generation. It’s strange considering the Museum is a little piece of Poland. And I mean the real Poland. When our parents were taught the wrong (or right, according to Soviets) version of history, here in the UK lived people who fought for free Poland and who knew that Soviet “liberation” didn’t mean the end of the war for Poles. We just switched the occupants…

On two floors there are thousands of exhibits and it looks like the Museum could use more space. I’ll show you now a few snapshots.

We’re going to start in Gen. Sikorski’s room.

Gen. Sikorski’s painting and a car flag from General’s car

Desk used by Gen. Sikorski

I’m sure some of you heard a story about Wojtek (Voytek) a  Syrian brown bear that served in 22nd Artillery Supply Company in Polish II Corps. He became a soldier of the Company and was getting his soldier’s pay in… beer and cigarettes. Wojtek went with Polish Army from Iran through North Africa to Italy. After the war Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo. Until his death in 1963 Wojtek smoked cigarettes and always recognized Polish language when visited by Polish soldiers or journalists.

Wojtek the Bear

I think the most valuable exhibits are the regimental colours. You’ll find in the Museum colours of Polish Army from 1939 and also Polish Armed Forces in the West.

Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade’s banner awarded the Military Order of William by Queen Beatrix

The Brigade’s banner was sewed in Warsaw and was delivered from occupied Poland  to the Brigade in England.

I’m sure many of you have seen this picture before.

Polish flag over the Monastery’s ruins

In the early morning of May 18 1944 a reconnaissance group of Polish 12 Podolian Uhlans Regiment raised a Polish flag over the monastery’s ruins.

I’ll just say I was quite moved when taking these pictures.

This pennon was first raised over the ruins

And this is the flag you can see in many history books

I mentioned Mr Kostrzewa told us several stories. One of them was about Polish Model 34 sabre. It was a part of regular equipment in 1939 but this particular sabre was found in a German tank in… North Africa 🙂

Model 34 sabre

I hope a few photos I showed you will make you want to see more. If you have a few spare hours in London, don’t spend £17 on Churchill War Cabinets, go to Sikorski Museum instead.

The Polish Institute receives no financial aid from any official body. It relies on generosity of the public. In the Museum you can get souvenirs and books (they don’t take cards) and all notes and coins are dropped into this shell from ORP Piorun (destroyer “Thunder”).

Please be generous 🙂

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