CCofGB - Features
Polish WW2 heroes remembered in new memorial
In September, seventy years after the invasion of Poland, a long-overdue national memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It commemorates the 500,000 members of the Polish forces who fought in WW2 under British command.
Despite being the first to bear the brunt of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, Poland’s resistance lasted longer than that of France, Norway, Holland or Belgium and was only hastened by the invasion from their rear by the Soviet Union.
After the fall of Poland and France over half a million Poles found a way to answer Churchill's call to arms of “blood, sweat and tears” by continuing the fight under British command (many having to walk over 2,000 miles after being released from Stalin’s Siberian gulags to do so). They included the pilots of 303 Squadron, who shot down the highest tally of German aircraft in the Battle of Britain, to the men of Anders 2nd Corps who captured Monte Casino. Poles were also critical to cracking the German Ultra codes and providing intelligence on the V1 and V2 rocket programme threatening our population on the Home Front.
Polish veterans in Britain
More Poles died as a percentage of population than any other country, but at the end of the war they saw their country lose its freedom to the Soviet Union who had conspired with Nazi Germany to invade Poland in September 1939. Over 120,000 Polish veterans settled in Britain after the war, unable to return home for threat of imprisonment or death at the hands of Stalin. Whilst they assimilated well into British society and were grateful for the safe haven offered, their contribution to Britain’s freedom seemed to be soon forgotten. When over 130 allied nations marched in the great 1946 Victory Parade in London, the Poles were excluded to appease ‘Uncle Joe’.
In recent years Polish veterans were profoundly shocked to find young people in the UK asking whether Poland fought with Germany in WW2. To ensure their contribution to Britain’s war effort is remembered, a new book ‘First to Fight’ was launched to coincide with the memorial unveiling.