Part of our history yesterday and today
Historian Donald Stanley turns the spotlight on the Poles who fought alongside the British during the Second World War and who decided to remain when the war ended
NSEPTEMBER 1939, Britain declared war on Germany when it invaded Poland. General Sikorski and some others of the Polish armed forces escaped and were based in Penn Wood and other parts of South Buckinghamshire.
Others, imprisoned by the Russians who had simultaneously invaded their country, were freed by their captors following Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia in 1941.
Led by General Anders, survivors of the Polish Army joined the British Forces in the Middle East where many of their families joined them.
The Polish War Memorial at Northolt testifies to those who fought alongside the RAF in Britain. After the war many chose not to return to their homeland as it had fallen under communist rule and accepted the invitation of the Government to stay in the United Kingdom.
Because of the housing shortage, they were accommodated with their families in former military camps. One, which they started to occupy in 1946, was in Hodgemoor Wood near Coleshill. By the 950s, it was home to some 600 Poles, many of the men having fought in the 3rd Carpathian rifle division which had captured Monte Cassino in Italy.
Although the camp comprised temporary prefabricated buildings and Nissen huts, it enjoyed running water, gas and electricity. It took on the character of a Polish village with its own shop, library of Polish books, infant school, post office, bar, village hall, a cinema where both Polish and English language films were shown, and a Roman Catholic church with its own priest.
The camp was in two parts, linked by Bottrells Lane along which the residents would march in procession to the church at such religious festivals as Easter, the children wearing their homeland’s traditional costume.
The families learned English and the adults worked in local businesses mainly in High Wycombe and Slough. They prospered and several owned cars. Those on night shift would take the children to schools in Chalfont St Giles and other nearby towns from which they would collect them after catching up on their sleep.
As the post-war housing shortage eased, several families moved into homes of their own, particularly in Amersham, Great Missenden and Slough, and the camp closed in 1962.
Nonetheless, a thriving Polish Club survives in Amersham.
The Annual Ceremony of Homage to Polish Airmen who fell in the Second World War at the Polish War Memorial in Ruislip
A Spitfire performing a ceremonial flypast at the start of the service