Five years into the Second World War, Poland succumbed to the German forces. Young Polish soldiers joined the Allied Forces wherever they could. Nearly 40.000 came to Scotland, an army in exile, willing to fight.
In July of 1940, Scottish people did everything to make the Polish soldiers feel welcome, not only by cheering them on in the streets of Glasgow where they were arriving. Canteens, temporary camps and even free public transport were organised for them by the city and a number of different organisations. Local people invited the Poles to their homes, which created a genuine atmosphere of hospitality. Glasgow Lord Provost, Patrick Dollan, who was strongly interested in the Polish case, was an important inspiration to Scottish people. His work was rewarded with a nickname given him by the Poles – “Dollański”.
to defend the eastern shoreline
They did not stay in Glasgow very long, they moved North and settled East. Much of Scotland’s eastern shoreline was defended by Polish soldiers in WWII, a foreign force fighting for freedom.
In October of the same year (1940), the Polish Army took over the defence of a large section of the east coast between Burntisland and Montrose. New camps in Cupar and Forfar were established. The HQ of the 1st Polish Corps, as the Polish Army in Scotland was called these days, was at Moncrieff House near Perth. Many large country houses and estates were used to provide training, engineering and medical facilities. Poles also constructed necessary defensive fortifications.
They left traces. Not only in the history of warfare and on the graveyards, they left traces in the hearts of many women.
Well, let’s face it. Our Scotsmen are not all that courtly, nice as they are. With the Poles there was an excessive clicking of heels, kissing of hands and just general adoration of womanfolk – which we’re not accustomed to here. Recalls a lady from Aberfeldy. (Devine)
Neal Asherson mentions a figure of 2500 Polish-Scottish marriages that took place in that period. (…) The sure thing is that personal relationships became very important in Polish-Scottish coexistence and lead to big changes in Scotland’s war time and post war social and cultural life.
An elderly Scottish lady wrote in her letter to the Herald in 2006:
Nobody has mentioned one important reason for welcoming Poles, but perhaps only ladies in their late seventies know it. They can all dance like Fred Astaire.
nowhere to go
But all those smashing dancers and adorable young men were left with literally nothing when the war came to an end. Poland had become a communist state a few hundred miles West of where it had been. The young Polish soldiers had nothing to go back to. Many stayed even though they did not get a military pension and somehow had to make a living.
Others died fighting for their freedom and the freedom of their hosts.
death far from home
380 Polish men and women are buried here, on the Wellshill Cemetery in Perth, half of all the Polish war graves in Scotland. They were a strong influence on every day life in 1940s.
They are remembered.
Quotations from: Polish Scottish Heritage
T.M. Devine: The Scottish Nation 1700 – 2000. London, Penguin; 1999