A beautiful bouquet of red and white flowers lies on the steps of the Polish club – it commemorates the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising when men women and children fought the might of the German army whilst Stalin’s troops stood on the banks of the river Vistula unheeding of the cries for help. Some planes manned by Polish and South African pilots made the hazardous trip from Brindisi with help. Little reached the desperate people and many pilots died. As so often, the Poles fought for what they thought would be their freedom – but it was not to be. Their allies, Britain and America, had already signed the Yalta agreement, which gave away so much to Russia. Poland would not be free for 50 years.
We here in Britain owe them a huge debt. Their squadrons defended us, although their own city lay in ruins. When the war ended, they saw Germany being rebuilt with Marshall Plan money, but they had to rebuild Warsaw with their bare hands. But they did.
Now when I read so often of the young Poles coming here, I want to remind people they are only doing what many of our youth do, working their way around the world, and they do it so well. Go to any hotel and notice how much their efforts are appreciated. Many cheap jibes are made but remember what we did, or did not do. They fought and died for nothing; they could not go home because so many had known the Gulags of Russia, yet went on to fight in Africa, Italy, Normandy and Holland, (the one country that does always acknowledge the debt they owe). They died at Arnhem, they are dying now in Iraq.
We let them down so much. Forced exile, prevented from taking part in the victory parade in case it upset Stalin, unable to erect the memorial to the officers murdered at Katyn in Kensington, (the excuse was traffic – but a huge mosque is there now), and so they had to go to Gunnersbury. Harold Wilson even said that any serving British forces who attended would lose their pensions…until Mrs.Thatcher came they had no presence of note. And they had to take any job, even ex-generals cleaned aircraft – all their sacrifices were for no reward. I have seen the Polish Cemeteries in Italy, Normandy, Arnhem, etc., so is it any wonder I hate the people who write disparagingly about the youth of Poland travelling here?
Finally the Poles built their own clubs, churches and Saturday schools, and for many they would never see their relatives or homeland again. We took 53 years to meet my husband’s remaining relatives. Something his parents – deported at an age of retirement – never did.
Teresa Rubnikowicz, Wife of a Polish army officer.