To explain the reason for the existence of our Polish Community, we have to go back to the Second World War. In 1939 Hitler made a pact with Stalin to invade, divide and destroy the Polish state and nation. The Nazis achieved this by liquidating Polish intelligentsia, establishing concentration camps and forced labour. Stalin’s KGB murdered Polish officers corps and forcibly deported thousands of families to Siberia.
Poland, although beaten, continued fighting the Germans. The Polish government, led by General Sikorski, operated from London.
The Polish Air Force played an important part in The Battle Of Britain. Polish mathematicians were the first to decode the Enigma. The Polish Brigade fought at Narvik and Tobruk. The Polish Navy – 15 warships, 35 merchant ships and other vessels served on the high seas. The Polish Underground state and army, the biggest in Europe in occupied homeland, fought against ruthless tyranny.
After Hitler invaded Russia, Stalin, under pressure, agreed to the formation of the Polish Army and later to the evacuation of it with their families to the Middle East. The Polish Second Corps, under the command of General Anders, took part in the liberation of Italy – Monte Cassino. Polish First Corps of General Maczek fought after D-Day to liberate Belgium and the Netherlands. The Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski took part in the Battle of Arnhem. All these and other actions contributed to the Allies’ victory.
At the cessation of war, the Polish government and army could not return, in spite of political pressure, to their homeland, which had been partly given to Russia, was run by Stalin’s communists, and was recognized by the West. All troops and their families, ex-prisoners of war liberated by the Western Allies, and also survivors of German concentration camps and forced labour, came to this country to start a new life. At first they lived in camps, joined the Polish Resettlement Corps, attended courses to learn to speak English, and took a variety of jobs and training, at the same time working on clearing many army training ranges and on the farms. Some were invited to emigrate to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA, and other sympathetic countries.
Later, all those here were directed by the then Labour Exchange to work in the mines, on the railways, on building sites, in agriculture, and in factories. In general, they proved to be good skilful workers. The beginnings were hard, but they formed families and organized small communities and parishes. The second generation were educated here and joined many professions. After some relaxation of the political situation in the homeland, and later the suppression of Solidarity, there was some influx of a younger, patriotic element.
At the beginning, we were lucky to have a Parish Priest, Monsignor F Herr, a survivor of Dachau, and a good shepherd and patriot. The Polish Catholic community at Letchworth Garden City, and the neighbouring town of Hitchin, is now served by Fr Aleksandrowicz from Bedford, and is run by a committee chairwoman. We have a Sunday Mass in the church of St Hugh at Letchworth at 1.00 pm.
We also have a Polish Over-Sixties Club of ex-servicemen /women, their families, and widows. The club tries to provide the social and cultural needs of its members, holding weekly social/information meetings on Fridays at 1.00 pm in Langleigh, and arranges trips to Polish gatherings and the Polish theatre in London.
“We are comrades in life and death. We shall conquer together, or we shall die together.” (Winston Churchill to Gen Sikorski. 18 June 1940)
The two quotations on this page are taken from a booklet published by The Polish ExCombatants Association and Andrzej Suchcitz in 1995. You can read the entire booklet by logging on to the website of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain at www.zpwb.org.uk/eg/poles-in-uk-contribution.php