We are the poorer for the passing of three amazing women this year: Basia Zdanowicz, Luna Golińska and Krystyna Szwagrzak. Each had incredible stories of hardship and terror during the war; each lost their childhood home and the world they knew. Yet they grew up into tough women who worked passionately for their homeland whilst living far from its borders.
What links them?
All came from former eastern Poland. Luna Golińska from Brześć nad Bugiem (now Belarus) Basia Zdanowicz and Krystyna Szwagrzak from the Stanisławowski county (now Ukraine). Both Basia and Luna were deported to Siberia with their mothers in 1940 by the Russians, not knowing the fate of their fathers. Krystyna endured both Soviet and German occupation in Poland with her mother before escaping with fake passports shortly after the war ended, to join her father in Italy. So they all drew incredible strength from their mothers who kept their families alive and safe, without the support of their menfolk.
What influenced their childhood?
All three shared a passion for scouting. Barbara joined the Emilia Plater troop and ran the „Bratki” cub and brownie troop in Tengeru in East Africa. Luna became a scout there and though life was simple, she felt it was like paradise. East Africa was one of the places that Polish servicemen’s families were sent to be cared for, following the Amnesty (Russia joining the Allies against Germany) which allowed Poles in Siberia to be set free and join an army under General Anders. That perilous journey left many behind in cemeteries in the East, some not even buried properly. Krystyna joined the scouts on arriving in the UK after the war where her aunt, Helena Eckstein, a prominent scout instructor was working.
They all married and had families
Barbara, born Starzyńska, married in the 1960s and had a family, returning to scouting in 1969. Luna, born Boniewicz met and married Staszek Goliński. They lived on the Norfolk Broads among scouting friends and her three children were all born in the in that decade. Krystyna Szwagrzak, born Eckstein also married a fellow scout (Bogdan) and all their children joined the scouts eventually becoming scout instructors.
What did they do professionally?
All finished their schooling in the UK. Barbara earned a diploma in textiles and worked in this industry for the rest of her life, eventually running her own company. Krystyna became a teacher, spending many of her years as a Deputy Head. Luna graduated from secretarial college and worked for Phillips.
So, despite living in a foreign country, having family and work commitments and having to learn a new language and customs, each carved out time for scouting.
A love of Poland
Luna got the scouting bug at an early age, which instilled in her a love of Poland and a desire to serve in whatever way possible. Luna enthused whole generations of girl scouts to follow her lead. Although she became the UK Commissioner and carried out various roles in scouting as also within her local parish, her one thought was always for the girls and their development. She described this first love: “…and then scouting caught hold of me, for ever. The camps were set up by lakes.
Exquisitely beautiful forests, unforgettable surroundings. I was fascinated by the little chapels, gates, tables, “fridges” and other things were built for the camp. I was captivated by the campfires, the magic, the sparks flying into the air, the sky sown with stars. And then I knew, I just had to become a girl scout”
When she finally got to England, so much closer to Poland:
“I dreamed of Polish flowers (the most beautiful as in the song), mountains, forests and the Baltic sea.”
Once in the UK, in Nottingham, Barbara also devoted herself to all things Polish mainly through the scouts but not only. When martial law was declared, she organised help for old people’s homes and orphanages, she organised pilgrimages and visits to places such as Monte Cassino. Moving through various levels of leadership, she become the first female President of Polish Scouting in the late 1990s and ensured the movement recognised the changing times.
As Poland regained her independence, so Basia met with Scouting Associations in Poland, signing with them a declaration of all Polish scouts. She was a very successful networker, finding friends and supporters for Poland amongst movers and shakers, local MPs and even the British aristocracy. For this she is known as a great ambassador for Poland.
Krystyna devoted herself initially to work with cubs and brownies, running troops and becoming a specialist instructor in this area. She also worked her way through the ranks of scouting becoming Chief Girl Scout in the 1990s. During this time she decided it was time to get to know the scouts in Poland, after their rebirth as their organisation had been run by the communist authorities since the II World War. She spent many hours there especially on the Day of the Girl Scout and got to share her ideals and educational goals with young and older instructors.
I never really got to know Luna Golińska but she made a lasting impression on me when I first met her on the morning of an instructor’s course in France alongside a London girl scout troop She was meant to go with us to run the course, but her husband’s sudden illness meant she had to look after him. Despite such trouble in her life, that morning she was full of smiles and wanted to ensure we were all fine. I have never in my life met such a person whose smile was like a magnificent ray of sunshine. I will never forget it.
I looked up to Barbara (Basia) as THE perfectly turned out scout instructor. She was always very stylish, immaculate even on a wet and windy jamboree in Clumber Park (Yorkshire). She was always the chief on jamborees and trips I went on, and I learnt so much from her, just watching, to help me in running a jamboree myself two years ago. I was left with a deep impression of the powerful profile she gave Polish Scouting, particularly in Poland.
In the 1990s as Chief Girl Scout, Krystyna introduced new environmental badges for all girl scouts. As it became clear that society was abusing the earth’s resources, she added requirements at several levels which the girls worked through. She loved nature and certainly influenced us in this, as I remember running weekend camps on themes of recycling and caring for the environment and I wrote a song about it which the boys used as their key song for a UK Jamboree. She also travelled with her husband when he was the President of Polish Scouting Abroad, organising the “Generation 2000” training to ensure scouts were trained for the new millennium. They were both very forward thinking for their time.
Basia, Luna and Krystyna live on in the memories and lives of so many women, influenced by their leadership and approach to life. Farewell ladies. Gone, but never forgotten.
This article was written on the basis of information on the basis of information on the site www.zhppgk.org and also the publication “Ognisko” available through the site.