Why did it take 60 long years for Poles to join the Victory Parade?

May 6, 2020 | History

The official British Victory Parade to celebrate the end of World War II took place in June 1946, once hostilities with Japan had ended. The Parade was a show of strength from Britain and its Allies. It included representatives of foreign forces from across the globe. Yet where were the Poles who constituted the fourth largest group of Allies?  And why did it take until 10 July 2005 for these men, including sons of soldiers to march in London?

The remaining Polish veterans were to march in the 75th VE Day celebrations on May 8th 2020 but as these have been cancelled, the Poles have lost another opportunity to remind people of their heroic contribution to win the war.

Despite the Polish troops being the fourth largest Allied group in World War II, as soon as the European war ended the British government recognised the new communist government in Poland instead of the Polish Government in Exile to whom the troops were loyal. In 1945, the decision of the Yalta conference was announced, confirming that Poland was to lose territory to the Soviet Union and the rest of it was to be under Soviet domination. A year later the provisional government in Poland deprived the generals of the Polish army of citizenship and began to repress these soldiers who chose for family reasons to return home, treating them as foreign spies and enemy collaborators.

Polish soldiers felt betrayed for their loyalty and contribution to the victory of the Allied Forces and by early 1946, those stationed in the UK were being asked why they weren’t going home!  Of course they would have preferred to go home, most simply had no choice.

VICTORY PARADE IN LONDON, ENGLAND, UK, 8 JUNE 1946 (D 27863) Crowds line the route as Royal Navy amphibious load carriers make their way towards the Saluting Base in the Mall, as part of the Victory Parade. In the background, the Tower of London can be seen. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202327

Anguish and bitterness

During the war Poles had become heroes, especially those in the RAF during the Battle of Britain.  It must have been a very sobering time for the Polish soldiers who arrived in the UK in 1946 from Italy. Especially for those from the Eastern borderlands whose family lands had been annexed by the Soviet Union. One of my grandfathers didn’t even know if his wife and child were alive, having been told they had perished along with their home. After so much time together, the soldiers’ units had become their families. The Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, wanting to broker peace with the Soviet Union, wrote to each Polish soldier in March 1946 entreating them to return home, adding that assistance would be given if they felt they could not. They must have been shaken at the news and uncertain of their future.

“A good friend of mine with whom I had many conversations before he decided to go, he was of this opinion that we ought to go and fight from within. He stayed in the forces about a year or eighteen months and they accused him of working against the state and he was executed…. many, many were sent to concentration camps”  (Mr Z, Sheffield, quoted in “War, Resettlement, rooting and ageing: An oral history study of Polish Emigres in Britain” by Michelle Winslow)

THE POLISH ARMY IN BRITAIN, 1940-1947 (H 16100) Line-up of Churchill Mark II tanks of the 65th Battalion, 16th Tank Brigade (1st Polish Corps) during the inspection by Major General L. H. Williams, the Director of Wartime Stores. Blairgowrie, 11 December 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198224

The Polish Resettlement Corps was established in May 1946 and the 1947 Polish Resettlement Act followed, allowing Poles to enter some workplaces, have some education and support. It didn’t take long for Poles to settle down, though still with an eye on their suitcases as they felt war could start any day with the Soviet Union.  

Myths about invitation

Myths still abound about the invitation of Polish troops in 1946. When I worked at the Ministry of Defence, organising a NATO conference, my boss, despite being a decent man, would often say that the Poles always wanted special treatment and how they had in fact been invited to the Victory Parade. This isn’t quite true.  Initially forces from Poland were invited to come, rather than those stationed in the UK, but they were apparently told by Moscow not to accept the invitation. “Have you lost all sense of decency and gratitude?” commented Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert at the time. After complaints in Parliament and from the RAF that  the Polish soldiers in the UK were not invited, a small group of pilots who had taken part in the Battle of Britain were finally sent an invitation.   They declined as so many of their colleagues in the Army and Navy had been ignored. You can only guess at the feelings of our soldiers, my grandfathers and all the Poles scattered across the UK in various camps, knowing this event was taking part and they were not being recognised for their efforts. In addition the hopelessness of losing their homeland to communism.

So the day of 8 June 1946 dawned in London without any Pole in attendance. There are also myths about the Victory Parade being a British and Commonwealth event, with only representatives of foreign forces who fought alongside Britain invited.  However let’s remember that these representatives took part in the event and Polish forces whether at home or under British command, had fought since the first day of the war in 1939.

So what changed?

So how did their inclusion in 2005 come about? In fact, large scale commemoration ceremonies only really started 50 years after the end of the war, though this is not an answer to the question of why it took so long.  In 2003, Michael Moszyński, son of Captain Stefan Moszyński  raised the issue with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sent a formal apology via his Private Secretary, expressing regret that the Poles had not been invited to the Victory Parade. At the time they were starting to plan the 60th Anniversary Commemorative Event for 2005 and promised that the Poles would have a role.  However Michael continued to lobby dignitaries including The Duke of Edinburgh and the Head of the Armed Forces General Sir Mike Jackson, to give Poles a key role. It was the same Commodore, my ex-boss, who organised the National Commemoration Celebration Day of VE Day and VJ Day in London on 10 July 2005. A few days before it began, it was confirmed that the Poles would lead the march down the Mall.  Justice, finally?

 

 

It took 64 years for the first official memorial to the Polish forces fighting under British command to be erected in September 2009 at the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, 70 years after the outbreak of World War II.  Again, it only happened due to lobbying by Dr Marek Stella-Sawicki and Polish Associations. The first memorial to Polish airmen was unveiled in West London in 1948 and many more have been erected in memory of Polish soldiers since, by Polish groups including the Ex-Combatants Association and another is being discussed in central London at the moment. Sadly this is too late for our patriotic grandfathers to see…. but they are all fitting commemorations to their memory.

So constant campaigning does brings result, however late; achieving just recognition for our fathers and grandfathers … and there is a constant swell of support out there. Let’s remind our friends and neighbours this VE Day about the contribution of the Poles. Such a huge sacrifice cannot be forgotten.

 

This article is based on many sources including the works of Michelle Winslow, Michael Moszyński and Adam Zamoyski. Featured image is by Jeremy Hoare/Alamy Stock Photo. It was originally posted in July 2018 but has been updated.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read the articles about Battle of Monte Cassino and the Deportation of the Poles to Russia

 

Blog Comments

Wauw, i got goosebumps from this article. I felt really bad when i found out the Poles had no role in the victory parades. I live in Zeeland, The Netherlands and there was a Polish Corps witch helped liberating Zeeland. It breaks my heart that they did not get their reconition they deserved. Also on school the Poles did not get mentioned. I had to find out myself. Even though they have reconition now, it is out of my mind they did not get it then. Thank you for the article.

Bit late!

I am the son, grandson and great-grandson of Polish Sybiraks now living in exile in Australia.

An offence to the memory, sacrifice and suffering of our families who gave so much for a “free Poland” whilst being duped by the Allies!

As a gesture of apology and contrition Poland’s flag should be raised higher than all the others which should be flown at half mast.

https://m.thechronicle.com.au/news/remembering-the-forgotten-holocaust-of-10-february/3940733/

I thought Clement Attlee was the Prime Minister at that time, not Ernest Bevin as stated in the article. I don’t believe Bevin was ever Prime Minster?

Thank you for commenting – of course Bevin was the Foreign Secretary, Duly amended,

Ernest Bevin was the Foreign Secretary in Clement Attlee’s government.

Hi, my dad fought with the Polish free army. I would like to find out more information about his war service – as children we were not allowed to ask him questions by our mother. Sadly, dad died November 2018 so that’s no longer an option. Anybody know where I could find this kind of information?
Many thanks.

Dear Linda, lovely to hear from you. Check out the family history search blog for lots of resources to find information about Polish soldiers. Good luck!

Can you please post the link for the family history search blog on information on soldiers/airmen/ pilots as I too am looking to find info on my Grandfather and his twin brother.. Thank You

Hello Linda, there is a lot you can do such as getting your Dad’s army records from the MoD Polish Records at RAF Northolt. You can also search for his deportation record on this Polish website:
https://indeksrepresjonowanych.pl/int/wyszukiwanie/94,Wyszukiwanie.html
Also check out https://kresy-siberia.org/museum/
If you want to follow me on Twitter then I can hep further – I have done a lot of research on my grandfather of the last couple of years.

Ernest Bevin was the Foreign Secretary in Clement Attlee’s government.

Yes duly amended, apologies for the obvious mistake!

Czesc Polskim bochaterom.

I remember the effect of all this on my father and our family as I was growing up. At school in the 1950’s when WW2 was mentioned and people would talk (and still do) about how great Churchill was, it was all at odds with my father’s experience and the injustices towards the Polish community in Britain. My father talked often about Churchill’s betrayal at Yalta and while I have met many English people who were sympathetic towards the Polish situation in WW2 they were unaware of how Polish ex-service men and women were treated afterwards. This has had an impact on my views and loyalty towards Britain for all my life and a part of me continues to feel that I really don’t belong here. The positive effect is that I’m proud to have Polish roots and have always made people aware of the alternative view of British/Polish history.

thinking Particularly today of my father who came to fight for Poland alongside the British for their country in RAF after being sent as a teenager alone from family to the Russian gulags
Huge respect to their steadfastness their courage and how they had so much dignity after all that occurred at the end
God bless Poland and all its’ people

hi, i hope we have put some of this right in Scotland. In Leven in Fife we have 2 memorials now. Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh has a statue of Wotjek the bear. It is the most photograghed statue. There are hopes to do do something about Largo House which was the hq of the paras. A polish special forces group was based at Silverburn Park in Leven. This park is undergoing reconstruction too. We had to stop some work for a while because we kept finding hand grenades. Poles won’t be forgotten.

Hi, thanks for contacting me. I’m sending it now to your email address. All the best.

“Initially forces from Poland were invited to come, rather than those stationed in the UK, but they were apparently told by Moscow not to accept the invitation.“

Hello,

Thank you very much for writing this insightful article. I often hear from my fellow Poles about how we were not invited to the parade but you’re article as I had heard somewhere before has set the record straight. I’m not able to understand the above quote however. Does it mean that Moscow put pressure on the soldiers in Poland, or on the British government. I know it is a small thing but it does change the meaning quite a lot. If anyone has an answer to this I’d be most grateful. Thanks again, and glory to all the heroes of WW2!

Hello, thank you for contacting me. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the article. Polish forces in Poland who had fought alongside the Russians were under the command of the new Polish Communist government. They were invited to come to the Victory Parade but under pressure from Moscow they did not attend. I’m not sure why this happened, I’d have to read some more into the details, but perhaps Moscow was unsure at the time if the I and II Polish Corps would be invited and did not want the home forces to walk alongside? I will look into it!

I fully agree with the comments regards the bad treatment of the Polish troops, which I know about from my Uncle Pat and my Dad. Dad served in the Western Desert as an RA gunner. Pat (wounded at Dunkirk) went on to serve in Italy as radioman to his officer, who called down fire on German positions at Cassino. Pat saw Polish troops in action and evermore spoke highly of “them good Polish lads”.

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