Some information has also come from my good friend Diana Morris who was married to a Pole, the late Felix Moritz.
The Poles came to Scotland after the Germans and Russians took over their country during 1939. The story of Diana’s husband was typical of many Poles fleeing their country; he fled to Romania then Yugoslavia and then to France.
He saw action in Western France and then was evacuated to Britain before going on the ill-fated expedition to Narvik in Norway. After that, he left the Polish army and joined the Polish Navy.
Most Poles who came here initially ended up in Douglas much to the surprise of some locals. One girl had her first glimpse of a Polish soldier in Coulter; before she returned to Douglas, she rang her mother to tell her that the Germans had landed!
However, locals quickly warmed to the Polish soldiers who were also based at Symington and Crawford. Initially the Polish HQ in Scotland was in Glasgow but Eastend House near Carmichael was selected as the new HQ. A hospital was also provided for the soldiers at Symington.
Some of the soldiers brought over their families and so schooling had to be provided and Cleghorn House and Carmichael House were used. The Poles produced their own newsletter and even built their own church in the grounds of Douglas Castle.
There were major parades of the Polish soldiers, especially those stationed at Douglas. On July 21, 1940, one of the great heroes of the Polish Army General Sikorski came to Douglas to present the Order of Virtuti Militaria to the Polish Highland Brigade for their bravery during the Narvik Campaign.
On August 15, 1940, the Poles had a gala day at the camp and the local population were invited along; this was very successful. The dances were a mixture of Polish and modern American styles. From then on, there were closer connections between the two communities to the extent that many Poles stayed in Scotland and took Scottish wives.
As the war progressed not as many Poles were based in Lanarkshire as their services were needed elsewhere. Their most spectacular achievement was to take part in the capture of Monte Cassino in the Italian Campaign of 1944.
The Poles did not forget their Scottish friends and one of the early post war highlights was a visit to Biggar by the famous bear Wotjek, who was more than a mascot – he was a Polish soldier with his own pay book.
He played an important part in carrying shells to the front line at Monte Cassino. Much of his pay was usually spent on his cigarettes and beer! He especially liked beer. Ultimately, he ended up in Edinburgh Zoo where his statue is located.
The Poles will be forever remembered for their heroism and bravery during World War II in their battle against Germany and Russia. It is a pity therefore that Churchill excluded them from the Victory Parade in 1946 as he did not want to upset Stalin.