Britain declared war on Germany on Sunday 3 rd September to uphold the integrity of Poland’s borders after the German invasion two days earlier. Having betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia at the Munich Agreement of 1938 and watched Hitler belittle the signatories when he occupied the rest of the Czech lands in March 1939, Britain felt it was finally time to abandon the appeasement of the dictators and stand up for freedom.
Poland was overrun with the Soviet Union invading from the east to meet Hitler’s forces advancing from the west. Many Poles escaped to continue the fight. Some went to France but then had to flee again when that country fell. By the summer of 1940 there were a good number of Poles in the United Kingdom determined to fight on to see Nazi Germany defeated.
Some, including those carrying the Wavel treasures, arrived in Falmouth in June 1940. There was a great deal of sympathy for the Poles who had fought bravely against overwhelming forces and during the war a number of Poles were to spend time in Cornwall. Polish Squadrons of the RAF served time at Cornish airfields, such as 302 (Poznan) and 317 (Wilno) Squadrons who flew from Perranporth during the summer of 1943. Polish Commando trained at St Ives, the Commando Mountain Warfare Training Centre, where they were put through their paces on beach and cliff assaults along the north Cornish coast. Polish troops manned Armoured Train D based in Wadebridge that ran along the lines defending the Bodmin Stop Line, as detailed in my novel No Small Stir. The Poles had much more experience than British troops of armoured trains. One group who endeared themselves to the locals
were the Polish Navy who had a unit based on the Fowey Estuary.
In the summer of 1940 the Brazen Island shipyard was servicing the 3 rd Motor Anti Submarine Boat Flotilla which was formed and working up at Fowey. In August 1940 they were joined by the 4 th MASB Flotilla and in December 1940 the 6 th MASB Flotilla was formed in Fowey. They became the 3 rd Motor Gun Boat Flotilla in a reorganisation in January 1941 and on 6 th March 1941 were moved to Felixstowe.
Amongst those early MASB crews were some from the Polish Navy. Sub Lt Tadeusz Lesisz escaped to the UK on board ORP Burza and ended up on the Motor Gun Boats at Fowey where he took a number of photos.
This first photograph shows S1 commanded by Lt T Sokolowski. Polish boats were designated S for Scigacze meaning pursuer or destroyer. The boat was built by the J Samuel White Shipyard in Cowes and called by the Poles ‘Chart’ meaning Greyhound.
This second photograph shows the crew of S1. At sea off the Cornish coast on Wednesday 16th October 1940 S1 caught fire causing her crew to abandon ship. They were rescued, the fire eventually burnt itself out and the ship was salvaged and rebuilt.
The third photograph is of the Polish officers of S2. They are Sub Lt Tadeusz Lesisz who provided the photo, Sub Lt A Guzowski, Sub Lt A Jaraczewski and lying on the deck Sub Lt E Wcislicki, the boat’s commander. Few in Fowey could pronounce their surnames so they developed nicknames for them all. Sub Lt Wcislicki became Sub Lt Whisky. Sub Lt Jaraczewski was Sub Lt Andrew and Sub Lt Guzowski was Sub Lt Bruno. S2 was known to the Poles as Wilczur – Wolfhound – and later in the war engaged six German E-boats on 22 nd June 1944 about to attack a British convoy in the Dover
Straits. Sub Lt Wcislicki was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Polish Virtuti Militari.
The fourth photograph shows the crew of S3 at sea under the command of Sub Lt Tadeusz and on the right Sub Lt Andrez Jaraczewski who in 1944 married a Polish ATA pilot becoming the son-in-law of Marshall Pilsudski, Poland’s first leader after the First World War. S3 was known as Wyzel – Pointer – and was damaged just outside Fowey harbour in November 1940 by an acoustic mine dropped by an enemy aircraft. The nearby explosion damaged her hull, another vessel rescued the crew before the lifeboat arrived, and S3 was brought under tow and had to go to Falmouth for repairs.
The fifth photograph shows the Polish Navy’s football team in 1940. They enjoyed playing a number of matches in Cornwall against both military units, such as the cadets of the Royal Netherlands Navy who were based at Enys House near Penryn, and local teams.
The final photograph shows two of the Polish officers walking down the Esplanade in Fowey. Originally in 1940 the MV Sister Anne was used as a floating office and wardroom for the Motor Anti Submarine Boat Flotillas but as their numbers crew the Belfort was brought in and moored at Mixtow where she was often seen with three or four Gun Boats moored alongside. The people of Fowey took to these brave young men, mostly in their twenties, through their polite encounters and good
humoured revelry in the town’s hostelries. They were sad to see them depart.
Sadly the Allies were to let the Poles down in 1944 as the Uprising took place in Warsaw and then at the end of the war as the Iron Curtain descended across their country and it would be another 46 years before they tasted the freedom they had so courageously fought for. Their contribution to the war was not marked at the Victory Parade in London as the new Labour government shamefully bowed to pressure from Stalin to exclude them, although the Royal Navy did invite them to be part of their parade in Plymouth. It would be another 60 years before Polish veterans were given the honour of marching through the streets of London.
All those fighting for their freedom against the might of an illegal invader should be honoured and helped. We accepted the service of many brave Polish men and women without delivering on the reasons why we went to war. With the current war in Europe, we would do well to learn the lessons of history and make sure the dictator does not get away with his aggression in whatever shape or form.