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article by UKNIWM office volunteer Richard Graham

Naturally, most of the memorials we record are to UK citizens, though we do also have some to the enemy (see blog of 27 February 2008). There are also many to our allies, including a number to the Polish wartime leader General Wladyslaw Sikorski.

Mystery and conspiracy theories have long surrounded the circumstances of General Sikorski’s death, with some arguing that he was in fact murdered.  In response, a report just released by Polish investigators announced that the recent exhumation and examination of the General’s body has produced no evidence to back up these theories. The General died when his plane crashed 16 seconds after takeoff in Gibraltar in 1943. He is commemorated on a number of memorials in the UK, including a statue outside the Polish Embassy and a plaque on his wartime HQ, the Rubens Hotel, both in London. General Sikorski was buried at the foot of the Polish Memorial in Newark-upon-Trent  cemetery, until 1993 when his remains were returned to Poland, but he is still commemorated at Newark. Whether the recent investigation puts an end to theories of  murder though remains to be seen, with investigators acknowledging that they could not yet rule out sabotage…

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Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy's zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmatesThere are calls for a memorial to Voytek, an Iranian bear that fought for the Polish against the Germans and ended up in a Scottish zoo.  Voytek was adopted by Polish forces after being discovered in Iran in 1943.

He was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds and saw action in Monte Cassino, Italy, before being stationed in Scotland with 3,000 Polish troops.  After the war, Voytek became a popular resident of Edinburgh zoo until his death in 1963.

Read more from BBC News

This photo is actually Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy’s zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmates.  Rescued as a cub from drifting ice off Greenland, Barbara was for some time the ship’s mascot during the Second World War, until she became too large for the mess decks of a light cruiser and was moved to a new home on Whale Island.

While there are currently no war memorials to bears (although there are memorials to horses, donkeys, dogs, pigeons, a monkey, a cat, camels and a thrush, among others) there is one memorial that features a life-size sculpture of a polar bear.  This is the 49th Infantry Division memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.  The Polar Bear became the emblem of the division, chosen when they were stationed in Iceland during the Second World War.

Polish film season - First to FightThroughout September and early October Imperial War Museum, London will be showing a special programme of rarely seen Polish features and documentaries, together with a selection of material from the museum’s film archive. The programme looks at the story of Eastern Europe from the outbreak of the Second World War, through the Stalinist years to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the eventual transition to democracy.

Read more about Polish Paths to Freedom: First to Fight 

A large number of Polish service personnel were stationed in the UK following the Nazi occupation of Poland and this has led to the erection of many memorials to the Polish war effort.  A search of our database for Second World War with the keyword ‘Polish‘ turns up 69 memorials.

They commemorate both the sacrifice made by the Polish and the assistance they received from local people. The memorial inscriptions are often in both English and Polish.

A rather unusual memorial from Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, commemorates one particular aspect of the assistance provided by local people.

This is to commemorate the deep/ gratitude of the Polish Officers/ to the Rector and staff of/ Moffat Academy, Ministers/ and other persons here named:/ (NAMES)/ who during the months of Sept. and/ Oct. 1940 have not spared them/ selves in their valuable and/ voluntary work of teaching/ the English language./ (SIGNATURES)

This plaque from Fladingworth, Lincolnshire sums up the sentiment expressed on many other memorials.  

Polskie sily powietrzne / In remembrance of the many men and / women of the Polish Air Force who served at / Faldingworth Aerodrome from / 1944 to 1947 / Their sacrifice and endeavour in the cause of / freedom forms a bond between our two / countries that will always be recalled with / honour and with pride / Polska – Wielka Brytania / Za Nasza I Wasza Wolnosc

During the Second World War, many refugees from the Nazi regime played an active role fighting again Germany both in  defence of their allies and to help liberate their homelands.

3 Troop 10 Commando memorialOnce such memorial is this large, slate stone of remembrance erected in in Aberdyfi, Gwynedd in 1999, to commemorate 3 Troop 10 Commando.  The inscription reads,

For the members of 3 Troop/ 10 (1A) Commando who were/ warmly welcomed in Aberdyfi/ while training for special duties in battle 1942-1943./ Twenty were killed in action.

Additional plaques in both English and Welsh give more information about 3 Troop 10 Commando.  It was made up initially of 86 German speaking refugees who were given fictitious names and identities as British Nationals. They were involved with various special duties including reconnaissance, interrogation and intelligence. Many made lasting friendships in the local community and two even married local women.

Another memorial commemorates the contribution made a  Polish destroyer, O.R.P Blyskawica, during German bombing of Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 4th/5th May 1942.  The plaque records that the officers and crew “bravely defended the town and were largely instrumental in reducing the number of casualties and in saving a large part of Cowes from being destroyed.”

During the Second World War several Polish-manned ships and submarines fought alongside the Royal Navy.  Some of these vessels had escaped following the German invasion and others were loaned by the Royal Navy.  The Polish sailors occupied barracks at Devonport, Plymouth and after the war some remained and made their home in the UK.