The Polish community in Scotland

Kernberg, Thomas (1990) The Polish community in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Before 1939 there had been some Polish settlement in Scotland, but the members were too few in number to organise themselves on a national basis. After the defeat of the 1830-31 `Powstanie Listopadowe' (the November Rising) some members of the `Wielka Emigracja' decided to settle in Scotland. Next, following the defeat of the 1863-64 `Powstanie Styczniowe' (the January Rising), there was a migration to Scotland with both economic and political motivations. Most of the men found employment either in coal-mining or in the iron and steel industries mainly in Lanarkshire. These `Poles' (who were mostly ethnic Lithuanians) had to overcome the opposition of the organised labour movement as well as anti-Catholicism and anti-alienism. By 1939 the members of the `economic emigration' had become `assimilated' into Scottish society. The defeat of Poland in September, 1939, by Germany and the Soviet Union caused Poles to escape to France where a new Polish government in exile was formed led by President Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz and Prime Minister General Wladyslaw Sikorski. General Sikorski led the re-organisation of the Polish Armed Forces with the financial and material assistance of France and Britain. Following the defeat of France, during June and July, 1940, the Polish government in exile, some 20,000 Polish servicemen and some 3,000 Polish civilian refugees were evacuated to Britain. General Sikorski received the support of Churchill and could reform Polish Army, Air Force and Navy units in the United Kingdom and the Near East. The Polish First Army Corps was organised in Scotland. When the war in Europe ended in May, 1945, the Corps comprised the First Armoured Division, the First Independent Paratroop Brigade, the Fourth Infantry Division (incomplete), the Sixteenth Independent Armoured Brigade (also incomplete) and administrative and training centres. During the war many Polish servicemen and civilians were befriended by hospitable Scottish people. The British authorities and the Polish government in London created a `support society' for Poles, including education and welfare facilities. Both the location of Polish units and institutions during wartime and the knowledge which Poles acquired of life in Scotland significantly influenced post-war settlement. For Poland the outcome of the war was `defeat in victory'. The decisions taken at the Teheran Conference (28 November to 1 December, 1943) and the Yalta Conference (4 to 11 February, 1945) prevented many Polish servicement and civilians from returning to their homeland. On 5 July, 1945, the governments of Britain and the U.S.A. ceased to recognise the Polish government in London and recognised the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity in Warsaw. Despite the participation of the former Prime Minister of the government in London, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, this new `government' in Poland was dominated by Stalin's Communist agents and their allies. Between 1945 and 1951 the Polish community in Scotland was formed against a background of increasing political terror in Poland. Initially, there was strong opposition in many parts of Scotland to the proposed settlement of Poles. Many people in Britain did not understand that Poland was under the control of the Soviet Union. The `elections' of 19 January, 1947, by which the Communist `Polska Partia Robotnicza' (Polish Worker's Party) and their allies seized power, finally made the position of the Polish settlers in Scotland secure. After the victory of the Labour Party in the British General Election in July, 1945, the Labour government, led by Clement Attlee, `inherited' the Interim Treasury Committee for Polish Questions which had been formed by the previous government led by Churchill with the aim of gradually closing down the institutions of the Polish government in exile. Instead, the machinery of the Interim Treasury Committee was used for the welfare of Polish civilian refugees in Britain, the Middle East, British East Africa and other countries. As the relationship between Britain and the Soviet Union worsened, the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin had to face the consequences of the failure of Stalin to honour the promises given at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam regarding Poland. In order to place Poles in employment in Britain without serious opposition from the trades unions, the Labour government instituted a policy of controlled resettlement through the Polish Resettlement Corps, the Polish Resettlement Act of 27 March, 1947, and the European Volunteer Workers scheme. Above all, Polish servicemen under British command, their families, dependants and other civilian refugees were used to provide manpower for essential undermanned industries, such as agriculture, coal-mining, textiles and the building trades. The War Office transferred the majority of Polish service personnel who refused to return to Poland from their service areas to England and Wales for service in the Polish Resettlement Corps and demobilisation into civilian life. By 1951 the basis for the Polish community in Scotland had been formed with many institutions and organisations to replace the wartime `support society'. Most exiled Poles believed that the Soviet Union would be defeated by the Western democracies and that in a few years they would return to their liberated homeland. The majority of Poles in Scotland settled in areas with good employment opportunities. Between 1951 and 1961 the Polish community in Scotland became permanently established with major centres of settlement in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Falkirk and Kirkcaldy. After the removal of many of the worst features of `Stalinism' in Poland after October, 1956, the defeat of the Hungarian Uprising convinced most exiled Poles that Poland would not be liberated either by a national revolt or by intervention by the Western democracies. In addition, many Poles in Scotland lost interest in community life because of the disputes among the exile political and military leadership in London, which resulted in a major crisis during 1954 causing the creation of two factions, namely the `Zamek' supporting President August Zaleski and the `Zjednoczenie' whose aim was to remove him. These disputes contributed towards disunity in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Falkirk, leading to the creation of alternative social centres in opposition to the pro-`Zjednoczenie' Polish Ex-Combatants' Association (`Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantó' or S.P.K.) and their `Domy Kombatanta'. The S.P.K. also lost popularity because of their opposition to visits by exiled Poles to Poland following the reforms after October, 1956. Fortunately, these disputes proved short-lived. Wladyslaw Gomulka and his successor, Edward Gierek, failed to give the Polish nation genuine political, economic or cultural freedom. Many exiled Poles in Scotland continued to support community institutions, such as the Polish Parish, and often returned to participate in organised community life after long absences. While many Poles became `assimilated' into Scottish society (mainly through marriage to Scottish women and isolation from fellow-Poles), in 1990 there are active Polish communities in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, Dundee and Kirkcaldy. With a large number of members of the `second generation' involved in community activities than in other Polish centres in Scotland, the Poles in Glasgow are probably the most active.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
D History General and Old World > DJ Netherlands (Holland) > DJK Eastern Europe
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Slavonic Studies
Supervisor's Name: Wallace, Prof. W.V.
Date of Award: 1990
Depositing User: Geraldine Coyle
Unique ID: glathesis:1990-704
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:24

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