Park tribute is the bear necessity to honour Polish army
Published Date: 04 November 2008
By Catherine Salmond
A NEW memorial to honour the thousands of Scottish-based Polish soldiers -
and one bear - who fought in the Second World War is to be unveiled in
The tribute, organised by community activists, is designed to celebrate the
historic links between Edinburgh and Poland, which span hundreds of years.
The three-stone structure is to be erected this week in Broughton's Redbraes
Park, ahead of its
official unveiling on Remembrance Sunday - also Polish Independence Day.
As well as featuring inscriptions written in both languages, it will include
a sculpture of Voytek the soldier bear - the much-loved and celebrated
member of the Polish army who spent his final years in Edinburgh Zoo, dying
The project is the brainchild of community police officer Simon Daley, who
has dedicated three years of his own time to the monument - an attraction
which he hopes will unite the community.
He said: "I wanted to bring the two cultures together and thought the best
way to do it would be through our shared history and a memorial to celebrate
"While some Poles have settled here in the last few years, there has been a
Polish community since the 17th century and, of course, an even larger one
since the war."
Pc Daley said inspiration for the project came after a vicious attack on a
Polish man three years ago in the city's Pilrig Heights.
He believes there is great ignorance of the historic links between the two
countries, particularly the fact that during the Second World War, when the
Polish army in exile was based in Scotland, it stood as a defence against
He said: "The monument is already making a great impact, with Poles really
appreciating the idea. I hope everyone will come to have a look and schools
will use it to explore our shared history."
The monument is made of sandstone and has been funded by donations from the
community. The sculpture of Voytek - designed by artist Alan Herriot - is
being supplied on a temporary basis, with hopes that more money can be
generated to create another permanent one at the site.
Polish and Scottish children will tell the story of Voytek - who was found
by the Polish Army in Iran in 1943 and spent the rest of the war as a "bear
soldier" carrying ammunition for troops - at the ceremony on Sunday.
Marek Straczynski, president of the Polish Ex-Combatants Association, helped
with the project.
He said: "We very much see this as something to allow people to remember
that the Polish were fighting for all our freedom. I hope too that it will
further deepen Scottish and Polish relations."
Edinburgh North MP Mark Lazarowicz and the Polish consul general will lay a
wreath at the ceremony, while a piper will perform both national anthems. It
will begin at 3pm.
HISTORIC LINKS SHOW COUNTRIES AREN'T REALLY POLES APART
RECORDS show strong historic links between Scotland and Poland, with as many
as 30,000 Scots having emigrated there by the 1600s.
But it was not until the Second World War that large numbers of Poles came
here - Scotland had more Polish soldiers than the rest of the UK - firstly
when the Polish navy fought alongside the British against German invasion.
The first significant arrival of Poles was on September 1, 1939, when four
Polish destroyers arrived in Leith, just one of the many Scottish ports
which eventually saw Polish ships come and go throughout the war.
But as well as the navy, Polish aircrews were trained in Scotland, with air
force studies taking place at the Polish Military Staff College, near
Peebles, and at the Operational Training Unit in Grangemouth.
In Prestwick, there is a plaque for all the Polish sailors who died in the
Battle of the Atlantic and near Perth there is a consecrated plot in a
cemetery where large numbers of Polish soldiers were laid to rest, at the
request of the Polish authorities.
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