THE SOVIET INVASION OF POLAND DURING WORLD WAR TWO

England 1946-47
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1945: For Britain, war is over, but what to do with the Poles?
 
At the beginning of World War Two Poland was Britain's most useful ally, defeated for the moment, but full of fight. This special relationship between Britain and Poland was cemented during the Battle of Britain when Polish pilots proved their worth in the skies above. In those early days it was clear that the Germans, especially the Nazis, were the enemy. The British however, took a neutral stance with respect to the Poles' hatred of the Soviets. Britain was not threatened by the Red Army and very little news leaked out of the Soviet occupied Polish territories. The Soviet Union did not appear to be such a bad place to live in. This view was enhanced by the Soviet and Communist propaganda machine in Britain.
 
The relationship began to erode with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. For the British, Germany was now definitely the only enemy. Stalin and the Soviet Union suddenly took on the role of victim and became a firm ally of the west. The only good thing about the situation for the Poles was that a few of them were allowed to leave the Soviet prisons and Siberian slave labour camps. After the entry of the United States into the war and the arrival of American troops in Europe, the relatively small, non-English speaking Polish contingent gradually began to fade in importance. 
 
Into 1943 and through 1945 as the Soviets gained strength and then momentum against the Germans, it became clear that they might just mop up the Germans and keep heading west. Similarly, as Japan began to lose ground against the United States, the Soviets threatened to involve themselves in Japan as well.  Suddenly, the British and Americans found themselves in a race to conquer Germany and Japan before the Russians did.
 
Meanwhile, the ranks of the Polish forces in the west had continued to swell throughout the war (250,000 men by September 1945) as new recruits were added following their release from slave labour, concentration or POW camps. Forced conscripts from the German army were also assimilated as they were liberated. The Polish commanders were actively strengthening the Polish Armed Forces in the west as the war with Germany wound down because they were preparing for the war against the Soviet Union which they were sure would soon follow.    
 
Towards the end of the war, the British and Americans increasingly considered the Soviet Union to be a potential new enemy however, war weariness forced them to compromise with the Soviets. As a consequence Stalin was handed great concessions in an attempt to keep the world peace. One of these concessions was Poland itself (and other eastern lands). A further demand of Stalin was that the British abandon the Polish Army in the west. Fear of Stalin was such that, upon his insistence, the British did not allow the Poles to march in London's victory parade.
 
So, what to do with the Poles? With the fighting in the west winding down, there was no plan to transfer the Polish forces to the Pacific War and they were considered too angry to serve effectively in a policing role. Churchill was not about to forcibly repatriate these honourable Allied soldiers as he understood the danger many of them would face in Soviet occupied territory. The only solution was to demobilize the Poles, send them away and hope they keep quiet.
 
Pressured by Stalin from early on, the British authorities slowly began to put limits on the ability of the Polish army to function. To start, assistance to the Home Army was severely curtailed when all flights from Britain and Italy into Poland were discontinued in December 1944.
 
Churchill and Roosevelt then handed over eastern Poland to Stalin at the Yalta conference in February, 1945. Although this meeting determined the fate of their country, Polish representatives had not been asked to attend. Also in February 1945, the British Foreign Office asked the Polish Government to stop sending radio messages to Poland. A few days later the request was expanded to include a ban on all communication with Poland.
 
On March 15, 1945, the Polish Commanders were told that their units were to be demobilized with the men being given a choice to return to Poland  or to remain in Britain. This was particularly difficult news for the 1st Polish Armoured Division which was heading east through the low countries into Germany and had always assumed that it would continue on to liberate Poland. 
 
The final blow for the exiled Poles came on June 30, 1945 when the British and American governments officially recognized Stalin's Provisional Government of National Unity as the effective government of all of Poland (not just the eastern provinces) until the free elections which were to be held at some point in the future. The Polish Government-in-Exile in London, in an instant, had lost all authority over its own country. The Communists managed to delay the elections until 1947 when they were certain that they had destroyed most of the opposition.
 
The London Poles did not give up easily. Efforts to fight Soviet style Communist domination in Poland by the Polish Military in the west continued but became increasingly uncoordinated and inffective. The political and military situations in England and Poland were infinitely complex and without sufficient power and authority in their hands the exiled Polish leaders could not exert much control. In contrast, the Polish and Soviet Communist administrative, military and security organs were able to exert an increasingly powerful control over the land and population as time went on. The Polish people themselves were also ready for some law and order, no matter who provided it. 
 
During the years 1945 to 1947, Polish units in Italy, Western Europe and elsewhere were recalled to Britain and through the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) were disarmed, demobilized and given aid in leaving Britain. Of those who did arrive in Britain, some 6,800 soldiers returned to Poland while the vast majority, some 160,000, decided to stay in the west. Many of those moved on to other countries overseas, leaving about 120,000 remaining in Britain.  

Bronislaw Sokolowski's collection of papers and photos from his stay in post war England

Officer's Rationing Card
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Outside faces of the card

Officer's Rationing Card
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Inside faces of the card

L to R Wladek, Zosia, Bronek, Stach Pola
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Kirkham, England, December 1946

The Mundane Side of Teaching
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Permission Slip

The permission slip pictured above has been written on behalf of the Cannon Hall camp doctor by an officer cadet. It states " The camp doctor verifies that Corporal Woszczatynski, Norbert was at the dentist on the 9th of July, 1947."

With the Polish forces being transferred to Great Britain, Bronek boarded a ship, the "Sea Perch," in Napoli (Neapol) on the 8th of August, 1946, arriving in Liverpool on the 15th. His final destination was the Cannon Hall Camp at Cawthorne, near Barnsley in Yorkshire.
 
There, he continued to teach Polish soldiers under the umbrella of the Committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain.
 
In England, he was reunited with his sister Zosia and brother Wladyslaw (Wladek) as well as his cousin Stanislaw (Stach) Pola.
 
Bronek's own father, Wojciech, had been in Canada since 1926 and was now a Canadian citizen. He had been working for the Canadian International Paper Company at their Kipawa mill in Temiscaming, Quebec, sending money home to Poland in order to better the lives of his wife and six children.  Luckily, he missed this war and must have been elated to learn that all survived.
 
With the demobilization of Polish troops becoming inevitable, Bronek began preparing the paperwork necessary to join his father in Canada. This required a sponsorship application from his father (including an accomodation and asset assessment), his own applications to the Canadian Government, blood work and chest X-rays.
 
On the 16th of April, 1947, he became a vice-headmaster of the school and was the chairman of the Board of Examiners during the matriculation examinations from the 12th of September to the 11th of October of that year.
 
On the 15th of November Bronek was transferred to the camp for bachelor officers at Bruntingthorpe, near Rugby in Warwickshire and finally to Demobilization Camp Nr. 1 at Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk.
 
For the last time, on the 27th of November, 1947, Bronek boarded a ship, the "Aquitania," and set sail for Halifax, arriving on the 2nd of December. He then made his way for a long overdue reunion with his father in Temiscaming. 

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Following WW2, Bronek and his fellow soldiers scattered around the world, waiting for an offensive to be announced against the Soviet regime controlling Poland. The announcement never came.