John Zawadski on contribution Polish soldiers made to World War Two effort

Fighting spirit...Polish soldiers in Douglas
Fighting spirit...Polish soldiers in Douglas

IT’S not often that a talk to a village history group on a dreich Monday night in Clydesdale reduces many of the audience to tears but that was the emotional impact John Zawadzki had when he went to Lanark.

The story he told was of how hundreds of young men from a land far away found sanctuary, friendship and even lifelong love when they fled to Clydesdale during World War Two.

As his surname might suggest, John is of Polish stock and the talk he gave was on the warm welcome his countrymen received here when driven from his own country by the Nazis nearly 80 years ago.

It was a welcome that many Poles – some later to become Scots themselves – still haven’t forgotten, even eight decades later.

The meeting room at Lanark Library was crammed to hear John’s talk on The Poles In Lanarkshire; he set the scene by telling of the creation of the modern Poland after World War One, a nation, in that form, which was cruelly crushed as the German blitzkrieg and a following Soviet attack obliterated it in late 1939.

He gave his audience a chilling statistic: “Poland lost a fifth of its pre-war population, roughly 11 million people, fighting both the Germans and Russians in the war.”

Many Poles escaped to fight another day, John recounting how many of them ended up in Lanarkshire from June 1940 onwards.

He said: “Their principal camps were in Douglas and Symington.

“However, members of the Polish Army were spread all over Clydesdale, in particular Biggar and Crawford.

“Many of the Poles who came here had already fought not only in Poland but later also in France and in the Narvik Campaign in Norway.”