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Polish Soldiers

In 1939 Great Britain declared that a state of war would exist between Britain and Germany if Hitler wouldn't restrain his military from violating Poland.

The deadline of the ultimatum was 11 am, Sunday, September 3, 1939. 

Eleven o'clock came and went and we were a country at war.  In churches we naively sang, "Onward Christian Soldiers."  Little did we realize  the enormity of the cannon fodder and the destruction that was in store for the world.

Poland was overrun but many Polish men managed to escape by hitch-hiking across Europe and making their way across the Mediterranean Sea to North Africa. From there they were transported by ship to London where they formed into an organization called The Polish Liberation Army under the leadership of General Sikorski.  From there they were dispersed to several different locations in Britain to train into organized groups for the task that lay ahead.  For some reason Elie was one of the places chosen as a training place for several hundred of them. The Golf Hotel was taken over by the military to become the prime place in Elie where they would be billeted.  In Earlsferry, the mansion houses, Earlsknowe on Grange Road on the golf course, Earlsferry House on the beach and The Marne at the top of the Ferry Road, were occupied by them.  Some also found living accommodations in the homes of the local people. Additional wooden buildings were built on the golf course behind the Golf Hotel to provide extra accommodations for the men.



Their moment of destiny was to be shortly after D Day when the allied armies stormed ashore onto the beaches of Normandy.

At Elie they trained to become paratroopers.  A wooden practice jumping-off platform was built behind the hotel on the golf course to simulate the forces exerted on the body as the result of jumping out of an aircraft while being loaded down with full gear and weaponry. At Shell Bay alongside the Cockie Mill Burn at the Swalley Braes (so called for the sand martins that nest there) they also built a simulated parachute drop site. This comprised of a high jumping-off platform to which was attached an overhead steel cable that extended to the top of another high pole about a hundred yards away on the other side of the burn. As they jumped off the platform they hooked on to the steel cable by a pulley arrangement that carried them the length of the cable to where it sagged to meet the ground.  The catenary curve of the cable was adjusted to give them the same forward momentum and impact on landing force that they would encounter from the actual parachute jump they would make when their day arrived.

Also on the golf course behind the hotel they had a Lysander short field take-off and landing airplane that they used for the practice of landing and picking up agents under the cover of darkness into and from enemy occupied France. On the golf course, for the purpose of training, they also had the fuselage of an Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bomber. In addition to its bombing role Whitleys  were specially converted for the carrying of paratroopers.

For ground fire training exercises they marched to the dune areas of Shell Bay. As they marched through the village, they sang their Polish National Anthem as well as other songs of their home land. Wearing Polish Eagle uniform badges that the soldiers gave to us the boys of the village  marched and sang along with them. During their training exercises Shell Bay was a very dangerous place to be. Hand grenades exploded all over the place and their Sten guns fired live ammunition.

While not doing training the Polish men took a great interest in the villagers.  In no time we learned to say Dobranos, DobrivietureDzingdobri. I'm sure these aren't the spellings but they are as the words sounded to me.  They taught us their childrens songs. One that comes to mind was Za Charley Goor Alley, again as it sounded.   When Christmas time came they put on a big party for the children of the village.

And did the Polish men ever know how to treat a lady!  They took Elie and Earlsferry by storm.  These men had customs and courtesies as to how they treated their women that Scottish men had never even heard of.  They used colognes.  On being introduced to a lady they clicked their heels, doffed their headgear, bowed and kissed the backs of the ladies hands.  Wow!  Some serious relationships developed and several marriages resulted.

As D Day approached (June 6th 1944) the Poles did full gear parachute jumps from troop carrying aircraft on to the Shell Bay and Largo Bay  areas where on landing they engaged in gunfire as they simulated a war zone battlefield.

Some time after D Day they all left. The village seemed deserted.  About September 17th. 1944  and with the British and other allied forces for a total of 35000 men, they were dropped behind the enemy lines. The mission from the air that was called Operation Market Garden was to secure the bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Many of the paratroopers were shot before they hit the ground.  Many were dropped to land too far from the bridges. The resistance of the enemy was far greater than anticipated but at great loss they did achieve their objective. 

It's well known that the British were forced to retreat in the Arnhem area and that they had to leave their wounded behind in a hospital. Also known is that the Germans came and captured the hospital where they machine gunned the British troops as they lay in their beds. No doubt there were also Polish soldiers in that hospital.

(Many years after the war I made my first static line parachute jump from an old gull wing Stinson. On a quiet sunny  Sunday morning the take off place was the grass strip Evergreen airport on the north side of the majestic Columbia River in the State of Washington and just across the river from Portland in the State of Oregon.  The pilot throttled back to the jump speed and I was the first one out. After the braking jolt of the 'chute opening I looked up and found the toggles that controlled the forward direction of the fall. As I swung this way and that towards friends below I could not help but think of the day that the Elie Polish paratroopers shed their blood as they were dropped into the Netherlands and were met by German sniper fire and machine-gun bullets.)

All of what I relate is what I learned from the few Polish men who returned to Elie after the war to pick up their lives and call Elie and Earlsferry home.

For about ten days they were isolated and completely surrounded by German forces.  As they were systematically mowed down in the fields by heavy machine-gun fire they were forced to retreat into an ever smaller area. Finally, on about September 26th 1944 and when they were completely out of ammunition, they were overrun.  Not many from the original force survived.

They gave their lives for what they thought would be the liberty and freedom of the Polish people.

After six years of war much of Europe was flattened and millions of people were dead. Millions more were maimed for life.

The irony of this declared war, that became World War ll, was that it was started to ensure the freedom of the Polish people. When the fighting war ended and the undeclared cold war began, the futility of war placed the Polish homeland behind the iron curtain. How our political leaders, "The Big Three",  carved up Europe, completely disillusioned the Poles. The Polish people were out of the frying pan and into the fire.

One brave Polish soldier who survived the war is Franek Rymaszewski. At war's end after searching for a place to call "home" Franek now lives his life in Australia. Franek tells his incredible story on his web site which is his first hand account of fighting for the freedom that he believed in. Franek had fought and struggled for almost six years to free the world from tyranny and at war's end he could not return to his homeland.   Franek's web site is a must read.   I often think of Franek who must now be over 90 years old and lives by himself in Richmond which is a suburb of the city of Melbourne where his daughter lives.

(In 2013 Franek's daughter Celina, her husband  and her father Franek  moved to  Australia's City of Sydney where they all reside together.)

Another amazing true story of a Pole's ordeal is made known in the book, "The Long Walk,"  wherein Slavomir Rawicz tells of his incredible trek to find freedom.

As a symbol of  appreciation from the Polish army contingency for the enthusiastic welcome and friendship that they had received from the Elie and Earlsferry villagers during their years of living amongst us they cast a commemorative brass plaque and attached it to the front wall of the Earlsferry town hall, right next to my home "Viewforth." I was told that the metal to make the plaque was obtained from empty shell cases and that several Polish eagle badges from off their army uniforms had gone into the melt.