Page last updated at 20:21 GMT, Saturday, 8 November 2008

UK Poles celebrate independence

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News, London

Britain's Polish community gathered in London to honour the 90th anniversary of their native country's independence.

Thomas Marszalek
Thomas Marszalek fought in one of World War II's bloodiest battles

Young and old came from the four corners of the UK to celebrate "Poland's big day" together.

About 3,000 packed into Westminster Cathedral for a special mass, while many queued patiently outside.

Led by the Polish Navy band, flag-waving veterans, schoolchildren, scouts, parents and priests then paraded to Trafalgar Square, where prominent Poles and British VIPs took to the stage.

It was the first time the Polish anniversary had been celebrated in such a public fashion and the enthusiasm was certainly not dampened by the inclement weather.

Polish Independence Day commemorates when Poland regained its sovereignty after World War I on 11 November 1918, the same date as the UK's Armistice Day.

Thomas Marszalek, 89, who lives in Bedford, fought in the Italian Battle of Monte Cassino, in which Polish forces played one of their most prominent roles in World War II.

"We are celebrating 90 years of independence after 123 years of occupation by Russia, Germany and Austria," he said.

"I am remembering my colleagues and the fact we are free."

Historic role

Wiktor Moszczynski, who helped organise the parade and rally, said the time was right to put Poland's Independence Day on a more public footing.

Grazyna Holloway
Grazyna Holloway said Poland was put back on the map in 1918

"There are more of us now and it is the 90th anniversary," he said.

"With so many Poles here we ought to be visible to the British public as well as reminding them of the special role Poland played in European history and the British war effort.

"If there had not been an independent Poland in 1918 there would not have been Polish pilots helping in the Battle of Britain or Polish troops who fought in Normandy and Italy. Poland was an important ally."

Grazyna Holloway, 55, a book keeper from Croydon, has been living in the UK for 30 years.

"We are a nation with a tragic history," she said.

"Someone was always trying to grab a piece of Poland. We could have lost our identity - five or six generations were born under foreign occupation.

"Poles like to celebrate gaining independence and our freedom."

Ms Holloway was one of several people to recall that while her country was one of Britain's strongest allies during World War II, Poland was later abandoned by its Allies to Soviet rule, which lasted 44 years.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year.

Patriotic mood

Michelle Slemp, from Wimbledon, was one of the "stateless emigres", arriving in the UK in 1948 at the age of two.

Leszek, Dagmara and Mia Paduszynski
The Paduszynski family like London but cannot forget their homeland

"I feel very patriotic about Poland," she said. "Britain is my adopted country but we didn't have much option about where to go. Poland was an occupied country and it was a nasty regime.

"Those who come here now come for economic reasons. I think many young Poles are abandoning their country. Poland was rebuilt after Communism and such an exodus of well educated people is not good for the country."

Dagmara Paduszynski, 28, is part of the second wave of migration.

The law student, who has been living in London for almost three years with her husband and daughter, said when you live away from home, it is even more important to stay in touch with your roots.

"We are Polish and we are proud of our country," she said. "This is a very important day for us.

"It is good to be together and unite. When you are together, it makes you feel stronger."

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SEE ALSO
Timeline: Poland
05 Mar 08 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
22 Oct 08 |  Country profiles

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