Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Sunday, 11 April 2010 17:05 UK

UK's Polish communities mourn crash dead

Polish community mourn their president in Belfast
Hundreds packed Polish churches around the UK

Thousands of people have been mourning the deaths of the Polish president and other victims of Saturday's air crash at services taking place across the UK.

Lech Kaczynski and many other leading Polish military, civic and cultural figures died when their plane crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk.

In west London, several hundred people filled the Polish Roman Catholic Church in Ealing to pay their respects.

Other services were being held in Edinburgh, east Belfast and Cardiff.

The Polish ambassador to the UK has described the crash as "the biggest tragedy for Poland since the end of WWII".

Among the dead was Ryszard Kaczorowski, the country's president in exile during the Communist years. He lived in London and was well known by many in the city's Polish community.

Also killed was Monsignor Bronislaw Gostomski, a parish priest at St Andrew Bobola Roman Catholic Church in west London.

Andy Moore
Andy Moore, BBC news
The church was so full that dozens of people stood outside in the spring sunshine listening to the service on a loudspeaker.

Above them flew the red and white flag of Poland - a black pennant attached as a mark of mourning.

Many people clutched a special edition of the Polish newspaper, Nowy Czas.

Under the headline A Nation's Tragedy were photographs of President Lech Kaczynski and the former President-in-Exile, 90-year-old Ryszard Kaczorowski.

He came to London when the Soviets occupied his country and was part of the government-in-exile that existed in London for 45 years. In 1990, he formally handed power to President Lech Walensa when self-rule was re-established in Poland.

Many attending the church services today knew him personally. They would also have known Bronislaw Gostomski - a much-loved and respected priest who, as well as presiding at at St Andrew Bobola Church in London, also served as personal chaplain to the Polish president and died with him in the crash.

His parishioners and the UK's Polish ambassador Barbara Tuge-Erecinska have been honouring him at special services at his church in Shepherd's Bush.

In central London, floral bouquets were laid outside the Polish Embassy in Portland Place - many of them with flowers in the red and white colours of the Polish flag.

At one of London's largest Polish Roman Catholic churches, a series of services are taking place throughout the day.

The BBC's Andy Moore said mourners were kneeling on the pavement outside the church, because so many people came to pay their respects.

A Polish newspaper in London has printed a special edition, featuring a picture of the late president alongside former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski.

The Federation of Poles in Great Britain said Britain's Polish communities were shocked and grieving but had pulled together.

Vice-chairman Jan Mokrzycki said the fact the crash happened as the plane took its passengers to a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the WWII massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces in Katyn held particular poignancy.

"It was an awful coincidence that it should have happened in a place which already holds such awful memories for us," he said.

"People are shocked but it has united everybody in grief."

He said the mass he attended at Coventry's Polish Church was "filled to the brim" - a scene mirrored around the UK.

'Black day'

In Edinburgh, a special Polish Mass was held at the city's St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday.

Another dedicated service is being held at Belfast's St Anthony's Parish Church on Sunday morning. It follows a Saturday night vigil outside Belfast City Hall.

Fr Andrzej Kolaczkowski, who is taking Sunday's service, said the tragedy was hard to come to terms with.

"The loss of one person has a huge effect," he said.

"But the loss of 96 people who also played an important role in Polish politics and Polish social life is very, very daunting."

Services were being held around Wales too, with a mass service being conducted at Cardiff's St Patrick's Church in Grangetown.

On Saturday, the Queen expressed her "deepest sympathy" to the Polish government and people.

Gordon Brown said the whole world would be "saddened" and Tory leader David Cameron called it a "black day".

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond described the crash as "an appalling tragedy" and Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was "an awful time" for Poland and Polish communities in Wales.

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