Why it took 60 years for Poles to celebrate VE Day

In 1940 Hugh Dalton, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, said “On the day of victory, Poland, as the first nation to stand up to Hitler, while others have been grovelling on their bellies, should ride in the van of the victory march”.

Winston Churchill added: “Her Majesty’s government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops who have served them so valiantly and for all those who have fought under our command”

Yet only six years later the Poles, who were so instrumental to the allied war effort (including the Battle of Britain, Monte Casino, Falaise Gap, Normandy and Arnhem) were forgotten. Those brave Polish servicemen, unlike every other of the 134 nations fighting under Allied Command, were not invited to represent their homeland in the great 1946 Victory Parade in London due to pressure from Stalin on the British Labour Government. An act the historian Sir John Keegan described as “one of the most shameful acts of the Cold War”.

Michael Moszynski is the son of Captain Stefan Moszynski of the 1st Polish Armoured Division (which closed the Falais Gap in August 1944). When in 2003 he heard about this for the first time he was deeply moved by the injustice of it all, so became determined to put things right and wrote to Tony Blair. He managed to secure the first ever apology to a private citizen from a Prime Minister regarding the British Government’s failure to invite the Polish armed forces to the Victory Parade. This generated considerable press coverage with, for example, the FT on 5th September 2003 leading its article with the headline: “UK finally makes amends for Poland’s 60 years of hurt".

Polish Veterans presenting their Standards to the Queen at Horse Guards Parade, 10 July 2005

However for Michael, words were not enough as he felt the “expression of regret” needed to be translated into a meaningful act: He wanted the Poles to lead the 60th Anniversary Parade as Hugh Dalton had said was their rightful place some 65 years earlier.

After two more years of personal lobbying (involving lots more letter writing and the help of Lord Lichfield, Frederick Forsyth, The Duke of Edinburgh, Sir John Keegan, General Sir Mike Jackson and Michael Howard amongst others) it was confirmed two days before the Parade by the Commander that “the Polish Standards will now be in the vanguard of the 60th Anniversary March up the Mall on July 10th”.

Michael was invited by the Polish Home Army Veterans to join their ranks at the event in Horse Guards – one out of 10 precious places – where he represented his late father, who had to watch the original parade in 1946 from the street in tears, as Michael subsequently found out from his mother.

Michael's father had spent 6 years fighting to end Nazi domination of Europe, only to see his homeland occupied by the Soviets (who had put his family in the Siberian Gulags and shot his cousins and 23,000 other Polish Officers at Katyn). So the VE Day was no victory for him and he died before Poland was freed in 1989. For him, and every other Polish veteran, the Poles absence from the Victory Parade in 1946 was the final betrayal.

"Poland was the first nation to fight Hitler and over 250,000 Polish servicemen continued the fight against Hitler under British command after their homeland was defeated and never gave up. For them it was a question of honour. The issue of the 1946 Victory Parade had remained like a burning spear in the hearts of the survivors." Michael Moszynski

When on July 10th 2005 the Polish veterans at Horse Guards saw their colleagues presenting their time-worn Standards to the Queen, Michael saw many were in tears. "I freely admit that I joined them. But this time, for us all, they were tears of joy" he said.

"Thanks to the kind actions of The Royal British Legion a number of surviving Polish veterans and their families will be attending the 70th Anniversary

As a Briton of Polish decent I am proud of the work of the Legion and urge everyone to support it in every way they can."

Letter of apology to Michael Moszynski from 10 Downing Street

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