People from the Polish and English communities of Boston came together on Saturday, in the historic setting of Boston’s Guildhall, for an event to remember their shared history of service and sacrifice in the Second World War, writes Steve Ballinger.
The event was part of Remember Together, a new initiative from The Royal British Legion and British Future, which brings people from different backgrounds together to learn about the history that they share and help promote greater contact and understanding.
People at the event, both young and old, created their own giant ‘Remember Together’ message, made from hundreds of individual poppies. Each poppy carried a personal message of remembrance, written by the people of Boston. Pupils at the local Polish Saturday School and St Thomas Primary Academy wrote messages, some in English and others in Polish, as they learned about Remembrance in class. Magda Eede works at the schools, came to the event with her young family. She said:
“In Boston we have nationalities from all around the world here. An event like this brings people together: we have a chance to exchange our history, our past, and we find out very often that that past, somehow, has something in common.”
Servicemen and women from Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic fought for Britain in the Second World War, alongside millions from pre-partition India and the Caribbean, Africa, Canada and Australia. A companion event in Leicester focused on India’s massive role in the Second World War, bringing together people from the city’s Asian and white British communities.
The Boston audience heard how this international conflict told a local story too.
Lincolnshire was known as ‘Bomber County’ during the Second World War due to more than 100 airfields in the county from which bombing raids were launched. Polish airforce squadrons were stationed in Lincolnshire and flew thousands of bombing raids. 300 Squadron, for example, flew from RAF Swinderby and RAF Faldingworth, 40 miles from Boston; and the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron was also located for some time in the county.
96-year-old Polish WW2 veteran Wanda Szuwalska shared her own extraordinary story at the event. Sent from Poland to a Siberian work camp at 16 by invading Russians as Germany invaded from the West, she travelled to Uzbekhistan and then Iran and Egypt, joining the free Polish Army and then the RAF. After arriving in Liverpool by boat, she was posted to the Polish 300 Squadron and was based for part of the war in Lincolnshire – where she directed aircraft at RAF Faldingworth. Wanda told the audience that “It is very, very important to remember and remind all the younger people how it was.”
Hearing Wanda, local Bostonian Andy Pafomow said her journey was almost identical to that made by his father, who had also joined the Polish Army and fought in North Africa, at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy and through to Boulogne, before he arrived in England – where he met and married a woman from Boston.
David Mitchell, who was born in Boston and whose father was killed while fighting in the Pacific in the Second World War, felt the event helped increase people’s understanding of remembrance. He said:
“It’s vital and it’s necessary, because so many people don’t know how many nations were involved, helping the allies in the Second World War.
“I will be in Whitehall next Sunday and it makes you think – that it’s not just the British people that we’re remembering but all the other nations that fought with us.”
In 2019, Remember Together reflects on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, as we remember how Britain and its allies in the Commonwealth, the US and the free armies of Europe fought side-by-side in the Second World War –reminding us that Remembrance is for everyone in Britain today.
Iga Paczkowska, who lives and works in Boston and helped gather remembrance messages from the town’s Polish community, said:
“By putting those messages on the poppies we’ve had a chance to talk about it, to slow down and think and put something from the bottom of your heart on that little flower.
“We have to remember to people who were fighting for us. They were serving together and we have to remember them together.”