During the dark days of the Second World War Linlithgow became temporary home to a very welcome group of Polish “immigrants”.
Their country had been invaded then brutally enslaved by the Nazis in 1939, and what the Nazis hadn’t grabbed was seized by Hitler’s temporary “friend” – Joseph Stalin.
A third of the population of Poland died during the war.
But the Free Poles who escaped to Britain were to play a huge role in the allied struggle, and when they were headquartered in Scotland they immediately won the respect and friendship of the local population.
Linlithgow had the honour of playing host to the 1st Polish Motor Ambulance Company, a unit which by way of a memento left behind it a shrine in the grounds of the burgh’s Roman Catholic church.
After the war many Poles who had fought in some of the most epic battles of the war were unable to return to their homeland, which was now behind Stalin’s Iron Curtain.
One such was Major General Stanislaw “Stan” Maczek, a brilliant soldier who had led the 16,000-strong 1st Polish Armoured Division to decisive victory in the 1944 battle for the Falaise Pocket.
Exhausted and low on ammunition his outnumbered force stood off waves of attacking Panzer divisions,
The Nazis were desperate to escape the massive trap they had fallen into, and Maczek’s Division was dug in across their only way out.
After 48 hours the Germans were all but annihalated.
Because of the political situation after the war Maczek was never properly honoured in Britain for his heroic and inspired leadership, and couldn’t go home to a communist dictatorship.
He wasn’t even entitled to a pension, and became a barman at Edinburgh’s Learmonth Hotel where - as related in our sister paper The Scotsman today – locals were frequently bemused when visiting Polish veterans called by to salute him.
Nothing daunted, Maczek went on to play a huge role in community life and won undying admiration for his capacity to help others.
Married with two daughters, he lived in Edinburgh to the grand old age of 102, passing away in 1994.
“Stan”, as he was known to many Scots, had helped to destroy the Nazis, and lived to see the fall of communism and the rebirth of Poland’s freedom.
He was awarded his country’s greatest honour, the Order of the White Eagle, by premier Lech Walensa.
But for years many Scots, as well as Poles, have argued that here he deserves more than just a kind footnote in Scottish history.
Earlier this week a model of a statue which might do permanent justice to his memory was unveiled in Edinburgh.
Dariusz Adler, Polish Consul General in Edinburgh, said: “Today is a great day for Polish people and the people of Scotland.
“It is extremely important to see General Maczek commemorated. He was a hero and a father figure for many Polish soldiers who fought with him during the Second World War for our freedom and yours.”
The late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie began the campaign for a permanent memorial in Edinburgh after learning of his exploits at the war hero’s funeral.
Unveiling the model for the proposed statue, Lady Fraser said: “We are now making a public appeal to the people of Scotland to support the project.”
About £25,000 had already been raised towards the £75,000 cost of the project.
Lady Fraser and fellow trustees of the General Stanislaw Maczek Memorial Trust will commission the full-scale version once they reach their fundraising target.
Mr Adler said: “We owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Lord Fraser for his initiative and the effort he put towards establishing a permanent memorial to the Polish general who actually spent more of his life in Scotland than anywhere else.
“We are grateful to the trustee and the patrons for their work and to all those who support the project that Lord Fraser started.”
Does anyone who was perhaps a child in Linlithgow or Bo’ness during the Second World War remember Maczek’s contemporaries in the ambulance corps, or other units?
If so we would like to hear from them at a time when, almost too late, the story of the Free fighting Poles is finally being given something like its proper place in Scottish history.