I had a long conversation with a lady who had been born to Polish parents. Her father had come to the UK during the war and his story had parallels with that of my Polish father, Zygmunt. His family had been sent to Siberia by the Russians at the start of the war and he on release had travelled across Europe to help the war effort in the UK. After the war he was faced with the dilemma all Poles faced: to return to Poland and risk being killed or have his family killed by Stalin’s government; stay in the UK and be given work; emigrate to the USA or Canada. I told her my father had taken the middle option and wanted to be a meteorologist but was given a job in a tailors’ shop in Leeds. When he had married a girl from Leeds whose sister had married a French Canadian airman the four of them emigrated to Canada moving later to California. The lady told me her father had been given employment in a factory. He, too emigrated to the USA where he met his wife, had children and returned to the UK. They made a good life in the West Midlands and prospered but his family in Poland were never allowed to visit them. When his mother applied for a visa she was told that she wouldn’t be allowed to return so she would be cut off from the family who remained in Poland. We reminded ourselves that the Poles were not allowed to march in the victory parades post war as Churchill didn’t want to upset Stalin and the pride we had when the Polish memorial was set up in the National Arboretum. You may wonder why there are so many retired miners living in the part of Staffordshire, she said. Well, she said, so many Poles were put to work after the war in the mines beneath Cannock Chase, work many retuning soldiers were loath to do. I hadn’t been aware of it. But I reflected that her father who’d had the resources to cross war torn Europe to fight their enemy was earmarked for factory work whilst my bright and intelligent father who spoke three languages became a tailor’s assistant.
…continued in next Post: Long Lost Families Made Real