Celebrating the history of Falkland, Fife

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The Polish Airborne Forces and Falkland

Visitors to Falkland often stop and gaze at the War Memorial on Brunton Green, and perhaps puzzle over the word Dziękuję at the bottom of the monument. It’s Polish for “Thank you” and commemorates an important chapter in our history.

During the war years it would not have been unusual in Falkland to hear the words “Dzień dobry” and “Do Widzenia”. They mean “Good Morning” and “Goodbye” in Polish. Seventy years later two of Falkland’s residents could still count to ten in Polish and sing the Polish National Anthem.

The story begins on the 1st of September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland. The first Poles to arrive in Scotland were three of their naval destroyers which sailed into the Firth of Forth that same day. As Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland, many Polish servicemen fled to France to continue the fight until June 1940 when France fell to the Germans. The commander of the Free Polish Forces, General Sikorski, assured by Churchill that Britain would fight on, gave his troops the order to make for Britain. By late July some 20,000 of them had arrived in Glasgow marching through its streets to temporary camps. Goebbels sneeringly described them as “Sikorski’s tourists”.

The geography of Fife’s coastline lends itself to a sea-borne amphi­bious attack, so a German invasion was seen as a very real threat. Many Poles were assigned to fortify Fife’s coast, some of their pill­boxes and observation posts still remain as do remnants of The Fife Stop Line bunkers and anti-tank walls in Tentsmuir Forest, Mark­inch, Kettle and Ladybank as well as the Dragon’s Teeth, the six rows of concrete anti tank pimples, on a hillside near Collessie.

From June 1940 Polish Bomber Squadrons flew with the RAF, and Polish Pilots fought in the Battle of Britain. On 23 September 1941 the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was formed in Leven. Its commanding officer was Colonel, later General, Stanislaw Sosabowski and its headquarters was Largo House. The Brigade’s aim was the freedom of Poland and its unofficial motto was “By the shortest way”.

The men wore standard British uniforms and their rimless para­chute helmets had a yellow stencilled Polish eagle while their berets were grey rather than the British maroon.

Troops were billeted in Leven, Largo, St Andrews and the East Neuk villages, and then in Falkland Freuchie, Auchtermuchty, Leslie, Tentsmuir, Kingskettle, Cupar and Kirkcaldy. A German Prisoner of War camp was built at Annsmuir and two German POWs came to work on Falkland Estate. Near Annsmuir was Melville House the HQ of the Scottish Auxiliary Units, sometimes known as Churchill’s Secret Army, while near St Andrews was a work camp for Italian POWs.

During the early days of the war Royal Engineers had been based on Falkland Estate; then, in autumn 1942, the 3rd Polish Parachute Battalion moved to Freuchie and to Falkland: its HQ and billets were in the House of Falkland. At one time the Big House’s Seagull Room had Polish graffiti of men parachuting off the wings of the life-size plaster seagulls – sadly this was later painted over.

On 15 November 1942 a swearing-in ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Palace and Mrs James Jackson, representing the Falkland Womens’ Voluntary Service, presented the troops with flags, saying “we wish to convey to you our admiration for the noble sacrifice which your country has made in the war and I trust that friendship will continue with many generations ... We wish you all the best of luck on your dangerous job, and happy landings”.

On the Fods above Back Dykes Terrace there was a shooting range and practice trenches. On the Boys Playing Field on Falkland Estate there were huts and training equipment including a full size plane, a Handley Page Harrow, zip wires and a parachute jump tower. These were possibly based on the Largo assault course which was known as the Monkey Grove or Malpi Gaj. The arduous training was not without danger and a sapper was killed when a charge he was preparing exploded. The men would go to Man­chester’s Ringway Aerodrome for a four week parachute training course, and on completion were awarded a silver diving eagle badge on which was engraved “For you my country”.

On Sundays the Poles attended mass in the Palace’s Chapel Royal; by 1944 their Chaplain was Father Hubert Misiuda, the first Polish army Chaplain to complete a Parachute course. Their singing was long remembered as were the Christmas parties they held for Falkland children with gifts of carved wooden toys. The men also gave books about Poland to Falkland primary school, and, in turn, the teachers gave them English lessons. Football matches were played and Falkland had its own branch of the Scottish Polish Society with social events and fund-raising for the Sikorski Memorial hospital which was to be built in Poland after the war.