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Poles in the United Kingdom

  (Redirected from Polish British)

The Polish community in the United Kingdom since the mid-20th century largely stems from the Polish presence in the British Isles during the Second World War, when Poles made a substantial contribution to the Allied war effort. Most of the Poles who came to the United Kingdom at that time comprised military units reconstituted outside Poland after the German and Soviet invasions of Poland.

British Poles
Total population
Born in the UK or Poland: 1,000,000+ (media estimates)[1]
≈ 1.8 per cent of the UK's population
Born in Poland only: 911,000 (2016 ONS estimate)
Regions with significant populations
Throughout the UK
British English, Polish
Roman Catholicism · Polish Orthodoxy · Judaism · Protestantism · Atheism · Irreligion

However, exchanges between the two countries date back to medieval times, when Britain and Poland were linked by trade and diplomacy.[2] A notable 16th-century Polish immigrant to England was the Protestant convert, John Laski, who influenced the course of the English Reformation.[3]

Following the 18th-century dismemberment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in three successive partitions by its neighbours, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, the trickle of Polish immigrants to Britain increased in the aftermath of two 19th-century uprisings (1831 and 1863) which forced much of Poland's social and political elite into exile. In mid-century London became a haven for the burgeoning ideas of Polish socialism as a solution for a future independent state as it sought international support for the forthcoming Polish uprising.[4] A number of Polish exiles fought in the Crimean War on the British side. In the last quarter of that century Russian pogroms, and famine in Galicia (ruled by Austria-Hungary), forced many Polish Jews to flee their partitioned Polish homeland; most emigrated to the United States, but some settled in British cities, especially London, Manchester, Leeds, and Hull.[5][6][full citation needed]

In the 20th century, a resurrected sovereign Poland enjoyed less than 21 years of relative peace before it was divided in 1939, in a fourth partition, between Germany and the Soviet Union. For the duration of the war Poland moved its government abroad, first to France and, after France's fall, to London.[7] After putting up a determined fight in France, Poland's reconstituted armed forces — troops evacuated from Poland to Romania and Hungary in September 1939, augmented with recruits from France's Polonia — continued the struggle against Nazi Germany at the side of Britain's armed forces. Polish Air Force pilots played a conspicuous role in the Battle of Britain, and the Polish Navy conducted operations under the command of Britain's Admiralty. In the wake of Germany's June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, General Władysław Anders was permitted to raise an army (the Polish Second Corps) from the hundreds of thousands of Poles whom the Soviets had deported to Siberia and Central Asia.[8] The Second Corps was evacuated from the Soviet Union to the Near East, and campaigned at the side of the Allies in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Italy. Farther west, General Stanisław Maczek's armoured division, part of the Polish First Corps, fought with conspicuous gallantry in France (before France's fall, and in Normandy during Operation Overlord), in the Netherlands, and in Germany.

The Yalta Conference (February 1945) sealed Poland's fourth partition, exchanging Poland's pre-war eastern third, including two of the country's premier cities, for two major eastern German cities and somewhat less former German territory, and de facto placing Poland firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence.[9][10] The great majority of Polish military veterans stranded in western Europe decided against returning to former parts of their homeland that had, in November 1939, become part of Byelorussia and Ukraine.[11] These Poles and their families—many of whom had experienced deportation to the Soviet Union—subsequently formed the nucleus of the postwar Polish community in Britain.

The Polish Government in Exile, though denied majority international recognition after 1945, remained at its post in London until formally dissolved in 1991, after a democratically elected president had taken office in Warsaw.

A much smaller wave of Polish migration to Britain occurred with the imposition of martial law in Poland (1981–83), when individuals, mainly students and intellectuals who had been visiting the UK, chose not to return to Poland.

The European Union's 2004 enlargement, and the-then UK Government's decision not to restrict immigration from the new accession states, encouraged educated and skilled Poles to migrate to the UK rather than to Germany. As of 2016, the number of Polish-born UK residents was estimated at 911,000, making them the UK's largest foreign-born community, having overtaken Indians.[12] Additionally, the UK's Polish-descended population includes descendants of the over 200,000 Poles who had settled in Britain after the Second World War.[13][failed verification] The Polish language is the second-most spoken language in England, and the third-most spoken in the UK after English and Welsh. About 1% of the UK population speaks Polish.[14][15]


A Polish cleric, nephew (1499–1560), and exact namesake of Poland's Primate Jan Laski (1456–1531), who had converted to Calvinism while in Basel, became an associate of Archbishop Cranmer and, a capable administrator, spent some years working on the establishment of the Church of England. Shortly before his death, he was recalled to Poland's royal court. In the 16th century, when most grain imports to the British Isles came from Poland, Polish travellers arrived as merchants and diplomats, usually on the Eastland Company trade route from Gdańsk to London. Poles are mentioned in Shakespeare's Hamlet (e.g. "sledded polack"), which Israel Gollancz attributes to influence of the book, De optimo senatore (The Accomplished Senator), by Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki.

Poland Street, today, in London's Soho district

After Poland's King Jan Sobieski, at the head of a coalition of western armies, crucially defeated the invading Ottoman forces at the 1683 Battle of Vienna, a pub in London's Soho district was named "The King of Poland" in his honour, and soon afterward the street on which it stands was named Poland Street (it exists to this day). In the 18th century, Polish Protestants settled around Poland Street as religious refugees fleeing the Polish Counterreformation.

18th–19th centuriesEdit

Stanislaw Poniatowski, c. 1760 by Krafft the Elder

As a young man of the Enlightenment, and already befriended by British diplomat, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the young Stanislaw Poniatowski, future and last King of Poland, stayed in England for some months during 1754. On this trip he also came to know Charles Yorke, the Lord Chancellor.[16]

In 1788, during the closing years of Stanislaw II August Poniatowski's reign, after already two partitions of the country, the Poles called a special assembly, known to history as the Four Years Diet or "Great Sejm" whose great achievement was to be the Constitution of 3 May 1791. In that period Poland sought support from the United Kingdom in its negotiations with Prussia in an effort to stave off further threats from Russia and from its own plotting magnates.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

In 1790 King Stanisław August sent Michał Ogiński (also a composer and mentor to Frederic Chopin) on an embassy to London to meet with Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. The British were prepared, along with the Dutch Republic, to propose a favourable commercial treaty for Polish goods, especially flax, provided Poland ceded the cities of Gdańsk and Toruń to Prussian control. This condition was, however, unacceptable to Poland. Also in 1790 Stanisław August commissioned the London art dealership of Bourgeois and Desenfans to assemble a collection of Old Master paintings for Poland to encourage arts in the Commonwealth. The dealers fulfilled their commission, but five years later, Poland as a state had completely disintegrated in the Third Partition.[17] The art collection destined for Poland became the nucleus of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London.[18]

In the 19th century, Polish-British relations took on a cultural dimension, with musical tours in the United Kingdom by virtuosos and composers including Maria Szymanowska, Frederic Chopin, Maria Kalergis, and Henryk Wieniawski.[19]

During the November 1830 Uprising against the Russian Empire, British defence equipment and armaments were sent to Poland, facilitated by the presence of Leon Łubieński studying at Edinburgh University at the time and the swift despatch to the UK of his uncle, Józef, to secure the shipment.[20][21] After the collapse of the insurgency in 1831, many Polish insurgents sought sanctuary in the UK.[22] One of them was the veteran and inventor, Edward Jełowicki, who took out a Patent in London on his Steam turbine.[23] The fall of Warsaw and the arrival of Poles on British shores prompted poet Thomas Campbell with others to create in 1832 a Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, with the aim of keeping British public opinion apprised of Poland's plight. The Association had several regional centres; one of its meetings was addressed by the Polish statesman, Count Adam Jerzy Czartoryski.[24] Czartoryski's permanent representative at the Court of St James's was General Count Wladyslaw Stanislaw Zamoyski (1803–1868), who later led a division in the Crimean War, on the British side, against Russia. Zamoyski's adjutant was another Polish exile, an officer in the 5th Sultan's Cossacks—a Polish cavalry division—Colonel Stanisław Julian Ostroróg.[25] The last official Polish envoy to Britain was the statesman, writer, and futurologist, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz (1758–1841).

Count Władysław Zamoyski

The 1848 revolutions in Europe gave impetus to a number of Polish socialist activists to settle in London and establish the "Gromada Londyn" between 1855 and 1861. They sought support from other European activists who were in the city forming the First Internationale.[26] The social connections formed between Poland and Britain encouraged the influential Polish Łubieński family to forge further trade links between the two countries. The anglophile banker, Henryk Łubieński prompted his business associate and Polish "King of Zinc", Piotr Steinkeller, to open The London Zinc Works off Wenlock Road in London's Hoxton in 1837, with a view to exporting zinc sheeting to India.[27][28] Moreover, two of Łubieński's grandsons were sent to board at the Catholic Ushaw College in Durham. Other relatives married into the old recusant Grimshaw and Bodenham de la Barre family of Rotherwas.[29] Subsequently, the Redemptorist Venerable Fr. Bernard Łubieński (1846–1933) spent many years as a Catholic missionary in England.[30] The Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales began its pastoral work for Polish émigrés in 1853 with church services in Soho's Sutton Street and with the arrival of Sr. Franciszka Siedliska and two other nuns to start a Polish school.[31]

The anarchist, Mroczkowski

The next Polish insurgency, the January 1863 Uprising, led to a further influx of Polish political exiles to Britain. Among them were people like Walery Wróblewski and the only notable Polish anarchist and follower of Bakunin, Walery Mroczkowski, member of the First Internationale and opponent of Marxist ideology.[32]

Perhaps the most famous Pole to settle in the UK at the end of the 19th century, having gained British citizenship in 1886, was the seafarer turned early modernist novelist, Józef Korzeniowski, better known by his pen name, Joseph Conrad. He was the highly influential author of such works as Almayer's Folly, The Nigger of the 'Narcissus', Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, The Duel, Under Western Eyes, and Victory, many of which have been turned into films.

At the end of the 19th century London, along with Zurich and Vienna, had become one of the centres of Polish political activism, especially of the left. Józef Piłsudski stayed in Leytonstone after his escape from St-Petersburg. The political review, "Przedświt" ("Pre-Dawn") was published in Whitechapel for several years, notably under the editorship of Leon Wasilewski 1898–1903, later to become the first foreign minister of a newly independent Poland in 1918.[33]

Both before and after the First World War, a few Poles settled in London – following the 1905 Russian Revolution and then in the war, those released from London's prisoner-of-war camps for Germans and Austrians in the Alexandra Palace and at Feltham. In 1910 a sixteen-year old youth from Warsaw settled in London for the sake of his art: he was to be a future Ballet master, Stanislas Idzikowski.[34] Poles living in the Austrian and German partitions had been obliged to serve in their respective national forces and were unable to return.

independent Poland's 1918 resurgence, briefly complicated by the Polish–Soviet War (1918–20), enabled Poland to rapidly reorganise its polity, develop its economy, and resume its place in international forums. One of the Polish delegates at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, was a London-based émigré, Count Leon Ostroróg.[35]

However, this two-decade period of advance was disrupted in September 1939 by coordinated German and Soviet invasions that effectively imposed a fourth partition of Poland.

Second World WarEdit

It was the Polish contribution to the Allied war effort in the United Kingdom that led to the establishment of the postwar Polish community in Britain. During the Second World War, most of the Poles arrived as military or political émigrés as a result of the German and Soviet occupation of Poland.

As the invasion of Poland progressed throughout September 1939, the Polish government evacuated into Romania and from there to France. Based at first in Paris, it moved to Angers until June 1940, when France capitulated to the Germans.[36][37] With the Fall of France, the Polish Government-in-Exile relocated to London, along with a first wave of at least 20,000 soldiers and airmen in 1940. It was recognized by all the Allied governments. Politically, it was a coalition of the Polish Peasant Party, the Polish Socialist Party, the Labour Party, and the National Party. Although these parties maintained only a vestigial existence in the circumstances of the war, the tasks of the Government-in-Exile were immense, requiring open lines of communication with, and control of, the Polish Underground State in situ and the Polish Underground Army in occupied Poland, and the maintenance of international diplomatic relations for the organization of regular Polish military forces in Allied states.

On 4 July 1943 the Polish Prime Minister-in-Exile, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, died in an air crash off Gibraltar as he was returning to England from an inspection tour of Polish forces in the Mediterranean theatre. Until the Germans' April 1943 discovery of mass graves of 28,000 executed Polish military reserve officers at Katyn, near Smolensk in Russia, Sikorski had wished to work with the Soviets. After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviets' importance to the Western alliance had grown while British support for Polish aspirations had begun to decline.[38] As the war progressed, Polish plans to more completely incorporate Poland's underground Home Army into the broader strategy of the Western allies—including contingency plans to move Polish Air Force fighter squadrons, and the Polish Parachute Brigade, to Poland—foundered on British and American reluctance to antagonise a vital Soviet ally hostile to Polish autonomy; on the distance from British-controlled bases to occupied Poland, which lay at the extreme flying range of available aircraft; and on the frittering away of the Polish Parachute Brigade on a patently flawed British operation at Arnhem, the Netherlands.[39]

Mathematician Marian Rejewski c. 1932, when he first "broke" the German Enigma cipher

One of the most important Polish contributions to Allied victory had actually begun in late 1932, nearly seven years before the outbreak of war when the mathematician-cryptologist Marian Rejewski, with limited aid from French military intelligence, constructed a double of the sight-unseen German Enigma cipher machine used by the German civil and military authorities. Five weeks before the outbreak of war, in late July 1939, Rejewski and his fellow cryptologists, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki had disclosed to French and British intelligence in Warsaw the techniques and technologies they had developed for "breaking" German Enigma ciphers. Poland's Biuro Szyfrów (Cipher Bureau, operated by the Polish General Staff) gave the British and French an Enigma double, each. This enabled the British, who had been unable to break German Enigma ciphers at Bletchley Park, to develop their "Ultra" operation. At war's end, General Dwight Eisenhower characterized Ultra as having been "decisive" to Allied victory.[40] Former Bletchley Park cryptologist Gordon Welchman wrote: "Ultra would never have got off the ground if we had not learned from the Poles, in the nick of time, details both of the German military... the Enigma machine, and of the operating procedures that were in use [by the Germans]."[41]

The first Polish military branch to transfer substantial personnel to the United Kingdom was the Polish Navy. Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, the Polish government ordered three destroyers, for their protection and in anticipation of joint operations with the Royal Navy, to sail for Great Britain.[42] Two submarines also sailed there, the Orzeł (Eagle) arriving unannounced in Scotland after a daring breakout from the Baltic Sea following its illegal internment in Estonia.

ORP Piorun officers and men on return to Plymouth after fighting the Bismarck

Polish Navy personnel to come under Royal Navy command comprised 1,400 officers and 4,750 sailors.[43] By chance, Poland's only two ocean-going commercial liners, MS Piłsudski and MS Batory were also on the high seas on 1 September 1939 and were both shortly thereafter requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service. The former was lost in November 1939 when it struck a mine off the Yorkshire coast.[44] Batory, however, dubbed "the Lucky ship", became a troop and civilian carrier and hospital ship. It effected a major evacuation during the Battle of Narvik and completed hundreds of convoys on the Mediterranean Sea and on the Atlantic, before being surrendered to the control of the communist authorities in Warsaw in 1946.[45]

In May 1941, the Polish destroyer Piorun—Thunderbolt—was able to locate and engage the world's most powerful battleship, Bismarck, drawing its fire for an hour while the Royal Navy caught up in time to destroy the German warship.[46]

303 Fighter Squadron pilots and Hurricane, October 1940

Poles formed the fourth-largest Allied armed force after the Soviets, the Americans, and the combined troops of the British Empire. They were the largest group of non-British personnel in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and the 303 Polish Squadron was the most successful RAF unit in the Battle of Britain. Special Operations Executive had a large section of covert, elite Polish troops that cooperated closely with the Polish resistance. By July 1945 there were 228,000 troops of the Polish Armed Forces in the West serving under the British.[22] Many of these men and women came from the Kresy (eastern Poland), from cities such as Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) and Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania). They had been deported by the Soviets from the Kresy to the Gulags when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Poland in 1939 under their Nazi-Soviet Pact. Two years later, when Churchill and Joseph Stalin formed an alliance against Adolf Hitler, the mostly "Kresy Poles" were released from the Gulags in Siberia to form "Anders' Army" and were shipped to Iran, where the Polish II Corps came into being under British command. They fought in the battles of Monte Cassino, the Falaise Gap, Arnhem, Tobruk, and in the liberation of many European cities, including Bologna and Breda.[47]

General Sikorski (left) and Winston Churchill review Polish troops in England, 1943.

The Polish troops who contributed to the Allied defeat of the Germans in North Africa and Italy, had expected to be able to return at war's end to their Kresy (eastern Polish) homeland in an independent and democratic Poland. But at Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill acquiesced in Stalin's Soviet Union keeping the Kresy lands in accordance with the provisions of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact. This would entail massive postwar Polish population transfers to western "Recovered Territories" transferred from Germany to Poland.[48] The great majority of Polish soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the West would never return to Poland. In apparent reaction to the British acquiescence in Poland's postwar future, thirty officers and men of the Polish II Corps committed suicide.[49]

Churchill explained the government's actions in a three-day Parliamentary debate, begun on 27 February 1945, that ended in a vote of confidence. Many MPs openly criticised Churchill over Yalta and voiced strong loyalty to the UK's Polish allies.[49] Churchill may not have been confident that Poland would be the independent and democratic country that Polish troops could return to; he said: "His Majesty's Government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops... I earnestly hope it will be possible for them to have citizenship and freedom of the British Empire, if they so desire."[50]

During the debate, 25 MPs and Peers risked their future political careers to draft an amendment protesting against the UK's acceptance of Poland's integration into the Soviet sphere of influence. These members included Arthur Greenwood, Sir Archibald Southby, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, and Victor Raikes.[49] After the amendment's failure, Henry Strauss, MP for Norwich, resigned his seat in protest at Britain's treatment of Poland.[49]

The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London are the repository for archival material relating to this period.[51]

Private WojtekEdit

Wojtek (right) and fellow Polish soldier, 1943

During their 1942 evacuation from the Soviet Union to the Near East, soldiers of the Polish Second Corps had, at an Iranian railroad station, purchased a Syrian brown bear cub. He travelled with them on the Polish troop-transport ship Kościuszko and subsequently accompanied them to Egypt and to the Italian campaign. In Italy he helped shift ammunition crates and became a celebrity with visiting Allied generals and statesmen.

In order to provide for his billeting and feeding, in the face of British objections to his presence aboard ship, the bear had been formally enrolled as Private Wojciech Perski (his surname being the Polish adjective meaning "Persian"; Wojtek is the diminutive for Wojciech).

After the war, mustered out of the Polish Army, Wojtek (1942–63) was billeted, and lived out his retirement, at the Edinburgh Zoo, where he was visited by fellow exiles and former Polish comrades-in-arms and won the affection of the public. Posthumously he has inspired books, films, plaques, and statues in the UK and Poland.[52]

Polish Resettlement Corps 1946–49Edit

Following the invasion of Poland in September 1939, many thousands of Polish servicemen and women made their way via Hungary and Romania (which then had common borders with Poland) to France, where they again fought against the invading Germans; and in 1942 the newly formed Polish Second Corps evacuated from the Soviet Union, via Iran, to the Near East, subsequently fighting in campaigns there and in North Africa, Italy, and northwest Europe. Some Second Corps personnel transferred from the Near East into Polish Armed Services units in the UK.

At war's end, many of the Poles were transported to, and stayed in, camps in the United Kingdom. In order to ease their transition from a Polish-British military environment to British civilian life, a satisfactory means of demobilisation was sought by British authorities. This took the form of a Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC), as an integral corps of the British Army, into which such Poles as wished to stay in the UK could enlist for the transitional period of their demobilisation.

The PRC was formed in 1946 (Army Order 96 of 1946) and was disbanded after fulfilling its purpose in 1949 (Army Order 2 of 1950).[53]

Polish Resettlement Act 1947Edit

The Polish Hearth Club in Exhibition Road, London, an important social meeting place after WWII

When the Second World War ended, a communist government was installed in Poland. Most Poles felt betrayed by their wartime allies and declined to return to Poland because of Soviet repressions of Polish citizens (1939–1946), Soviet conduct around the 1944 Warsaw uprising, the Trial of the Sixteen, and executions of ex-members of the Home Army. To accommodate Poles unwilling to return to Poland, Great Britain enacted the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, the UK's first mass immigration law. Initially, a very large Polish community was centred around Swindon, where many military personnel had been stationed during the war.

After occupying Polish Resettlement Corps camps, many Poles settled in London and other conurbations, many of them recruited as European Volunteer Workers.[54] Others settled in the British Empire, forming large Polish Canadian and Polish Australian communities, or in the United States and Argentina.

Post-war dispersal and settlementEdit

In the 1951 UK Census, some 162,339 residents had Poland listed as their birthplace, up from 44,642 in 1931.[55][56] Polish arrivals to the UK included survivors of German concentration and POW camps and war wounded needing additional help adapting to civilian life. This help was provided by a range of charitable endeavours, some coordinated by Sue Ryder (1924–2000), a British humanitarian who, as Baroness Ryder of Warsaw, was later raised to the House of Lords and spoke there in the cause of Poland.[57]

Another British woman, Dame Cicely Saunders, was inspired by three displaced Polish men to revolutionise palliative care and care of the dying. She met the first two, David Tasma—who had escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto—and Antoni Michniewicz, as they were dying. The third Pole, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, a painter and art critic, supported her work and became her husband in old age. Saunders is considered the founder of the hospice movement.[58]

Britain's Polish immigrants tended to settle in areas near Polish churches and food outlets. In West London, they settled in Earl's Court, known in the 1950s as the "Polish Corridor", in reference to the interwar Central European political entity and, as house prices rose, they moved to Hammersmith, then Ealing, and in South London, to Lewisham and Balham. As these communities grew, even if many Poles had integrated with local British educational and religious institutions, the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales, in agreement with the English and Scottish hierarchies, considered that Polish priests should minister to Polish parishioners.[59] The original Polish church in London was bought in Devonia Road, Islington in 1928 with much delay, following the First World War. However canonically, subsequent Polish "parishes" are actually branches of the Polish Catholic Mission and not parishes in the conventional sense, as they are accountable to the episcopate in Poland, through a vicar delegate. The first post-war Polish "parish" in London was attached to Brompton Oratory in South Kensington, followed by a chapel in Willesden staffed by Polish Jesuits. Brockley-Lewisham was founded in 1951, followed by Clapham, while St. Andrew Bobola church in Shepherd's Bush (1961) was regarded as the Polish garrison church. Among its many commemorative plaques is one to a clairvoyant and healer housewife and Soviet deportee, Waleria Sikorzyna: she had had a detailed premonitory dream two years before the 1939 invasion of Poland, but was politely dismissed by the Polish military authorities.[60][61] Currently the Polish Catholic Mission operates around 219 parishes and pastoral centres with 114 priests throughout England and Wales.[62] In 2007 Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, primate of England, expressed concern "that Poles are creating a separate Church in Britain", but Polish rector, Mgr Kukla, responded that the Polish Catholic Mission continued to have a "good relationship" with the hierarchy in England and Wales and said that integration was a long process.[63]

Cultural and educational ties with PolandEdit

The social make-up of successive waves of Polish migration to the UK is comparable to 19th- and early-20th-century Polish migrations to France.[64] In both cases, the original mainly political migrants were drawn largely from elite and educated strata and reflected the heterogeneity of their class, and they quickly established cultural institutions such as libraries and learned societies. They included representatives of past Polish minorities such as Jews, Germans, Armenians, Georgians, Ruthenians, and people of Muslim Tartar descent. In both cases, they were followed by waves of more socially-homogeneous economic migrants.

Since the Second World War, Poland has lost much of its earlier ethnic diversity, with the exception of Polska Roma, a distinct ethnolinguistic group and other Polish Roma communities, and this has been reflected in recent Polish migrations to the UK.[65][66] A recent study of comparative literature by Mieczysŀaw Dąbrowski, of Warsaw University, appears to bear this out.[67]

A key military and latterly, news and cultural role was played by broadcasts in Polish, beamed to Poland, from London by the BBC's Polish section. They began on 7 September 1939 with coded messages among prosaic material for the Polish Underground and after expansion into English by radio ended on 23 December 2005, a victim of budgetary cuts and new priorities.

Across the mainland UK, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the original Polish communities chiefly comprised former members of the Polish Resettlement Corps. They set up Polish clubs, cultural centres, and adult and youth organisations, e.g., the Polish Youth Group (KSMP). They contributed to, and in turn were supported by, veterans' welfare charities such as veterans' (SPK), airmen's and naval clubs. These organisations' original aims were to provide venues for socialising and exposure to Polish culture and heritage for children of former Polish Resettlement Corps members. Many of these groups remain active, and steps are being taken to cater to more recent Polish migrants.

The post-war phase saw a continuation of Polish intellectual and political life in microcosm in the UK, with the publication of newspapers and journals such as Dziennik Polski and Wiadomości, the establishment of independent (of the Polish "regime") publishing houses such as "Veritas" and "Odnowa", with a worldwide reach, and professional theatrical productions under the auspices of a dramatic society, "Syrena". Orbis Books (London) was a bookseller, publishing house and for a time a record producer (under the label Polonia UK), founded in Edinburgh in 1944 by Kapt. Józef Olechnowicz, brought to New Oxford Street, London in 1946 and eventually bought by Jerzy Kulczycki in 1972.[68][69][70] The Grabowski Gallery in Chelsea fostered Polish and other diaspora artists.[71]

Concern for the maintenance of Polish language and culture in the UK was entrusted to the "Polska Macierz Szkolna" – Polish Educational Society, a voluntary organization that operated a network of Saturday schools. Parishes also organized an active Polish scout movement (ZHP pgk). Polish religious orders founded boarding schools in England. In 1947 The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth started a school for girls, The Holy Family of Nazareth Convent School in Pitsford near Northampton.[72] Displaced members of the Polish Marian Fathers opened a first school for boys in Herefordshire. Then with financial help from the Polish diaspora, they acquired a vacant historic property on the river Thames outside Henley-on-Thames which became "Divine Mercy College" and a heritage museum at Fawley Court, a Grade I listed building, which functioned as a college from 1953 to 1986 and as a museum and retreat and conference centre until about 2010, when it was sold off by the Polish order amid controversy.[73][74][75] In the grounds of the property is a church building and Columbarium (1071) commissioned by Prince Radziwill in memory of his mother, Anna Lubomirska. The prince was himself laid to rest there in 1976.[76] It is Grade II listed by English Heritage.[77]

As a result of the 1939 invasion of Poland, the entirety of Polish universities and academic research fell into disarray. Although very reduced tertiary teaching continued underground, many academics perished in Katyn and in Concentration camps or shared the fate of the civilian population. Those who were abroad at the outbreak of war or who managed to escape set about salvaging their heritage outside Poland. During the war several British universities hosted Polish academic departments to enable Polish students to complete their interrupted studies: thus Liverpool offered veterinary science in Polish and Oxford hosted a Polish faculty of law, and Edinburgh had a Polish Medical Faculty, whose alumni fortuitously joined the roll out of the National Health Service in the UK.[78][79] These arrangements however came to an end in the late 1940s and to cater for many demobilized service personnel wishing to resume their studies or research, "PUNO" (Polski Uniwersytet na Obczyznie) – The Polish University Abroad was founded in 1949, offering humanities subjects in Polish. It exists to this day with a London base at the Polish Social and Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and has opened departments in other European countries.[80]

During the Cold War, Poles assembled twice in the UK to mark historic national events. The first was in 1966 the Millennium of Poland's baptism as a Christian nation, when among other festivities, a Mass was celebrated in London's White City Stadium, filled to its 45,000 capacity.[81] The second gathering was during the visit by the Polish pontiff, Pope John Paul II, to the United Kingdom in 1982. While the Pope visited nine British cities and was welcomed by two million British Roman Catholics and others, a Mass specifically for 20,000 Polish faithful was held at the Crystal Palace stadium in London on Sunday 30 May.[82]

Political governance as symbolismEdit

From left: Piotr Kownacki, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Ryszard Kaczorowski, Lech Wałęsa, on 20th anniversary of re-establishment of Polish Senate in Warsaw

In December 1990, when Lech Wałęsa became the first non-Communist president of Poland since the war, the ceremonial insignia of the Polish Republic, including the original text of the Polish 1935 constitution were handed over to him in Warsaw by the last "President" of the London-based government-in-exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski. This act symbolized the legitimate transfer of independent Poland's seals of office and put an end to the political opposition that, for half a century, had both dogged and been the bedrock of the Polish diaspora in the United Kingdom.[83][84] Arguably a majority of Polish people had fought hard to combat communism, and for their right to democratic liberties. While an increasingly frail and diminishing group upheld the existence of the "Zamek" – "Citadel" shorthand for the Polish National Council as the "virtual opposition" to the communist regime in Poland it held little sway with the Polish diaspora in the UK.[85] Instead, London came to be seen as an important centre for fostering business and cultural relations with contemporary Poland.[86]

Economic activityEdit

For the duration of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, Poles in the UK were engaged in a massive effort of helping economically their relatives and friends in Poland. Initially they sent food parcels and medicines as Poland recovered from the ravages of war then the assistance changed to money transfers, sometimes from their own meagre pensions, in the belief that they were still better off living in freedom. Tazab and Haskoba were the earliest UK-based parcel operations, while Grabowski was a mail order pharmacy.[87][88] When Poland raised import tariffs, they turned their focus in the mid 1950s to travel, like Fregata Travel, the latter being a brand that had migrated to London from pre-war Lwow.[89] With banking agreements with Poland in place, the travel companies acted as transfer bureaux via the Polish bank PKO.

The relaxation of travel restrictions to and from Poland after October 1956 saw a steady increase in Polish exchanges with the United Kingdom in the 1950s. In the 1960s a purge of communist party members and intellectuals of Jewish descent led to a further influx of Poles into the UK. Only with the accession of Edward Gierek in 1970 as First Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party (PZPR), who himself had spent time as a migrant in France and Belgium, did it become possible for Poles to leave their country with relative ease.

The Polish Trustee Association, founded by the Ex-Combatants (SPK), handled legacies left by Polish DPs for their kin in Poland.[90]


Polish airmen's memorial, with squadron numbers and names

Polish servicemen who died in the Battle of Britain or subsequently, found their final resting places mainly in six cemeteries across the United Kingdom: Newark-on-Trent, Blackpool, Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, Yatesbury in Wiltshire, Grangemouth in Scotland, and Wrexham in Wales. Then, as the first generation of émigrés settled in various urban areas, often clustered around Polish clubs and churches, their graves and memorials began to appear in nearby existing cemeteries. Thus in London and its environs there were Polish burials especially in Brompton (Central London), Gunnersbury, Mortlake, Norwood and Putney Vale cemeteries.[91]

The Polish War Memorial, in a prominent position close to RAF Northolt West of London, commemorating the Polish airmen who fought for Great Britain, was erected in two stages. It was initially unveiled in 1948 with the names of 1,243 flyers. In time, a further 659 names were identified and were added during a refurbishment of the monument carried out in 1994-6 funded by a public appeal. It was ceremonially re-opened. In 2015 a memorial garden was added to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle. The monument is Grade II listed by English Heritage.[92]Franciszek Kornicki (1916–2017) is the last Polish fighter pilot to die. His funeral was held in November 2017.[93]

Katyn Monument

By contrast, the wish of the British Polish community to honour its 28,000 fellow countrymen, many of them close relatives, who fell victim of the Katyn massacre with a memorial met with sustained obstruction from the British authorities. This, it appears, was owing to the effective diplomatic pressure exerted by the Soviet Union on Anglo-Soviet relations at the height of the Cold War. Despite public funds having been raised, the project was delayed for many years. A measure of détente in East-West relations in the mid 1970s, allowed a monument to be installed inside Gunnersbury Cemetery. There was no official British attendance at the unveiling in September 1976. Those British officials who came, did so in their private capacity.[94]

There are now over a dozen Polish war memorials across the kingdom, including in the RAF church, St Clement Danes in the City of London.

21st-century economic immigrationEdit

Polish natives employed in UK, 2003–10.[95]
More Polish Grocery stores opened up across the UK after Poland joined the EU in 2004, such as this deli in Coventry.
Polish pierogi bar in West Yorkshire

During the twentieth century, world events meant that in Europe, London eclipsed Paris as the traditional destination of choice for Polish dissidents. The establishment of Polish communities across the UK after the Second World War along with supporting institutions cemented links between the UK-Polish community and relatives and friends in Poland. This encouraged a steady flow of migrants from Poland to the UK, which accelerated after the fall of Communism in 1989. Throughout the 1990s, Poles used the eased travel restrictions to move to the UK and work, sometimes in the grey economy.

Poland joined the EU on 1 May 2004 and Poles, as EU citizens, gained the right to freedom of movement and establishment across the European Union. Most member states, though, had negotiated temporary restrictions to their labour markets, up to a maximum of seven years, for citizens from new member states. To the contrary, the UK (as Sweden too) granted immediate full access to its labour market to citizens from the new member states.[96][97] over entrants from these accession states,[98][99]

Seven-year temporary restrictions on benefits that EU citizens including Poles could claim,covered by the Worker Registration Scheme, ended in 2011.[100]

The Home Office publishes quarterly statistics on applications to the Worker Registration Scheme. Figures published in August 2007 indicated that some 656,395 persons were accepted on to the scheme between 1 May 2004 and 30 June 2007, of whom 430,395 were Polish nationals. However, as the scheme is voluntary, offers no financial incentive and is not enforced; immigrants are free to choose whether or not to participate. They may work legally in the UK provided they have a Polish identity card or passport and a UK National Insurance number. This has led to some estimates of Polish nationals in the UK being much higher.[101]

The Polish magazine Polityka launched a 'Stay With Us' scheme offering young academics a £5,000 bonus to encourage them to live and work at home in Poland. Additionally on 20 October 2007, a campaign was launched by the British Polish Chamber of Commerce called "Wracaj do Polski" ('Come Back to Poland') which encouraged Poles living and working in the UK to return home.

By the end of 2007, stronger economic growth in Poland than in the UK, falling unemployment and the rising strength of the Polish złoty had reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK. Poland was one of the few countries to not be badly affected by the 2008 economic downturn. [102] Labour shortages in Polish cities and in sectors such as construction, IT and financial services have also played a part in stemming the flow of Poles to the UK.[103] According to the August 2007 Accession Monitoring Report, fewer Poles migrated in the first half of 2007 than in the same period in 2006.

There was a baby boom under Martial Law in Poland in the early-1980s. Consequently, the 2000s saw an over-supply of new workers on the Polish job market. Unemployment rose and many young and educated Poles chose to look for work overseas. As Poland's demographic bulge slimmed, new entrants to the domestic labour market reduced and emigration slowed. Some commentators say the Polish baby-boomers began returning to Poland as they reached child-rearing age themselves.[102]


2001 66,000—    
2002 68,000+3.0%
2003 75,000+10.3%
2004 94,000+25.3%
2005 162,000+72.3%
2006 265,000+63.6%
2007 411,000+55.1%
2008 504,000+22.6%
2009 529,000+5.0%
2010 540,000+2.1%
2011 654,000+21.1%
2012 658,000+0.6%
2013 688,000+4.6%
2014 790,000+14.8%
2015 831,000+5.2%
2016 911,000+9.6%
2017 922,000+1.2%
Note: Apart from the actual 2001 and 2011 Census figures, the numbers in the central column are ONS estimates of the number of Polish-born residents. See source for 95 per cent confidence intervals.
Source: [104]

Population sizeEdit

The 2001 UK Census recorded 60,711 Polish-born UK residents;[105] 60,680 of these resided in Great Britain (not including Northern Ireland), compared to 73,951 in 1991.[106] Following immigration after Poland's accession to the EU, the Office for National Statistics estimated 911,000 Polish-born residents in the UK in 2016, making Poles the largest overseas-born group, having outgrown the Indian-born population.[12] The 2011 UK Census recorded 579,121 Polish-born residing in England, 18,023 in Wales,[107] 55,231 in Scotland,[108] and 19,658 in Northern Ireland.[109]

Unofficial estimates have put the number of Poles living in the UK higher, at up to one million.[110][111][112]

Geographic distributionEdit

Polish-speakers in England and Wales

According to the 2011 UK Census in England and Wales, there are 0.5 million residents whose main language is Polish; which amounts to 1% of the whole population aged three years and over. In London, there were 147,816 Polish speakers. The main concentration of Polish people in London is in Ealing, in West London (21,507; 6.4% of all usual residents). Elsewhere in the capital, the biggest Polish communities are in the outer Boroughs of: Haringey, Brent, Hounslow, Waltham Forest, Barnet. Outside London, the largest Polish communities are in: Birmingham, Southampton, Slough (8,341; 5.9%), Luton, Leeds, Peterborough, Nottingham, Manchester, Leicester, Coventry and the Borough of Boston in Lincolnshire (2.975; 4.6%).[113]

Scotland has seen a significant influx of Polish immigrants. Estimates of the number of Poles living in Scotland in 2007 ranged from 40,000 (General Register Office for Scotland) to 50,000 (the Polish Council).[114] The 2011 UK Census recorded 11,651 people in Edinburgh born in Poland, which is 2.4% of the city's population – a higher proportion than anywhere else in Scotland apart from Aberdeen, where 2.7% were born in Poland.[115]

In Northern Ireland, the number of people reporting in the 2011 census that they were born in Poland was 19,658,[109] and the number stating that they spoke Polish as a first language was 17,700.[116] Despite a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recruitment drive in November 2006 that attracted 968 applications from Poles, with language exams being held both in Northern Ireland and in Warsaw, as of 2008, none had entered the PSNI's ranks.[117][118] The first Polish national to join the PSNI started working in August 2010.[119]

Employment and social activitiesEdit

In London and various other major cities, Poles are employed across virtually all sectors from care work and construction and the service industries to education, NHS, banking and business and the liberal professions. There is a significant group of people involved in the arts, in writing, journalism and photography. In rural areas of low-population density, such as East Anglia and the East Midlands; Polish workers tend to be employed in agriculture.[120] and light industry.[121]

The Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith which houses a number of organisations, an exhibition space, a theatre and several restaurants, is a popular venue. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain (ZPWB) which was set up to promote the interests of Poles in Great Britain acts as an umbrella for more than seventy organisations throughout the UK. Both these institutions also aim to promote awareness of Polish history and culture among British people.

Since Poland's accession to the European Union in 2004, Polish delicatessens, with regular deliveries of fresh produce from Poland, are an increasingly familiar feature along British streets and foodstuffs from Poland are supplied to most of the supermarket chains.[96] New publications in Polish have joined the pre-existing titles, including several free magazines carrying news and features and filled with advertising are booming. A local newspaper in Blackpool is one of a handful of British newspapers to have its own online edition in Polish called Witryna Polska.[122]

Social questionsEdit

2016 Guardian edition dedicated to Poles in the UK


Many Poles who have migrated to the UK since the enlargement of the EU have brought children with them. This has created some pressure on school places and English language support services.[123] Despite language difficulties, research shows these pupils perform well in British schools and the presence of Polish pupils in schools has improved the performance of other pupils in those schools.[124] Plans under the Coalition Government to abolish exams in Polish by 2018, among other languages, at GCSE and A-Level, on the grounds that they were no longer cost-effective due to "falling popularity" were scrapped in the wake of protests in Parliament and a petition co-ordinated by the Polish Educational Society.[125]

Integration and intermarriageEdit

Polish newcomers to the United Kingdom follow previous patterns of integration, depending on where they can afford to live, on their educational and employment status, and on the presence of other ethnicities. In 2012 most of the 21,000 children born to Polish mothers had Polish fathers; of the rest had fathers from other backgrounds.[126] In 2014 there were 16,656 children born with Polish mothers and fathers from European backgrounds.[127] There were 702 children born to Polish mothers and fathers from African backgrounds and 749 children born to Polish mothers and fathers from Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds.[128]

Racism, violence, and discrimination against PolesEdit

Polish people living in the UK reported 42 "racially motivated violent attacks" against them in 2007, compared with 28 in 2004.[129] On 11 July 2012, the Polish Association of Northern Ireland called for action after Polish flags were burned on Eleventh Night bonfires in several locations across Belfast.[130]

On 26 July 2008, The Times published a comment piece by restaurant reviewer Giles Coren containing anti-Polish sentiment including alleged Polish anti-semitism. Coren used the racial slur 'Polack' to describe Polish immigrants in the UK, arguing that "if England is not the land of milk and honey it appeared to them three or four years ago, then, frankly, they can clear off out of it".[131] The article has been subject to major criticism.

The far-right British National Party (BNP) have used anti-Polish sentiment,[132] and campaigned for a ban on all Polish migrant workers in the UK.[133] In one highly publicised incident, the party used a poster that showed a nostalgic picture of a Second World War Spitfire fighter plane under the slogan "Battle for Britain", during the party's 2009 European Elections campaign. However, apparently unknowingly, the photograph they used was accidentally that of a Spitfire belonging to the Polish 303 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. John Hemming, MP for Yardley, Birmingham, ridiculed the party for accidentally using an image of "Polish heroism" in their campaign: "They have a policy to send Polish people back to Poland – yet they are fronting their latest campaign using this plane."[134]

In January 2014, a Polish man, whose helmet was emblazoned with the flag of Poland,[135] claimed he was attacked by a group of fifteen men outside a pub in Dagenham, London.[136] The victim blamed xenophobic speeches of then-Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.[137] During the same month in Belfast, there were seven attacks on Polish homes within ten days; in which stones and bricks were thrown at the windows.[138]

Notable personsEdit

The following persons are notable Poles who have lived in the United Kingdom, or notable Britons of Polish descent.

Science and technologyEdit

Helen Czerski at Thinking Digital 2012

Written wordEdit

Waldemar Januszczak, broadcaster and critic

Visual artsEdit

Walery's 1887 photo portrait of Victoria, Empress of India, NPG


Irena Anders, as Renata Bogdanska, 1940s

Performing artsEdit


Ed Miliband as leader at Labour Party conference, 2010



Phil Jagielka playing for Everton, 2014

Scottish connectionEdit

Gen. Maczek

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

  • Keith Sword Collection: Polish Migration Project at UCL,
  • A Remarkable School in Exile 1941–1951, Veritas Foundation Publication, ISBN 0-9545100-0-3
  • S.Barnes, A Long Way From Home, Staffordshire University 2003
  • Brin Best & Maria Helena Zukowska, Poles in the UK: A Story of Friendship and Cooperation, The British Polonia Foundation, 2016 ISBN 978-0-9954956-1-6 [Free eBook PDF download from]
  • Kathy Burrell, Polish Migration to the UK in the 'New' European Union, Ashgate 2009, ISBN 978-0-7546-7387-3
  • Dr Diana M Henderson(Editor), The Lion and The Eagle, Cualann Press ISBN 0-9535036-4-X.
  • Robert Gretzyngier Poles in Defence of Britain, Grub 2001, ISBN 1-902304-54-3
  • Michael Hope, The Abandoned Legion, Veritas Foundation Publication ISBN 1-904639-09-7.
  • Michael Hope, Polish deportees in the Soviet Union, Veritas Foundation Publication, ISBN 0-948202-76-9
  • W. Jedrzejewicz, Poland in the British Parliament 1939–1945, White Eagle Printing
  • G. Kay & R.Negus, Polish Exile Mail in Great Britain 1939–1949, J. Barefoot, ISBN 0-906845-52-1
  • Ignacy Matuszewski, Did Britain Guarantee Poland's frontiers?, Polish Bookshop
  • Ignacy Matuszewski, Great Britain's Obligations Towards Poland, National Committee of Americans, 1945
  • Wiktor Moszczynski, Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour: All about Poles in West London, AuthorHouse, 2010, ISBN 1-4490-9779-0,
  • Robert Ostrycharz,Polish War Graves in Scotland A Testament to the Past, ISBN 1-872286-48-8.
  • Prazmowska, Anita, Britain and Poland 1939–1943, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-48385-9
  • Tim Smith & Michelle Winslow, Keeping the Faith The Polish Community in Britain, Bradford Heritage, ISBN 0-907734-57-X
  • Peter Stachura (Editor), The Poles in Britain 1940–2000, Frank Cass ISBN 0-7146-8444-9.
  • R. Umiastowski, Poland, Russia and Great Britain 1941–1945, Hollis & Carter 1946
  • Ian Valentine, Station 43 Audley End House and SOE's Polish section, Sutton 2004, ISBN 0-7509-4255-X
  • Various, Intelligence co-operation between Poland and Great Britain during World War II, Vallentine Mitchell 2005, ISBN 0-85303-656-X
  • Jonathan Walker, Poland Alone, History Press 2008, ISBN 978-1-86227-474-7

Memoirs and fiction

  • Waydenfeld, Stefan. (1999) The Ice Road – An Epic Journey from Stalinist Labour Camps to Freedom. London: Mainstream Publishing ISBN 1840181664. Republished (2010) by Aquila Polonica, ISBN 1607720027.
  • Michał Giedroyć, Crater's Edge: A Family's Epic Journey Through Wartime Russia, Bene Factum Publishing Ltd (1 May 2010)
  • Matthew Kelly, Finding Poland, Jonathan Cape Ltd (4 Mar 2010)
  • Michael Moran, A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland, Granta Books; Reprint edition (2 Mar 2009)
  • Joanna Czechowska, The Black Madonna of Derby, Silkmill Press 2008
  • Andrew Tarnowski, The Last Mazurka: A Tale of War, Passion and Loss, Aurum Press Ltd (9 May 2006)
  • Kasimir Czerniak, Gabi Czerniak, William Czerniak-Jones, The Wisdom of Uncle Kasimir, Bloomsbuy 2006
  • Annette Kobak, Joe's War – My Father Decoded: A Daughter's Search for Her Father's War, 2004
  • Dr John Geller, Through Darkness To Dawn, Veritas (1 Jan 1989)
  • Denis Hills, Return to Poland, The Bodley Head Ltd; First Edition (28 Jan 1988)
  • Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Robinson Publishing (26 April 2007)

Academic papers

External linksEdit