1948-61

Earliest surviving photograph of the Polish Community in Leamington Spa, taken at Greatheed Road WAC Camp, about 1950.
Earliest surviving photograph of the Polish Community in Leamington Spa, taken at Greatheed Road WAC Camp, about 1950.

The Polish community saw itself as an exiled political elite, an attitude which for some, manifested itself at a personal level in a refusal to accept any form of citizenship or ID, other than United Nations Travel Documents. Ironically this meant that Polish people were less restricted in their foreign travel than British citizens, and quite a few emigrated. For those who stayed, political activity in support of the Government in Exile, became an important part of their identity. Although its power base was the Polish Socialist Party, the Government in Exile had an agenda, which did not endear the Polish community either to the British Left, or the Foreign Office. The principal political objective, the demand for Polish independence, challenged the legitimacy of the post-war settlement in Europe, agreed at Yalta. Specific campaigns which focussed on exposing Soviet war crimes and undermining the Soviet-backed Warsaw regime, by publicising its human rights abuses, were highly controversial, and remained so, right up to 1990. Locally political activism began with the arrival of Jan Niedziolek, the Government in Exile's delegate for Coventry and Leamington Spa. He was elected chair of the Leamington Spa "Skarb Narodowy", a fund-raising organisation for the Government in Exile. The first "Zarzad" (committee) of the "Skarb Narodowy" also included Zofia Sawczyc (secretary), Roman Majek and M. Dendek. The organisation was based at Zofia Sawczyc's house at 45, Clarendon Street, where the delegate had his office. There was also a library, open seven days a week, which attracted visitors to the door. In the mid 1950s, a prolonged dispute between supporters of General Wladyslaw Anders and those of President in Exile August Zaleski, divided the community. A new type of organisation was needed, one that would be non-political, catholic and focussed on preserving national traditions.

THE "POLSKIE KOLO KATOLICKIE" (POLISH CATHOLIC CIRCLE) AT ST PETER'S

In 1955 Polish religious services were transferred from Greatheed Road WAC Camp to a side aisle of St Peter's church, and later to a chapel created in the front rooms of St Peter's Parish Centre, next to the church in Dormer Place. The central location suited a community, which lived dispersed throughout the town. The first Mass in the new chapel was attended by Monsignor Wladyslaw Staniszewski, head of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales. From the outset, the chapel was cared for by Leokadia Tomaszewska and N. Michajlowicz, with L. Pyda as altar server.

Monsignor Wladyslaw Staniszewski blessing the new chapel at St Peter's Church Hall, 1955
Monsignor Wladyslaw Staniszewski blessing the new chapel at St Peter's Church Hall, 1955

In 1957 Father Franciszek Winczowski, from Long Marston, replaced Monsignor Celestyn Sowinski as parish priest, and the community began organising itself. The first "Kolo Rodzicielskie" (Parents' Committee) was formed, and maintained a Polish Language School, based at Zofia and Aleksander Sawczyc' house. Father Franciszek Winczowski and Tadeusz Lopuszanski taught there. The first dances were also organized, usually as part of the celebration of national or religious occasions, such as "Oplatek" (Christmas party) or "Swiecone" (Easter party). They were always held in St Peter's Church Hall. In the late 1950s the Polish community participated in British celebrations, including the Corpus Christi Procession in the Pump Room Gardens, and in the wreath laying by the War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday.