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Obituary: Wlada Majewska, singer, comedian and radio presenter

Wlada Majewska, singer, comedian and radio presenter. Born: 19 March, 1911, in Lwow (now Lviv) in the Ukraine. Died: 18 May, 2011, in Chislehurst, aged 100.

In late June 1940 some 20,000 Polish soldiers arrived in Scotland. These were the remnants of a Polish army formed in France, under General Sikorski, after Poland fell to the combined might of Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939.

When France capitulated on 22 June, 1940 General Sikorski, having realised that Britain would fight on, ordered those who were able to head for the Atlantic coasts of southern France.

From there British and Polish merchant ships, defended by the Royal Navy, ferried Poles, mainly to Plymouth, from where they were entrained for Scotland. At first they were encamped near Biggar and Crawford.

Arriving with these soldiers was Wlada Majewska. She was part of a small troupe of actors, Wesola Lwowska Fala (The Happy Lwow Air Wave), which had been formed before the war as a Radio Lwow variety act, broadcasting a Sunday night programme. Majewska, with her singing and humour, gained an enthusiastic following.

The group managed to escape Poland before Lwow fell to the Red Army. Reaching France by the end of 1939, via the Balkans and Italy, they were soon performing before audiences of Polish servicemen. Their sojourn in France was to be short, however.

For some of the Poles arriving in Scotland that summer this was to be a "homecoming".

They bore Scottish surnames, in some cases polonised as in "Czamer" for Chalmers. These were the descendants of the some 30,000 Scots soldiers and merchants who had settled in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, one Alexander Czamer was four times elected mayor of Warsaw in the 17th century.

Soon the Polish soldiers were moved, mainly to Fife. Here they constructed and manned defences, still to be seen, against any diversionary German invasion of the Scottish mainland.

They also manned armoured trains patrolling low-lying areas of Scotland's eastern seaboard. Later these men would form the nucleus of the Polish 1st Armoured Division which took part in the liberation of north-west Europe in 1944 and 1945 and of the Polish Parachute Brigade which fought at Arnhem in September 1944. Both these units trained in Scotland.

Once more The Happy Lwow Air Wave were busy entertaining and boosting the moral of Polish servicemen wherever they were found - across the length and breadth of Scotland and south of the Border.

They appeared at camps, on airfields where Polish squadrons were based and on board ships of the Polish Navy. Three destroyers and two submarines, having escaped the Baltic, had arrived in Scottish waters in 1939. Majewska's acting and singing talents made her a star of the shows, which were also presented before British audiences.Majewska and her theatrical group would be with the Polish 1st Armoured Division, often just behind the front line, once it landed in Normandy in July 1944 and right up to its capture of the German Naval base of Wilhelmshaven in May 1945.

At the end of the war Poland, as a result of treaties made between the great powers at Teheran and Yalta, fell under Soviet domination. Its eastern territories were absorbed into the Soviet Union. The Polish Forces under overall British command, now numbering near 200,000, including a small navy and 14 air force squadrons, were disbanded.

Majewska's career with her group, which had appeared more than 1,000 times in five years, also came to an end.

She chose a life in exile, as did the majority of these Poles. She returned to Scotland and initially made a living tailoring in Edinburgh, and entered into a short lived marriage with a fellow performer from the troupe.

The centre of post-war Polish emigr life, however, was found in London and Majewska permanently moved south in the late 1940s, renewing her performance career. In 1952 she found a niche as a presenter in the Polish section of Radio Free Europe, based in London. The station broadcast interviews with political commentators and academics as well as general news items and light entertainment. It found a ready audience in Poland, where people were hungry for uncensored news.

With the fall of communism in 1990 Radio Free Europe's London office closed. Majewska ensured that its archive was preserved. She would visit the newly democratic Poland and received high honours from the post-communist government on top of those she had received from the London-based government in exile.

Majewska did not lose contact with Scotland. During the war she had become a close friend of General Stanislaw Maczek, who commanded the Polish 1st Armoured Division, and his family. Majewska would visit him in his Edinburgh home, where he died in 1994 aged 102.

She herself spent the last years of her life cared for in a home run by Polish nuns in Chislehurst, Kent.

 
 
 

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