Park tribute is the bear necessity to honour Polish army

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A NEW memorial to honour the thousands of Scottish-based Polish soldiers – and one bear – who fought in the Second World War is to be unveiled in Edinburgh.

The tribute, organised by community activists, is designed to celebrate the historic links between Edinburgh and Poland, which span hundreds of years.

The three-stone structure is to be erected this week in Broughton's Redbraes Park, ahead of its official unveiling on Remembrance Sunday – also Polish Independence Day.

As well as featuring inscriptions written in both languages, it will include a sculpture of Voytek the soldier bear – the much-loved and celebrated member of the Polish army who spent his final years in Edinburgh Zoo, dying in 1963.

The project is the brainchild of community police officer Simon Daley, who has dedicated three years of his own time to the monument – an attraction which he hopes will unite the community.

He said: "I wanted to bring the two cultures together and thought the best way to do it would be through our shared history and a memorial to celebrate that.

"While some Poles have settled here in the last few years, there has been a Polish community since the 17th century and, of course, an even larger one since the war."

Pc Daley said inspiration for the project came after a vicious attack on a Polish man three years ago in the city's Pilrig Heights.

He believes there is great ignorance of the historic links between the two countries, particularly the fact that during the Second World War, when the Polish army in exile was based in Scotland, it stood as a defence against Nazi invasion.

He said: "The monument is already making a great impact, with Poles really appreciating the idea. I hope everyone will come to have a look and schools will use it to explore our shared history."

The monument is made of sandstone and has been funded by donations from the community. The sculpture of Voytek – designed by artist Alan Herriot – is being supplied on a temporary basis, with hopes that more money can be generated to create another permanent one at the site.

Polish and Scottish children will tell the story of Voytek – who was found by the Polish Army in Iran in 1943 and spent the rest of the war as a "bear soldier" carrying ammunition for troops – at the ceremony on Sunday.

Marek Straczynski, president of the Polish Ex-Combatants Association, helped with the project.

He said: "We very much see this as something to allow people to remember that the Polish were fighting for all our freedom. I hope too that it will further deepen Scottish and Polish relations."

Edinburgh North MP Mark Lazarowicz and the Polish consul general will lay a wreath at the ceremony, while a piper will perform both national anthems. It will begin at 3pm.

HISTORIC LINKS SHOW COUNTRIES AREN'T REALLY POLES APART

RECORDS show strong historic links between Scotland and Poland, with as many as 30,000 Scots having emigrated there by the 1600s.

But it was not until the Second World War that large numbers of Poles came here – Scotland had more Polish soldiers than the rest of the UK – firstly when the Polish navy fought alongside the British against German invasion.

The first significant arrival of Poles was on September 1, 1939, when four Polish destroyers arrived in Leith, just one of the many Scottish ports which eventually saw Polish ships come and go throughout the war.

But as well as the navy, Polish aircrews were trained in Scotland, with air force studies taking place at the Polish Military Staff College, near Peebles, and at the Operational Training Unit in Grangemouth.

In Prestwick, there is a plaque for all the Polish sailors who died in the Battle of the Atlantic and near Perth there is a consecrated plot in a cemetery where large numbers of Polish soldiers were laid to rest, at the request of the Polish authorities.