The Free Polish Commemorated At The Sikorski Museum

By Shruti Ganapathy | 08 December 2005
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painting shows pilot in military gear

The five hundredth Polish pilot to be killed in the Second World War

At the end of the Second World War recognition of the imposed communist regime in Poland meant that Polish ex-servicemen and civilian nationals chose not to return to home. As a result, a large number of them remained in exile in Britain.

photo shows statue of seated bear

A full-size model of Wojtke the 'soldier bear' adopted by Polish soldiers

One concern of this community was the preservation of artefacts that were a part of their struggle; a part of the values and aspirations they had fought for, a part of the new and better Poland that they had wanted to build after Germany had retreated from their soil.

This meant preservation of historical records and documents, regimental uniforms and medals, works of art and literature and personal belongings of statesmen, diplomats, military leaders as well as ordinary men and women.The Sikorski Museum at 20, Prince's Gate was bought and opened to preserve these artefacts that are such an integral part of the free Polish heritage. The museum was named after famous Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski who personified these ambitions and hopes.

photo shows an enigma machine, which has the appearance of a typewriter

The Sikorski Museum holds the "French copy" of the Enigma machine. There is also one in the Imperial War Museum. A Polish cryptographer was amongst the people who cracked the code.

A Polish archive of historical documents and audio and video archive also form a part of this museum. The artefacts on display are generally to do with the military. They include regimental uniforms, medals, pistols, swords and knives as well as some personal belongings of important Polish army men who fought in the Second World War on the side of the allies.

Until recently, the museum was labelled entirely in Polish. Now, however most artefacts are bilingual in English. This helps you to get through the museum without a tour-guide if you cannot speak or read Polish. However, the option of a tour guide still exists. I had a guide who had served in the British forces during the Second World War. He had lively stories to tell about most artefacts on display.

One of the most interesting stories is that of a Polish navy man who swam for three days and four nights to escape a sinking ship. He did not want to be captured by the Germans and sent into the German prisons. He knew he would not survive. So, he tore the collar off his shirt and wrote his will on it. He was later miraculously rescued by the British. The collar with his will is on display at the museum.

photo shows nazi plane tail and debris

A Nazi plane shot down by the Poles.

Other than that, there are many interesting things on display such as the piano of an extremely well known Polish pianist, and what the museum staff refer to as the 'book of women's glory' which contains descriptions in Polish and pictures of the service of Polish women during the Second World War.

There are also maps and drawings in the museum. Although not a part of the general display, they can be viewed on request. Some of the maps include those of the pre-partition Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, original extracts of Ptolemy's Latin Edition of Geography and a selection of military maps from World War II.

The museum receives no financial aid from any official body and is solely dependent on donations from private donors.

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