The Polish contribution at The Battle of Monte Cassino was recognised at The Royal British Legion Remembrance Festival at Royal Albert Hall last night. The whole Royal family was there to honour the Heroes.
One of invited veterans was Colonel 97-year-old Otton Hulacki, soldier of the 2nd Corps of General Władysław Anders, hero of Battle of Monte Cassino. He has been waiting for this recognition for 75 years.
The concert was broadcasted on BBC1 and we could watch Otton and other veterans invited to the Royal Albert Hall. They were all very proud and heartened to see this tribute. Listen to the speech, a Polish military bugler and the poem Red poppies of Monte Cassino (Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino) recited at the Royal Albert Hall on BBC iPlayer here. (available for 1 month).
“We Remember together, all sacrifice, friendship and collaboration of men and women of Poland, Britain, Commonwealth, Allied Nations who fought together along shoulder to shoulder”.
For Otton Hulacki it was a great moment. We all remember that 73 years ago, the British Labour government, under pressure from Stalin, did not invite the Polish Armed Forces, who fought with the Allies, to the Victory Parade in London. The parade took place on 8 June 1946 to celebrate the victory over Germany during World War II.
Polish soldiers were one of the largest national formations fighting against Germany. More than 200,000 members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West had fought under British High Command. None of them has been invited to the Parade. Finally, after many complains and protests of a number of MPs and figures in the RAF, 25 pilots from the Polish Fighter Squadrons in the Royal Air Force, who fought in the Battle of Britain, got an invitation. These last-minute invitations were declined in protest against the omission of the other branches of the Polish forces. Their efforts had not been recognised.
British government apologised in 2005 and Polish veterans took part in a British Victory Parade for the first time, 60 years after the war had ended. Colonel Hulacki took part in a Parade in 2016 at the The Cenotaph in Whitehall to celebrate the victory over Germany during World War II. He said to portal British Poles at that time: “I am 94, and this is the first time that I have marched past the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday”. You can read more about it here.
What the red poppies mean for the Poles?
“Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” (The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino) is one of the best-known Polish military songs of World War II. This song was composed in Italy in May 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, on the eve of the Polish Army’s under General Władysław Anders capture of the German stronghold.
The song was first performed at General Anders Headquarters to celebrate the Polish victory. The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino very quickly won popularity with the troops.
We well remember what General Anders said and wrote in his book: “Twenty two days under constant fire, in terrible conditions, seven days of fierce struggle to break German defences…It was not just the Battle of Cassino, it was a battle for Poland.”
It is worth to recall the words of Daniel Kawczynski MP, who said during Parliamentary debate “The Polish contribution to the UK war effort in WW2” in June 2019: “It was perceived to be one of the bloodiest and most difficult battles on the whole of the western front during the second world war. At Monte Cassino alone, the Poles lost 923 men who died, 2,931 injured and 345 reported missing. It is in the lexicon of the whole of the Polish narrative—all Poles carry Monte Cassino close to their heart. I had better stop talking about Monte Cassino, or I will start to well up. A song called “The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino” symbolised the extraordinary amount of blood spilled by Polish soldiers to reach the top in order to liberate it. We are not allowed to speak in foreign languages in the Chamber, but in Polish the song is called “Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino”, which translates as “The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino”. You can read the whole transcript here.
There are 1072 soldiers buried at Monte Cassino but nearly 2500 are buried in cemeteries across Italy and the total number of Polish casualties in the campaign (killed and wounded) was 11,000. An Italian/Polish website gives all the names of those buried during the whole campaign.
The Polish memorial at Monte Cassino bears two inscriptions:
- “Passer-by, go tell Poland
- That we have perished obedient to her service”
The other translates from Polish:
- “For our freedom and yours
- We soldiers of Poland gave
- Our soul to God
- Our life to the soil of Italy
- Our hearts to Poland”
If you have an opportunity to visit the Polish and British cemeteries in Monte Cassino, see graves of those young men who together gave up their lives so that we might live in freedom. Lest we forget!
Author: Maria Byczynski and Tomasz Wiśniewski
Pictures: Barbara Hamilton and British Poles