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Polish Forces in West Africa

Article about: I thought this topic deserves its own thread. Tony posted this letter from Churchill dated June 1941 In response, I have found an interesting response in my grandfather's documents: a letter

  1. #1

    Default Polish Forces in West Africa

    I thought this topic deserves its own thread.

    Tony posted this letter from Churchill dated June 1941

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    In response, I have found an interesting response in my grandfather's documents: a letter to Polish Officers from gen. broni. Sikorski.

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    I've been working on a translation to this document. If anyone has any corrections or improvements to this translation I would love to hear it.

    translation

    SUPREME COMMANDER

    copy

    London, 2 September 1941


    COMMAND OFFICER No. 9

    The situation facing the remnants of the State Armed Forces, subjugated by the most dangerous enemy of humanity and engendered by its ruthlessness and cruelty, has in the spirit of the resistance of freedom-loving nations - made ​​the soldier, whose normal purpose is to defend the sovereign rights and the borders of their homeland - today fight away from these borders.

    It is your duty under these conditions to conquer everywhere, always and soldierly of each service, which can contribute to achieve or accelerate the victory over the enemy.

    In order achieve the above, but also because of a desire to allow the surplus of our officers perform their functions in Great Britain, which is, unfortunately, not possible - led me to the acceptance of proposals by the British authorities to commit a certain number of officers of the Polish Army for service in the British colonial forces on the principles of full equality with serving in the armies of the British people.

    This service, of course, will be credited towards active military service in the Polish Army during the war.

    Saying goodbye to present officers, departing to the British forces to fight for common goals and with a common enemy - I wish those soldiers luck and strongly believe that, by remembering the words "Honor and Fatherland", remembering our banners, and the beautiful Polish tradition of soldiers' - everywhere and all circumstances their attitude, courage, discipline and camaraderie will worthily represent the Polish name in the ranks of the Allied Army.

    These honorable objectives and awareness that serve the Fatherland will not stop, let their will be inspired to fight and work daily, encouraged in moments of doubt, and follow the Guiding Star in their return to Great, Free and, God-willing, happy Poland.

    Certified correct:
    Head of Cabinet of the Supreme Commander
    and Minister of Military Affairs
    /--/ Borkowski

    Supreme Commander
    / - / Sikorski
    General of Arms




    More to follow…

    andy

  2. #2

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    Hi Andy,

    Great idea for a thread. Thanks for posting this interesting document. Your overall translation is sound, although I would suggest a small refinement in the fifth paragraph. “. . . remembering our banners . . . ” is more accurately translated to “. . . written on our banners . . .” This of course is referring to the regimental standard or colour, where the motto “God Honour and Fatherland” or simply “Honour and Fatherland” remains a fixture to this day in the Polish Armed Forces.

    Do you have any photographs of your grandfather in uniform while serving with the Polish Forces in West Africa? I have yet to see a period photograph of a uniformed officer, and it would be interesting to try to try to shed some light onto the topic of uniform insignia. In particular, a confirmation of which of the insignia that crop on the market are in fact genuine.

    I suspect that this seldom seen type may be a genuine example:

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    Here’s the more commonly seen pattern. The one on the right has been claimed to be a genuine variant, however, due to lack of any literature or other information on the topic I cannot be certain.

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    Here it is next to a known fake:

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    And then there’s this one, nicely crafted in gold and silver (age toned) bullion thread. It’s the only such example I have encountered.

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    Regards,
    Tony

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    All thoughts and opinions expressed are those of my own and should not be mistaken for medical and/or legal advice.

    "Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday." - John Wayne

  3. #3

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    Hey Tony,

    I don't think I have any photos, other than maybe an ID shot, but I will have a look again to confirm.

    I can say though that looking over the paperwork I have, AJR was released from the Polish Army for a period of two years "in accordance with the order of the C in C Polish Forces… to serve with the British Colonial Forces in Western Africa" (see attached)

    So he would have been in a British uniform, right?

    andy

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  4. #4
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    Some polish officers in RWAFF uniforms unfortunately without visible insignia.
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    Hi Chris, thanks for the picture. It's a shame the insignia is not visible. I’d like to confirm if Polish rank insignia was retained. And what other Polish insignia may have been applied besides the one posted earlier.

    Quote by Rylke Flakelar View Post
    . . . So he would have been in a British uniform, right? . . .
    As visible in the previous post, British issue Khaki Drill tropical uniforms. I suppose Jungle Green tropical gear may also have been issued where appropriate - ?. Here's an image dated 1944 showing KD uniforms:

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    The slouch hat, with the RWAFF badge:

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    Cap badge and collar dogs:

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    Cheers,
    Tony
    All thoughts and opinions expressed are those of my own and should not be mistaken for medical and/or legal advice.

    "Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday." - John Wayne

  6. #6

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    Thanks for starting this thread. I have never heard of Polish soldiers being deployed to West Africa before. Would you provide more history please, plus some details of where in West Africa the Poles were stationed and what the conditions were like, what the threat was? Were the Poles ever in action?

  7. #7
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    Very interesting

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    From what I understand, since there was such an excess of Polish officers in the UK after 1939, Churchill was keen to find a role for them. I read in the RWAFF historical text published in the 1960s that about 200 Polish officers were utilized in the RWAFF. My grandfather was one of them, was based in Nigeria and spent some time in Sierra Leone His primary role was training African soldiers who were deployed to fight in Burma. I believe that at the time the British were also keen the strengthen numbers in the RWAFF after what numbers they did have were deployed to east Africa, and to protect the colonies of West Africa from potential Vichy French influence from the nearby French colonies. They didn't see any conflict in West Africa, but may have been involved in patrols, but the danger never seems to have eventuated. The African forces in Burma, however, did provide valuable service to the Allied cause in the fight against the Japanese.

    My grandfather never went to Burma, and I'm not sure if any of the Polish officers. He was just involved in training.

    Interestingly, but unfortunately not surprisingly, the 600 odd page history of the RWAFF barely makes mention of the Polish contribution.

    I've been trying to learn as much as I can from the papers I have, and will share anything new I'm able to learn from them.

    Regards,

    Andy.

  9. #9

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    Hi Mike and Andy,

    While digging through the web I found the following article. It provides an unvarnished snapshot of the Polish volunteer component to the RWAFF.

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    The following is a selection of excerpts that addresses some of your questions. First off, the matter of uniforms is mentioned here:

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    Quote by Rylke Flakelar View Post
    . . . From what I understand, since there was such an excess of Polish officers in the UK after 1939, Churchill was keen to find a role for them . . .
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    Quote by Rylke Flakelar View Post
    . . . I read in the RWAFF historical text published in the 1960s that about 200 Polish officers were utilized in the RWAFF. . .
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    Quote by Rylke Flakelar View Post
    . . . The African forces in Burma, however, did provide valuable service to the Allied cause in the fight against the Japanese. . . My grandfather never went to Burma, and I'm not sure if any of the Polish officers. . .
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    Quote by dastier View Post
    . . . I have never heard of Polish soldiers being deployed to West Africa before. Would you provide more history please, . . .
    The closing summary provides a succinct overview:

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    Regards,
    Tony
    All thoughts and opinions expressed are those of my own and should not be mistaken for medical and/or legal advice.

    "Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday." - John Wayne

  10. #10
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    Hello A.J. and guys

    You are always so generous in sharing your impressive knowledge, so I would be happy to have opportunity to give back

    I am 100% positive that Polish RWAFF officers of 81st West African Division who served in Burma did not wear any rank insignia. The reasons for that were:

    1. Enemy sniper fire
    In 81st WA Division for every 1 private KIA there was 3 officers down. The simple reason for that was that a British (or Polish) officer easily stood out from the rest of the unit composed from Africans and was an easy target for Japanese snipers. Later HQ to reduce officer casaulties ordered European officers to use blackface paint, never take off shirts on patrols and not to use gestures while giving orders. I know only of 5 Polish officers who managed to survive the Burma campaign.

    2. Washing
    The 81st WA Division operated during the course of entire campaign in the jungle, being supplied entirely by air. In the Burmese jungle soldiers had to wash their uniforms almost every day. The only way to do it was to cover the clothes with wet soap and hit them against the rocks. This caused all kind of insignias to wear off pretty quickly. Even cloth uniform patches were made detachable, although later I don't think anybody bothered to use any regimental insignia other than maybe slouch hat flashes.

    Actually, I am in posession of original 1943 bush jacket of the Polish RWAFF officer from Burma - Lt. Wieslaw Bulkowski, 81st West African Division, Gambia Regiment. I bought it in Poland from a collector, who had obtained it from Lt. Bulkowski's family members. Polish stars and ribbon bars were most likely attached by Bulkowski after coming back to the UK in 1945. Here's for you to have a closer look:

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