Polish troops came to Falkland, including Ricky Wiatrek’s father, taking on the defence of Fife and Angus in World War II. Horst (Yanik to his Polish friends) Wiatrek came to Falkland with his unit for whom he was the Quartermaster.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was perhaps the most cynical international treaty ever signed. Each leader distrusted the other, both expected the Pact to be broken and agreed to it for purely nationalistic concerns. The pact bought both time (to prepare for the inevitability of a wider conflict) and an opportunity to reverse the losses of territory that had occurred at the end of the Great War. The consequences for Poland in September 1939 were devastating, invaded from both east and west the Polish army were unable to oppose the vast forces arraigned against them. The Germans were eager to take back territory lost at the Treaty of Versailles and the Russians equally keen to take back territory ceded to at the Treaty of Brestlitovk. Within a matter of weeks Poland was overrun and a remarkable story of courage and endurance was about to unfold and Ricky Wiatrek’s father was a part of it.
Following their defeat in 1939 over half a million Polish soldiers were interred by both the Russian and German invaders. Those that could (more than 120,000), escaped to France, and, following the Nazi invasion of that country in 1940, eventually made their way to Great Britain. In 1941 the Nazi-Soviet Pact collapsed when Hitler ordered the attack on Russia. Stalin immediately joined the Allies and as a consequence the Poles interred in Russia were freed to fight the now common enemy, the Third Reich.
We don’t know exactly how Yanik got to Scotland. He was a member of the Polish Resettlement Corps. Yanik, a Lance Corporal, was billeted in Falkland at Falkland House. He was the quartermaster for his unit, one of the units that were deployed to defend the east coast of Scotland in the event of the Nazis launching an invasion from occupied Norway. Polish troop built sea defences at Tentsmuir and guarded prisoners of war.
Yanik met Ricky’s mum, Margaret Hadden, (known as Peggy to her friends and family), who was from Strathmiglo, at a dance in the “hall”. This corrugated iron building, below Falkland House, was lit and powered by cables rigged up and brought down from the house. The concrete floor of the hall can still be seen today in front of a surviving small building. Yanik walked up to Margaret and asked her if she wanted to dance. When she declined, he picked up her handbag and walked off with it! Compelled to act, Margaret got up and danced with Yanik. After the dance ended Yanik offered to walk Margaret home and when she responded that she was with her sister he replied, “That’s fine, I’ll walk her home too.” This was the beginning of a very happy marriage, with two children, Ricky and his sister Margaret. Ricky became an established artist and one of his paintings is featured in Davie Dryburgh’s story.
Like many Poles Yanick stayed in Britain after the war. In recognition of the contributions of Polish forces in bringing to an end a devastating war, the British government passed the 1947 Immigration Act which enabled over 200,00 Poles to settle in Britain. Yanik became a miner and worked at Lochhead Pit.
as told to Liz Coates
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