Polish soldiers meet Wojtek the bear ‒ Grimsby's tribute to Second World War heroes
A LASTING tribute to a heroic regiment of the Polish Army that made a Grimsby park its home towards the end of the Second World War has been unveiled.
In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, a number of soldiers escaped their stricken country, and – via the Carpathian mountains – gathered in the Middle East.
The Polish Army had 33 horse cavalry regiments, which called themselves the Carpathian Lancers, as a result.
After service under Allied command in North Africa and enhancing their immense reputation through their part in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino, the Lancers returned to Britain.
At the end of the war, the regiments were brought to Grimsby in 1945 and stayed in the military camp at Weelsby Woods while awaiting demobilisation.
But, as their motherland had then been occupied by communist Russia, nearly 1,000 men stayed and settled in Grimsby after the unit was disbanded in 1947.
To honour the regiment, the Anglo-Polish Society Of North East Lincolnshire has been fundraising over the past year so a commemorative plaque could be placed in Weelsby Woods.
After receiving support and donations from North East Lincolnshire Council, the Humberston Sea Lions, the Cleethorpes RAF Association and other groups, the memorial was finally unveiled at a moving ceremony yesterday.
Veterans of the regiment were joined by relatives of servicemen and dignitaries to witness wreaths being laid at the memorial as the Polish and English national anthems were sung and the Last Post sounded.
Accompanying the plaque is an impressive carving of Wojtek – a bear that became the mascot of the 22nd Company Polish Army Service Corps.
Wotjek would travel with the soldiers wherever they were posted, and was famed for drinking with the troops.
Speaking after the ceremony, Szymon Elmczyski, of the Anglo-Polish Society, said: "Today is a tremendously proud day for us.
"It is the culmination of over a year's work by the society and we have been absolutely delighted with the support that we have received from both Polish veterans, local organisations that have helped us and the people of North East Lincolnshire.
"The memorial is not only a tribute to the brave soldiers who were based here after a long and hard fight during the war, but it is also a landmark for the Polish people who now live in this area.
"Both they and their British counterparts can visit the memorial and see that they are part of a wider association between Grimsby and Poland.
"To this day, I speak to regimental veterans who still remember the tremendous affection with which they were welcomed into the homes of ordinary townspeople of Grimsby who realised the hardship and suffering that they had on their journey to the town.
"We are delighted to commemorate the regiments' valour and their close relationship with this town."
Former Carpathian Lancer George Palejowski, who still lives in Grimsby, said: "It was very special to be here today to see the memorial officially unveiled.
"It is a great honour to me and my comrades that this memorial is here.
"Being back here in the park brings back a lot of memories. I remember standing on guard in the exact spot of the memorial for hours' when this was a military base.
"When we came over to Britain, Grimsby was wonderful to us; the people were so friendly and kind to us – I will never forget their kindness.
"I am so proud of the memorial and hope the town benefits from it as well."
Christine Bojen, whose father was a Carpathian Lancer decorated for bravery, said: "It is a tremendous honour to be here today to see the plaque unveiled.
"Unfortunately, my father passed away almost four years ago, but this is a wonderful tribute to him and the rest of the regiment."