Maturing Polish-British relations
Political changes in Poland after 1989 gave the Polish-British relations new dynamics and enabled the return to close cooperation that united us during World War II – writes prof. Akrady RZEGOCKI
.Shared interests and friendship in addition to strong armed forces are a huge support in challenging moments of history. Such bonds evolve and mature over time and are an inspiration for discussions at the highest levels of society. This year’s 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II inspired the British to organise a debate in the Westminster hall about the contribution of Poles to their war efforts. It is the best moment for the reflection on the rich history of, so close today, Polish-British relations.
On September 1, 1939, Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany, and only 16 days later by Soviet Russia. Two days after the Nazi attack on Poland, on September 3, 1939, United Kingdom declared war on Germany. When France surrendered in June 1940, the British did not give up and stayed with the Poles on the common battlefield. United Kingdom for many Poles became an island of last hope. The Poles joined the British forces and fought alongside them for the freedom of our homeland and the whole Europe.
One of the most important battles in which Poles and British fought side by side was the Battle of Britain. To a large extent it is thanks to Polish pilots and their achievements on the battlefield, the ties between Poland and the United Kingdom are so strong. Polish pilots were the second largest contingent in the Royal Air Force. The participation of Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain is still a source of great pride for the Polish community in the United Kingdom, whose today’s emblem is the white-and-red chequerboard.
However, the contribution of Poles to the British war effort goes far beyond the Battle of Britain. Polish troops also played an important, though little-known role in D-Day landings, providing artillery support for land units and saving lives for thousands of British soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy. It is impossible not to mention the cooperation of eminent Polish mathematicians with the code breakers from Bletchley Park in deciphering the Enigma code, what most probably contributed to the shortening of the war by nearly two years.
Political changes in Poland after 1989 gave the Polish-British relations new dynamics and enabled the return to close cooperation that united us during World War II. The United Kingdom supported political changes in Poland and Polish aspirations for membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. Poland also received strong British support in the process of accession to the European Union. When in 2004 Poland joined the EU, the United Kingdom was one of the first countries to open its borders to Poles, enabling them to take up employment and education. Currently, there are nearly one million Polish citizens living in the United Kingdom constituting the largest national group inhabiting the British Isles. During 15 years of Poland’s membership in the EU, special relations between our countries were formed, based on the identity of views on many levels. In 2016 those relations were strengthened by the establishment of the strategic partnership, which results in regular annual joint meetings of foreign and defence ministers and a unique formula of intergovernmental consultations with Prime Ministers at the head.
.On the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, let’s remember those who fought against Nazi Germany and the common values that unite us, especially freedom. Together we are stronger and we can achieve much. The great armed effort of the Polish nation and the brotherhood-in-arms with the British should be an important reference point for building even closer relations and inspiration for the future.
Prof. Arkady Rzegocki