Strong memories of a time gone by... and ready to commemorate

Micha Weir and Graeme Paterson open the original memorial in Festival Gardens
Micha Weir and Graeme Paterson open the original memorial in Festival Gardens

It’s been 70 years since the Battle of Arnhem, and a weekend of celebrations will take place this Saturday and Sunday to commemorate those who fought, and the lasting legacy that thousands of Poles left on Scotland, and Levenmouth in particular.

Here the Mail speaks to some locals who all have their own special memories of that time and of those who took part in the momentous battle.

Graham Ritchie with the current Arnhem exhibition at Methil Heritage Centre

Graham Ritchie with the current Arnhem exhibition at Methil Heritage Centre

Eric and Danek Nachman

Eric and Danek Nachman’s father, Bronislaw, was in charge of the motor pool during his time in Fife, and when General Sosabowski visited the troops, it was up to him to drive him from A to B.

Whenever the General visited Fife after the war, he would come to see Bronislaw and his family - he’d met his wife while she was working at the ticket office in Leven - at their home in Kennoway, and Danek remembers one certain visit - when the house was full of friends from Nottingham - when the General stopped by in 1964, at the time of the opening of the original Scottish-Polish friendship memorial in Festival Gardens.

Bronislaw eventually opened his own cobbler business in the village, as Eric said “Poles were always good with their hands”.

He added: “My father was a typical Polish soldier, he didn’t talk much about his experiences really.

“But when I heard about the memorial, I thought ‘Why not?’ There’s still a lot of next generation Poles here.”

Danek said: “It’s amazing the connection between the Polish and the Scottish people has lasted this long. My family and I have been to Arnhem a few times, and visited the museum at Oosterbeek, and it is still very much in the minds of the Dutch people too.”

Stephen Pemberton

Stephen’s father Clifford was a member of the Brigade, having served as a soldier in the Polish army.

“My father would only talk about his experiences when he was drunk, and given that he was really a non-drinker, I only heard about it about three times in my life,” said Stephen.

He remembers that in the run up to the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ being released, his father was very excited, but after watching it, he was left angry and upset as he didn’t think the true story had been portrayed.

Stephen said he thinks it’s a really good thing that a memorial is being erected, as it’s something “that needs to be done”.

“Sosabowski was a good man, and this will be good for people, as a lot didn’t really know what happened.”

During his time in the Polish army, Stephen’s father was one of the soldiers who found and looked after the now famous Wojtek the Soldier Bear.

Stephen recalls that his father would often talk about the bear and the time spent together in the army. His father would tell him tales, and the family would go to visit Wojtek at his eventual home at Edinburgh Zoo, where Clifford would talk in Polish and the bear would respond.

Micha Weir

In September 1964, Micha Weir, as a then six-year-old, found herself in the limelight when she played a pivotal role in the unveiling of the first local monument to Scottish-Polish friendship, an obelisk in the town’s Festival Gardens.

Micha’s uncle, Wlodek Sredzinski, had been an officer in the Polish Parachute Brigade, and as a child of a Polish father and Fife-born mother, she was deemed a suitable person to symbolically represent the growing connections between the two peoples, and posed for photos with Parkhill Primary classmate Graeme Paterson, son of then-editor of the East Fife Mail, Ian Paterson.

“The highlight for me was presenting bouquets to the dignitaries at a reception in the Beach Hotel afterwards,” said Micha, who went on to become head of art at Buckhaven High.

“The VIPs included Sir Michael and Lady Victoria Wemyss and Lord and Lady Elgin.

“What sticks in my mind most though was meeting the brigade’s wartime commander General Sosabowski, and his wife, the very elegant Madame Sosabowska.

“My uncle knew ‘Sosab’, as the soldiers called him, quite well.

“So much so that the couple, along with with members of the local brigade association visited us at home the next day for a coffee, and this time Madame Sosabowski did the presenting.

“She gave me a pink sheepskin poodle!”

Events this weekend:

Friday, Saturday & Sunday - Exhibition at Methil Heritage Centre will be open to the public with free refreshments all weekend. Opening times: Friday 1.00 - 4.30 p.m.; Saturday 1.00 - 4.30 p.m.; and Sunday 11.00 - 4.30 p.m. There is also an exhibition by photographer Marysia Lachowicz at the Beachcomber Cafe on Leven Promenade all weekend (continues until October 11).

Saturday - Hal Sosabowski, great-grandson of Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski will perform a lecture at the Caledonian Hotel at 5.00 p.m. This event is free and all are welcome to attend. On Saturday evening, at 7.30 p.m., there is a dance at the Balmaise Centre, featuring swing band, Blu Velvet. Tickets are priced at £12.50 and include a buffet. Get them at Motorfits, Beachcomber, Action Zone or Methil Heritage Centre.

Sunday - Display of military vehicles on Leven Promenade by WW2 Presentations. At 1.45 p.m. the David Mach memorial sculpture will be unveiled in Leven’s Festival Gardens, followed by a march past.