Exhibits in museum display honour Fife’s wartime bond with Poles, 80 years on
Precious mementoes linked to a Polish parachute brigade formed in Fife 80 years ago have gone on display.
A paratrooper’s helmet, metal eagle badge and arm flashes – worn during the Allied assault on Arnhem – are among the exhibits on show in St Andrews Museum.
Other items include an English-Polish phrasebook, binoculars and tin of foot powder – given to each soldier prior to the massive airborne operation in 1944.
Also displayed is an ID card, issued soon after the formation of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade on 23 September 1941.
The exhibits are part of a large collection of military objects linked to the brigade that are cared for by the cultural charity OnFife
Next to the display is a painting by Fife-based artist Marie Louise Wrightson, called Memories of a Polish Paratrooper, which evokes the life and experiences of an imagined soldier.
The painting, completed in 2006, features items from the museum display plus two objects that symbolise the soldier’s love of his native land and adopted home – a Polish doll and a Scotch pie.
Some 24,000 Polish troops were evacuated to the UK in May 1940 and most were sent to Scotland to defend the coastline against invasion. Many of the men were stationed in Fife.
The 1st Parachute Brigade, which was formed by Polish exiles in Leven, had its main training base at the now derelict Largo House.
The unit was created to parachute into occupied Poland, but it entered combat on the western front, as part of the largest airborne manoeuvre in history, Operation Market Garden. The brigade’s participation featured in the book and film, A Bridge Too Far.
When the war ended, and Soviet Russia annexed Poland, many Poles – unable to return home –settled in Scotland.
When plans by Polish ex-servicemen to create their own museum fell through 20 years ago, their collection of wartime artefacts was gifted to Fife museums service, which is now run by OnFife.
Exhibition curator Lesley Lettice says: “This is a timely opportunity to see highlights from our Polish collection, which includes uniforms, medals, photographs and many personal items – all of which combine to tell a remarkable story.”