Forgotten Force - Polish Women in the Second World War

Forgotten Force - Polish Women in the Second World War Forgotten Force is an oral history project aiming to give first-hand evidence of the past by audio and video
recording stories of Polish women survivors of the Second World War who have been residing in the UK for
the past seventy years.

Operating as usual

Join Jenny Grant and us for this talk online on 6th of May if you have time to spare. Jenny's presentation gives context...
13/04/2021

Join Jenny Grant and us for this talk online on 6th of May if you have time to spare. Jenny's presentation gives context to #ForceForgotten and our project. Please let us know if you want to drop by our screens ;)

Celebrating Easter in India after the Second World War was bringing memories of lost home to all Polish children and you...
03/04/2021

Celebrating Easter in India after the Second World War was bringing memories of lost home to all Polish children and young people who were separated from their families. This year we can particularly identify with this sentiment. We wish you all Happy Easter - reach out to your loved ones even if you cannot see them in person.
Below a postcard that reached Maria Wylot (Woźniak) in Valivade on 6th April 1947.

Celebrating Easter in India after the Second World War was bringing memories of lost home to all Polish children and young people who were separated from their families. This year we can particularly identify with this sentiment. We wish you all Happy Easter - reach out to your loved ones even if you cannot see them in person.
Below a postcard that reached Maria Wylot (Woźniak) in Valivade on 6th April 1947.

15/03/2021

🔎 Please help in identifying the person captured in the photo from the IPN Archives 📷

This picture of a young Polish girl probably from the Women’s Auxiliary Service circulates on the internet. Unfortunately, her identity still remains unknown.

We decided to learn the story of this girl photographed over 70 years ago on one of the streets in the UK.

We would like to know if she stayed in exile or if she returned to the Motherland, destroyed by the war, where Stalin's terror was raging for good.

Despite the query conducted in our archives, we still don’t know who the person in the photo is. The photograph comes from a file entitled "Polish Armed Forces in the West" and was transferred to the IPN Archives from the Military Information Services in Warsaw.

The picture could have been taken in: London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or St Andrews. Probably around 1944.

Any help would be appreciated. Please share our post and help us to identify the girl in the picture.

Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London Poland In British Poles The Sun Instytut Józefa Piłsudskiego w Ameryce Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe Polenmuseum Rapperswil / Muzeum Polskie w Rapperswilu Pilsudski Institute The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum Pilecki-Institut Instytut Pileckiego Take A Look At The Past
Muzeum II Wojny Światowej Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego Poles in the UK - British-Polish friendship and cooperation PL1918

#internationalwomensday Today is an amazing opportunity to remember the bravery, sacrifice and dedication of all the wom...
08/03/2021

#internationalwomensday Today is an amazing opportunity to remember the bravery, sacrifice and dedication of all the women who faced the difficulties of war conflicts, in the past and the present. We thank our Forgotten Force for being our source of inspiration and wish them all the best today and always! #IWD2021 #internationalwomensday2021

Pilsudski Institute with a pinch of salt in the last newsletter:
18/02/2021

Pilsudski Institute with a pinch of salt in the last newsletter:

Yesterday we marked the 81st anniversary of the beginning of mass deportation of Polish citizens to the Soviet Union by ...
11/02/2021

Yesterday we marked the 81st anniversary of the beginning of mass deportation of Polish citizens to the Soviet Union by NKVD. Among the deportees were the families of our Forgotten Force project’s protagonists. For many deported it was the last journey they took together. This is how Maria Wylot remembers this day: “They came to take us away on the 10th February. I remember it was early morning. Around 5am. More than anything I noticed the commotion in the house. The ducks and geese. So much activity in the house. There was a sudden bang, in all the commotion, a painting hanging in my parent’s bedroom had fallen off the wall, I still have it, I must have put it away somewhere, I took very particular care of it. The noise woke my parents up. The ducks and chickens were making so much noise. It was all because robbers had come to the house. …. There was a train station close by called Udlisk, the train line led to Stolin which was the closest town in one direction and Sarny to the west, in the opposite direction.
… I was 11 years old. On the 10th of February, the Russians invaded, but of course the Ukrainians came for us. It was a very cold winter.
Two Ukrainians held my father against the wall with their guns. One of them very humanely told my mother; “I can’t tell you where you are going but pack anything you have, warm clothing, anything valuable, all your things”, of course he said all this when his companion had moved away. “Please pack up everything”. They gave us ten minutes to collect all of our things. What could one pack? They took us to the station and the railway carriages were waiting for us, we were taken to the assembly point at Sarny where they brought everyone from the Wolyń and Polesie regions in the east, the wide track railways were already waiting.
And that is where we began the journey. … once we had crossed the border into Russia the conditions were very tough. The train would stop so that some of us could disembark to collect boiling water at the stations. There were no bathrooms of course, just some holes in the floor and wooden cots on which we slept.
, families were kept together. But we were like herrings in those cots. They were double bunks and there was an iron burner in the middle in which we burnt wood.
There were no windows or anything, I am sure there are some photographs in the Institute.
I remember that after leaving Arkhangelsk we travelled through wilderness to the settlement (posiołek). There were oxen pulling the sleighs. When we were passing through the Siberian Taiga we would stop for the night at collective farms (kolkhoz) and the people who lived there were very good to us. I remember one occasion when we stayed with a family over night as we were fearful of wolf attacks, they could have gone for the oxen with us. While their children were at school, they would tell us stories, show us their religious icons, share their baking with us but they would hide it all from their children who would be questioned at school about what their parents did at home and children would be honest about these things. They told us they had to hide their actions from their own children. That is how we travelled to Arkhangelsk.
…. I remember we were allowed out at one station, under the strict supervision of the red soldiers of course, to get some water. The hunger was awful, people had not prepared for being deported, they did not have anything ready. I remember some of the children, including two of my friends from school, got off the train and asked at the nearby houses for anything they could give us. Two of the little girls were left behind, the train began to move, and they did not make it back and were left there. Things like that did happen…”

Let us not forget.

Photos from Pilsudski Institute's post
28/01/2021

Photos from Pilsudski Institute's post

Perks of working from home. 😀While organising a pile of old newspaper cut-outs we found a  short story about Valivade  i...
11/01/2021

Perks of working from home. 😀While organising a pile of old newspaper cut-outs we found a short story about Valivade illustrated with two pictures of kids who took a long journey to India on MS Batory. Maria Wylot wrote about this voyage in her diary - you can see a postcard of MS Batory in her journal. It would be great to learn who the little ones on the photos are, so that we could put names to the faces. They all look very smart dressed as Batory's mates.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Irena Słomnicka, whose last of many journeys started from Church of Christ the King in Balh...
15/12/2020

Yesterday we said goodbye to Irena Słomnicka, whose last of many journeys started from Church of Christ the King in Balham, the very parish that she and her family helped to established. Irena's life was a path full of hope, love and adventure. It was an incredible honour for us to have met Irena and to have been able to listen to her story and present it as a part of the Forgotten Force. We are privileged to share with you the eulogy we heard at yesterday's beautiful service: Irena's granddaughter Helena's heartfelt farewell to her Babcia.

"Hello, thanks for being here. In your order of service there’s a brief history of my grandmother’s quite incredible life. I won’t repeat it now. I have a feeling that nearly everyone in this room has heard that story quite a few times before… with a lot more flourish than I could possibly do justice to. It was very important to my Babcia that people heard it, that they knew her history, her story. When I gave her a hug goodbye on Thursday 19th I had a word with her, and I let her know we’d all keep telling people about it. I’m going to have to brush up on the details before I do – as I’ve grown up she’s talked me through it so many times I’ve let it go in one ear and out the other. Sorry Babcia :)

But the thing is, though I know she has travelled through Siberia, though Uzbekistan, though Africa, the Babcia I knew is firmly based here – in Balham. At 24 Cheriton Square. She’s sitting at her treadle sewing machine in her brilliant cellar. She’s drinking a black coffee in her garden – her little jungle. She’s taking me to get our nails done at Julie’s (and loudly telling everyone in the salon that I’m her granddaughter), then stopping off so we could get McDonalds on the way home. If you’re wondering, she liked a ‘deli of the day’.

There are lots of things Babcia wanted me to learn. Like sewing: She was a very stylish lady, with a brilliant eye - she was often telling me what ‘the fashion’ was (somehow ‘the fashion’ always seemed to be that I should wear shorter skirts). She had been a talented seamstress, making beautiful clothes for me and before that for my mother (what was it, a fur trimmed white crushed velvet gown for your 21st?), and she had her shop Libra Fashions on the high road. We made one pencil skirt together when I was 14, then I discovered Topshop. She would have loved me to learn Polish: My vocabulary extends to ‘truskawki’, ‘pivo’ and ‘pilnik’ – that’s strawberry, beer and nail file – which makes for quite a short conversation. And as I’ve said, she wanted me to document her life story. But that’s been done brilliantly by various others, including Olga Topol, my father, and Irena Macielinska on her voice recorder.

But though I’ve failed her miserably in those regards, there are a few things she may not have realised she’s taught me. Independence: Babcia managed on her own for 21 years after my Dziadzio died; she cared for him for the years he was unwell, kept the house spick and span – even broke her leg falling off a ladder doing some DIY. Now, I’m 28 and living with my parents, but I’m sure the message is sinking in somewhere… Generosity: She dedicated a great deal of time to this church, in fact, and the Polish club in Balham, and as many of you will know at her birthday parties she asked for donations to charities that were important to her; oh and it was impossible to tell her you liked anything in her house without her exclaiming ‘take it!’. Resilience: She survived war, freezing cold, loss, heart attacks, all with a determined grit that I think kept her going. And love: Her family mattered to her above all else. And I don’t just mean her blood relations. She loved being around ‘young people’ - I remember my boyfriend Ian and I went to visit her in hospital a few years ago, and when we got talking to some patients in the beds nearby, Babcia stage-whispered ‘don’t talk to them, they’re so OLD’. Despite what she might tell you she had a great many visitors. Her honorary grandson Alex, Aurora, Natalie, Jessica, among others. All ostensibly volunteers, but who went on to form real lasting relationships with Irena. And then of course there’s the dog who she loved most of all. (Maia sends apologies, she couldn’t be here today).

We are so grateful to the people who showed Babcia such care and kindness at the end of her life – thank you Dorota & Marek, Mirka, Simone and Caroline.

So, from Grodno to Samarkand to Teheran to Tengeru to Balham. (Why did she settle in Balham – we could be doing this in East Africa, much better weather!) And now on somewhere else. Probably bending my grandad’s ear. She was a surprising woman. In my boyfriend words, not what you’d expect from a ‘stern Polish lady’. Loyal, determined, generous, stubborn, spirited, loving, forthright, resourceful, a fan of a loud animal print, and glasses altogether too dark to be worn indoors.

I’ll keep telling people about her.

And I will miss her very much. I already do."

The  "Windrush Poles’ listed their last country of permanent residence as Mexico. They were ‘Alien Passengers’, whilst t...
11/11/2020
The Windrush Poles: From Deportation to New Life

The "Windrush Poles’ listed their last country of permanent residence as Mexico. They were ‘Alien Passengers’, whilst the ship’s other passengers were listed as ‘British Passengers’. There was also only one adult Polish male on the ship, with the rest women and children." Worth a read if you can spare a moment.

https://culture.pl/en/article/the-windrush-poles-from-deportation-to-new-life

A symbol synonymous with post-war migration to the United Kingdom, the HMT Empire Windrush and its historic 1948 passage marked the start of an immigration boom that would change British society forever. Arriving at Tilbury Docks in Essex, hundreds of its passengers from the Caribbean seeking a new....

Thank you to our panellists Magdalena Paczocha, Michael Sagatis and Zofia Wyszomirska-Noga and all of you who joined us ...
20/09/2020

Thank you to our panellists Magdalena Paczocha, Michael Sagatis and Zofia Wyszomirska-Noga and all of you who joined us yesterday to discuss the #ForgottenForce . We talked about the importance of memory and remembering, listening to the stories that need telling and touched on a subject of visual narrative - be it a photograph, documentary or art - that supports and transforms the process of recalling into a heartfelt experience that triggers our empathy. Thank you all for tuning in and above all thank you to all of the women who shared their stories with us. ❤️

September 17th is an important date in the #ForgottenForce calendar. We mark today yet another anniversary of the Soviet...
17/09/2020

September 17th is an important date in the #ForgottenForce calendar. We mark today yet another anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland without a formal declaration of war. It is also the day we commemorate hundreds of thousands Polish citizens that we deported to Siberia by the Soviets. According to some sources around 55% of the deportees to Siberia and Soviet Central Asia were Polish women. Let us remember them today.

13/09/2020
Józefa's Letters (EN)

"Jòzefa's Letters" is a moving documentary by Michael Sagatis introducing a story of his great grandmother who displaced and uprooted wrote a series of letters from Kazakhstan to her family. Michael will be joining us for #HeritageOpenDays discussion on Saturday the 19th at 3 PM. You can watch his touching film
https://vimeo.com/353994141

In 1940, Józefa Bujdo writes a collection of barley legible GULAG letters in an obscure borderlands dialect. In 1972, Józefa's grandson composes…

Please take a minute to read through all the fascinating stories of women you sent us for the #HeritageOpenDays. Thank y...
12/09/2020
Force of Memory — Forgotten Force: Art & Memory

Please take a minute to read through all the fascinating stories of women you sent us for the #HeritageOpenDays. Thank you very much for sharing memories of loss, fear, love and hope. Whether they are recollections of a young child experiencing war through rationing and daily fear of bombing, a combatant, a schoolgirl whose life was disrupted by exile, all the memories are precious. You can find these tales on our 'Art and Memory' website:

Force of Memory: your storiesForgotten Force tells the stories of six remarkable women who went through times of turmoil and upheaval of the Second World War. These extraordinary women were swept by a tsunami of events affecting the lives of millions of people around the world. We asked you to share...

We are excited to share with you a short documentary by Magdalena Paczocha that was developed for #ForgottenForce: https...
11/09/2020
Forgotten Force - Polish Women in the Second World War

We are excited to share with you a short documentary by Magdalena Paczocha that was developed for #ForgottenForce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtSSMmyt_3E&t=1s We will be discussing the video, the project, and the stories you sent us in an online meeting on Saturday 19th September during #HeritageOpenDays Please PM if you would like to join us. We are grateful to the Polish Embassy UK and National Lottery Heritage Fund for their support.

Forgotten Force is an oral history project by the Piłsudski Institute of London giving first-hand evidence of the past by audio and video recording stories o...

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Forgotten Force - Polish Women in the Second World War

Forgotten Force is an oral history project by Pilsudski Institute of London aiming to give first-hand evidence of the past by audio and video recording stories of Polish women survivors of the Second World War who have been residing in the UK for the past seventy years. Gathered stories will be archived, interpreted and presented to public by various means: a multimedia display at the Institute, talks, social media and radio broadcast. The subject is particularly important on the eve of the 80-tieth anniversary of the world war outbreak as we are at risk of losing living heritage. Women’s contribution to society, often overlooked, was paradoxically made more visible by wars usually perceived as a masculine domain. Once they left the confinements of domesticity, women became increasingly involved in struggle for freedom on the fronts of all wars but they also kept protecting their families on home fronts. Blurring the lines of gender divisions the unsung heroes served wherever required from hospitals and driving ambulances to serving in kitchens and shedding blood in trenches. We wish to reveal a host of fascinating and inspirational stories to help remember the bravery of those long forgotten. Due to the living history aspect the project is of utmost urgency. We believe that the stories we want to tell are universal and will help to piece together missing parts of wartime story and secure it for the future. The aim of this multimedia project is first and foremost to give voice to those who feel underrepresented in history, but also to create an easy available resource to support research into women, refugees and war.

The project is kindly supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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really pleased to know this project is happening - it's important and time-sensitive!