The Leek Polish Connection

Sharing the story of the Leek Polish community

OUTSIDE is working with The Leek Polish Connection, a group of people that care about preserving their Polish heritage who do not want to allow the extraordinary history to be lost. Most of the group have Polish roots and are proud of being Polish.

Find out more…

Historically, Polish immigrants were one of the major ethnic groups in the UK, reaching around 1 million in 2020. World War II and its aftermath undoubtedly influenced the emergence of the first Polish diaspora in Great Britain. The arrival and settlement of Poles was a response to Poland’s political situation and the labour shortage in specific sectors in Great Britain after WWII. Part of the Polish diaspora came to Leek as exiles forced by the Soviets or Germans to emigrate from Poland. Before finally reaching Great Britain, they travelled along arduous routes of escape through the Middle East and African colonies. Some settled in Great Britain due to the demobilisation of Poland’s Free Army. In addition, as part of the Anglo-Polish alliance supporting the Allies, about 200,000 Polish soldiers came to Great Britain. The purpose of the arrival of the Polish Air Force in Great Britain was to help the RAF to win the Battle of Britain. Polish soldiers were stationed in 265 camps in Great Britain. Over the years, the soldiers were joined by members of their families (refugees), which gave an estimated number of over 249,000.

One such camp was Blackshaw Moor Camp in North Staffordshire, located between Leek and Buxton on the moorland next to the A53.

Did you know…

In 1943, four military camps were built at Blackshaw Moor for the 565th US Anti-Aircraft Unit. In 1949, when the war ended, the American army returned home, and in 1946, the Ministry of National Defence transferred these camps to Polish soldiers returning from Italy. Due to the political situation, Poles could not return to their homeland and were conscripted into the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC). Blackshaw Moor was one of many demobilisation camps.

4,000-5,000 Poles, who had been on active service in Italy, came to Blackshaw Moor Camp for Labour Disposal under their leader, General Anders.

Despite the difficulties and war trauma, Poles cultivated Polish traditions, culture, history and Catholic religion. The heart of the Polish community was in camp No. 1, which included a kindergarten, a shop, a clubhouse where Polish language was taught and, most importantly, a chapel.

The Battle of Monte Cassino testified to Polish bravery and allied solidarity. About 1,000 Poles died in this battle. On 18th May 1944, soldiers of the II Corps under the command of General Władysław Anders won a heroic victory. General Anders was buried among his soldiers at Monte Cassino, where there is a saying carved in stone:

“Passerby, tell Poland that we died faithfully in her service, and for our and your freedom, we Polish soldiers gave our spirit to God, our body to the land of Italy and our hearts to Poland.”

Save the date… 18th May 2024

18th May 2024 is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. To commemorate this special date and to start to tell the fascinating story of the Leek Polish community, a programme of events and exhibitions will be presented by The Leek Polish Connection working with OUTSIDE, Borderland Voices and The New Vic Theatre Borderlines. Find out more here.

Part of the Borderlands Voices 1940s Extravaganza at the Foxlowe Arts Centre – a day of free activities.

The group are also looking for more stories to collect – if you have memories to share, please do get in touch.

Visit The Leek Polish Connection Facebook page or email to express an interest in the project and group.