This is a translation of an article written by my husband for the “Polish Daily” when he was involved with the building of a monument dedicated to the Polish Armed Forces to be erected in the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire.
At Robert Sobocinski’s workshop in Poznan, four tonnes of clay have already taken shape as the monument to the Polish Armed Forces, which will be erected in the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire. Several details are still missing. The surface is rougher than the final version in bronze will be, but this is due to the laws of technology which were worked out as far back as Leonardo da Vinci.
The symbolism of this monument is easy to decipher. The four figures, a woman (maybe a girl), a sailor, an airman and a soldier. They are standing with their backs to each other, facing outwards to the four corners of the earth. They are separating not out of their own desire, but because they have to defend and fight for their country. You can tell that they believe that they will return victorious from their battle; they are leaving behind that which joins them, which unites them – Poland. Above them, a crowned eagle prepares for flight. He too must abandon his nest. Does the eagle know that when it finally returns to its country, when the battle has ended, that it won’t be able to wear its crown for many years to come? If they could speak, what would these figures of clay be able to tell us? Whose wartime fates will they recount? Did the people that they knew pay the highest price? Did they lose everything that they ever owned on this earth? What fate met their loved ones? Did they, years later, reach a free Poland? Where is the girl from, the one standing with a message in her hand? Was she in the Szare Szeregi or part of another organisation? Did she go to a vocational school so that she could study under cover for her exams? And did she and this school sew shirts for the German army? And did she sew a pin into every possible seam so that those cursed ones who took away her beloved fatherland would feel a little pain? Did she survive the Uprising, or did she share the fate of 5,000 female soldiers of the Home Army? Or maybe she was taken away to a camp and the soldier who is standing next to her, maybe he was one of those who liberated her from Oberlangen? And why is this soldier wearing battle dress with a Poland badge? Which unit is he in, because we can’t read the number? Is it the soldier in the tank, the one that the girl remembered? Maybe he fought in September, and although he may have been wounded, he survived and got out of Poland. Maybe he was the one who was severely warned in Budapest, when a woman whom he was discussing with his friend in a tram, when it was discovered that she was a worker in the Polish Consulate. He was young and he was still, despite of the war, behaving like a stubak. But he grew up soon, and got to France, so as not to stop fighting, never losing his faith. He survived the next disaster, but he never lost his faith in victory. Again he was successful and was one of the few who sailed to England from Dunkirk. But no, he must have been too young to fight in September. He was arrested together with his mother and sister by the NKVD that night in Lwow, in April 1940. His mother became hysterical, so the Russian grabbed his sister by the throat and said that he would strangle her if their mother didn’t control herself. And so his sister, for the rest of her life, couldn’t button up her blouse to her neck. Then, as the youngest in his family, in Kazakhstan, he would gather dried cow dung for fuel. And so he grew up, and left that hell with General Anders and his army. But maybe he didn’t. Although he walked as fast as he could and fought in Lenino, and always he believed in a free Poland. He was cruelly cheated by his Communist leaders, but he didn’t give in and survived to see how the eagle was crowned again. On the monument you can see the soldier’s friends, the sailor and the airman. The sailor lived in Gdynia before the War, and sailed on the Blyskawica (Lightning). And he was so happy when they sank the German U-boat in September on the way to England. Then in Narvik, he shot at the Germans hidden on the shore. But maybe he never sailed on a destroyer. Maybe he was on a merchant ship and delivered provisions to England across the Atlantic. And the airman? Oh, how much he would like to tell the girl from the Uprising how he flew towards her. And he believed, when he took off from Brindisi, that he would get there, that he would manage to help just a little in burning Warsaw, yet they got him above Yugoslavia. Did this airman fight in the Battle of Britain? We don’t have to write about that – everyone knows about it. But do they? And does everyone really know what a great price the countrymen of these four paid for their freedom, for which they had to wait for so long? And how did they fight for your freedom and ours? And who was the first to break the Enigma code? Who delivered the parts of the V2 to London? Who? Who? Who? We need a little more imagination, but let’s have another look at these four figures. Let’s not look at them literally. Let’s imagine that they are standing high on their pedestal in the Arboretum, surrounded by granite walls engraved with a short history lesson. Let’s think of all those, living and dead, who fought for us and what we should be grateful for. Let us pay homage to them. This is a monument to them all.