The white eagle above them all

This is the second article that Jacek wrote for The Polish Daily about the symbolism of the Armed Forces Memorial placed in the National Memorial Arboretum

It’s no longer the rough brown clay, but white plaster of Paris in which the figures are petrified on the memorial of the Polish Armed Forces. Now in the middle of April, they stand in exactly the same way as they stood in February in Robert Sobocinski’s workshop in Poznan. After several hundred hours of work, the memorial is a stage nearer to its ultimate form in bronze, using the same technology that Leonardo da Vinci used. The whole memorial is in its final form and, apart from the actual material, nothing is going to be changed.
Four figures – soldier, sailor, airman and a woman from the Polish underground – and above them, the white eagle. He is white now because he’s made of plaster, as white as the one in the Polish emblem, and he only lacks gold in his crown. But the plaster is impermanent, yet the eagle has to last for the next thousand years. That is why the plaster will soon be destroyed in order to create the mould in which the whole sculpture, together with the eagle, will be set in bronze. And here we again need some imagination, but let’s close our eyes and let’s have a look as he gets ready for flight six metres above the ground, high above the memorial which can be seen from a distance as soon as we go into the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. His wings are outstretched, ready for flight, but still trying to garner into his care those who are beneath him, those who are going into the four corners of the world in order to fight for his nest, to fight for a free Poland. They will have to fight for their country thousands of miles away from him, and many of them will stay for ever in cemeteries, far away from their homes which they often had to leave in haste, hurried and harried by an enemy soldier with a gun in his hand. And then after the ‘amnesty’, when they managed to get out of Siberia or Kazakhstan and they changed their rags for a uniform, the eagle came back to them. He showed up on their berets and caps, he looked down from above at the arm badge with the word Poland embroidered on it, and although he knew that the uniform isn’t the same one that he remembered from September 1939, he knew that the soldier was still fighting for his beloved country. As he fought, he probably could not foresee that many years later, patriotism would become unfashionable, and how much work there would have to be done to be able to talk about this to the new generation of young Poles. Yet some will be found who will remember, and the eagle will be so surprised when it now sees a young Pole in the Poznan citadel in the 21st century, dressed in the same uniform as his grandfather wore in Africa, in Monte Cassino, or when he died in Normandy and lies in the Langannerie cemetery, so far from his family home in Trembowla. He will be pleased that these young people want to remember and with pride they will get on their horse with their lance under their arm and their Polish four-cornered cap on their head or with a flat English helmet and battle-dress with a Poland badge. The eagle is a clever bird, and he knows that pictures can teach and are a good way of communicating especially in the day where everything is shown on the television screen. The eagle also knows how to get through to young people, and he knows that you always have to remind people because it’s so often so easy to forget how much we should be grateful to those for whom this memorial is being erected in the National Memorial Arboretum, surmounted by the crowned eagle, the symbol of Poland, a memorial in homage to the soldiers of the Polish Army and the Polish Underground, the airmen and the seamen who gave their lives fighting for their country. And to remind those who maybe have forgotten what it meant to fight ‘for your freedom and ours’.

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