A busy event at the Town Hall on Saturday celebrated the long history of friendship between the City of Chester and Poland. The Lord Mayor welcomed the Polish Airmen Association UK to mark the anniversary of the unveiling and refurbishment of a plaque presented to the city in 1944. During the Second World War, the Polish Air Force had 14 squadrons under overall RAF command and its own training and maintenance units. By the end of the war around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and the RAF. One such maintenance unit was found at RAF Sealand on the Welsh border. As a token of thanks for great hospitality given by citizens of Chester, the Poles presented the memorial plaque to the city.
Michał Mazurek, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Manchester was one VIP guest at the event. In a speech to a packed Town Hall assembly room he described the history of friendship, with a message relevant to current world events.
“RAF airbases were located mostly away from urban areas, but some of the bases were placed close to city’s borders. This often enabled establishing friendly relations between local communities and deployed Polish airmen and personnel. We saw this at RAF Sealand near Chester , where Polish aeronautic engineers and Polish women from auxiliary forces served. Starting from 1942 , owing much to active role of the newly founded Anglo Polish society, Chester and North Wales branch, Poles have formed strong bonds with the local community . Under the aegis of the society, concerts, gatherings and other cultural activities were organised.
“Those events led to much close relations between air personnel and residents. For our countrymen These relations were exceptionally precious as they found themselves far away from the motherland and family members. This always reminded them that they were not fighting alone for their freedoms
“After the war, may of them, who due to the political situation could not go back to Poland, settled here and became active members of the local community. Our sometimes painful history has taught us that freedom cannot be taken for granted. We know that often there is a high price which has to be paid for those fundamental values. We cherish the cooperation of nations that share the same democratic values, our allies in NATO and partners in the European Union. Those strong links are often family based on the common history and needs to be preserved and shown for the new generation.”
The event was attended by Polish groups, representatives of the Fire and Police Services, the Freemen and Guilds of the City of Chester, and The Cheshire Halton and Warrington Race and Equality Centre. Visitors could learn more about Polish heritage and culture, and there was a display of traditional Polish dancing with the chance to sample Polish donuts. There are approximately 4000 Poles living in the borough. A display by the Polish Airmen’s Association detailed the contribution of the Polish forces , including service in the Battle of Britain. The Association promote public awareness of the historical role played by Poles, support veterans and their families and also drive interest in young people in aviation related studies and careers.
Cheshire Archives and Records were also exhibiting historical records from the period including details of refugees arriving and newspaper articles covering the donation of the plaque in 1944.
The event was a huge success which also offered the chance to explore and appreciate the architecture of the Town Hall, which has largely been closed in recent years due to the pandemic. One attendee Cllr Sam Dixon commented “I really enjoyed the event. It’s an important indication of how outward looking and welcoming our city is. What was particularly lovely, was to see some of our most recent guests, those from Ukraine, attending and already becoming part of our community.”