Pilsudski Institute of America, Photographs of Polish Soldiers and Civilians During WWII (1939-1945)
This collection of photographs displays Polish Armed Forces in the West with a focus on the Polish Armed Forces in the United Kingdom (1940-1944), the formation of the Polish Army in the USSR (under the command of General Władysław Anders), and the life of soldiers of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade in Africa (1940-1942). The formation of the Polish Armed Forces in the West took place at the outbreak of WWII when, on September 1, 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border. The Polish Army, alone in combat, could not effectively resist Germany's aggression in addition to the Soviet invasion on Eastern Polish territories on September 17, 1939. As a result, Poland was partitioned for the fourth time by Hitler and Stalin, and its government fled into exile to France and later on to Great Britain. At the same time, in the autumn of 1939, the formation of regular troops was ordered by the Polish authorities in exile. This was possible due to prior war agreements with France and Great Britain. Polish Armed Forces in the West were initially formed in France and Syria and later in Great Britain and Palestine. Land army units, the Polish Navy and Polish pilots were organized and sent to function under British forces, and participated in various Allied military operations, including the Battle of Britain, the Norwegian campaign in Narvik, the Siege of Tobruk, and D-Day in France. In February of 1940, Soviets began the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians to Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, where they were imprisoned or put to work in Gulags. Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in 1941 and the signing of the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, Polish citizens were free to join the Polish Army in the USSR under the command of General Władysław Anders. In the Spring and Summer of 1942, after consultation with the Soviet authorities, approximately 78,000 Polish soldiers and about 35,000 civilians were evacuated to Iran. The civilians were then transported to refugee camps in Africa, New Zealand and Mexico, while the Polish soldiers remained in Iraq where they were fed and trained. On September 12, 1942, the Polish Armed Forces in the Middle East were established from the merging of the Polish Army in the Middle East and the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR. In 1943 the Polish Army in the East, renamed the Polish II Corps, participated in the liberation of Italy and the Battle of Monte Cassino. As the war continued, the now 200,000-strong Polish Army in the West fought faithfully for Poland’s legacy and freedom until 1945, when WWII ended.Learn More About the Collection
- Polish soldiers arrive in Great Britain. Photos 008 and 011 show Polish soldiers from Russia en route to their quarters in England. Photo 009 shows the youngest "17 year old" relating his impressions of the journey from Russia to England. In photo 012, Polish soldiers from Russia leave their boat in one of England's ports.
- Photo 007 shows a women putting the final touches on their uniforms once becoming a soldier in the Polish Women's Army. Photo 009 shows women having their uniforms tailored. The women in their uniforms sip tea after arriving at a British port in photo 011. In photo 013, the female soldiers look at the concentration camp number tattooed by the Nazis on a forearm of one of the Auxiliary Service members.
- Polish Medical School at Edinburgh University. Finding that among the Polish forces in Scotland were many medical officers who had held academic positions in Polish universities and students of medicine whose studies had been interrupted by the war it was decided that facilities for their further studies should be provided at a Polish medical school at Edinburgh University. Medical officers of academic standing were permitted to work there and students to go up for refresher courses from 3 to 6 months, graduate and return to the army as reinforcements for the medical services. Female Polish students also attended. The first photo shows a military ambulance full of sick soldiers arriving at the Paderewski Hospital in Edinburgh. The second photo depicts dental equipment presented by America in the dental clinic attached to the Polish hospital and named after Paderewski. The third photo shows the female ward of the Paderewski Hospital. The fourth shows a corner of the ward for Polish forces named for Mrs. Kellogg of America.
- A delegation of members of the Polish Government and officials with Mrs. Sikorska paid tribute to General Sikorski on the first anniversary of his death. They paid a visit to the grave in the Polish Air Force Cemetery at Newark. The Guard of Honor members of the Polish Air Force stand at the graveside.