Polish Resettlement Act 1947

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The Polish Resettlement Act 1947 was the first ever mass immigration legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It offered British citizenship to over 200,000 displaced Polish troops on British soil who had fought against Nazi Germany and opposed the Soviet takeover of their homeland. The act also supplied a labour force to the demands of war-torn Britain.

Background[edit]

The Polish contribution to World War II was outstanding, and directly led to the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 and the formation of the Polish British community as it exists today.

The majority of Poles came to the United Kingdom to help the Allied war effort after the Nazi-Soviet Pact led to the occupation of Poland in 1939. By 1940, with the fall of France, the Polish President, Prime Minister and the Polish government in exile transferred to London, along with a first wave of at least 20,000 soldiers and airmen. Thousands more followed throughout the war.

Poles formed the fourth-largest Allied armed force in Europe after the Soviets, the Americans and the combined troops of British Empire. Poles were the largest group of non-British personnel in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and the 303 Polish Squadron was the highest-scoring RAF unit in Battle of Britain. Special Operations Executive had a large section of covert, elite Polish troops and close cooperation with the Polish resistance. The Polish Army under British high command were instrumental at the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the Battle of Arnhem, the Siege of Tobruk and the liberation of many European cities including Bologna and Breda.

The Poles broke the early version of the Enigma code and gave their knowledge to the British.[1] Former Bletchley Park cryptologist Gordon Welchman said: 'Ultra would never have gotten off the ground if we had not learned from the Poles, in the nick of time, the details both of the German military... Enigma machine, and of the operating procedures that were in use.'[2] After the war, Winston Churchill told King George VI: 'It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war."[3]

By July 1945 228,000 troops of the Polish Armed Forces in the West were serving under the high command of the British Army. Many of these men and women were originally from the Kresy region of eastern Poland including cities such as Lwow and Wilno. They had been deported from Kresy to the Soviet gulags when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany occupied Poland in 1939 in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact. When two years later Churchill and Stalin formed an alliance against Hitler, the Kresy Poles were released from the Gulags in Siberia, formed the Anders Army and marched to Persia to create the II Corps (Poland) under British high command.

Yalta[edit]

The Polish II Corps was instrumental in the Allied defeat of the Germans in North Africa and Italy, and its members hoped to return to Kresy in an independent and democratic Poland at the end of the War. But at Yalta, Churchill agreed Stalin should keep the Soviet gains that Adolf Hitler had endorsed in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, including Kresy, and carry out Polish population transfers (1944–1946). Consequently, Churchill had agreed that tens of thousands of veteran Polish troops under British command should lose their Kresy homes to the Soviet Union, with the implication that relatives including wives and children would be at the mercy of the NKVD.[4] In reaction, thirty officers and men from the II Corps (Poland) committed suicide.[5]

Churchill explained his actions in a three-day Parliamentary debate starting 27 February 1945, which ended in a vote of confidence. Many MPs openly criticised Churchill over Yalta and voiced strong loyalty to Britain's Polish allies.[5] Some reporters felt Churchill wasn't confident Poland would be the independent and democratic country Polish troops could return to, because the prime minister also said: 'His Majesty's Government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops... I earnestly hope it will be possible for them to have citizenship and freedom of the British empire, if they so desire.' [6]

During the debate, 25 MPs risked their careers to draft an amendment protesting against Britain's tacit acceptance of Poland's domination by the Soviet Union. These members included Arthur Greenwood; Sir Archibald Southby, 1st Baronet; Sir Alec Douglas-Home; James Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 3rd Earl of Ancaster and Victor Raikes.[5] After the failure of the amendment, Henry Strauss, 1st Baron Conesford, the Member of Parliament for Norwich, resigned his seat in protest at the British treatment of Poland.[5]

Legislation[edit]

When the Second World War ended, Joseph Stalin reneged on his Yalta promises and a Communist government was installed in Poland. Still, the British government wanted to maintain cordial relations with Stalin, and so tried to persuade Poles in the UK to leave. Most Poles felt betrayed by their wartime allies. They refused to return to Poland, because of a range of reasons: the Soviet repressions of Polish citizens (1939–1946), Soviet conduct around the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the Trial of the Sixteen and other executions of pro-democracy Poles such as former members of the Home Army including Emil Fieldorf and Witold Pilecki, and finally, the creation of the Eastern Bloc.

The result was the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, Britain's first mass immigration law.

Large numbers of Poles, after occupying resettlement camps of the Polish Resettlement Corps, later settled in London, many recruited as European Volunteer Workers.[7] Others settled in the British Empire, forming large Polish Canadian and Polish Australian communities.

In the 1951 Census, the Polish-born population of the UK numbered some 162,339, up from 44,642 in 1931.[8][9]

At the same time, Britain's social and economic areas had been hard hit by the Second World War, and to rebuild itself physically and financially it required a workforce to do it quickly and effectively. The Polish Resettlement Act enabled Poles to settle in Britain and provide labour. They formed much of the Polish British community as it existed prior to Poland's accession to the European Union in 2004, and the mass immigration to Britain which followed.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "How Poles cracked Nazi Enigma secret". BBC News. 20 July 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  2. ^ Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six Story, p. 289.
  3. ^ Cited in a 2003 Imperial War Museum exhibit on "Secret War.'
  4. ^ http://www.pbs.org/behindcloseddoors/about/index.html
  5. ^ a b c d pp.374-383 Olson and Cloud 2003
  6. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=BTsNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_mkDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4479,4501733
  7. ^ Kay, Diana; Miles, Robert (1998). "Refugees or migrant workers? The case of the European Volunteer Workers in Britain (1946–1951)". Journal of Refugee Studies 1 (3-4): 214–236. doi:10.1093/jrs/1.3-4.214. 
  8. ^ Holmes, Colin (1988). John Bull's Island: Immigration and British Society 1871-1971. Basingstoke: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-28209-4. 
  9. ^ Burrell, Kathy (2002). "Migrant memories, migrant lives: Polish national identity in Leicester since 1945" (PDF). Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (76): 59–77. 

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