English Section

Poland repatriates remains of former presidents-in-exile from UK

07.11.2022 00:15
Ceremonies to mark the repatriation of three former Polish presidents-in-exile were held in Newark in central England on Sunday.
  • Poland repatriates remains of former presidents-in-exile from UK
Photo:PAP/Mateusz Marek

On November 3, the bodies of Władysław Raczkiewicz (who was Poland's president-in-exile from 1939 to 1947), August Zaleski (1947-1972), and Stanisław Ostrowski (1972-1979), were exhumed from the Polish war graves section of the cemetery in Newark-upon-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

Sunday's ceremonies included wreath laying at the cemetery, a memorial mass at the town's St Mary Magdalene Church, and an event at Newark Town Hall.

They were attended by members of the families and representatives of the Newark Town Council, the Polish government, both houses of Poland's parliament, as well as the Polish ambassador to the UK, Piotr Wilczek.

Music performed during the memorial mass included the song “Nowhere Else to Go,” written by Daniel Ostrowski, Stanisław Ostrowski’s nephew.

Daniel Ostrowski told public broadcaster Polish Radio: “Uncle Stanisław’s life in many ways embodied the journey of an independent Poland, from a refusal to submit and collaborate with the occupiers, the opportunity to join the Second Polish Corps and his ability to calmly inspire unity and cooperation even when being overwhelmed by catastrophe and division, and of course as president at a crucial time when that unity was needed more than ever to keep that flame of an independent Poland."

Ian Waters, a member of the Trent Town Council, told Polish Radio: “We have the largest Polish cemetery in the UK, and the bits of the Polish cemetery that are 'for ever Poland' are of great significance to the Town Council. We’re extremely proud to have provided a temporary resting place for their mortal remains, but it’s the [Polish] government and their families that wish them to return to their native soil. They will not be forgotten."

The words “for ever Poland” are a reference to the famous poem by Rupert Brooke entitled "The Soldier," which is a tribute to British soldiers who fell in World War I. Its opening lines are:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

On November 12, a day after Polish Independence Day, the remains of the three presidents will be interred at a newly created mausoleum in the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw.

The mausoleum will also hold the remains of Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish president-in-exile, who was among the victims of the crash of the Polish presidential plane in Russia in April 2010. He is buried in the Pantheon of Great Poles at the Temple of Divine Providence.

The remaining Polish presidents-in-exile, Edward Raczyński (1979-1986) and Kazimierz Sabbat (1986-1989), will have their symbolic tombs in the mausoleum. Raczyński, who died in 1993, is buried in Rogalin, his family’s former estate in western Poland, while Sabbat, who died in 1989, is buried in London.

The upcoming reburial ceremony for Raczkiewicz, Zaleski and Ostrowski is part of the Polish government’s "Mission: Free Poland" educational campaign.

Its goal is to show that the Polish government-in-exile, based first in Paris and then in London from 1940, was "the legitimate state representation of Poland" after the authorities' evacuation in 1939 until 1990, whereas the communist government installed in Poland after World War II was "an element of the country’s Soviet occupation."