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Bloody Foreigners

Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (London: Abacus, 2005)

This sprightly book is a survey of immigration of all nationalities and eras, but my notes are limited to the influx of Poles resulting from the Second World War.

In 1932 about 5000 Poles in Britain. Vastly increased by the Second World War. "The Poles, squeezed between Hitler to the west and Stalin to the east, embarked on journeys in which the best and sometimes only road led to Britain." "A new government-in-exile landed in London [in 1940], bringing some three thousand officials and loyalists with it, and settling in South Kensington and Earl's Court, an area which soon became known as Little Poland." p.318

"By the summer of 1940, some twenty thousand [Polish military men] had made it safely to Britain. A much larger number--some eighty thousand--followed a more arduous path." Possibly 1.5 million Poles sent to Kazakhstan and Siberia, and "nearly a million of them died..." "Somewhere in this population was a doomed army." Katyn-style massacres killed more than 24,000: "one of the most neglected atrocities of an atrocious century." p.319

Polish units that fought in Italy included the Carpathian Cavalry and the Podolski Rifles. 14,000 Polish airmen in the RAF, and were credited with shooting down one out of seven German planes in the Battle of Britain. Polish troops landed at Normandy June 1944. They were "eager, brave, talented, incomprehensible and palpably our friends," says the author. "But in government circles the Poles were thought to be a slightly awkward case: an expatriate chattering class of defeated cavaliers." General Anders pestered the British to evacuate civilians as well; quotes Churchill as saying in "an official minute": "In Anders' protests, we see all those elements of instability which have led to the ruin of Poland through so many centuries, in spite of the individual qualities and virtues of the Poles." p.320

"Churchill, for one, was greatly irritated by what he saw as footling and ill-timed Polish demands--for their own uniforms, say, or their determined rudeness to our dear ally in Moscow." p321

Postwar: "There were soldiers, civilians, government officials, men, women, children, orphans and exotic wives--160,000 in all." Churchill promised them refuge and citizenship "if they so desire." But: "Privately, senior officials were praying that they could push the Poles home...." Britain paying £2.5 million a month to keep the Polish army in the field. Churchill wanted to use them to garrison Germany. p322

March 1946: General Anders told that soldiers would be urged but not forced to return to Poland, and could otherwise join a Polish Resettlement Corps to work in industry and agriculture, receive further education, and be helped to find jobs. "Of the 160,000 eligible for the scheme, some managed to secure tickets to America and elsewhere, and nine thousand decided to return to Soviet-ruled Poland. But 120,000 accepted their lot and decided to stay." British workers were incensed. The mineworkers' union banned Poles from the pits, and the engineering workers' union likewise refused to accept them. The resentment was fueled by Communist newspapers. p323

"Maybe these attacks were a surly response to the fact that the Poles were (and still are) legendarily hard workers." Eventually, the union agreed to take Polish miners in return for a five-day week. January 1947: 2,764 Poles working in British industry; by October there were 43,000. By end of 1948, 65,000 had left the Resettlement Corps for full employment. With only five thousand remaining, the Corps was phased out in 1949. p324

Those who had managed to bring money out of Poland started their own enterprises. "In the spring of 1950, there were 177 Polish farms, 128 Polish watch-repair shops, 78 Polish furniture dealers, 70 Polish photographers and 50 Polish boarding-houses. These business were keen to employ other Poles, so jobs could be found, so long as you weren't too fussy. Lawyers worked as nightwatchmen; teachers washed dishes." Many lived in former PW camps with barbed wire removed. "There were twenty-one Polish schools, and a Polish university was set up in Earl's Court.... Students could sit exams and take external degrees from the University of London." p325

"One opinion poll reported that 56 percent of Britons thought the Poles should 'go home'. But "no group of foreigners had ever melted into British society with such speed and so little clamour." "Ealing, in west London, became something of a Polish enclave, with churches, schools, cafes and plenty of heavily accented chatter on the streets." p.326.

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