Polish London

There have been small numbers of Poles in London since the late Middle Ages, but it was in the 20th century that the community grew significantly. During the First World War, Polish prisoners of war from the German army were held in camps at Alexandra Palace and Feltham (Poland had then been partitioned for more than a century between Germany, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and some of these settled in Britain after the war. There were also Poles in London who were promoting Polish independence. This was achieved at the end of the First World War when Poland took its place again on the map of Europe. By the early 1930s there were about 5,000 Poles in Britain.

The Second World War brought large numbers of Poles to London. In September 1939, Poland was invaded and divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. Following the fall of France in 1940, the Polish government-in-exile relocated to London, where it remained until it was dissolved in 1991.

By summer 1940, some 20,000 Polish troops had also made it to Britain. A year later, when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, large numbers of Poles were released from Soviet camps. An army was formed under General Anders and assigned to the British Eighth Army, fighting in the Middle East, North Africa and Italy. Polish troops earned a heroic reputation among the British population. But Polish hopes of a post-war independent Poland were not realised. A communist government, recognised by Britain and the United States, was installed.

Some 120,000 Poles, unable to return to Poland, set up home in Britain. After initial reluctance, the British government established the Polish Resettlement Corps to support Poles in finding work and settling in Britain. Many had professional qualifications, but only those of doctors and pharmacists were recognised, so well educated Poles often had to accept jobs for which they were overqualified. Poles were initially concentrated in construction and other manual work and in the hospitality industry. Many went on to open their own businesses.

By early 1951 some 33,000 Poles were living in London, briefly constituting the capital's largest foreign-born community. They settledin areas such as Earl's Court Road, Ealing, Brixton, and Clapham. From the 1950s, small numbers of Poles continued to arrive, including groups of refugees, particularly following the communist crackdown in 1968, and the suppression of the trade union 'Solidarity' in 1981.

New organisations, businesses and services quickly sprang up. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum was established in South Kensington in 1946. 1947 saw the opening of one of London's best-known Polish restaurants, Daquise; the establishment of a Polish Clinic offering medical care in Polish; and the founding of the Polish University College, with degrees conferred by the University of London. By the late 1940s the daily newspaper Dziennik Polski had a circulation of 35,000.

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