Hidden History WW2: General Stanislaw Maczek

On 11 December 1994, at the age of 102, General Stanislaw Maczek died in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Although born in Poland, he lived most of his life in his adopted city, with his wife Zofia and their three children.

But very few people in Scotland knew Maczek’s remarkable story.

Stanislaw Maczek was born in March 1892 in the town of Szczerzec. At that time, it was in the crownland of Austro-Hungarian Galicia which is today part of Ukraine.

In 1914 he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army and fought on the Italian Front. And at the end of the First World War, joined the Military Academy in Warsaw to make the military his career.

By 1939 he was promoted to Major General in command of the 10th Cavalry (Mechanized) Brigade – the first fully motorized Polish unit.

In September that year Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland.

The Start of World War 2

After six brutal weeks of fighting, the Polish Army was forced to retreat due to the overwhelming numbers of the XXII German Motorized Corps. But he managed to lead the survivors of his unit to safety, making their way to Hungary and on to France.

Joining forces with veterans from other units, they reformed as the Polish Armed Forces, under General Sikorski, the new Commander-in-Chief. They continued fighting alongside the French until Germany invaded in Spring 1940.

 

Polish tank troops grabbing some rest

Polish tank troops grabbing some rest

Cut off from supplies and support from French troops, General Maczek decided to evacuate his remaining troops to Britain and re-group. It was during this time that his men nicknamed him ‘Baca,’ a traditional Polish name for a shepherd.

On arrival in London, he learned the remaining Polish Army would be used to protect Scotland’s coastline against German attack. But Maczek and General Sikorski persuaded the British government to use the hard-won skills of the Polish troops.

 

Tank of the 1st Polish Armored Division

General Maczek with a tank of the 1st Polish Armored Division

General Maczek created the 1st Polish Armored Division with almost 16,000 troops. And the British government equipped them with high-tech M4 Sherman and Churchill tanks

They initially protected the eastern coast of Scotland. But they were training for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Operation Totalize

In August 1944, attached to the First Canadian Army, the 1st Polish Armored Division came ashore near Juno Beach in Normandy. Their target was the German defenses dug in near the city of Caen.

Maczek led a crucial attack on the German Seventh Army cutting off their retreat at the Falaise pocket. The Germans made several savage attempts to break through. But despite being surrounded on three sides and cut off from urgently needed supplies, the 1st stood their ground, taking over 5,000 German troops prisoner.

The success of Operation Totalize shortened the war by several months.

 

Photograph of the crowds taken during the Liberation of Breda in the Netherlands, October 1944

Liberation of Breda in the Netherlands, October 1944

 His unit then moved on to liberate Ypres and Ghent in Belgium. And the town of Breda in the Netherlands, which they captured with no loss of life. They later fought their way to the coastal town of Wilhelmshaven in Germany, where General Maczek accepted the surrender of the German Navy headquartered in this area.

 

Memorial to General Maczek and his troops, Juno Beach, Normandy

Memorial to General Maczek and his troops, Juno Beach, Normandy

 

Exiled

After WW2, the ruling Communist regime in Poland stripped General Maczek of his Polish citizenship.  Forced into exile, he returned to live in Scotland and never set foot in his homeland again.

Sadly, the British government treated him as badly as they had other foreign troops that helped them survive Hitler’s onslaught. Maczek was not granted a General’s pension.

With a very sick daughter needing help, and to make ends meet, he worked for many years in a local Edinburgh hotel. It was owned by a soldier who had fought alongside Maczek during the war.

However, the Dutch government discovered his situation and granted him honorary citizenship of Breda. And with this a General’s full retirement pension and benefits. This was done in secret to avoid any unpleasant issues with the UK or Polish governments.

Dutch poster, 1944, thanking Polish troops for liberating Breda

Dutch poster, 1944, thanking Polish troops for liberating Breda

In 1985 General Maczek was invited back to Breda to take part in its Liberation Anniversary events and he received a hero’s welcome.  And four years’ later Poland issued a full public apology to Maczek. But still he chose not to return to his homeland.

Polish Order of the White Eagle

Polish Order of the White Eagle

 During his military life Maczek received many awards for himself, and on behalf of his troops.

Poland also awarded him the Order of the White Eagle, their highest award, and only given to the most distinguished Poles and Heads of state.  President Lech Walesa went to Edinburgh to present Maczek with this award.

The End of a Life but Not the Story

In keeping with his last wish, General Maczek’s body was taken to Breda and buried in the local Polish cemetery.  Many of his fallen comrades who fought alongside him during WW2 were there and he wanted to be with them.

Grave of General Stanislaw Maczek in Breda, Netherlands

Grave of General Stanislaw Maczek in Breda, Netherlands

 Today, many people make the journey to Breda and place flowers and candles on his grave.

A Scottish Tribute

Interest in General Maczek’s story was sparked when the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie attended the General’s funeral in Holland on behalf of the U.K. government.

He noticed Polish soldiers were present to make sure Maczek was given a full military funeral. And that he was held in high regard by everyone at his funeral, so he set out to discover more about him.

After researching Maczek’s story, Lord Fraser decided a permanent memorial was needed in Edinburgh. It would honor Maczek and the Polish troops who had helped Britain and her Allies to victory in WW2.   And so the General Stanislaw Maczek Memorial Trust was created.

With funds donated from Britain and across Europe, Polish artist Bronislaw Krzysztof was commissioned to create a memorial.

 

General Stanislaw Maczek memorial in Edinburgh, Scotland

General Stanislaw Maczek memorial in Edinburgh, Scotland

And in October 2018 a stunning life-size bronze statue of Maczek was installed in the courtyard of the City of Edinburgh Council Chambers.

A tribute to a silent hero, who fought hard to give freedom back to thousands in their own countries, but who lost his own.

HONOURS AND AWARDS

POLAND

Order of the White Eagle (1994)
Gold Cross of the Order of Virtuti Miltari
Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari
Knight’s Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari
Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Cross of Valour
Gold Cross of Merit with Swords

THE NETHERLANDS
Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau

BELGIUM
Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown with Palms
Croix de Guerre avec palmes (Belgium)

FRANCE
Medaille commemorative de la guerre 1939-1944
Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur
Croix de Guerre avec palmes

UNITED KINGDOM

Commander of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of the Bath (military)
Distinguished Service Order

 

Insignia of the 1st Polish Armored Division

 

 

 

 

 

Image credits:
Author  /  emedals.com / weewalkingtours.com / the-saleroom.com / communications-unlimited.nl / dirkdeklein.net/ dday-overlord.com/ britannica.com / pinterest.com/WW2 / polenvoornederlanders.nl / thefewgoodmen.com

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