This week we are excited to introduce a new, ongoing blog series featuring monuments and statues of Edinburgh. The aim for the posts in this series will be to provide a wee bit of information, history, and the stories that are part of various monuments and statues throughout the city.
For our first instalment in this series, we decided to highlight a lesser known statue because of the remarkable history attached to it. In keeping to our motto of explore and discover, when we first started the research for our Edinburgh walking tours, we were by the City Chambers admiring JK Rowling’s hand prints. While there we spotted a fascinating statue sitting on the bench in the opposite corner of the courtyard.
Despite our backgrounds in history and anthropology, we did not recognise the mysterious gentleman with the kind face. Therefore, this only piqued our interest to find out who he was and why his statue was here in this part of Edinburgh.
After conducting some research, we found out that the gentleman at hand was Stanislaw Maczek and his story was more fascinating than we could have ever imagined. In this mini-blog post, we are excited to share his story because we feel that this unsung hero is the kind of person, we should all know about as he embodies the Scottish-European experience for which we are so proud. He is a true reflection of how complicated European history was in the 20th century.
Stanislaw Maczek was born in 1892 in what was then Austro-Hungarian Galicia, in the town of Szczerzec which is now part of Ukraine. In World War I he served in the Austro-Hungarian army fighting in Italy. He later joined the Polish military and fought against Ukraine. During the Second World War, as part of the Polish military, he and his soldiers fought against the Germans and helped to develop strategies to defend against the Blitzkrieg. As an interesting side note, it was at this time that he gained the endearing nickname, Baca, from his soldiers which is a Polish term for a shepherd in the Highlands.
However, Maczek and soldiers were eventually pushed into Hungary, but before they were able to return to Poland, it was taken over by the Soviet Union. Maczek and many of his soldiers eventually made their way into France where they assisted the French military against the increasing threat from the Germans. However, once France was invaded by Germany, the Polish units were disbursed elsewhere including North Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom where Maczek relocated.
Once in the UK, the Scottish military units were formed into a division charged with defending the Scottish coastline from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. However, Maczek convinced the Allied Forces that the armoured Polish division could be useful on continental Europe as well.
They proved their worth and then some, because they were instrumental in the invasion at Normandy. They were attached to the Canadian Army as they liberated the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of northern France. They were heroic despite twice being attacked by friendly fire from the U.S. Army Air Force.
Maczek's captivating story did not end with the wars. After the war, he was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the Communists, forcing him to remain in exile here in Edinburgh. However, for some reason the United Kingdom refused to pay him any retirement benefits. Ironically, his name Maczek is the Polish word for poppy - the symbol of remembrance.
He fell into economic hardship despite being a decorated war hero in a multitude of European countries. He had to take up a job as a bartender here in Edinburgh to make a meagre living. Fortunately for him he was granted an honorary Dutch citizenship, and he was even secretly paid a general's retirement benefits by the Dutch government. It was done in secret because the Dutch did not want to anger the Soviets nor the Polish. Also, they did not want to point out the failure of the UK to pay him his well-earned and deserved benefits.
He later received an official apology from Poland and started to gain the recognition he deserved including receiving the Order of the White Eagle in 1994, which is the highest military honour in Poland. He lived to be 102 and, according to his wishes, he was laid to rest among his soldiers at the Polish military cemetery in Breda, the Netherlands.
He truly was a remarkable man; a man without a country whilst being a man of many countries. We are so happy that he is remembered here in Edinburgh with this statue, right by the City Chambers. And, we always feel honoured to take a break, sit next to him, and to just admire his legacy and service to Europe.
Until next time- Explore & Discover