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Famous Poles who have contributed to the UK

9 maja 2017, wtorek,

Links between the UK and Poland both metaphorical and literal might over recent years have become closer than ever but in fact a cultural crossover has always existed. In today’s Britit post, I’m writing about some of my favourite historical contributors.  I hope you also find out some interesting snippets![1]

Number 1: Joseph Conrad (1857–1924)

British Council BritIt blog: Famous Poles who contributed to the UK

Joseph Conrad (1916). Image published under public domain.

Joseph Conrad was one of the finest novelists to write in English yet he was born Josef Teador Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychiv now Ukraine but then part of the Russian partition[2] of Poland. Leaving Poland for a career in the merchant marine he settled in London aged 36 embarking on a literary career. Although he would remain interested in Polish politics he only ever revisited the country once.

Conrad’s contribution to English literature was immense. Often the most innovative[3] use of the language is from writers for whom English is their second tongue such as Nabokov. The Secret Agent (1907), Nostromo (1904) and Under Western Eyes (1911) are among some of the greatest books ever written in English! They are also as relevant today as when they were written warning us of the dangers of fanaticism.

Number 2: Jacob Bronowski (1908–1974)

Jacob Bronowski was born to a Jewish family in Lodz moving to London in 1920. After studying mathematics at Cambridge University he worked as a scientist in various institutions before coming to the attention of the British public through the BBC television series The Brain’s Trust during the 1950’s.

Bronowski is best remembered for his thirteen part TV series The Ascent of Man (1973) narrating the history of human evolution through scientific endeavor. Renowned[4] for his wide-ranging knowledge he was once satirized by Monty Python as ‘the man who knows everything.” His best known books include The Western Intellectual Tradition (1960), The Identity of Man (1965) and The Ascent of Man (1974). Bronowski famously claimed that “the hand is the cutting edge[5] of the mind.”

Number 3: The Polish ‘Few”

Having escaped their home country after the German onslaught[6] many Polish pilots fled first to France then when that country fell to Great Britain. Frustrated by the weather, the food and enforced inactivity they were hastily organized into two fighter squadrons (303/302) when the Battle of Britain began. In all, 139 Polish pilots participated in the battle, 30 of them losing their lives while accounting for nearly 20% of enemy kills. The Poles were experienced and innovative in the tactics that they used, quickly becoming recognized as elite fliers.

Initially the Polish pilots were very popular with the British public, however politics soon got in the way. Part of the appeasement[7] policy of the British government towards the Soviet Union saw the Poles being sidelined[8], to the extent that they weren’t allowed to participate in the victory parade in London after the war. This became a national disgrace.

Thankfully there have been several TV documentaries and books more recently which have given the Polish “few” some of the credit they deserve.  The excellent Imperial War Museum in London also documents the pilots’ brave contributions.

Number 4: Polish footballers

For English football fans of a certain age the 17th October 1973 was a black night. At Wembley the Polish national team drew 1-1 with the home side to secure a place in the World Cup Finals at England’s expense. Two of the polish players went on to have a large impact on the English game.

Famously nicknamed ‘the clown’ by football manager Brian Clough Jan Tomaszewski made several brilliant saves to defy England. Midfielder Kazmierz Deyna so impressed Manchester City that they later bought him. The Polish star made his debut for City in 1978 and is still revered by many of their older fans.

[1] Snippets- short pieces of information.

[2] Partition- one section of a divided nation.

[3] Innovative-new, groundbreaking

[4] Renowned-well known for

[5] Cutting edge-before its time, ultra-modern.

[6] Onslaught-unstoppable attack

[7] Appeasement-giving somebody what they want so they will leave you alone (in this case Stalin).

[8] Sidelined-ignored.