Scotland and Poland

Scots in Poland

From as far back as the mid 15th century there were Scots trading and settling in Poland. A Scot's Pedlar Pack in Poland, which became a proverbial expression, usually consisted of cloths, woollen goods and linen handkerchiefs. Itinerants also sold tin and ironware such as scissors and knives. Along with the protection offered by King Stephen in the Royal Grant of 1576 a district in Krakow was assigned to Scots immigrants.

Records from 1592 reveal Scots settlers being granted citizenship of Krakow giving their employment as trader or merchant. Payment for being granted citizenship ranged from 12 Polish florins to a musket and gunpowder or an undertaking to marry within a year and a day of acquiring a holding.

By the 1600s there were an estimated 30,000 Scots living in Poland. Many came from Dundee and Aberdeen and could be found in Polish towns from Krakow to Lublin. Settlers from Aberdeenshire were mainly Episcopalians or Catholics, but there were also large numbers of Calvinists. As well as Scottish traders there were also many Scottish soldiers in Poland.

The Scots integrated well and many acquired great wealth. They contributed to many charitable institutions in the host country, but did not forget their homeland; for example, in 1701 when collections were made for the restoration fund of the Marischal College, Aberdeen, the Scottish settlers in Poland gave generously.

Many Royal Grants and privileges were granted to Scottish merchants until the 1700s at which time the settlers began to merge more and more into the native population. Bonnie Prince Charlie was half Polish, being the son of James Edward Stewart and Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of Jan Sobieski, King of Poland.

Poles in Scotland

It wasn't until the Second World War that there was a reciprocal, and large, influx of Poles into Scotland. The Polish Navy fought alongside the Royal Navy and on 1 September 1939 four Polish destroyers, which formed the Polish Destroyer Squadron, sailed into the Forth and were escorted into Leith. Leith was the first of a number of Scottish ports such as Rosyth, Port Glasgow, Greenock and Dundee that were to see Polish ships. A plaque on a Polish monument in Prestwick, Ayrshire commemorates the Polish sailors who died in the Battle of the Atlantic.

There were also Polish flight squadrons based in Scotland and many Polish aircrews received their training here. Air force studies were run at the Polish Military Staff College near Peebles and there was an Operational Training Unit for Polish pilots in Grangemouth. The majority of Polish soldiers based in the UK during the war were stationed in Scotland.

In September 1940 the Polish authorities expressed a wish for a special consecrated plot in a cemetery for the burial of members of their forces. As there was a substantial number of Polish troops in Perthshire, Wellshill Cemetery was selected and it is the largest of the many burial grounds in Scotland in which Polish soldiers were laid to rest.

Scottish Names in Poland

Poland's Scottish immigrants left a lasting impression on the maps of their adopted countries with modern Polish place names like Nowa Szkocja being the exact counterpart of Nova Scotia. There are also many derivations of Scottish family names in Poland today such as Machlejd from MacLeod (originally from the Isle of Skye) and Makalinski from MacAulay.

Wanda Machlejd was a runner during the Warsaw Uprising and was the great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great granddaughter of a mercenary soldier called MacLeod. Originally from the Isle of Skye, he is believed to have arrived in Poland in the 1620s.

Before World War II, Wanda's uncle Jerzy Machlejd, his wife and cousin travelled by car from Warsaw to Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland with the hope of finding out more about the MacLeod's connection.

Their arrival in Dunvegan must have been memorable because after the war, when Wanda Machlejd was left as one of the millions of displaced people in Poland, her uncle's visit played a huge part in her future.

A British official, J R Stuart MacLeod, had read of the trip to Dunvegan so when he read her name on a list he made enquiries about her. Stuart MacLeod discovered Wanda's whereabouts and arranged for her to be provided with the documentation required to enter Britain.

When she arrived in Britain, Wanda Machlejd was invited to stay at Dunvegan Castle as a guest of the castle's owner, and Clan MacLeod's chief, Flora MacLeod.

Educational links

Since Marie Curie, the Polish discoverer of radium, was given the Cameron Prize by Edinburgh University in 1931 there have been strong educational links between the two countries.

A Polish School of Medicine was established in Scotland in 1941 for soldier students in the Polish forces. It ceased activity in 1949, but its 45th anniversary in 1986 was marked with the creation of the Polish School of Medicine Memorial Fund at the University of Edinburgh. It was funded by the original graduates to provide scholarships for young doctors from Poland.

Professor George Blazyca of Hawick developed many links between Paisley University and Polish universities in Warsaw, Krakow and Katowcice. Since 1992 many Polish students have studied at Paisley and Scottish Business Studies undergraduate students from the university can spend a year studying at the prestigious Akademia Ekonomiczna in Krakow.

The University of Glasgow's Faculty of Arts, in conjunction with the Polish Ministry of Education, Warsaw, offers one young scholar or teacher the opportunity to study English and teach Polish in Glasgow under the Lektorial Fellowship scheme.

In 1966 close academic links were established between Strathclyde University and the Technical University of Lodz, Poland. It is still enormously successful, leading to a two-way exchange of students and staff.

The Department of History at the University of Stirling offers the General W Anders Memorial Postgraduate Scholarship in Polish History. General Anders was one of the most revered Polish Army leaders of the Second World War, and emerged as one of the staunchest advocates of the cause of a free and independent Poland.

Scotland and Poland today

There are many Polish societies to be found throughout Scotland today and there is an informal twinning arrangement between Edinburgh and Krakow. The town of Duns in Berwickshire is twinned with Zagan in the West of Poland and many Polish football players continue to come and play for Scottish football clubs.

There is a thriving Polish community in Scotland today and travel between Scotland and Poland has never been easier or cheaper with several direct flights between the two countries.

Highland Council in Inverness estimates that several thousand immigrants from Poland alone have moved to the Highlands recently. The council offers English language lessons on a one-to-one or small group basis through partners such as colleges, learning centres and local enterprise companies. The Polish community itself is also helping the new arrivals settle into Scottish life as quickly as possible.

Scotland and Poland enjoy a fruitful relationship, and echoing King Stephen's sentiment in 1576, it's one certainly worth protecting.

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Last updated 20 Jun 2014