A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRANCH #2, 1946-1996
The founding meeting was held in January, 1947, a few months after the arrival of the combatants in Canada. Mr. Tadeusz Sokolowski, the founder of the branch, was its first president. Initially, the branch rented space from the Catholic Culture Centre and the Polish National Association. Commemorative Holy Masses were held at St. Peter's Cathedral.
The first issue the branch had to address was that of the working conditions of Polish combatants who worked on area farms. The problem was of such importance that a special all members meeting was called. and subsequently held on October 5, 1947, attended by 315 members. The combatants wanted to change the terms of the contracts under which they were allowed to immigrate to Canada, specifically, they wanted to be able to work on a farm of their own choice and not on the one they were assigned to, and to shorten the length of the contracts. These problems were not easy to solve. All parties to the discussions (the combatants, farmers, representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Agriculture) had diverse objectives. Disagreements abounded and the situation became so grave that the combatants threatened to strike. Only then did the representatives of the Ministry agree to meet with them. Branch president Sokolowski and Mr. Glogowski of the Canadian Polish Congress, who acted as his interpreter, travelled together to Ottawa and were able to resolve the problems.
The cultural achievements of the young branch were quite impressive. In 1948 a theatre group was formed which staged several plays and musicals. A library was opened and Polish films were shown. "Ref-Ren" and the "Merry Quartet," very popular especially among former pilots, was frequently invited to entertain the community. The branch, along with several other ethnic groups, participated in the Western Fair in the summer of 1949. Many lectures were presented, including one by Melchior Wankowicz, the foremost Polish writer and war correspondent. In 1950, Polish combatants in London organized their first march through the streets of the city to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino during which a wreath was laid at the cenotaph.
The initial burst of activity levelled off after a few years. Many branch members moved to other cities once their work contracts expired. After groups of women arrived from DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Africa and Germany, many combatants married and had less time to devote to the work of the organization.
The first half of 1950 was taken up with the construction of a Polish church and the establishment of a parish. This project had the support not only of the National Executive, but also of the sizeable Polish community in London. The National Board worked to ensure that all Polish communities in Canada were served by Polish priests. The Papal Nuncio in Ottawa and Archbishop Gawlina in Rome were asked to help. The Archbishop visited Canada in 1952 and also stopped in London. His interest and intervention were responsible for a positive result.
Participation of the combatants in the construction of the new church gave the branch high visibility in the Polish community. Branch members worked on the actual construction, sat on Parish committees and raised funds. The new church was consecrated on September 12, 1954.
The branch colours were designed by branch president Jan Pasierbek and blessed during ceremonies commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino on May 23, 1954. Wear and tear on the colours took its toll over the years and they were replaced in 1983, using the same design.
On August 17, 1958, the branch bought a lot situated along Piccadilly Street, between Talbot and Ann streets. Construction did not begin until early April, 1960, the time in between being used to apply for, and receive, a line of credit and a provincial charter.
The building was formally opened on October 16, 1960 in an impressive ceremony attended by many Canadian officials. It was blessed by Father Piotr Sanczenko and the mayor of London, Allan Johnston, cut the ribbon.
On June 26, 1960, the branch was presented with a Royal Canadian Legion charter. Section # 585 was named "Wilno." This formal association with the RCL strengthened the branches Canadian contacts, and increased and broadened the scope of its activities.
Parades initiated in 1950 became an annual event. During Her Majesty's visit to Canada in 1959, Queen Elizabeth II visited London on July 3, where she inspected the honour guard which included Polish combatants. The branch also received awards in 1958, 1959, and 1960 for the best group march formation at parades organized by the Canadian Corps Association. RCL Polish section # 585 took part in the Western Exhibition where it won first place in a competition.
The Women's Auxiliary was formed in 1949 and a Youth Section in 1965. By 1970, the branch had 230 members and had paid off its construction loan.
However, by the late 1980s, a marked decrease in membership was noticeable. A new project was proposed: to erect a combatants monument which would list names of combatants who passed away. The monument would also commemorate the contribution of Polish combatants to the Allied war effort. It would be a tangible, as well as symbolic, reminder of the special bond that unites all soldiers. The Combatants Monument, which stands at St. Joseph's Cemetery, was unveiled and consecrated on October 14, 1987, during "Polish Combatants Week."
The change to a democratic government in Poland removed political barriers and made it possible for the branch to establish contact with officers of the Polish Army. In the summer of 1993, the branch invited 9 Polish officers who were in training at Camp Borden. At a ceremony in London, the Polish military attache, Col. Wojciech Procner, addressed the combatants:
"You represent living history. Being among you is akin to retracing the route of the Polish Armed Forces in the West between 1939 and 1945. I salute you on behalf of Poland's government and her Armed Forces for keeping alive the vision of a free Poland for all the world to see..."
Some names associated with Branch #2:
Mrs. Zofia Arent
Wladyslaw Bandrowski (President 1958, 1963, 1966)
Jan Betkowski (student)
Franciszek Bogacki (President 1988-89)
Boleslaw Chelchowski (President 1967, 1978-79, 1992-93)
Zygmunt Chodas (President 1959)
W. Chwiecki (President 1971)
Janusz Ferenc Sr.
Janusz Ferenc Jr.
Zdzislaw Gdak (student)
Stanislaw Grabowski (President 1968)
Boleslaw Hladki (President 1949)
T. M. Kay
Stefan Lisowski (President 1957)
Ferdynand Litoborski (President 1972)
Tadeusz Machowski (President 1952)
Klemens Macugajlo (President 1960, 1962, 1970, 1987)
Mieczyslaw Matias (President 1965, 1969)
Jan Pasierbek (President 1953-54, 1975-76, 1985-86, 1994-95)
Witold Piotrowicz (President 1964)
Stanislaw Pluzak (President 1951)
Tadeusz Puklicz (President 1973)
Pawel Sierechon (President 1956)
Tadeusz Sokolowski (Founder, president 1947-48)
Andrzej Szczygielski (President 1950)
Kazimierz Teper (President 1990-91, 1996)
Wladyslaw Traczuk (President 1961, 1974)
Tadeusz Twarowski (President 1977, 1980-81, 1983-84)
Tadeusz Zdonkiewicz (President 1955)