A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRANCH #6 1946-1996
The Polish soldiers who were to form Branch # 6 first arrived in Alberta at Lethbridge where they were housed in military barracks. Here they received their documents and civilian clothing.
The founding meeting of the branch took place on May 4, 1947 in Edmonton and was attended by 56 former soldiers of the 2nd Corps. Thirty-three more ex-servicemen joined within the following two week period. What is unusual, is that the group of combatants planning to establish the branch began organizing events even before the branch was formed. They organized a dance and the ninety dollars they earned was deposited in the branch account.
Polish organizations in Edmonton welcomed the combatants with warmth and good will. The Polish-Canadian Society and the Association of Polish Defenders of the Motherland invited the combatants to become members. During the early years, these societies allowed the branch to hold some events and meetings in their buildings.
In 1948, the first group of combatants finished their two year work contracts. Some of them moved to Edmonton, where, unfortunately, they encountered difficulties finding new jobs. They were very touched when the branch, together with the Polish-Canadian Society, held the "Oplatek" at Christmas. It was such a success that next year the "Swiecone" was held at Easter. To show their gratitude, the combatants helped paint the Polish-Canadian Society building.
The branch held its first banquet in 1952 and, also in 1952, thanks largely to branch members, the Alberta branch of the Canadian Polish Congress was established. Up until the late 1980s, at least, most of the local presidents were branch members and many members held executive positions on the Board.
Edmonton combatants generously contributed to education. A number of attempts to establish a Polish language school were made, beginning in 1948, but permanent success was not achieved until 1954. The Parents' Committee was then formed in 1955. The branch not only provided personnel for the school and Parents' Committee, but also offered financial help. In 1953, the branch pledged 20% of its revenues to the school.
The first contacts of the combatants with the local clergy proved rather disappointing. The combatants preferred to have their spiritual needs met by the Army chaplains. They also missed attending Masses at which they could sing their religious songs and listen to patriotic sermons. Their attempts to have their needs met with the help of the local bishop, who was rather insensitive to the requests of his ethnic flock, were unsuccessful. They approached Archbishop J. Gawlina, who visited Edmonton in 1953, and through his intervention the conflict was resolved. From then on, relations with the local diocese were friendly and the combatants devoted their time and energy to the building of a Polish church. In November, 1953, the combatants donated the proceeds from the screening of a movie to the building fund. Construction of the new church started in 1954. Mr. Kasjan Koskowski was elected chairman of the Building Committee by the parishioners. The combatants not only raised money towards construction, but also helped build the church. The branch also donated $2,000.00, on top of other donations, towards the purchase of lighting fixtures.
A good working relationship was also established with Canadian veterans, particularly those of the Montgomery branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. It soon became a tradition for the Polish combatants to march alongside their Canadian colleagues on Remembrance Day. By 1970, the branch was participating in "Poppy Day" collections and took it upon itself to look after the graves of the veterans.
In 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution, the branch donated money to refugees from Hungary.
Women participated in the life of the branch from the very beginning and their help in organizing and running activities was invaluable. Despite this, although an attempt was made by Mrs. Anna Blonska in 1950, a formal Women's Auxilliary was not established until 1958 by Mrs. Maria Labus.
The branch began its support of the Scouts and Girl Guides in 1957, initially donating money to cover the cost of summer camp. By the early 1970s, the branch increased its support by becoming the major contributor to the purchase of 168 acre camp grounds on Lake Garner and construction of camp buildings. The camp was named "Kopernik" and was consecrated in July, 1972 by Bishop W. Rubin, the patron of World Polonia.
As was the case with most branches, right from the start there was a strong desire to erect a building for the branch's purposes. After years of discussion it was decided to erect a building jointly with other Polish organizations. A partnership agreement was signed by the branch in 1959 with the Polish-Canadian Society and the Polish Veterans Association (formerly the Association of Polish Defenders of the Motherland).
How much the branch needed its own premises is underscored by the fact that even before the new building was finished, it organized the New Year's Eve Ball there in 1960. The new building had two large ballrooms; one of which could seat 1,000 people. It was officially opened in September, 1967. A new addition built in 1979 housed the Polonia Club and a further addition built in 1986 to house the Polish Combatants' Association Club.
The colours, presented to the branch in 1964, were paid for by the Womens' Auxilliary. General Wolikowski and Mrs. Cecylia Solikoska (president of the Rosary Club), became the godparents.
By the end of the 1960s, the branch had over 200 members. It was the largest Polish organization in Edmonton, and one of the largest branches of the Association.
By 1971, the branch was sufficiently financially secure and organizationally sound to host the 14th National Convention of the Association on May 22-24, at which General S. Kopanski was the guest of honour.
In 1974, the branch raised funds for a number of interesting projects, among them; construction of POSK (Polish Combatants and Cultural Centre) in London, England (www.POSK.org), reconstruction of the Royal Palace in Warsaw, and towards the erection of the Katyn Memorial in London, England.
The visit of Cardinal Jozef Glemp in Edmonton in 1986 was an important event in the life of the branch. Mr. Ludwik Lechocinski, head of the honour guard, and Mr. Antoni J. Andrzejewski, chairman of the Parish Council, assisted the Cardinal when he laid a wreath at the Monument of Polish Settlers in Alberta. During his visit, the Cardinal thanked the combatants for their financial contribution towards the construction of the John Paul II College at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL). The largest donation received from Edmonton was from the branch in the amount of $5,000.00.
In 1987, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the branch, a book, edited by Maria Carlton, was published "The Polish Combatants' Association in Canada, Inc. Branch #6 - Edmonton: Forty Years of Service to an Ideal." It is full of information about the branch and, what is more significant, deals with issues which are normally glossed over in works of this type.
Mr. Ludwik Lechocinski was deported to the Soviet Union, eventually enlisting in General Anders' Army and joined the 1st Independent Paratroopers Brigade (1st Battalion of 1st Company) and fought over Arnhem. His organizational skills are such that, as of 1996, he served as president for 18 years. His contribution was recognized when he was decorated with Poland's highest award - the Polonia Restituta Medal. He was also awarded the Gold Service Cross by the government of Poland and received the Association's highest award - the Gold Combatants' Cross. In addition, he was also decorated with the Gold Pin of the Canadian Polish Congress and the Association of Polish Paratroopers.
Mr. Lechocinski's wife, Eileen, is originally from Scotland. The couple met during the war when Mr. Lechocinski was training in Leslie and married there after the war.
SOME NAMES ASSOCIATED WITH BRANCH #6
The First Board of Directors
Konstanty Filipionek (treasurer)
Jozef Kaczmarek (founder and president)
Edward Pierzchalski (secretary)
Wladyslaw Adamowicz (1983-84)
Franciszek Bujar (1948)
Michal Jedrasik (1952-53, 1957-58)
Jozef Kaczmarek (1947, 1959)
Kasjan Koskowski (1962-67, 1973-74)
Antoni Kupinski (1968-72)
Ludwik Lechocinski (1975-82, 1985-96)
Karol Leszczynski (1950)
Marian Malinowski (1951)
Bernard Mazurewicz (1954)
Czeslaw Mikosz (1949)
Jozef Usowicz (1955-56, 1961)
Kazimierz Wielobob (1960)
National Treasury Committee 1951 (Skarb Narodowy)
Antoni Andrzejewski Jr.
Hanka Bednarska (first president of Polish School Parent Committee, 1955)
Mrs. Wanda Buska
Jan Chrzanowski (treasurer, CPC 1972 -87)
E. Henzel (one time editor of the branch bulletin)
Mrs. Janka Jankowska-Zygiel
Jozef Kiryluk, V.M.
Father J. Kochan
Prof. Karol Jozef Krotki
Henryk J. Lang
B. Lis (first president of the Alberta CPC)
C. Mikosz (Inter-Organizational Radio Committee)
Adam Mis (secretary, CPC ca. 1972)
Father Tadeusz Nagengast
Jozef Plachnicki, V.M.
Jan K. Ratusz
Prof. Czeslaw Rodkiewicz (president, CPC ca. 1972)
Jozef Suchocki, V.M.
Father T. Szendzielarz (branch chaplain ca. 1986)
Chaplain Franciszek Tomczak
Dr. Prof. Henryk Marian Wojcicki
General Romuald Wolikowski, V.M.