Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Wojtek surprises still keep turning up

I still find mentions of Wojtek the bear come as something of a surprise, and wish I had got around to writing about his story before he became so well known.

Like the Great Polish Map of Scotland, his story was one I came across in the early days of the Internet, while digging around for Polish history in Scotland arising from the events f World War II.

With so little to go on initially (the Great Map was a ruin and almost lost when I first learnt of its existence – now it has been fully restored), these were things I just kept collecting little pieces of info about, intending to add Wiki pages once I knew enough about them to make them worthwhile. But, events overtook me, and while I was ambling along, the ‘real world’ passed me by and they became mainstream and well-known stories, with Wojtek gaining statues in Edinburgh (and Duns) and Poland.

So, there’s not really much need, or point, in my going over the scant details I once dug up as the story of both of these subject has now been well covered in the media, and by people with access to more information than I ever managed to find.

However, that doesn’t mean new or less well known stories aren’t still to be found, as in this example of a Polish war veteran’s memories.

When Polish veteran Ludwik Jaszczur paid his respects to his wartime comrade Jozef Urbanski’s widow Zofia Urbanska at his funeral 40 years ago, little did he know it would be the next chapter in a remarkable life.

The pair, grieving from the death of a true friend and husband, found solace in each other, and vowed to carry on the late Jozef Urbanski’s legacy with their leather goods shop on Lauriston Street.

Now, at 92 years of age, Mr Jaszczur has finally decided to call it a day, and close up the shop for good.

Speaking to the Evening News, Ludwik recounted a life that involved capture at the hands of the Nazis while still a child, a daring escape, and an unlikely lifelong friendship with Wojtek, the bear whom he fought beside in the hellhole of Monte Cassino and visited regularly in Edinburgh Zoo.

Wojtek the bear was adopted by a group of Polish soldiers who had recently been released from Siberian Gulags.

The soldiers found the allegedly orphaned bear in Iran on their way to the Middle East from Siberia.

They quickly formed a close bond with the bear, which was said to behave more like a dog or a small child than a wild animal, and Wojtek eventually become the mascot of the Polish II Corps 22nd Artillery.

The bear joined the soldiers as they campaigned alongside allied forces in Iraq and Egypt and on to Italy where he carried artillery shells from supply vehicles to the company artillery positions during the 1944 Battle of Monte Cassino.

Wojtek was officially made a Polish soldier, complete with his own papers when he needed to board the boat to get to Italy, made only possible by properly enlisting him and giving him a pay book.

Wojtek was said to enjoy beer and cigarettes and received double rations due to his size of around 30 stone.

After the end of hostilities Wojtek was demobbed to Winfield Camp for displaced soldiers in Berwickshire alongside the rest of his unit and was moved to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived until his death in 1963.

Polish war veteran and friend of Wojtek the bear shares his incredible life story

The Princes Street statue, as seen the day after it was unveiled back in 2015.

Wojtek Statue Princes Street MJ Richardson

Wojtek Statue Princes Street MJ Richardson

The relief behind shows a number of scenes where Wojtek is seen with the Polish troops he helped, by carrying shells.


25/03/2019 Posted by | military, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Polish fire on the Clyde

Remember the (presumably stolen) suitcase I came across on the banks of the Clyde last week?

Click the thumb for bigger reminder:

Polish On The Clyde

I was along the same path this week, and guess what?

Someone took an intense dislike to the case and stuff still inside, and set fire to it.

You should be able to recognise the spot, but there’s no case there now, just some charred remains.

Funny thing – they left all the books and papers scattered around the spot untouched. They might have taken the time to throw them on the fire and at least tidy the spot up a little.

Polish Fire

Polish Fire

One good thing – I found a nice new ballpoint pen there this time.

31/05/2018 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Polish on the Clyde

It’s funny how some spots of the River Clyde’s banks seem to collect rubbish, while others seem to stay clean, and the odds of finding something interesting (carried along and dumped by the river seem to be low.

I’ve mentioned this before, and think the reason is down to the route the river takes, and it doesn’t pass close to populated places near people (who can drop goodies) until it reaches Glasgow.

However, in this case, although the stuff was on the riverbank, it wasn’t the river that dumped it there.

Looks like some Polish traveller had their luggage stolen, and it was taken down to river, where it could be raided on a steep bank out of sight of the road.

Nothing of value was left, only a selection of Polish literature, notes, and cheap stuff like odd pens.

Polish OnT he Clyde

Polish On The Clyde

There was ONE interesting detail though – the packaging for a soft (toy) hand gun.

While not illegal, increasingly restrictive firearms’ legislation in Scotland, and the chances of a “Shoot first and ask questions later” response by armed police, who can’t be sure if a good replica is a genuine firearm or not, or the state of mind of the person issuing threats with it, are sufficiently high to render it a ‘Bad Idea’.

Soft Pistol Packaging

Soft Pistol Packaging

The damp had got to the printing, and while I could see the details identifying the usual ammo and its weight (plus the obvious muzzle velocity claim), it wasn’t clear if this was CO2 or spring powered.

Oh… Found it!

Armed police arrest man after ‘gun’ report

(Just kidding).

20/05/2018 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , | Leave a comment

Poles in Dalmarnock beat stars in Glasgow

Unfortunately for their fans, although I’ve recently come across quite a few shared photos and stories of Glasgow streets being converted to American streets to allow filming of their next blockbuster, I couldn’t care less about most people introduced to me as ‘celebrities’ nowadays, so I can’t tell you the ‘Who, What, or Where’ behind this.

But the media’s noses were stuck to their backsides, so I’m sure the details will be easy enough to find in online news articles.

Although I’ve never actively followed up this thought, I’ve always wanted to go catch some pics of the Polish community I’m immersed in within the east end of Glasgow.

I did start this a few years ago, collecting a number of Polish shops that had been open in the east end for some time, but I decided I had left it too late, as the number was growing and I realised I was finding many more than even I had expected, and that even more were opening as I covered the area. Since I knew I’d be missing many (and new ones as they opened) I gave this up as I’d wanted to catch most of them, but realised it wasn’t going to be possible, at least not without more effort than it was worth (I don’t get paid enough).

I seldom walk along the street without hearing conversations in Polish, and when I’m in any of the Lidl stores I can reach, it’s rare to overhear a conversation in English – you may even recall a news article that broke a few months ago, where Lidl staff were ordered NOT to speak in Polish (which I think was ridiculous – I never spotted a follow-up, and still wonder if that was even legal).

Lest anyone think this is somehow racist, or wants to try to twist this observation (and post) into some sort of racist issue (this has happened in the past, when one clown kept accusing me of all sorts of fantasies they made up), nothing could be further from my mind. For what it’s worth (not a lot since I’m 100% Glasgow born and bred), I’ve discovered I’m Polish, but thanks to that nice Mr Stalin and his postwar victimisation of Poles who joined and fought with the Allies, it seems my family went into hiding to avoid having all they owned being seized at best, or being shot at worst.

I found I should really have been able to speak Polish and German (as well as Glaswegian), but this never happened as it might have given ‘us’ away.

I’d love to be able to listen in on all those conversations. (Yes, I’m sneaky that way).

Rather than see America in Glasgow, I prefer to see Poles (or poles even), or Poland in Dalmarnock, where there are sometimes quite a few ‘imported’ foreign registered vehicles to be found on the streets, and you have to look twice, to make sure you have not been teleported while not looking.

Poles In Dalmarnock

Poles In Dalmarnock

10/11/2017 Posted by | Civilian, military, photography, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Unveiling of Grangemouth Spitfire memorial promised for May 9, 2013

Spitfire and pilotOne of the items we latched on to some time ago (as in 5 years ago), was the arrival of a full size replica Spitfire in Grangemouth, due to be erected on the site where RAF Grangemouth had operated during World War II.

This was way back on Saturday,  September 13, 2008, when the unveiling of the replica was set to coincide with the opening of a memorial garden dedicated to those from the airfield who had died during the conflict. At the time, the unveiling was to take advantage of the Leuchars Airshow, (taking place on the same day) when the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire – would carry out a flypast at the unveiling, in tribute to air cadets killed while training at Grangemouth, and remembering the contribution of the hundreds of Polish pilots who developed their skills there as members of 58 Operational Training Unit (OTU).

The full-size replica Spitfire is described as an exact copy of the aircraft flown by 58 OTU Sergeant, killed in 1941 when his Spitfire came down in Avondale Estate in nearby Polmont. The replica will bear the distinctive markings and colours of the Polish 303 Squadron, which was the highest scoring foreign squadron in the Battle of Britain.

Unveiling ceremony 2013

At the start of April 2013, there was news that the replica had been joined to its wings, and the Grangemouth memorial would finally be unveiled on Thursday, May 9, 2013:

Every Remembrance Day Air Training Corps cadets from Grangemouth lay wooden crosses and poppies on the graves of Spitfire pilots and other air crew who died while flying with 58 Operational Training Unit.

Chairman of the Grangemouth Spitfire Memorial Trust Iain Mitchell said: “It’s fantastic what’s been achieved. The cadets managed to raise the money to crate the base for the Spitfire.

“She will really be going home again, I suppose you could say.”

The Spitfire is to be installed on Bo’ness Road, near what remains of the airfield.

Via WWII Spitfire memorial gets its wings at RAF Grangemouth

Ceremony completed on schedule

Thanks to one of commenters, Colin, we can confirm that the ceremony was successfully completed on the day:

The Spitfire was unveiled by cadets of 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron Air Training Corps during a very impressive ceremony today, with representatives from Australia, Poland Defence Forces, Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire,  Provost of Falkirk District, the Central Band of The Royal Air Force, and the Queen’s Colour Squadron RAF.

In the news later:

The idea for the memorial came from cadets in the 1333 (Grangemouth Spitfire) Squadron Air Training Corps. It cost £100,000 which was raised through campaigns led by the Grangemouth Spitfire Memorial Trust.

Chairman Iain Mitchell said: “The young men who trained at Grangemouth were among the bravest the world has ever seen, and it is a huge honour for us to be in a position to commemorate their sacrifice with this stunning memorial. It’s the first of its kind in Scotland and we can’t wait to share it with everyone.

“This project has been five years in the making for us. Ever since the memorial wall went up in 2008 we’ve been trying to raise the funds to have the replica put up so to see it finally happen is a proud moment for all involved.

“The effort the cadets have put into this has been astonishing. This would not have been possible without them.”

The memorial aircraft is a replica of a Spitfire flown by 23-year-old Polish Sergeant Pilot Eugeniusz Lukomski who crashed and died in the Avondale estate in Polmont during a training flight in November 1941.

Via Grangemouth unveils Spitfire memorial to 71 pilots killed in WWII | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV

Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1 was unveiled by 100-year-old former aircraft mechanic John “Dinger” Bell in a public garden in Grangemouth, close to the site of a former RAF airfield.

Via Spitfire replica tribute unveiled in Grangemouth – Heritage –

29/04/2013 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just walk along the road to visit Poland in Scotland

The connection between Scotland and Poland can become fascinating when you start to dig into it.

I should actually know more (a lot more) than I do, and only learned recently that I had the murderous Stalin to thank for my ignorance. But that’s another story, and one that will never be told now.

During World War II, many Polish troops ended up in Scotland, making up the numbers of men who had been conscripted into the armed services, and the many pilots inside Spitfires were actually Polish, if they had been lucky enough to get away from Poland as the Nazis invaded and wiped out any opposition.

Today, the east end of Glasgow seems to be full of young Poles, and I really regret that I didn’t get the opportunity to learn Polish (and German) as I grew up, as it would be fun to be fluent in the language now, as the new Poles chat away quite freely, assuming that the locals cannot understand a word. Reminds me of the holidays I used to spend down in North Wales, where the natives could switch from English to Welsh and back mid-sentence without missing a beat. I sometimes wondered if they even realised if they were doing it.

This all came to mind when I was wandering around the industrial estate near Cambuslang, towards Clydesmill.

It’s ages since I was last along that way, having given it up as a boring walk after they demolished the last part of the gas-powered generating station that  was left after they demolished the main power station many years ago.

I forget who operated the food factory on the estate, although I recalled some fuss in the media when it changed hands, probably with the usual whining about threatened closure, changes of conditions, and redundancies – and would not have been in the least surprised to see the site razed, had the new owners just got fed up, closed the doors, and gone away to set up somewhere they could get peace.

But there was still a factory there, although I’d never heard of the owners, Vion.

But the really interesting thing was my sudden inability to read and understand a number of signs placed around the factory.

Guess I know where quite a lot of the folk I listen to in the local shops are working, as the signs are in Polish, and some of them are only in Polish, with no English option.

Vion Cambuslang Polish sign

Vion Cambuslang Polish sign

Closer look:

Polish only sign

Polish only sign

This one, even I can manage, thanks to the English bit:

Bilingual Polish sign

Bilingual Polish sign

I might dig out some pics I took while wandering around Parkhead a while ago. They were just chance catches, as I was really just out doing some camera tests (digital cameras may be auto-everything, but I’m glad to say I’ve discovered that this only works some of the time, and you can still do better yourself), but when I got home and looked closer, I noticed that most of the shops I had photographed were actually Polish. There was a mix of food shops, hairstylists, PC repair, and (although this one is almost at Glasgow Cross) and an optician.

Interesting to note also that the local Tesco now sports a Polish food section too. Clearly, they noticed that shops like Lidl always had non-standard offerings as alternatives to the usual big name products.

Hope I didn’t just delete those pics, since they were testers rather than keepers.


Thanks to someone (who didn’t provide any details, or even the date of the pic) we can see that the sign I captioned “Polish only sign” on the factory gate was once partnered with an English version, now apparently lost, as is another which was addressed towards “All Contractors”, but I can’t make it out, as even the original is too blurry to read:

Complete set of gate signs

Complete set of gate signs

23/04/2013 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spitfire memorial for RAF Grangemouth

Taking advantage of the Leuchars Airshow, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire -will carry out a flypast on Saturday 13th at the unveiling of a full-sized replica of a Mark 1 Spitfire which has been installed in tribute to air cadets killed while training at Grangemouth’s former RAF base, RAF Grangemouth, and remembers the contribution of the hundreds of Polish pilots who developed their skills there as members of 58 Operational Training Unit (OTU), during World War II. By the end of 1939, RAF Grangemouth was used solely as a Battle of Britain satellite airbase, strategically vital for the protection of the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Docks, where many of the Royal Navy fleet were based or repaired.

The full-size replica Spitfire being unveiled is an exact copy of an aircraft flown by 58 OTU Sergeant Eugeniusz Tadensy Lukomski, killed in 1941 when his Spitfire came down in Avondale Estate in nearby Polmont. The replica will bear the distinctive markings and colours of the Polish 303 Squadron, which was the highest scoring foreign squadron in the Battle of Britain.

The event also marks the opening of a memorial garden to those who died, and is located on ground granted on the perimeter of the original airfield, and has a wall featuring the names of each of the Polish fighter pilots who died at Grangemouth.

The commemoration has been organised by the 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron of the Air Training Corps who began a campaign to trace the former cadet’s families in 2006.


The original article above contained the following note:

Sadly, it seems that many who test flew the planes were killed during training as a direct result of the poor condition of the aircraft, which had been so badly shot up, but had to be used since new aircraft had to be sent straight into action to replace losses in battle.

This was based on material published by The BBC and the The Scotsman online, both of which contained the statement “Many of these planes had been badly shot up, one of the reasons that so many were killed in training accidents, and which both attributed the statement to Flying Officer Tom McMorrow, commanding officer of the 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron of the Air Training Corps.

Further to correspondence and research detailed below, we are pleased to report that this statement was incorrectly attributed by those sources, as follows:

I have now received an official explanation! It appears that the C.O. Grangemouth A.T.C. in an interview quoted an extract from a book relating to accidents at another airfield flying elderly Blenheim Bombers. This is the basis of the story, He states that at no time was Grangemouth and its Spitfires implicated. Regretably this erronious version still is circulating on the Web. I received also a fulsome apology for the frustration felt by myself and ex-collegues relating as it did to our wartime service.

A. Paterson.

Secret testing at Grangemouth

Doing a little background reading, I found a report that the base had also been used for secret operations involving the spraying of gas, using Lysanders of 614 Squadron. The whole area around the base became a restricted area due to the stockpiles of mustard gas and the secrecy of the missions carried out. The restricted area took in the nearby town and the docks, and special passes were issued to all residents.

Although the name suggests mustard gas is the harmful component, it is in fact a liquid which can be dispersed as an aerosol, and persists where it lands, denying access to an area, and remaining dangerous for some some, being absorbed through the skin if picked up directly or on clothing, and not displaying any significant symptoms for some hours, by which time it is generally too late for effective treatment to be administered.

Employed during World Wars I and II, mustard agents are now regulated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Three classes of chemicals are monitored under this Convention, with sulfur and nitrogen mustard grouped in Schedule 1, as substances with no use other than chemical warfare.

13/09/2008 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , , | 36 Comments

Polish consulate looks set for Inverness

polish flagIt will be interesting to see if the foul-mouthed Polish bigot tries to twist my inclusion of the following story into some sort of anti-Polish rant. I cringe every time I look at the control panel for this blog, which lists where my blog is re-used, and see the four-letter words peppering his entries referring to my site. However, that’s the way the web works, and you can’t stop someone making a reference. I’d just rather not be associated with such filth.

As we’ve noted before, many areas of Scotland have seen Polish migrant workers and their families set up home here, and enjoy their life in the Highlands, however, this is still a different country, with its own laws and culture. For some, this is not a problem, but others find they need some sort of assistance to help integrate with their new surroundings.

A Polish consulate has been proposed, to be established in Inverness, and the idea has won the backing of the local council, which will ask Highland Council to support the plan to provide an office which would offer services to help meet the concerns of Poles living in the Highland.

21/06/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Polish bigot helps no-one

Apparently it is unacceptable for me to report, and I emphasis the word report, on any news item or experience of Polish people that is not positive, and is not accompanied by full references to the source of the information.

In which case, I am about to blot my copybook still further.

To be fair, I would not have included this item, but since it comes complete with full reference to where its voracity can be verified, I feel the need to do that which I have been forbidden from doing.

  • On 6th February 08 five polish males were arrested for unlicensed street trading, held overnight and left the Island the following morning.

This is a direct quotation from the police report section of the official minutes of the March meeting of Bute Community Council. This is a document of record, as is the police report, which anyone who wishes to refer to or verify is free to do, as I have done.

I have posted entries regarded Polish news items in the past, which were simply taken from the news, and which I also happened to have personal experience of. In return, I have received negative and trivial comments, which have degraded into personal insults.

Secret Scotland blogs may not necessarily report the most favourable items that anyone wants to see repeated, that may indeed be why certain items are selected, but it does not create the items, merely reports and perhaps draws the reader’s to some aspect they contain, and attracting the attention of a rude and foul-mouthed bigot, who carefully misquotes selected excerpts of our text out of context to suit his own agenda, will not alter this.

Always find the source, and always read the full text of the original whenever you are presented with carefully clipped and trimmed “evidence”.

11/04/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Polish coincidence

Polish deliLooking around some web stories relating to one of my past haunts, it was interesting to note that one of them featured an item that related directly to a local News Item that had featured here a few weeks ago.

Porthmadog, in North Wales, was a regular stop as we visited Portmeirion, location for filming of The Prisoner. An intriguing aside arises in the multicultural nature of The Village, and the possible location (was the location given in the second episode, The Chime of Big Ben, in any way genuine – in plot terms – or just a convenient diversion to suit our hero’s expectation?).

Our original item noted the news that the number of Polish people in Scotland was decreasing, as they returned to their homeland as the economic pendulum swung in favour of that country. The picture we have featured from Porthmadog shows a Polish Delicatessen, taken in 2007, opened in the town to provide Polish food to the growing Polish community in the area.

I wonder if the community in North Wales will be following that from Scotland, and deserting the area in favour of the economic improvements being enjoyed in eastern Europe?

Picture by Alan Fryer.

01/04/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Poles come, and Poles go


Polish flag

The number of Polish people in Scotland hit the news twice during the past week.

In the first, Polish was reported as now being the second language in half of Scotland’s school areas. Although totalling less than the number speaking Punjabi and Urdu as their first language, the Polish speakers are distributed across the country, while the others are concentrated in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

In the second, it was reported that many Polish workers that had come to Scotland were now deserting the country as their homeland was returning to prosperity. At the moment, the Polish economy is growing significantly faster than Scotland’s, and those who have returned are able to double and even treble their salaries.

Interestingly, some don’t even bother to speak English (and this is not a blatant generalisation – only recounting two recorded incidents).

In the first (dating from a year or two ago), your scribe was accosted at his front door by shabbily dressed individual carrying rolled up canvases (oil painting) in bag and an almost illegible handwritten note on a scrap of paper, along the lines of “I am Polish and cannot speak any English. I have no money and am trying to sell these paintings I have made. Please help me.” Worth noting that he began to learn English quite rapidly after I declined to buy anything.

In the second, reported only a few days ago, an elderly female resident of one of the Clyde’s islands reported that a group of Polish immigrants had knocked at her door and were carrying a sign asking for money.

Consulting the police, these incidents were described as law breaking, and that there had been a number of arrests made in similar circumstances, as anyone wishing to call at doors requires to hold a valid Street Trader’s Licence.

16/03/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | 6 Comments


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