Polish bugle call in Cupar
After the defeat of France in the Second World War in 1940, Polish forces on French territory were evacuated to the United Kingdom. On arrival, the Polish army of about 17,000 men moved to Scotland. Their general headquarters was established in Moncreiffe House near Perth, with the local command of the units engaged in the coastal defence of Fife situated in Cupar. Consequently, many Polish soldiers were billeted in several buildings in the town and soon became integrated with the local community. They also made remarkable use of a prominent local landmark – the Corn Exchange tower in the town centre.
Keen to maintain the traditions of their home country, Polish soldiers used the tower to introduce the citizens of Cupar to the hejnał. In the historic Polish city of Kraków, every hour on the hour, a bugler sounds the alarm – or the hejnał – from the tower of St Mary’s Basilica in the main square. The call ends abruptly in mid flow as, according to legend, the original bugler was pierced by an arrow fired by enemy forces attacking the city. Today, that duty is performed by a member of a small team drawn from Kraków’s firefighters, who climbs the 239 steps to the top of the tower to perform the call.
This tradition was imported to Cupar in 1942 where the bugle call was made from the tower of the Corn Exchange building – though only once each day. The practice continued for the duration of the war. It was captured on a Christmas card produced by Polish soldiers in Cupar in 1942. A sketch of St Mary’s Basilica in distant Kraków is visually linked with the Cupar skyline through the notes of the bugle call sounding from the tower of the Corn Exchange. The Polish word on the card translates as “We shall return!”. Sadly, for many Polish soldiers that expectation never materialised since post-war political circumstances made it difficult for them to return to their homeland. As a result, many remained in Scotland, settled in the area and Polish names became a familiar feature across Fife.
The tower of the Cupar Corn Exchange building is on St Catherine Street. The Christmas card was found amongst historic minutes of the Masonic Lodge in Bonnygate, Cupar. Polish soldiers were billeted in the Masonic Hall in the early 1940s.
Corn Exchange tower image © Kilnburn, via Wikimedia Commons Christmas card image courtesy Lodge Coupar o’ Fife No. 19