Polish Parachute Brigade at Leven
Following the evacuation from France in 1940 during the Second World War, the Polish army was moved to Scotland. Fife, in addition to hosting soldiers deployed in coastal defences, also became home to the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. The unit, formed in 1941, was based at Largo House, near Leven, where Polish volunteers undertook rigorous combat training on an assault course known as the malpi gaj – the “monkey grove”. The paratroopers were stationed in various locations across Fife, including Ellie and Earlsferry. Those billeted in Falkland demonstrated their considerable abilities of fine craftmanship by creating a replica of a famous religious icon from items of scrap metal. The work was presented to the chapel at Falkland Palace.
The original purpose behind the formation of the brigade was its use in the liberation of Poland. However, being unable, for reasons of geography and geopolitics, to support the Warsaw uprising which broke out in August 1944, Polish units were assigned instead to the attempt to secure Rhine crossings in the Netherlands in order to accelerate the Allied advance into Germany. During the unsuccessful attempt to take strategic bridges in Arnhem in September 1944, the Polish brigade, alongside British comrades, sustained heavy casualties.
Responsibility for the failure of the Arnhem operation has been placed by some at least in part of the Polish paratroopers. Others claim that they were scapegoated for an unwise military venture based on misleading intelligence assessments and blighted by bad weather. The Polish commander, Stanisław Sosabowski, who was relieved of his duties in consequence, had reservations concerning the proposed campaign and probably shared the opinion of a British colleague that the planned operation was “going a bridge too far”.
The now ruined shell of Largo House serves as a poignant reminder of Polish wartime sacrifice. In nearby Leven the Polish parachute brigade is honoured in two memorials. The first was erected on the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem in 1964. More recently, in 2014, a further memorial was created by the local-born sculptor David Mach. Poignancy also became attached to the chosen motto of the brigade which is inscribed on the Leven monument: najkrótsza droga. This translates as “the shortest way” – by implication an air drop into Poland – an aim which was not to be realised.
The memorials in Leven are located in the Festival Gardens, between Links Road and the Promenade. The ruin of Largo House is visible to the north of the A915 road between Upper and Lower Largo.
Attlee with Polish troops image © Imperial War Museum, H 18882, IWM non-commercial licence Stanisław Sosabowski image, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Largo House ruin image © Tom Parnell, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons Leven memorial image © Aleks Scholz, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Geograph