The colourful mosaic panel built into the wall of the town hall depicts a soldier in Polish uniform with the figure of St Andrew in the background above the inscription “Polish Soldier to St Andrews City”. It was made by Polish soldiers in 1942 in gratitude for hospitality received in St Andrews in the Second World War. During that conflict, the Polish forces featured prominently amongst those of many other allied European nations seeking refuge in Britain from Nazi occupation.
The Polish army arrived in Scotland from France in 1940 and was deployed in the defences of parts of the east coast, including Fife. The headquarters of Polish units in the area was located in nearby Cupar, and Polish soldiers soon made their presence felt in St Andrews. The building at no. 60 South Street served as the Polish Canteen, with a reading room and other recreational facilities, and also welcomed Dutch airmen stationed at RAF Leuchars nearby.
Many Polish soldiers were billeted throughout the town, they participated in art classes and other cultural activities and some attended courses at the University. On Sundays, the soldiers marched as a unit along the streets, singing Polish songs, to attend mass at St James’s Catholic Church on The Scores.
Some also developed relationships with local women, married and settled in the area after the war, as political circumstances in post-war Poland made returning to their home country problematic. In consequence, Polish names became a noticeable feature in Fife even prior to the arrival of another generation of Poles following the accession to Poland to the European Union in 2004.
The Polish presence in St Andrews during the Second World War also led to an important development in the science of mine-detection. Continuing his earlier work in this field, a military inventor, Józef Stanisław Kozacki, perfected his design of a portable mine detector while based at the Ardgowan Hotel in North Street in 1942. The device became widely used in mine clearance operations by the British Army in north Africa and allied landings in southern Italy and northern France. Kozacki’s invention continued to save lives and prevent injuries in conflict zones over the following decades.
Further along South Street is the ruin of the Blackfriars’ Chapel, the remains of a Dominican friary destroyed in the Reformation. The Dominican order was established by a Spanish priest in Toulouse in France in 1216. At the Blackfriars’ ruin, cross South Street into Bell Street, then turn left into Market Street. After crossing a main road continue along Doubledykes Road until reaching the pedestrian entrance to Kinburn Park, on the right just beyond a car parking area.
Mosaic image © Jim Bain, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Geograph Polish Canteen image © University of St Andrews, CC BY-NC 4.0, courtesy University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: GMC-32-14-1 Mine detector image © Imperial War Museum, E 16226, IWM non-commercial licence