Walking down Comely Place the other day I was shocked to see that the ‘wee Polish Club’ and the Polish Priest’s house have been demolished and the site is lying flat and empty.
Add the fact that the ‘big Polish Club’ in Arnot Street has been standing empty for months then we are surely seeing the end of an era and of a very significant part of Falkirk’s modern history. Although we have many young Polish people working here as part of the new wave of immigration, the circumstances of their arrival is very different from those of their predecessors.
When France fell to the advancing German troops in 1940 many Polish officers who had gone there following the invasion of their own country sought safety in Britain and thousands were dispersed to Scotland including the Falkirk area.
They were determined to carry on the struggle and were helped by the local communities which provided many mansion houses like South Bantaskine, Callendar House and Kinnaird as well school and church halls. Friendships were forged and the handsome soldiers and airmen with their dashing style won the hearts of many a Falkirk girl.
The invasion of France in 1944 saw the departure of most but after the war, with Poland under communist control, many opted to return to Scotland to find work in the mines and foundries.
Dozens settled in Falkirk and began to develop a new life far from their homes.
In 1947 a room in the High Street above Hepworths (more recently the Next store) was leased and it became a Polish centre where cultural activities thrived and children could learn the language and customs of their fathers’ land. But things did not always go smoothly and there was some prejudice against the incomers taking scarce jobs.
But one problem was internal to the community itself.
On the one hand many believed that their stay would be short and that they should hold on to their faith, avoid marriage outwith their community and look to the day when they would return home.
But the Polish Ex-servicemen, the SPK Dom Kombatanta, were more realistic and hoped to find a new life and make their homes in Falkirk.
This was particularly true after Britain recognised the Communist Government in Warsaw. The disagreement in Falkirk came to a head when the lease club rooms came to an end in the early 1950s and the two groups acquired separate premises. The wee one in Comely Place was built in the garden of a house called Garfield which became the home of Father Vincent Drobina a very well known and popular man in the Polish community and the town.
Woodside House on Arnot Street became the Ex-combatants club.
And so things remained until recent times.
Of course those early disagreements had been long forgotten but the two clubs survived to serve the ageing Polish community and their neighbours.
And now it is all but over.
The second and third generation of Polish ‘bairns’ have merged with the community of which they are a vital part and there is less inclination to display their distinctive culture than there once was.
It is a pity because I remember well the great concerts in Falkirk Town Hall in celebration of Christ the King, when the Polish Echo choir, the magnificently dressed dancers of the White Eagle and the Bruno Korda Trio brought Poland to life for a night and reminded us all that when things were at their bleakest we stood together side by side.