Former Falkirk Herald reporter earns military medal for war hero remembrance work

Archie Mackay pictured at the memorial bench dedicated to General Stanislaw Maczek
Archie Mackay pictured at the memorial bench dedicated to General Stanislaw Maczek

A former Falkirk Herald journalist has been decorated by the Polish Government for the part he played in raising the profile of one of the country’s most famous war heroes.

Archie Mackay (64) was awarded the Polish Military Medal at the highest level of gold in recognition of his efforts to immortalise General Stanislaw Maczek.

The Falkirk man played a key role in establishing the General Stanislaw Maczek Memorial Trust along with lawyer Roddy Harrison and Katie Fraser, daughter of the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie who devised an idea to create a bronze sculpture as a tribute to the Pole.

General Maczek was Commander of the 1st Polish Armoured Division and had a crucial role in the Allied liberation of France.

He eventually made his way to Britain after fighting in the German invasion of his home country, as well as in France.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill provided the tanks necessary to create the 1st Polish Armoured Division and General Maczek was put in charge of the defence of Scotland’s east coast.

In 1944, General Maczek and his men joined with Canadian forces on the left flank of the Normandy beaches, breaking through the enemy lines.

The Polish forces then held the Falaise Pocket, preventing the escape of tens of thousands of German soldiers and considerably accelerating the Allies’ drive to victory.

General Maczek went on to liberate towns in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, including the town of Breda where, after a secret meeting with the town’s leader, he agreed to try to capture it without the use of heavy artillery. Although it proved successful, General Maczek lost many of his men in the street fighting.

The people of Breda petitioned the Dutch Government to have Maczek and all of his men declared freemen of the town.

When the Second World War ended General Maczek was unable to return to his native Poland as the Soviet Union had taken control as part of an Allied agreement.

Refused a war pension, he worked as barman in his adopted city of Edinburgh where he and his wife raised a son and two daughters.

In 1989 the Polish Government issued a public apology to General Maczek and five years later he was presented with Poland’s highest state decoration, the Order of the White Eagle. In the same year, he died aged 102.

Lord Fraser represented the British Government at General Maczek’s funeral and witnessed Polish hussars form an arch of steel as the coffin was leaving the church which sparked an interest in the General’s achievements.

Further research by Lord Fraser led him to conclude a permanent memorial was long overdue.

A few months before his death in 2013, Lord Fraser revealed details of his plan to raise funds for a bench in bronze that would include a figure of General Maczek to be cast in Poland and then sited near the former family home in Edinburgh.

He won unanimous support from the Friends of the Edinburgh Meadows and although Lord Fraser’s death stalled the project, his daughter Katie worked hard in partnership with Archie, now a PR advisor, to set up the trust in General Maczek’s name.

With help from Lady Fraser, the trio raised £85,000 to fund the memorial bench which, due to a planning issue, has been sited just off the Royal Mile in the courtyard outside the chambers of the City of Edinburgh Council.

Lady Fraser and one of the General’s men, retired Captain Zbigniew Mieczkowski, unveiled the memorial at a gathering attended by over 500 people including surviving former soldiers of General Maczek, Jaroslaw Mika, the General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, and others with family connections to the 1st Polish Armoured Division.

The sculpture was created by Polish artist Bronislaw Krzysztof initially in clay and then cast in bronze.

Archie told of his pride of being involved in the project and said: “It is a superb piece of work and honours not only General Maczek but the many other Polish service personnel who fought for our freedom.

“Seeing the project completed was for me unfinished business. I worked with Lord Fraser on The Holyrood Inquiry into the cost over-runs of the Scottish Parliament and also on other projects.

“The Maczek story fascinated him and he would often reveal new snippets of information he had gathered. We found it astonishing that we had a real hero living in the middle of Edinburgh but very few people knew anything of his achievements.

“Lord Fraser wanted to correct that wrong and now with the help of his family we have achieved his goal. That was very satisfying in itself but to be honoured by the Polish Government for doing it was both unexpected and very humbling.”

Archie worked for the Falkirk Herald in the 1970s before continuing his career with The Sunday Mail and later setting up his own PR company, media2k.