In celebrating the inauguration of direct flights between Miami and Beef Island and the reopening of Marina Cay, let us salute the pioneering work of Captain Wladek Wagner. The Polish sailor contributed to the early development of both facilities — as entrancingly recounted by his late widow Mabel in the 2015 book Lest I Forget: The Wagner Family, Pioneers of Trellis Bay, Beef Island.
A recognition of my VI family’s close connection with the Wagners was foreshadowed by encounters with Poland and Polish people reflected in my DNA. The United Kingdom’s declaration of war on Germany after the Nazi invasion of Poland triggered our family’s move to a supposedly safer area hundreds of miles away from my birthplace nearer London.
A little after our return home after World War II ended, my mother fostered a Polish toddler whose mother was too ill to care for her, but Trudy became too much of a burden for her to handle. On one occasion, she wrenched herself from my mother’s arms and had to be rescued from running blithely across the beach towards the sea.
The art collection in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, near my London boarding school, was originally based on the work of two distinguished art dealers whom the progressive king of Poland commissioned in 1790 to form a royal collection. While they did so, Poland was partitioned between its autocratic neighbours, who forced the king to abdicate in 1795. Poland disappeared as a fully independent nation until it regained independence after the Russian Empire collapsed and the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I.
After joining a London firm as a trainee accountant, I formed an unlikely bond with a well-respected Polish accountant who rarely mixed socially. He was reticent about his background, but virulently opposed to the post-World War II communist regime in his homeland. While the office staff generally addressed each other by their plain surnames, I had always to greet him respectfully as Pan (Mr.) Wysocki.
Jozefa, a young Polish graduate, obtained his government’s permission to attend a peace conference in London, fulfiling a dream of escape he had planned for years. Over weekly meetings, he told me about the dystopian world he had left.
One of his stories involved a popular college lecturer in French literature who was inexplicably replaced by an army veteran who knew little about the subject. While his back was turned, a student called out a quotation familiar to his fellows. The veteran turned and barked out, “Who said that?” The students chorused, “Balzac” (the French writer). The veteran was mortified at the laughter which followed his order, “Student Balzac, please stand up.”
After his graduation in Poland, Jozefa grew so tired of looking for posts for which his degree would qualify him that he demanded that the employment office comply with the socialist state’s commitment to full employment. He was appointed the manager of a department store, but all the important decisions were made by his secretary, who had worked there for years.
During Jozefa’s years of preparation, he had accumulated skills and belongings to equip him for life in London. He learnt cockney accents from old films and spent his savings on some beautiful black shoes. The accent to his precise English grammar was a bit hard to understand and, sadly, the shoes disintegrated after a rainstorm — the “leather” soles were made of cardboard.
I have recounted elsewhere my time in an Austrian refugee camp helping to rehouse refugees evicted from part of eastern Germany granted to Poland’s communist government in compensation for the half of Poland which Stalin annexed to the Soviet Union after World War II. While there, I visited a concentration camp near Hitler’s birthplace, where Polish intellectuals and Jews were worked to death in the quarries.
While living in Colchester, England between 1989 and 2001, the advent of researching family history on the internet led me to discover that my German great-grandparents moved to Berlin from their birthplaces in Breslau, Prussia (renamed Wroclaw, Poland), so some of the refugees may have been related to me
Many of the plumbers in Colchester were Polish, but they must have filled many other jobs too, because there was a shop with all its signs in Polish and the supermarkets had small sections devoted to Polish goods. I even found some goods for sale from Wroclaw.