It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing the debate and on his excellent and moving speech. It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and his wonderful speech.
I want to contribute for two reasons. First, because RAF Tangmere in my constituency played such a pivotal role during the battle of Britain, and secondly, to thank the Polish pilots, many of whom took to the skies to defend our country and fight for theirs. Their efforts in the second world war were vital and must never be forgotten.
RAF Tangmere and Westhampnett was the most southerly RAF fighter command base during the battle of Britain. It played an historic role in the defence of our country during our darkest hour over the summer of 1940. Many of “the few”, as they became known, including revered pilots such as Douglas Bader and Billy Fiske, flew from Tangmere. The Polish 302 and 303 Squadrons did not fly from Tangmere, but today their contribution has been marked by the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, which stands on the site of the old RAF airfield.
Last summer the museum held an exhibition focused solely on the contribution made by Polish and Czech air crews: their pilots and their highly skilled crews who came to our country to fight the Nazis after their homelands had been invaded and occupied. More than 4,000 people visited the exhibition over a six-week period, and I was very pleased to meet veterans who had served, and several young people from Poland who were keen to research the roles that their grandfathers and uncles had played in world war two.
Intervention: Mr Gregory Campbell – East Londonderry (DUP)
The hon. Lady refers to young people attending, but does she agree with me that although it is exceptionally important that the generations would we represent here are made aware and reminded of the bravery and sacrifices that were made, it is even more important that future generations remember it so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?
I completely agree, and that means that this debate and the continuation of memorials, exhibitions, museums and celebrations will always be important for future generations.
The Imperial War Museum records that 145 Polish men fought alongside our pilots during that fateful time, and that period they destroyed 204 enemy aircraft. The people of Britain owe their liberty in part to their heroism. I am proud that in Chichester we play our part in continuing to remember them. As many Members have mentioned, Poland’s contribution to our war effort goes far beyond the battle of Britain. The Nazi occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal of the war. Poland was carved up with Stalin under the German-Soviet non-aggression pact and the German-occupied zone became known as the General Government, which was placed under the control of Hitler’s lawyer, a ruthless Nazi called Hans Frank, who was later hanged at Nuremberg.
Although divided, occupied, brutalised and stripped of their identity, the Poles fought on and continued to resist, and 1943 saw the heroic Warsaw uprising by the Jewish community. Later in 1944, the entire population of Warsaw did the same in a heroic effort to liberate their capital city from the Nazi tyranny.
Intervention: Alex Sopel – Leeds North West (Lab/Co-op)
I thank the hon. Lady for recognising the Jewish efforts in the war. In September 1939, there were 150,000 Jews serving in the Polish army in that campaign. Many went to fight in the Polish Free Army in France and in the United Kingdom. Just as many fought as partisans and in the Warsaw uprising. My own grandfather, Maksymilian Sobel, fought on the German front as part of the Polish army on the eastern front and commanded the independent motor battalion during the battle of Dresden. I want to put that on the record.
The heroism of the two uprisings by the Polish are the greatest acts of resistance against tyranny that the world has ever seen. It is an enduring stain on the record of the Soviet Union’s wartime history that Stalin ordered his troops encircling Warsaw to do nothing while the Nazis put down the uprising and destroyed much of the city.
It is important to highlight the cruel fact that the majority of the Nazi death camps were built in Poland. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and Majdanek were all in Poland. Those camps are believed to be where 3 million people were murdered. Over the course of the war, Poland lost 6 million of its citizens, half of whom were Jewish. We remembered them on international Holocaust Memorial Day this year in Speaker’s House, where I was proud that a Chichester choir performed the holocaust opera, “Push”, to Members of both Houses of Parliament.
There can be no doubt whatever that Poland played a huge part in the war effort both in the UK and in resisting at home. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for securing the debate and I assure him that in Chichester we will never forget the bravery of our Polish friends and allies.