BY SHEENA McDONALD
Are you old enough to remember Stanislaw Maczek? I’m not.
By the time I was old enough to be bought an alcoholic drink – in days of yore, when last orders were at 10pm, many hostelries barred lassies, and smoking was well nigh obligatory – Stan was no longer working behind the bar at the Learmonth Hotel in Edinburgh.
Retired, on his state pension, he lived with his wife and three children in Bruntsfield, walking his dog in the Meadows, and sharing the care of his disabled daughter. He was unassuming and very popular. He loved Scotland, which he knew better than most native Scots. He was 102 when he died.
I didn’t know him but I was delighted to learn that the campaign to raise £500,000 to erect a permanent memorial to him has been re-activated. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie originally launched it in 2012 but his premature death the following year left the campaign leaderless and rudderless.
Now Lord Fraser’s youngest daughter has joined forces with like-minded supporters of the memorial trust in her father’s name. The Polish Ex-Combatants’ Association has already pledged a handsome four-figure sum towards the plan to erect a statue of General Maczek, in uniform, on a park-bench, and place it in the Meadows.
General Maczek? Yes, Stan the tapster had previously been a soldier – of legendary eminence! He was commander of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, initially serving in defence of the Scottish coast between Montrose and the Firth of Forth. In 1944, the Division was transferred to Normandy, where it achieved a brilliant victory against the Wehrmacht.
He went on to command the Division until the end of European hostilities and was promoted to major-general. After the capitulation of Germany, he became commanding officer of all Polish forces in the United Kingdom until their demobilization in 1947.
But he came from eastern Poland. When he left the army in 1948 he was stripped of Polish citizenship by the Communist government, and had to remain in Britain. He chose to settle in Scotland.
Despite his record, he was not considered by the British to be an Allied soldier. He was denied combatant rights and refused a military pension. And that’s where Edinburgh and the Learmonth Hotel entered his life-story.
Maybe you know all this. I didn’t – but I mentioned the memorial trust and the re-launch of the project to my mother, who remembered that a late friend of hers – who I had greatly admired – had known him and his family and visited him often – at home rather than at the hotel. She couldn’t have spoken more highly of the general.
And that merest scrap of indirect contact reinforced my decision to commit a few groats to the trust. Commemorating an unsung hero whose exploits may have indirectly led to my existence and (heretofore) peace and content seems a good use of disposable income.
But suddenly I risk becoming an evangelical do-gooder! Doesn’t charity begin at home? If I tell you that I’m giving something to ‘a good cause’, doesn’t that weaken my action if not nullify any ‘goodness’? Does that matter anyway if someone benefits?
Or would it be better to commit groats to Olivia Giles’s brilliant Big Dinner wheeze, which aims to raise a similar total for orthotics and prosthetics in Malawi and Zambia where the lack of provision for the limbless leads to severe disadvantage and prejudice? These are living people, for heavens sake, who couldn’t walk a dog round any meadow without some form of benign intervention!
Well, I am groat-ing there too, actually. Oh no! Now I sound like St Goodie-Two-shoes!
Would I be writing this if I’d set up a standing order to Grant Shaps? Or Nigel Farage? Or Stewart Hosie’s mob?
The practice and ethics of philanthropy, whether you’re an impecunious widow or Warren Buffet, seem slippery and ambiguous. I’m challenging myself to explore the sector in pursuit of the Golden Rules of Giving. Watch this space!
Stan, by the way, did not leave without a trace. In 1989, Poland’s last Communist Government issued a public apology and in 1994, the year of Maczek’s death, he was presented with Poland’s highest state decoration, the Order of the White Eagle.
In contrast, the country where he lived for most of his life, which he loved, and whose security he fought to protect, has never recognized his rights as a combatant, nor compensated his family for half a lifetime with no pension.
What about the Military Covenant which formalizes the mutual obligation between the nation and its armed forces? It wasn’t introduced until 2000. And now, that very covenant is itself straining under threatened Treasury parsimony.
I’m going to need another space!