Rare footage of wartime St Andrews found in forgotten film roll

A roll of film that was nearly tossed in the trash provided a startling glimpse of St Andrews during the Second World War.

They appear to be surviving footage of former Polish Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski inspecting his troops on South Street during World War II.

Local man Tad Kucharski discovered the unlabeled and unmarked photographic film in a rusty container while cleaning his loft.

He almost threw them away, before he had second thoughts.

Tad now hopes to confirm that the images are from Sikorski.

He said, “At first I didn’t know what it was.

“They were in rusty containers in the attic.

“It was a surprise when I opened them.”

Polish troops parade through the center of St Andrews in one of the pictures. Photo: Tad Kucharsky.

The photographs were taken by her father, Tadeusz Kucharski, who ran a photography and art studio on South Street in St Andrews.

Tad’s father moved to the town of Golf after serving in the war with the Polish army.

He then owned the local restaurant The Red Gown Café, before opening his art studio.

He died in 1972 but Tad did not receive his estate until his mother’s death in 1991.

Among those belongings were several film strips that Tad simply stowed in a crate in the attic before he stumbled upon before Christmas.

“They were out of sight and out of mind,” Tad said.

“I came across them during a general search while I was cleaning.

“I almost threw them away but put them through a scanner to see what they were.

“A lot of them were personal family photos but there were a few surprises, including these pictures of Polish troops at St Andrews during the Second World War.

“There is no date or information on the photos.

“I was hoping someone could find more information.”

Polish troops march through St Andrew
The black and white images were shared with St Andrews Photo Corner on Facebook. Photo: Tad Kucharsky.

That’s why Tad decided to share the black and white images on Facebook with members of the St Andrews Photo Corner.

Tad’s message generated a lot of interest from the band.

Members were able to identify the photographs as having been taken on South Street, where Tad’s father’s art studio was located in the 1940s.

Some have also suggested that the man in the photographs was Sikorski who led the Polish government in exile during World War II.

Władysław Sikorski is seen getting out of a car on South Street in this image.  Photo: Tad Kucharsky.
Is Władysław Sikorski getting out of a car on South Street in this image? Photo: Tad Kucharsky.

He established good relations with Allied leaders and was seen meeting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on several occasions at St Andrews.

Sikorski was killed in a plane crash in Gibraltar in July 1943, and many have speculated that his death at the age of 62 was caused by foul play.

Tad’s photographs are the latest evidence of a long history between Poland and the city of Fife.

The man believed to be Władysław Sikorski inspects his troops in South Street. Photo: Tad Kucharsky.

Relations between Scotland and Poland began with the Hanseatic League, a medieval confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in central and northern Europe that brought trade to communities in the northernmost islands of Scotland.

In exchange for fishing gear, beer, fruit and ceramics, the Shetlanders provided their trading partners with abundant supplies of fish, grain and wool.

These good relations continued over the centuries and St Andrews was chosen as the base for around 72,000 Polish soldiers stationed during the war.

Many Poles – like Tad’s father – remained in the area after the war, and there were around 2,500 Polish-Scottish marriages.

Wladyslaw Sikorski in St Andrews
Władysław Sikorski was killed in a plane crash in Gibraltar in July 1943. Photo: Tad Kucharski.

Today, the legacy of these exiled Polish soldiers can be seen in the mosaic in St Andrews Town Hall and through the bust of General Sikorski in Kinburn Park.

It is a sculpted bust on a stone plinth which features the Polish emblem in red and white and is inscribed in incised gold letters.

He also received an honorary degree from St Andrews University.

Polish students currently studying at university have welcomed Tad’s photographs as the latest proof of their connection to the historic city.

Tad’s father was one of many Polish artists based in South Street.

Historical illustrator Jurek Putter had a design studio there where he created a series of drawings illustrating the history of St Andrews in the Middle Ages.

Most of the designs depicting Scotland at this time were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.

Footage shows a crowd of onlookers watching Polish troops being inspected. Photo: Tad Kucharsky.

Each of Jurek’s plays is a recreation of life in pre-Reformation Scotland from 1460 to 1560.

Jurek’s Grafic Orzel design studio in South Street has since closed and the series of designs are complete.

But how does South Street compare today to images from the 1940s?

South Street in St Andrews nowadays.  Photo: Kate Brown/DCT Media.
South Street in St Andrews nowadays. Photo: Kate Brown/DCT Media.

Many of the original buildings that Tad’s father is said to have photographed and inhabited still stand, although some have been converted into new stores.

Cars and restaurants replace Polish army troops – but not the Polish community, which lives in this historic city.

The bond between St Andrews and Poland remains just as strong.

More like this:

Chariots of Fire at 40: St Andrews Beach revival changed film history

Time travel: overview of St Andrews through the decades

When Jacob Rees-Mogg nearly got beaten up in Fife in 1997

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