Bonnie Greer on her love for Britain and Britain’s everlasting debt to those who defended our shores

PUBLISHED: 16:05 30 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:16 30 September 2016

September 1943:  Polish airmen in Britain prepare to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the World War II invasion of Poland by increasing their attacks on the enemy. A giant mine waiting to be loaded onto a bomber at a Polish Bomber Station bears the chalk inscription 'From Polish Airmen'.  (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

September 1943: Polish airmen in Britain prepare to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the World War II invasion of Poland by increasing their attacks on the enemy. A giant mine waiting to be loaded onto a bomber at a Polish Bomber Station bears the chalk inscription 'From Polish Airmen'. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

This content is subject to copyright.

Never mind the politics of migration, Bonnie Greer gives a deeply personal reflection of the hope and promise it represents

4/16/1944-Italy: Sgt. Charles Glasco, Westchester, PA (l) and Sgt. Audrey Barnes, Chicago, IL, read mail from home in their cave shelters on the Anzio beachhead in Italy. The cave shelters are a refuge against enemy shells.4/16/1944-Italy: Sgt. Charles Glasco, Westchester, PA (l) and Sgt. Audrey Barnes, Chicago, IL, read mail from home in their cave shelters on the Anzio beachhead in Italy. The cave shelters are a refuge against enemy shells.

One of the qualities of being an immigrant is that you have a tendency to dream.

You dream all the time of that place where everything can be realized, and you are sure exists. If you can only get there.

You read about it, study for it, plan, save. And if you have to, you look for a way to escape to it. No matter the cost.

Smiling faces from the crew of the Lancaster Bomber , HAA or Heavy Anti-Aircraft Planes , including a crew member from JamaicaSmiling faces from the crew of the Lancaster Bomber , HAA or Heavy Anti-Aircraft Planes , including a crew member from Jamaica

This Country Of Dreams is constructed brick –by-brick; tree-by-tree; person- by-person all from an accumulation of stories; myths, lies and small sprinklings of truth.

But nothing can actually deter you because your determination is built on hope and an idea of regeneration. And if this isn’t enough: you dare to believe that (hopefully) you can make a contribution too. That you can be a value-add.

That you can give.

No kid growing up in the States in the 1960s – like I was – could escape a place of dreams called “England”.

I put the name in quotes because of course, what we saw on screen and TV, heard in the music, was not the real “England” – the name everyone gave to mean Great Britain.

This was a Dream and I fell in love with this “England” and its Technicolor audacity; its crazy hair and clothes, the way it spoke.

And even though I am Anglophone, too, born and raised in the States, there was something I wanted – needed – that was Over There.

Of course I knew that my mother tongue’s origin was in England, but it didn’t matter.

I was inventing “England” and in doing so I was investing it and myself with a kind of possibility that only an immigrant can have, only an immigrant can provide.

Because we have no fear and we thrive in that.

And in our audacity, too.

One of the films I loved back in those brightly-coloured Sixties’ days was “The Battle of Britain”. A gung-ho, pretty jingoistic, recreation of the Battle Of Britain and the exploits of the “The Few”.

My late father had been in the south of England preparing for D-Day, which happened the day before his 20th birthday. I think that the stories he told us of England when we were children were the tales of a young African American lad far away from the country that oppressed him.

How true they all were, I can’t say. He raved about all the people he saw: Jamaican airmen , proud and upright while he toiled as a service worker in the segregated Army of the United States.

And also he talked about the Poles.

Chicago, where I was born, was – and is – a big Polish town. Some say that it has the highest number of Polish-speakers outside of Warsaw. So Dad was familiar with the language and the names. He was surprised and impressed by them, and would say to us that they had a fierce determination.

African American troops and white troops (above all, Americans) weren’t allowed to drink in the same places during the war by order of the United States.

But Brits and everyone else often defied this ban, and so Dad met a few Poles.

Ironically, this would have never have happened in Chicago, where the African American and the Polish community were in battle over housing and jobs.

That’s why meeting Poles in England was so significant to him.

But he had no idea of the crucial role that they played in the Battle Of Britain, the fight to save the UK’s very existence at the beginning of the Second World War.

The Imperial War Museum has a tribute to the Poles who fought. They had arrived in England after the Fall Of France, trailing two bad reputations, both false: Hermann Goering said that they were cowards because they hadn’t been able to defeat a double assault, and simultaneous, from the both Hitler and Stalin’s air forces.

And the French – who the Polish airmen had escaped to - seldom let them fly. They came over to the UK fired up with the need to prove themselves; to destroy a reputation that was false and dangerous to them. And for vengeance.

Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who had been reluctant to give Polish pilots a chance, even though they were skilled in battle, ended up saying afterwards: “Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same.”

The Polish airmen had to have their first orders in French, and they set to a study of English with passion. They had to learn to fly new aircraft as well, very different machines from what they were used to. This all had to happen quickly.

From the summer of 1940 to the autumn, the Battle of Britain – an international effort – was engaged. The Poles had one of the highest “kill” rates. Overall, they achieved what is considered a remarkable a score of 203.5 aircraft destroyed, 35 probably destroyed and 36 damaged.

Twenty nine Polish pilots, including the legendary Ludwik Paszkiewicz and Josef Frantisek, were killed in combat. With a personal score of 17 enemy planes, Frantisek – a Czech who considered himself Polish – was among the top scorers of the Battle of Britain. Four of the Polish officers won Distinguished Flying Crosses after the battle, including Flying Officer Witold Urbanowicz, the Polish commander of No. 303 Squadron: a Top Gun and a legend.

Needless to say, these guys became superstars.

Restaurants gave them free meals; their drinks were bought in pubs; bus conductors allowed them to ride for free. They were called “The Real Glamour Boys Of England”. Polish hero worship continued right through the war. A total of 1,903 of them were killed; a memorial near RAF Northolt honours them. And there are many more, including at Westminster Abbey.

Some returned, after the war, to a Poland under Soviet rule. Top Gun and Wing Commander Stanislaw Skalski spent eight years in prison, released in 1953 following the death of Stalin.

There are others: Flying Officer Antoni ‘Tony’ Glowacki, who shot down five enemy planes in one day on 24 August 1940 while in service with No. 501 Fighter Squadron RAF; Flying Officer Antoni Ostowicz and Flight Lieutenant Wilhelm Pankratz of No. 145 Squadron RAF. Heroes on the first day.

They, along with flyers from the continent of Africa, the Caribbean, the US, and elsewhere, who made up what Churchill called “The Few”.

They helped save this island nation.

They were up in those planes in that glorious 1969 movie.

But not their names.

Not their story.

Nice story, but so what?

War is an assemblage of nations, of strange alliances; of collisions.

The Polish airmen who flew in The Battle Of Britain also had something to prove: that their overrun nation – the reason Britain entered into conflict with Germany – still existed.

And WAS living in Britain – in England.

Time moves on, and we forget.

Forgetting in itself allows healing and renewal of vigour and hope. In forgetting we can weave our own destinies: solo; unconquerable. Each generation has to make its own things, build its legend; breathe and live in its own time and place.

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,” as Prospero assures us in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. This “noise” also has a peculiarly Polish ring.

Maybe we should see ourselves as existing within their nation’s sacrifice.

It’s not important to point out that we humans are a migratory species; that famine and war and the need for land have always driven us afar, and still does. Nothing can really stop that; various measures can slow it down, temporarily retard it.

But it is important to say this: that we humans move. We move on.

Immigrants are the human species on the move; expanding itself; growing; seeking, becoming-anew.

Our fear of them is human, too, and the price that we pay sometimes for this fear is an expansion of ignorance and intolerance, and an insularity that is the opposite of human progress.

Maybe, too, it takes an immigrant to see the Dream of a country; to see its innate richness; its ability to go forward and to hope.

Maybe it takes an immigrant to fly high into the clouds; teach us to confront Forces Unknown.

An immigrant knows Two Loves: love of the Old Country, and love of the New. Because Britain is the New Country for many of us, and our love and enthusiasm for it never tires.

We are dreamers in your midst and our dreams have no horizons, no parameters. We live the Dream, and we offer it to you. There is no going back home for us. Not really.

Like those Polish airmen we have lived in Great Britain as fact and as metaphor: it is The Good Thing just around the bend.

Immigrants always see that. Believe that.

That’s who we are.

Bonnie Greer is a writer, playwright and critic

What does Europe mean to you? Tweet us @TheNewEuropean with the hashtag #myeurope

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We have a number of set phrases in English which we use in a rather automatic and semi-obligatory way at particular times and in specific social situations – such as ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’, ‘happy birthday’ and ‘happy new year’.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Scotland's three biggest parties have all experienced sudden jolts in recent weeks. MAURICE SMITH reports on the tectonic plates shifting once again north of the border

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A fitting 48 times the hapless foreign secretary, currently backtracking from his bungled attempt to topple Theresa May, outraged with his thoughtless comments and ill-judged actions

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Lib Dems have stepped back from the Brexit cliff-edge.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Despite its devastating impact, Hurricane Irma passed with only a handful of deaths yet received wall-to-wall media coverage. On the other side of the world, floods have left a far higher death toll, yet reporting has been sparse. LIZ GERARD asks what is behind this apparent hypocrisy and what it says about us

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sir Vince Cable is to set out his bid to scupper Brexit by declaring “I am a proud saboteur”.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Imagine a town studded with watchtowers like San Gimignano in Tuscany, but set high on a plateau, 100 miles from the nearest centre of population.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A top Brexit Whitehall official has been moved out of the Department for Exiting the EU amid rumours of a rift with David Davis.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The venerable Dr Johnson described patriotism as “the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

Monday, September 18, 2017

It might not have grabbed the world's attention yet but, says AURORA TORRES, the over-exploitation of sand is a looming crisis for the globe, causing environmental destruction, putting communities at risk and sparking illegal black markets

Monday, September 18, 2017

The lights are going out in comments sections all over the world.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Home Secretary Amber Rudd today accused her Cabinet colleague Boris Johnson of "back-seat driving" as the row over his Brexit intervention deepened.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I couldn’t make it to the March For Europe last Saturday; perhaps this dereliction of duty means my Remoaner licence has now been revoked and I must now be demoted to Regrumbler or Rewhiner.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Angela Merkel may be on course for victory but her campaign for the German chancellorship is not the stately procession it might seem from afar. TONY PATERSON joins her on a decidedly bumpy election trail

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thousands of anti-Donald Trump posters inspired by Second World War public information designs have been plastered across Washington DC.

Friday, September 15, 2017

“Trees are sanctuaries,” wrote the German author and poet Hermann Hesse. “Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

BONNIE GREER on the conviction that you can have your cake and eat it

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A legitimisation of radical right-wing ideology is taking place around the world. The world was shocked by the events in Charlottesville, America, and by Donald Trump’s failure to condemn racist violence.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mancunian musician Mark Reeder arrived in Berlin in 1979 and never looked back.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Britain will "soon regret" leaving the EU, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned in his annual state of the union speech.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Right, so where are we now then?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un are playing a very dangerous game of nuclear poker, argues Paul Connew. But does either leader have the cards that could avoid destruction?

Monday, September 11, 2017

When Muslim feminist SEYRAN ATES opened a liberal mosque in Berlin this summer she was met with a barrage of death threats and fatwas. But she says she is undeterred in her campaign to use enlightenment values to defeat extremism – in all forms

Monday, September 11, 2017

Many of the materials we use derive their names from the towns they were first made in. PETER TRUDGILL explores the stories behind some of the best-known

Monday, September 11, 2017

Theresa May’s insistence that she is sticking around as PM may have been met with scepticism and incredulity, but PR agent MARK BORKOWSKI argues her reboot may yet work

Monday, September 11, 2017

His stricken condition fuels macabre speculation, but Michael Schumacher’s real legacy is the remarkable run of Grand Prix dominance which began 25 years ago. ROB BURNETT reports

Friday, September 8, 2017

Writer, April 17, 1885 - September 7, 1962

Friday, September 8, 2017

For comedian MITCH BENN, Theresa May’s attempts to extend her political life put him in mind of his favourite film, Blade Runner. Here, he goes on the trail of Downing Street’s replicant

Sunday, September 10, 2017

An estimated 50,000 passionate Remainers marched on Parliament yesterday demanding the Government reverse its Brexit strategy.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tony Blair today made an explosive intervention in the Brexit debate, calling for tough new immigration rules which would allow Britain to stay in the EU.

Monday, September 11, 2017

British identity is fragmented like never before, with the rise of pop-up populism dividing people into “them” and “us”. Author PETER POMERANTSEV takes a deeply personal journey through Britain to find out what it means for the country

Friday, September 8, 2017

A refusal to confront its past leaves France facing an uncertain future, argues MARTIN EVANS

Friday, September 8, 2017

Al Jazeera may have its flaws, but its persecution is seriously bad news for the world, says PAUL KNOTT

Friday, September 8, 2017

If you’re looking for a phrase to describe the change in newspaper print circulations this year, it might well be “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) demonstrate that only the Metro managed to increase its print circulation year-on-year, with every single other national title recording a fall.

Friday, September 8, 2017

It’s not just back to school for the nation’s children, this week, but also for politicians and British business.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Modern Germany has a very different political and media culture to our own, and some of that was on display in Sunday’s ‘TV-Duell’ between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her SDP challenger Martin Schulz.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

STEVE ANGLESEY picks out the worst Brexiteers of the week

Thursday, September 7, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT on the week's big stories

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Britain's chances of being ready to begin EU trade negotiations by the next round of trade talks in October are "in the neighbourhood of zero", former European Council president Herman van Rompuy warned today.

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter