Forty years ago, on 5 September 1973, the Apollo in Glasgow staged its first concert. It went on to become, if only for a few years, one of the world's premier rock venues.
The name was an inspired choice. Apollo was, among other things, the god of music. However, Frank Lynch, the owner, admits that he had spent so much money refurbishing the old Green's Playhouse, he needed to economise on the venue's name. With the signwriter charging by the letter, "Apollo" was conveniently short.
Apollo was also the god of light. And the story of the Glasgow concert hall throws an interesting light on immigrants, what they bring to this country and how we treat them.
The general manager of the Apollo during its glory years in the seventies was Jan Tomasik. Tomasik arrived in Scotland with the Polish army and stayed on after the war. His is the classic immigrant rags-to-riches story. He went from penniless soldier to the owner of a string of hotels. This, as well as his stint at the Apollo, was only part of the contribution he made to the Scottish economy and cultural life.
In one of his hotels, Tomasik employed a middle aged bartender by the name of Stanislaw Maczek. The locals must have been startled by the customers who stood stiffly to attention when served by this humble waiter. During the war, Maczek had been the general in command of the Polish forces stationed here from 1940, their initial task to defend Scotland from a possible Nazi invasion. Before that, he had fought the Germans in his native land and in France. In August 1944, Maczek's Polish Armoured Division made a decisive contribution to the Allies' breakout of Normandy at Falaise. He then led his fighting Poles all the way through France and Belgium, capturing the Dutch town of Breda and finally forcing the surrender of the German stronghold of Wilhelmshaven.
After the war, Maczek didn't receive much from us in the way of thanks. Since he was not formally part of the British army, he received no pension. Aged 56, he had to seek work as a labourer. Tomasik's job offer at least saved him from penury. Hearing of Maczek's plight, the grateful burghers of Breda voted him a small pension.
Maczek's fate was symbolic of how the Poles were treated after the war. The first people to fight the Nazis, the Poles were our steadfast allies in Africa and Italy even before Maczek's heroics in 1944-45. Many authorities reckon the Battle of Britain would not have been won without the disproportionate number of kills achieved by Polish pilots. All this was quickly forgotten. Shamefully, the Labour government, fearful of upsetting the Soviet Union, did not allow the Poles to participate in the great victory parade staged in London a year after the end of the war.
Speedily discarded in peacetime, during the war the highly successful but modest Maczek had had to suffer the condescending attitudes of his arrogant British peers. Montgomery once asked him which language Poles spoke at home, German or Russian? It's difficult to imagine anything that could be more crassly insensitive. After the Nazi-Soviet carve up of their country in 1939, Polish casualties at the hands of the invaders numbered in the millions.
But Montgomery, a particularly stupid and ignorant man, did even better. In 1944, hearing that the Soviets had captured Maczek's home town of LwÏ?w, Montgomery quipped that the Pole would probably be made a general in the Red Army after the war. In fact, over 100,000 Polish civilians were murdered and ten times that number expelled as part of the process of handing over the eastern parts of pre-war Poland to the USSR.
As for Maczek himself, the new communist government in Poland formally labelled him a 'traitor'. He must have been the only bartender in Edinburgh with a death sentence hanging over his head.
It would be good to think that our attitudes to foreigners have changed since then. But the recent case studies of bongo-bongo land and the offers to fly home asylum-seekers suggest otherwise.
Apart from Tomasik and Maczek, another prominent member of the Polish army also settled in Scotland after war. This was Corporal Wojtek. Wojtek was an orphaned bear cub which Polish soldiers, on their way from the Soviet gulag to join the British in the Middle East, had adopted in Iran. He earned his stripes through his sterling work in loading ammunition and supplies. With the disbandment of the Polish forces after the war, Wojtek became one of the star attractions in Edinburgh zoo. Now plans are well advanced to install a statue of 'the bear who went to war' in Princes Gardens.
There is also talk of putting up a monument to General Maczek somewhere in Scotland. That would be nice. But Wojtek's statue will definitely be in place first. So many of us always did prefer animals to people.
Especially foreign people.
40 years on, the legend of the Apollo rocks on
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