FLICK through any copy of the Borders telephone directory and you’ll find numerous surnames of Polish origin.
Many of these Borderers are the descendants of some of the Polish soldiers who were stationed in the region during the Second World War and who, unable to return to their then Soviet-occupied homeland after hostilities ended, chose to make a new life in the Borders and elsewhere in Scotland.
Now an exhibition tracing the story of many of these soldiers has come to the Borders.
The story of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, entitled, For Our Freedom and Yours, is a fascinating and moving exhibition which traces the story of the famous military formation from its formation in Duns in 1942 to its campaigns in Western Europe.
The brainchild of Sean Szmalc and Margot Corson, For Our Freedom and Yours is a moving and evocative national touring show which has already been seen by thousands of people in other parts of the country.
Running until the end of January at Hawick Museum, it features many rare and previously unseen artefacts from soldiers of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, including uniforms, equipment and personal belongings of the soldiers.
The exhibition also incorporates examples of other Polish army units during the Second World War, including a complete combat uniform depicting a paratrooper from the Polish independent parachute brigade as well as a uniform from the Polish 2nd Corps, which famously fought with distinction at Monte Cassino in Italy.
There will also be a selection of props and costumes from the blockbuster movie Saving Private Ryan and the mini-series Band of Brothers.
Mr Szmalc’s fascination with the Second World War began when he was a young boy. His late grandfather, Emil Szmalc, served in the Polish army and later the 1st Polish Armoured Division during the conflict.
Growing up in his local Polish community, Sean Szmalc attended the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s club in Falkirk, where he was good friends with his grandfather’s former comrades.
He and Margot, his partner, have been amassing their awe-inspiring collection ever since.
Mr Szmalc explained: “With the exhibition, we aim to increase the knowledge of the struggles and the plight that the Polish soldiers had to go through, and the fight for freedom which they carried out with much bravery and honour.
“Each individual visitor to the exhibition will get a feeling of what it was like to have been a soldier on the front lines in the Polish army from the invasion of Poland in September 1939 to the end of the war in 1945.”
One Borderer with intimate knowledge of the Polish contribution to the allied effort during the war is Berwickshire author, Aileen Orr.
Her book on Wojtek, the brown bear who served alongside Polish troops in the war before coming to the Borders with his military companions, has met with widespread popular and critical acclaim.
She has seen the exhibition elsewhere and says it is definitely a must-see for Borderers. “I know Sean really well and this is a fantastic exhibition,” she told TheSouthern.
“Whether you are five or 105, you will be able to understand and appreciate it, as you can see and touch many of the exhibits.
“It is a fitting tribute to the Polish soldiers who fought, with many giving their lives, not just for their freedom and that of their homeland, but for our freedom too.”