The Polish Brigade at Arnhem

Released in 1946, Brian Desmond Hurst’s film Theirs Is The Glory recounts the part played by the British 1st Airborne Division, in concert with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, during operation MARKET GARDEN in September 1944…

At least that was the intention of Irish born film director Brian Desmond Hurst.  Sadly, the final cut of the film, premiered on 17 September 1946, fails to show any Polish paratroopers on screen; their involvement was reduced to a line of commentary some nine minutes into the showing.

Evidence exists that Hurst did include the actions of the Polish Brigade; the 1990 publication De Polen Van Driel by George F Cholewczynski has photographs of Polish soldiers in action.  While the authors of Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film were able to uncover and interview several past members of the 1st Airborne Division who took part in the making of the film, it proved impossible to find any surviving Polish members; nor was there reference in the surviving paperwork available.  It is entirely possible that British members played the part, as they did in some ‘German’ roles.

As to why the role of the Polish Brigade was virtually ignored, the answer must lie in politics. During the making of the film in August 1945, Poland was still a staunch and valuable ally in the fight against Nazi Germany. By the time of the film’s release, the world had changed (the situation clearly summed up in a recent review of Theirs is the Glory, Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film by Professor Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Dublin).

The British government, who had already turned away from the Polish government-in-exile by recognising the Soviet-backed administration installed in Warsaw, did not want the film to highlight free Polish military achievements and sacrifice fighting alongside the Western allies.

While Theirs Is The Glory gave little credit to the role of the Polish Brigade at Arnhem, a slightly more detailed story was told in A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977 and starring American actor Gene Hackman as General Sosabowski – one of the few actors to receive glowing plaudits for his role.

An examination of the customer comments on Amazon regarding the DVD of Theirs Is The Glory shows plainly how modern audiences fail to understand what the director was attempting to show in 1946.  Hopefully, Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film will help to explain why it was made and enshrine the pedigree of the men we see on screen paying their tribute to their comrades that did not return from battle.

The role of the Polish Parachute Brigade and those other Polish units that served in the Allied armies during the Second World War, deserves to be more widely known.  The accompanying photograph is of a mural unveiled in 2016 in East Belfast as a tribute to both the Polish Brigade and the Polish airmen who joined the RAF.  Interestingly, the latter were the central story line in Brian Desmond Hurst’s Battle of Britain film Dangerous Moonlight (1941).

Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film by David Truesdale and Allan Esler Smith can be purchased here

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