Bravery on stamps.
It is remarkable just how historically revealing a relatively small group of postage stamps can be.
This is just the case with a fascinating group of stamps issued by the Polish Forces in Italy that followed the successful landing of Allied troops at Salerno in early September 1943. We are currently offering 24 lots (7952 to 7956) in our Hunter’s Sale Number 7235 closing on the 30th December 2014.
These lots will be of great interest to collectors of Polish and Italian philatelic material. We see ‘Victories’ and ‘Relief’ sets, imperforate stamps, covers, rare inverted overprints, together with various types of paper and one particular recurring issue that shows a portrait of Lieutenant General Wladystaw Anders (1892-1970), the Commander of the Polish II Corps, a force that grew to some 100,000 soldiers and served with distinction elsewhere but specifically in Italy from 1944 until the end of the War.
They represent just a small part of a much grander and wider story of courage, determination and heroism that followed the political upheaval that occurred following the invasion of Poland by German and Soviet troops in September 1939. This German/Soviet pact ended in June 1941 when German troops invaded Russia. During that time, many of Poland’s population were subjected to unimaginable acts of brutality and cruelty. Nevertheless, some escaped to other countries including England where they helped the war effort and joined free Polish military forces to fight against the German aggressors. Others, less fortunate were imprisoned and spent time in Soviet Gulags. Indeed, Lieutenant General Wladystaw Anders was sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow and was only released after the signing of the Polish-Russian Military Agreement on the 14th August 1941 that allowed the establishment of a Polish army in Russia.
A Polish Government-in-Exile was established in London. In order to encourage a national belief in the future of the country, after consultation and with the agreement of the British Government, Polish postage stamps were printed in England. These were used by Naval and Merchant Navy personnel serving on Polish vessels that were considered to be Polish sovereign territory. The stamps depict scenes showing Polish forces in training or fighting and include images of a Polish tank, the submarine “Orzel” and a Halifax Bomber and Hurricane fighter plane at an airfield in England. They were also used by troops stationed in Britain on special national occasions and recognised both then and now as patriotic souvenirs supporting the Polish Government-in-Exile.
The Axis Forces had suffered a humiliating defeat in North Africa at the hands of General Montgomery’s 8th Army under whose command was the Polish Carpathian Brigade. The German forces under Field Marshall Rommel surrendered in May 1943 leaving the way open for an invasion of mainland Europe from the south. Subsequently, Allied troops successfully landed on the island of Sicily and advanced on the 3rd September 1943 across the Strait of Messina to Salerno on the Italian coast. Their quest was to move northwards to Rome. There was one seemingly impenetrable obstacle blocking the route and what ensued is remembered as one of the most bitter and bloody military operations of the entire Italian campaign – The Battle of Monte Cassino. Regular bombardments, accompanied by repeated infantry ground attacks were launched from December 1943 until the 18th May 1944, when at last, soldiers from the Polish II Corps entered what then remained of the mountain Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino. Described as the ‘Stalingrad’ of the Italian Front, the Polish forces suffered heavy casualties, but their bravery and determination secured the position and allowed Allied forces to advance.
In recognition of the success at Monte Cassino, followed by the Polish II Corps participation at the Battle of Ancona between 16th June and 18th July 1944 and subsequently the Battle of Bologna between 9th and 21st April 1945, three pictorial stamps were issued. These show scenes of the three battles and bear the inscription ‘Polska Poczta Polowa 2 Korpusu’ at the top with the dates and name of the battle at the base. They are the 45 and 55 groszy and 1 złoty respectively. There are other variations including the 2 złoty ‘Anders’ that has ‘Italia’ at the base. Later overprints commemorating the victories were issued including those printed in 1954 to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.
These stamps offer a significant link and are a proud testament to all that the Polish people endured and achieved during not only the Second World War, but also during the Soviet occupation that was rigorously enforced and persisted until the fall of Communism nearly fifty years later. Although not always remembered, the Polish Government-in-Exile remained in London until 1990. It is perhaps interesting to note that in accordance with Lieutenant General Anders wishes, following his death in 1970, he was buried at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino together with over 1000 Polish troops killed in the battle to take the strategically important mountain top Monastery.
The series of stamps issued in recognition of this courageous military leader and the heroism of the Polish forces that fought for the freedom of their country are a true reflection of the gratitude that is owed to them.