During the Second World War, the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade trained in Fife. The regiment consisted of Polish exiles who had escaped from occupied Poland. In 1944, the brigade travelled to Arnhem for Operation Market Garden, in which unsuccessful operation many thousands of lives were lost. Some of the Polish survivors settled in Fife after the war. In the early 2000s, the Polish ex-servicemen's museum committee in Fife donated their collection to Fife Museums.
Memories of a Polish Paratrooper evokes the life and memories of an imagined soldier. It was created in 2006 by Marie Louise Wrightson, a graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, for Fife Contemporary's Past Present project.
For her, the work is about 'struggle, friends made and family lost, and an ongoing belief'. It depicts real objects selected for their practical or personal qualities, including the map of Arnhem, an English/Polish phrasebook, the helmet and photographs. Symbolic objects also feature, such as a Scotch pie – representing the fighter's adopted country. Following the artist's visit to the home of an old soldier, she included the Polish doll – he had many of these, reminders of his homeland.
During the first lockdown, we invited people to tell us how this painting made them feel in 15 words or less. We received some diverse responses including, 'Hero of War; resting, resilient, ready to return or remain' and 'Homeward bound, memories treasured, sustained on a surprisingly sturdy pie!'
The painting is featured in the 'Art-tastic' exhibition at St Andrews Museum, alongside some of the objects that inspired it. For the display, we approached writing groups to view the online exhibition and asked for their responses. From among the many delightful pieces, we selected the following work by poet Roderick Manson to display next to the painting.
Memories of a Polish Paratrooper
Our pasts are battlefields,
Scattered and decayed
All the paintings featured in the exhibition can be viewed in this Curation.
Jane Freel, Collections Curator, Fife Museums and Galleries