The Institute was officially registered as a company on the 15th November 1945. From that time to the present day, the Institute has continued its mission to collect, preserve and promote the history and cultural legacy of Poland in the United Kingdom and beyond.
The legal Government of Poland, in Exile in London, foresaw that the conclusion of hostilities in World War II would not end in victory for all the Allies. Tragically, Poland was once again occupied, this time by the Soviet Union. Regrettably, this state of affairs was accepted by the United Kingdom and the other Allies.
By the end of the war, the British and Americans had capitulated to Soviet demands at the Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences and had withdrawn their recognition of the legal Polish Government in London. VE (Victory in Europe) Day brought victory and freedom only to some of the nations of Europe. The Soviet Union were to dominate the majority of countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, for the next 50 years.
Many of the soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces who returned to Poland faced prosecution by the Communist authorities; many were imprisoned and even executed.
More than half of the soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West remained in the West as political exiles, and continued the struggle for an Independent Poland. Having been disarmed, their struggle would now be in the political domain.
Lt. Colonel Zygmunt Borkowski was the main initiator in the creation of an Institute to the lasting memory of General Władysław Sikorski and, thereby, to the Polish Armed Forces in the West. He had formerly been the head of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (Chef de Cabinet) and, between 1944 and 1948, the head of the Museum and Archives Section of the Polish Armed Forces. He became the Institute’s first Director.
The Institute was created as a non-governmental organisation in response to the threat that the new Polish Communist authorities in Poland might pressurise the British authorities to surrender the Institute’s collections to them. The Institute was registered as a limited company, governed by Trustees, and became a registered Charity. It retains this status today.
The Institute was founded on May 2nd, 1945, as a Trust, with the unofficial backing of the President of Poland Władysław Raczkiewicz.
Mrs. Helena Sikorska, the widow of General Sikorski, donated 365 exhibits, 20 cases of documents, his library and 47 files of her late husband’s official diary as Commander in Chief. These were received by an 11 person committee that was entrusted with the organisation of the Institute and the facilitation of research into General Sikorski and the times in which he lived. At the same time, the Institute was to be entrusted as the depository for the Regimental Colours of the Polish Armed Forces. Similarly the Polish Government in Exile began to prepare for the eventual transfer of the Government’s and the Armed Forces’ archives, to the Institute.
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The Institute was officially registered as a company on the 15th November 1945 by the following eleven people:
- Edward Raczyński – former Polish Ambassador in London.
- Lord Astor – Chairman, Royal Institute for International Affairs.
- W.D. Ross – Provost of Oriel College, Oxford.
- David Mathew – Bishop Auxiliary of Westminster.
- August Zaleski – former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland.
- Adam Żółtowski – sometime Professor of Poznań University, Director of the Polish Research Centre.
- Jan Baliński Jundziłł – Deputy Director of the Polish Research Centre.
- Tadeusz Mincer – Retired Captain Polish Army.
- Ivison S. Macadam – Secretary, Royal Institute of International Affairs.
- W.F. Reddaway – Senior Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.
- Ifor Evans, Baron Evans of Hungerford – Principal, Queen Mary College, University of London.
In turn, the 11 founders appointed the Institute’s first Council of the original trustees:
- The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, KT, CMG,TD,JP – Chairman of the Polish-Scottish Society.
- Sir Stafford Cripps, CH, KC(QC), FRS – Labour Party MP, ex Ambassador to the USSR, future Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- Sir Harold Mitchell, JP, DL Vice-Chairman Conservative Party, MP, British Liaison Officer to Polish 1st Corps.
- Sir Archibald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso, KT, CMG, PC – MP and Leader of the Liberal Party, wartime Secretary of State for Air.
- Sir James Irvine, KBE, JP, PhD, DL, DSc, BSc, FRSE, FEIS – Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews.
- Major General Anthony Drexel-Biddle – one time US Ambassador to the Republic of Poland.
- Lieutenant General Professor Marian Kukiel, KCB, PhD – Historian, Polish Minister of National Defence.
- Vice-Admiral Jerzy Świrski, KCB – Commander in Chief Polish Navy.
- Professor Stanisław Stroński – Academic and Politician – one time Deputy Prime minister of Poland.
- Dr Józef Retinger – Scholar, International Political Activist, éminence grise, publicist, author, nominee for Nobel Peace Prize.
- Colonel Dr Stanisław Szurlej – Lawyer, Head of Polish Military Legal Services.
- Stanisław Leśniowski – Army Officer, son-in-law of General Sikorski.
The first meeting of the Council took place on the 13th December 1945 at the Dorchester Hotel when the first Executive Committee, which was entrusted with the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the new organization, was elected as follows:
1. Professor Stroński – Chairman.
2. Sir Harold Mitchell – Vice Chairman and Treasurer.
3. Stanisław Leśniowski – Secretary.
4. Colonel Dr Stanisław Szurlej – Legal Advisor.
Lord Elgin was elected Chairman of the Council and Vice-Admiral Świrski its Deputy Chairman. Lieutenant Colonel Zygmunt Borkowski was appointed Director and Mrs. Helena Sikorska Honorary Life President.
During the next four years Count Edward Raczyński, Ambassador Tadeusz Romer, Monsignor Włodzimierz Cieński, Hugh Dalton, Lord Barnby and Ambassador Józef Lipski joined the Council. General Kukiel took over as Deputy Chairman.
In July 1946 thanks to donations from the Polish I and 2nd Corps as well as the Interim Treasury Committee for Polish Affairs sufficient funds were raised to purchase the freehold of the premises at 20 Prince’s Gate, London SW7, for the price of £13,000. It was an imposing Victorian Building that overlooked Hyde Park, a stone’s throw from the Albert Hall.
The original main aims of the Institute remain unchanged: to collect, preserve and facilitate access to those historical documents and exhibits that pertain to Poland’s rich culture and history, to Poland’s contribution during the Second World War and to serve, in the United Kingdom, as a centre of information about Poland .
On 9th July 1947 Monsignor Włodzimierz Cieński blessed the building. This was accompanied by the ceremony where the Colours of the Polish Armed Forces in the West were marched in. These were then displayed next to the Colours of the Polish Armed Forces units from before the war.
In 1965 the Institute amalgamanted with the Polish Research Centre, which had been created at the beginning of the war. At this time, the name was changed to: the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum by which it is known to this day.
In 1970, the Regimental Colours Fund was established as a separate Charity, with the aim of preserving the Regimental Colours.
In 1972 the Institute absorbed the Polish Historical Institute. This had been established as the Historical Commission of the General Staff and was transformed into the Polish Historical Commission. It was closed in 2007.
Finally, in 1988 an amalgamation took place with the Polish Underground Movement (1939 – 1945) Study Trust, which holds the main archive of the Polish Underground Movement and of the Home Army.
The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum is a registered charity (no. 312168) and other than funds that we generate through our activities, we are totally reliant on membership, donations and legacies to enable us to carry on with our work.