Wednesday, 8 August 2007

AR Y FFORDD I PWYL RHYDD

Penrhos, a former WW2 Royal Air Force base, has been home to Poles since the end of the war, when it became a resettlement camp. It is still home to many elderly Poles; many more have ended their days in this corner of North Wales.

Left: The commemorative cross that stands outside the chapel in Penrhos. Erected over 60 years ago, the cross itself is made from the wing-spars of a Wellington bomber.

Below: Some of the barrack buildings at Penrhos, as spick and span as they were when under military command. Now used to house holidaymakers rather than maritime patrol bomber crews.

There's something about this former airbase, the barracks, the layout, which triggers in my those anomalous memories - flashbacks, which suggest a strong familiarity with airbases, maybe from a past life. Something draws me here, year after year. It's not the Welsh landscape; I experience that old, strange-yet-familiar feeling here, on the site of this former military airfield.

Below: The cemetary in nearby Pwllheli. Wondering around the gravestones of local Hugheses, Evanses, Lloyds, Williamses and Joneses, one eventually comes to the quarter where hundreds of Poles are buried. The headstones tell a consistent narrative; a typical one - born 1890 in Kolomyja, died 1985 in Penrhos. Legionista, Wirtuti Militari. Zostal na wygnaniu, zmarl na wygnaniu. Legionista - he'd have fought in the WW1 and/or in the 1920s war against the Bolsheviks. Virtuti Militari - Poland's highest military decoration. Został na wyganiu - he ended up in exile. Zmarł na wygnaniu - he died in exile. The saddest ones were those that did not live long enough to see a free Poland.

"If I should die, think only this of me
That some corner of a foreign field
Is forever England", wrote Rupert Brooke in 1914.

The Polish section of the Pwllheli cemetary is indeed forever Poland. Click on the image to see individual graves.

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