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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: Time to remember at Polish soldiers burial plot
A ceremony of remembrance for Polish soldiers who died of influenza during training in NOTL will take place on Sunday. (Ross Robinson)

This Sunday, June 11 at 12:30 pm, a ceremony of remembrance will be held on Byron Street, in a quiet corner of the St. Vincent de Paul cemetery.

Yes, friends, let’s take a big step out of our usual rambling lives to pay our respects to the thousands of brave young people who left their comfort zones to fight for the cause of freedom.

They personified the Polish soldiers’ motto: “For your freedom and ours.” Indeed, let us remember the fight for freedom continues to this day – in Ukraine and several places around the world.

Our fortunate lives here in Niagara include McLaren car showcases, pickleball tournaments and strawberry festivals, meanwhile millions of people live in war zones hearing emergency sirens and the wailing of the wounded and dying. It is just so unfair.

Due to policy differences with the United States, in 1917 and 1918 some 22,174 young Polish Americans crossed the Niagara River from Youngstown to join hundreds of Polish Canadians for military training.

Think of the logistics of this project: Feeding, medical, sanitary and accommodation, as little old Niagara-on-the-Lake welcomed thousands of military personnel.

Camp Kosciuszko was located here in NOTL, on the Commons. Just imagine the conditions: living in tents through the winter, the heat of the summer, and the rains and winds. Day after day, week after week, training to go back to Poland to defend their country.

Sadly, 41 young Polish soldiers died of influenza during their training. This burial plot honours them, along with Elizabeth Asher, a non-Polish NOTL nurse who risked her own safety caring for many sick soldiers.

So this Sunday, let’s lend our support to the Canadian Polish Congress Niagara District as they welcome the Polish ambassador to Canada and other dignitaries to our peaceful corner of our world for their annual ceremony of remembrance.

There will be military leaders from the Polish armed forces, political leaders and military music.

On a personal note, I have always loved Polish people, going way back to my high school days at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines.

Our teams were made stronger with my pals named Oblinski, Wolkoski and Olesinski. They were talented and tough, and lots of fun. Football, wrestling, basketball and other sports.

Resilient, just like their ancestors back home in Poland, a nation so unfortunately located between Russia and Germany.

Poland was sometimes referred to as the battleground of Europe because armies had to cross Polish soil to find their enemies. National borders were renegotiated, new languages were forced on the people and the incredibly tough Polish people got up and got on with their new lives.

James Michener’s epic novel “Poland” limns the lives of the Polish people as they kept coming back for more punishment from their European neighbours.

It has been written that a “Pole is a man with a sword in his right hand and a brick in his left. When the battle is over, he starts to rebuild.”

So this Sunday, let’s take some time to attend the memorial ceremony at the Polish soldiers’ burial plot here in NOTL.

In 1992, not that long ago, the good people at St. Vincent de Paul Church gave a sizable plot of land to the Canadian Polish Congress, and it is now a well-maintained, elegant remembrance of the thousands of brave people who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom.

This cemetery plot is perfectly landscaped, indeed a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of white crosses, row on row, where the poppies blow in northern Europe: Young lives cut short, fighting war after war after war.

And have we learned any lessons?

On Sunday, make your way to the Polish soldiers’ burial plot in the St. Vincent de Paul cemetery, just off Byron Street, across from St. Mark’s Church.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin 12:30 p.m., followed by another gathering at the NOTL cenotaph on Queen Street.

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