Preparing To Research
Polish Army Records
The research notes on this website cover the Polish army who formed under General Anders in the Soviet union, evacuated to the Middle East and then for the most part came to the UK.
Where The Polish Army Records Are Located
As the Polish army (in the Middle East at the time) fell under British command from the 5th April 1942 the vast majority (if not all?) military records came within the control of the British Army and for the most part remain so.
Therefore whether your Polish relative came to the UK or not isn't the deciding factor as to whether their military records are within the UK. What is the deciding factor for the most part is whether they evacuated to the Middle East, at which point their records were overseen by the British Army.
Don't worry if you are not sure whether your Polish relatives records are with the British Army or not, you will find out in due course when following my process.
I will try to guide you through your journey, show where to request the records from and how to do it. I wish you every success!
If only it were as simple as giving an agency your relatives name and getting a full pack back with every scrap of detail neatly laid out for you. And in English too!
The reality of the journey you are about to undertake is somewhat different. You will be undertaking lots of visits to various websites, reading books, blogs and forums so please do not underestimate the amount of work you will have to do.
However I promise you this. All the research will make you very knowledgeable on the history surrounding your relative, the history will come alive, as if you were there personally. Its entirely possible you may also find you have Polish relatives that you never knew about. I did. And I went and met them in Poland and had the great privilege of telling them their full family history.
This journey that you are about to undertake will involve many emotions, much hard work and a good smattering of good fortune. The very best advice i can give is to be organised, you are going to need organisation like never before because facts will come at you in waves.
Overview Of The Journey
So that you can understand what expectation to have, perhaps I can give you a quick overview of my own personal journey to get my grandfathers records and from this you can gauge what to expect for yourself.
I knew absolutely nothing about my grandfathers history, ancestry or military movement. Zero. His name too had question marks over it, he had 3 different names he had lived under!
A bit of educated guesswork was involved and so the first step came up as follows.
Step 1 - Getting The MOD Records
The very first step was to apply to the MOD for his records. I will show you how to do this if you follow the steps on the left hand sidebar, but for now all you need to know is that it is simple, easy and involves loads of patience.
Why is patience required? Because the records section is incredibly busy! Waiting 3 months for a reply is very normal. 3 months of biting my nails in anticipation! Learning distraction techniques at this stage is very important.
Step 2 - Receiving The MOD Records
Well, the big day arrived. A fairly thin envelope marked "RAF Northalt" arrived. I could not open it fast enough. What was inside?
Disappointment hit me like a sledgehammer. Just a few pages, in Polish! I can speak Polish but not read it. However, with a bit of research I located a suitable translator who helped bring the text to life. I say "life" but what I mean is partial sentences, abbreviated words and acronyms. My grandfather was at K.U.Nr1 on date x. Well that tells me a lot, not!
The next step was to learn what the abbreviations meant. You firstly need someone who is good at recognising handwriting (some of it is very poor) and that person ideally needs to know military abbreviations. Where do you find someone who can do this? I will tell you in due course! It's easier than you think!
Step 3 - Getting Prepared To Collect Facts
As my research developed I built a fact collecting system "on the fly", however I highly recommend you get prepared by reviewing the tips below, they will save you a lot of hassle later on!
- Tip 1 - Get a note management system i.e Microsoft Onenote (Most PC's have this already) or Evernote. If you are thinking of using MS Word you are going to run into difficulties, you need to be able to categorise notes in a fairly sophisticated matter. You are about to collect more information than you could digest in 2 years. I am still working on the last of my notes from 2 years ago (and I put some serious hours into this!) so please, create a system that can grow with you, don't dump all your notes into Word, it simply wont serve a useful purpose.
- Tip 2 - Get a system together for book-marking and categorising webpages. In my case I think I have viewed in excess of 2000 webpages and some you will wish to return to. There will be info about military units, battles, photo collections, forum posts and all manner of blurb. I used the above mentioned OneNote to store a note of all relevant websites.
- Tip 3 - Setup folders on your email and also in your file directory on your PC to group together information of similar types i.e info on the deportations, the USSR, the Middle East etc. Don't dump it all in one folder, it simply will impede you. Segregate it and be prepared to re-file saved media regularly.
Step 4 - Learn Cut & Paste Along With Screen Clipping
In order to focus on each section of your relatives records you may find it useful to do it one section at a time. To get the required focus I found it very useful to use the "Insert Screen Clipping" feature that OneNote has built in. Macbooks have something that I think is slightly better, SHIFT+CTRL+F4 which is also very useful.
What you then need to do is scan (or photograph) the MOD documents from RAF Northalt. Once that is done you can then use the screen clipping feature within OneNote.
What I did was I took each section of the documents and using screen clipping put one section per page into OneNote. This then allowed me to focus on the translation of it and also making any necessary notes, queries etc.