The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum
The General Sikorski Historical Institute was called into being on 2nd May 1945 when an agreement between Helena Sikorska and members of the organising committee was signed. By this agreement Gen. Sikorski's widow donated her husband's papers and memorabilia to the new Institute. The committee's task was to take care of them and organise an institution bearing her husband's name. Its task was to facilitate research into Gen. Sikorski's career and his times. The Organising Committee formed the Institute's first Council. At its head stood the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Chairman of the Polish-Scottish Society.
The main initiative to set up such an institution came from Gen. Sikorski's Chef de Cabinet Lt. Col. Zygmunt Borkowski, who was also Head of the Military Archive and Museum Service between 1944 and 1948. He became the Institute's first director, a post he held until 1956.
From a legal point of view the Institute was organised as a Trust and later received charity status. To avoid any pressure from either the British Government or the communist regime in Warsaw it was decided not to establish the Institute by a decision of either the legal President of Poland or the Polish Goverment then residing in London.
During the first meeting of the Institute's Council on 13th December 1945 at the Dorchester Hotel, Colonel Stanisław Szurlej reminded his listeners of "similar Polish institutions such as the Polish Library in Paris and the Polish Museum in Rapperswil and that their common aim in the collecting of historical documents witnessing Poland's contribution to worldwide culture in general, and as far as this Institute is concerned specially to the period of the Second World War. The Institute has been named after General Sikorski, as the basis of its collections are the General's memorabilia donated by Helena Sikorska the Generals's widow as well as the fact that the General's name is inextricably entwined with Poland's role in the war, side by side with the British and American allies. These same reasons are the cause of Madame Sikorska's special privileges in the Institute."
In 1946 number 20 Prince's Gate, Kensington was purchased to house the collections. On 9 July 1947 the Reverend W. Cieński, Chaplain-in-Chief of the 2nd Polish Corps, blessed the building following which the regimental colours of the Polish Armed Forces were ceremoniously trooped in, to hang alongside the colours of various pre war regiments.
Ceremony of laying down the Regimental Colours in the Museum at Prince's Gate:
- Colour Parties formed up in Prince's Gate
- Prelate Reverend W. Cieński with the Institute's chairman Profesor St. Stroński
- General Władysław Anders and General Stanisław Kopański
In 1965 the General Sikorski Historical Institute and the Polish Research Centre (established in London in 1939) amalgamated to form The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. In 1970 the Polish Regimental Colours Fund was set up with the aim of safeguarding and conserving the colours as well as the building itself.
Sir Winston Churchill, visiting the Institute and the Museum on the 5th July 1949.
In 1973 the Polish Historical Institute (previously known as the Historical Commission of the former General Staff) became an autonomous part of the Institute. Its task remained to write and publish military historical books about the role of the Polish Armed Forces in particular during the Second World War. The Commission under several (changing) names, was active until its winding up in 2006.
In 1979 the Institute was one of the main instigators of the permanent Libraries, Museums and Archives Conference, a forum for co-operation between various Polish academic institutions in exile.
HRH Prince Charles visiting the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in 1989.
The President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Wałęsa at the Institute with the children of the volunteer staff, 1991.
In 1988 the Polish Underground Movement (1939-1945) Study Trust amalgamated with the Institute. Whilst losing its separate legal status, it was granted internal autonomy in its daily aims and activities.
The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum is divided into the following departments and sub departments:
- The Archives
- The Museum (which also has responsibility for)
- the Photographic Archive
- the Film Archive
- the Sound Archive
- The Reference Library
- Regimental Colours Fund
- Membership is divided into:
- Honorary Members
(chosen by the AGM)
- Full Members
(chosen by the Council)
- Life Members
(single donation of £100 and above)
(regular annual donation, £5 and above)
The Primate of Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp, in conversation with the Chairman of the Institute Captain Ryszard Dembiński in 1985.
The Institute is governed by the Council which elects the Executive Committee from its members who run the day to day business of the Institute. At the head of the Council and Executive Committee is the Chairman.
During the Institute's 64 years of existence it has had six chairmen:
- Prof. Stanisław Stroński PhD (1945-1951)
- Lt. Gen. Prof. Marian Kukiel PhD (1951-c.1965)
- Count Edward Raczyński PhD (c.1965-1976)
- Stanisław Leśniowski Msc (1977-1979)
- Capt. Ryszard Dembiński (1979-2003)
- Krzysztof Barbarski CEng (2004-
The President of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Madame Jolanta Kwaśniewska, during their visit to the Institute in October 1996.
Visiting the Institute and the Museum in September 2008, from the left:
Lieutenant Colonel Stanisław Żurakowski (long standing member of the Institute's voluntary staff),
Polish Minister of Defence Bogdan Klich,
Polish Military Attache in London, Colonel Krzysztof Szymański,
Current Chairman of the Institute Krzysztof Barbarski,
Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces General Franciszek Gągor.
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