March’s war contribution

RECENTLY my mind cast back to March and World War Two.

It occurred to me that inhabitants and the town’s Polish community in particular would be interested to hear of March’s amazing contribution to the war effort.

During that time the town and nearby villages raised large amounts of money to provide weapons for the country’s armed forces. Geared to that was the outstanding and legendary contribution of March’s famous Whitemoor rail yards.

The combined efforts of March, Wimblington, Doddington and Benwick raised £200,000, sufficient for 16 Spitfires and three Lancaster bombers.

Chatteris excelled in Wings For Victory Week and raised enough money to purchase 24 Spitfires,

March went a stage further and raised £175,000 to purchase an entire hull of a submarine, the P52.

The effort wavered a little but eventually after a special appeal in local newspaper and with the help of local villages no less than £220,000 was raised and March’s submarine was launched.

The vessel was crewed by free Polish submariners. Based at Portsmouth P52 was allocated patrol duties in the Mediterranean Sea. It sank four enemy ships including a troop carrier destined to boost Field Marshall Rommel’s forces in North Africa.

One night it had occasion to surface and recharge its batteries.

So did an enemy submarine which spotted the March sub and sank it with a torpedo. There were no survivors.

The Polish crew received lots of parcels from March citizens, gramophone records, cigarettes and confectionery, cards and letters at regular intervals. Members of the crew responded with letters to March inhabitants.

Britain was the first country to help the Poles in their dire circumstances when they were invaded and March responded to the war effort in magnificent style.

Free Polish units were formed for the army and many young men of Polish origin volunteered to join the Royal Air Force and flew Spitfires and Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain.