The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade

(1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa)

How Polish Soldiers Came To Britain

From 1942+ Polish Soldiers Made The UK Their Home


Our previous webpage discussed the journey out of the Soviet Union and into the Middle East. As you will have seen, it was a fantastical journey with so many story-worthy aspects to it. The voyage from the Middle East to the UK was equally story-worthy.

It's the story of how Polish soldiers came to Britain. Later, some Polish families would also come to Britain.

Details of the journey to the UK are very hard to pin down. Hopefully most of your questions will be answered here.

Why The Lack Of Data?

A variety of military, civilian and commandeered civilian sea vessels, ships and boats transported Polish troops (and some civilians) to the UK around 1939 - 1950.

Polish troops began arriving in the United Kingdom on 24 June 1940

The first to arrive, circa 1939-42 were mainly troops. Later on, right through to 1950  troops and civilians arrived in the UK. The main ports they arrived at were Southampton, Plymouth, Liverpool and Glasgow. However, there were many other landings all around the UK.

One would think that it would be easy to track down which boat a particular person came over on, however nothing could be further from the truth! The factors causing this lack of information are:

  1. Initial military secrecy about the operation
  2. Hurriedly executed plan
  3. Data that is in existence is in many places, in parts
  4. Original passenger lists not kept
  5. Misspellings & omissions
  6. Military records lacking sufficient information
  7. Lists not partially unreadable, having degraded over time
  8. Wilful destruction of ships logs in the 1950s (probably for secrecy purposes)
  9. Lack of anyone collating the information centrally
  10. Records that do exist do not always contain enough data to even identify that Polish troops were on the boat

What Shipping Records Normally Exist?

When a boat embarks on a trip the following records usually exist:

  • The owners of the ship holds a record on the journey
  • The Captain completes a ship's log
  • The port logs the arrival & departure of the ship
  • Both ports have immigration that must be cleared (with resulting records)

In addition to this:

  • If the ship is registered/insured with Lloyds it will be on their register
  • Some records may have been transferred to the National Archives

Accessing Lloyds Registers

Some shipping data exists here;

Existing Lists

This resource covers some of the later ships that came to the UK, particularly with civilians on them:

Other Resources

How To Search For Your Relatives Boat To The UK

The lack of official structured data does not mean the data is none existent. With a little perseverance, it is possible to get information in many cases. The first thing you need to do is make a shortlist of all possible facts and factors that might help you in your research.


What was their name, what possible misspellings have you come across of it and what likely misspellings could be made?

Military Record

This will tell you the general location where the person was. This gives you possibilities of nearby ports where they might have left from.

Military Unit

The unit they were with likely travelled together (or in substantial part) to the UK. Searching Google for that units movement might give clues.

Departure Port

Knowing the possible departure port will limit your search down to the bare minimum.

Arrival Port

Likewise, limiting your possible arrival port will possibly help you bring more focus to the task

Online Accounts & Life Stories

Searching for and reading the stories of others accounts will open you to many more possibilities you may not have considered. Add these to your shortlist as you come across each one.

Performing Advanced Google Searches

It's most unlikely that a simple search expression such as "1942 boat polish Southampton" is going to get you the results you seek.

The trick to doing an advanced and effective Google search is to do a Boolean search. In simple terms this is a search using multiple possible criteria.

A boolean search string is always within curly brackets with a "pipe" between each term, like this: {boat|ship} {land|dock}. In this example Google will return any page that features any match from both sets i.e boat+land or ship+land or ship+dock etc.

You can have as many sets of search terms as you like. However do not get to specific too quick. Start with wide-ranging boolean strings and then add more criteria to them.

Useful Boolean Search String Components

  • {Poles|Polish|Poland}
  • {Army|Infantry|Soldiers|Troops}
  • {boat|boats|ship|ships|trawler|trawlers|frigate|frigates|HMS|S.S|SS}
  • {Exodus|Exile|Exiled}
  • {Left|depart|departure|departed}
  • {land|landed|landing|arrive|arrival|arrived|dock|docked}
  • {Scotland|England|UK|United Kingdom|Britain|Glasgow|Liverpool|Plymouth|Southampton}
  • {Egypt|Middle East|Iran|Iraq|Pahlavi|Pahlevi|Palestine|Persia|Haifa}
  • {Africa|Cape Town|Durban|Freetown}
  • {Jun|June|Jul|July|Aug|August} 1942

Example Search Strings

This is an example Boolean string that combine a few of the prewritten elements above. Feel free to customise and use.

  • {Poles|Polish|Poland} {Army|Infantry|Soldiers|Troops} {Left|depart|departure|departed}+1942 {land|landed|landing|arrive|arrival|arrived|dock|docked}+1942 {Scotland|England|UK|United Kingdom|Britain|Glasgow|Liverpool|Plymouth|Southampton}+1942 {Middle East|Iran|Iraq|Palestine|Haifa}

Other Shipping Resources

These are some other resources you can trawl for info on the ships. Patience is a virtue and you just might find what you need!

National Archives

Ship Casualty Registers

Access it here: Click Here

Each ship had to record its casualties and these were centralised to The Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. If your individual was a casualty at sea their details might well be here

Ship Crew Lists

Perhaps not the first resource of choice but trawling through the crew lists and agreements often gives information on departure and arrival points. Access it here: Crew Lists

Merchant Shipping Cards

Although a lot of shipping registers were destroyed in the 1950s and even in the 1940s the government pushed for registers not to be kept on certain activities to ensure secrecy, another type of record was more often than not kept.

This record was called a "shipping card". These cards gave the ships name, its movements with related dates, the ports it docked at and if the ship was sunk it's coordinates.

Should a ships name have been changed (this tended to happen with commandeered ships), then a search under all its known names would need to be conducted.

Try Google Alerts

Google has created a wonderful automated assistant that scours the web for you (as regularly as you wish) and alerts you if their is content that matches your needs.

Have Research Content Brought To You

When you first embark on researching your Polish ancestors, you will quickly realise how time just disappears! I have spent days simply researching ships that crossed the Caspian Sea, trying to figure out which one my grandfather could have been on in 1942!

Luckily, there is a better way. Google has a tool called "Google Alerts" that will do the hard work for you.

Simply head on over to  Google Alerts, tap in your search terms and leave the rest to Google. New web/news content will be automatically emailed to you.

Double The Power Of Google

One of the problems with using Google Alerts though is that you could fail to set up a particular search phrase and thus miss out on valuable content.

This is where research can get seriously powerful!

Try combining boolean search strings (as detailed above) with Google Alerts. This will ensure that as fresh content appears on the web you receive the very best results back.

Think about it, this blog was created in December 2017. If you had been researching prior to this and failed to re-enter your search strings into Google, then you would miss out on all the valuable content on this blog.