If you’re in Cowes and East Cowes during the first week of May, you’ll notice a plethora of Polish events, activities and exhibitions springing up around the town. And if you’re not planning to be in the area, we highly recommend you change your plans and come to the 75th anniversary commemoration of a very special Polish warship.
Not only did the ORP BLYSKAWICA jump in to defend Cowes and East Cowes during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe in 1942, it was also built by a leading Cowes shipyard in 1935. And to mark the Island’s continued gratitude for the actions of the Polish captain and crew, the Friends of the ORP BLYSKAWICA Society have organised a host of events in their honour.
The bombing of Cowes and East Cowes
The 4 and 5 May 1942 were dark days in the history of Cowes. During the night of 4 May, the German air force launched a sustained and ferocious attack on the town with 160 bombers. These bombers could have easily decimated the area and killed hundreds, but the Polish Destroyer ORP BLYSKAWICA was in port – and she was armed. Around 70 people died during those raids, but thanks to the heroic actions of the crew of the ORP BLYSKAWICA and the Polish Navy, Cowes and East Cowes was saved.
Why was a Polish warship in Cowes?
After the First World War, Poland wanted to boost their maritime fleet, and commissioned two ships from JS White in Cowes. ORP BLYSKAWICA (‘lightning’) was built along with ORP GROM (‘thunder’). These state-of-the-art destroyers smashed their targets during the first sea trials in our very own Solent. Their progressive construction using riveted galvanised steel plates meant the hulls were flexible and able to go at speed. Launched from Cowes in 1935, the ships were destined to have a short-lived career as purely Polish vessels. In August 1939, they made the journey from their home port in Gdynia back to Cowes to become under the command of the British Navy.
Celebrating the saviours of Cowes
From the 4 to 7 May 2017, Cowes and East Cowes will be the backdrop for lots of events to mark the heroism of the ORP BLYSKAWICA.
Look out for more information on our Events page for prices and times, but here’s a taster of what’s on.
- Precursors to the events are talks on the defence of Cowes and East Cowes at St. James’ Church in East Cowes on Friday 21st April and at St. Mary’s Cowes on Friday 28th.
- Photos from the Maritime Museum in Gdynia, Poland, on show at the Regatta Office on Cowes Parade
- An exhibition of painting by local schools at East Cowes Town Hall.
- Cowes Heritage Exhibition focusing on the raid at Cowes Maritime Library. This will remain open after the event is finished.
- Polish food market and Karpaty dancers at King’s Square, East Cowes, Saturday 6th May.
- A shop window dressing competition throughout Cowes and East Cowes
- A chance to see a real Polish warship - the refurbed ORP GNIEZO will be in port from 6am on 4 May until 8 May.
- Join in the ‘Mile of Pennies’ re-enactment in The Cut, Cowes, Saturday 6th.
- The presence of our own Royal Navy bringing to us the latest Type 45 destroyer.
- A Gala Piano Recital by Eva Maria Doroszkowska, the granddaughter of Captain Francki at the Royal Yacht Squadron on 4th May
- Performance by the Polish Marine Band at Cowes Yacht Haven Event Centre on Friday 5 May.
- Kingston Cemetery East Cowes, noon service in remembrance of the town’s loss; Saturday 6th.
- The Polish Ave Verum Choir will be performing on Saturday 6th April at St. Mary’s Church Cowes providing a variety of Polish and popular music with a colourful atmosphere.
- Blitz Walks in Cowes and East Cowes on Saturday 6th evidencing the losses sustained.
- Ambassador’s Cup Challenge - a round the island race on Saturday 6 May, organised by the London based Polish Yacht Club, followed by a social event in the evening.
- A 1940s Dance on Saturday 6 May at East Cowes Town Hall.
- Radio link from Cowes Parade to ORP Blyskawica in Poland, Sunday 7th 10 – 4.
- On Sunday 7 May, there will be wreath laying and dedication to those lost during the raid at Northwood cemetery, Cowes. At 11.30 there will be a blessing at the war memorial in Northwood Park followed by a service in St Mary’s Church after which is a march through the town for a full scale military salute at the Bandstand on The Parade at 1.30 in the presence of Poland’s Ambassador to the UK and the Island’s Lord Lieutenant.
If you're looking to stay in Cowes during the celebrations, have a look at our accommodation section to find the perfect place for you. There are also regular bus services to Cowes and East Cowes. You can travel to Cowes on the route 1 bus from Newport Bus Station, or to East Cowes on the route 5 bus from Newport Bus Station and the route 4 from Ryde Bus station.