This work tells the life story of Wincenty Szczęsnowicz (1899-1987) and the foundation and history of his correspondence club.
Born in Augustów in north-eastern Poland as Wincenty Szczęsnowicz, he later became known as Vincent Swicz. He chose a military career and worked his way through the ranks in the Signals Corps, achieving the rank of captain by the time war broke out. Wartime found him in Scotland and England where he was given a counter-propaganda role educating the local populace about Poland’s history and current plight. He popularized and promoted the Polish question, which was desperately needed given the large influx of Poles to the British Isles. For four years he carried out an intensive programme of more than 500 lectures and published three books (in several editions). This activity was approved of and greatly valued by the higher military ranks and as well as the government in exile.
With the agreement of his superiors, in April 1945 he founded The British-Polish Correspondence Club (BPCC), which first and foremost was intended to develop Polish-English friendship, to serve the newly established Polish émigré community in the British Isles and to facilitate its contacts with the local community and with the homeland as well as adapting to the new conditions of life abroad. The club became popular increasing its membership to an average of about a thousand and, for a while, even more than two thousand members. In 1952 the club officially opened itself to people from other countries and changed its name to Friendship & Exchange. From then onwards Szczęsnowicz promoted the idea of bringing together people from different countries with different cultures and outlooks. The club’s philosophy was “to be beyond borders, an oasis of real and honest friendship”.
As secretary Szczęsnowicz managed the club very efficiently. He corresponded with members himself, issued regular club bulletins (103 in total) and skilfully gave the club a unique character distinguishable by its cordial and reciprocal friendliness. The information in the club bulletins facilitated contacts between members and enduring bonds of friendship. The secretary encouraged members to visit one another and organised meetings of larger groups himself.
Szczęsnowicz earned great respect amongst club members and the idea he promoted turned out to be lasting and popular. When, in 1978, he resigned from his secretarial duties, the club comprised nearly 700 members in 69 countries. In the end however, correspondence by letter (snail mail) had to give way to the tide of modern electronic means of communication. After 60 years of existence, and 18 years after the death of its founder, the club ceased to exist in 2005.
The influence of Szczęsnowicz’s lecturing, publicising and club-related activities had to be of significance. It is estimated that his lectures and talks could have been heard by about 20,000 people. It is also known that more than 20,000 copies of his books were published. The number of people that came into contact with the correspondence club and its positive influences was estimated by the secretary himself, after 22 years of club activity, to be not less than 10,000.
All of this was a result of the great personal contribution of Wincenty Szczczęsnowicz to Polish-British friendship and the Polish wartime migration’s process of adjustment in the British Isles, which in the end became a successful attempt at bringing together as friends people with various outlooks on life from many countries of the world. He turned out to be the creator of one of the first and largest correspondence clubs with an international reach and the longest lasting, as much as 60 years. He can also claim to be a forerunner of the internet newsgroups and voluntary services that have in recent years replaced postal correspondence clubs.
The idea of writing about Wincenty Szczęsnowicz’s life and the activities of the club came from a small group of people comprising former club members, Wincenty’s relations and amateur historians. The author of the report is a retired doctor, who in his youth was a very active member of the club.
The main chapters of the work comprise a description of Szczęsnowicz’s military career, his wartime propaganda activities and the history of the correspondence club. Extensive supplementary information can be found in the appendix.
This description is supported by substantiated facts and accounts contributed by family and club members. The main source of material about the club, as well as its secretary, is the club bulletins, the greatest collection of which is owned by the book’s author.
The initiator and author of the study is convinced that Wincenty Szczęsnowicz demonstrated extraordinarily noble and positive traits: tremendous self-sacrifice, honest patriotism and humanism, and that his deeds were of great service to his mother country and therefore deserve her remembrance.