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How The Great Army of Mauritius went marching on to help Poland

Don’t be afraid about your own imagination. It will awake your dreams. They will bring a hope which will let you to live.  And to survive and to stay undefeated!

Since the time when we both, my wife Krystyna and I have entered into a lasting friendship with Raj, Jaya, Jayraj and Nishta of Grand Bay in Mauritius as well as with their families and friends everything connected with this beautiful country is on the top of our interests. In spite of emotional impressions from our visits and friendly talks the great number of cuttings about Mauritius from printed Polish media may easily serve as the partial, material effect of this activity.  As time goes by and the number of collected, various items takes more, and more place in our small size apartment - their careful review and substantial selection should be done from time to time. However, it is not an easy activity as almost every piece of paper or item has its history and more or less a sentimental background. A few days ago the thick folder with the hand written word MAURITIUS on its cover became the subject of this process. Two printed pages at the turn of 2008 and 2009 have fascinated us with their contents. Maybe we did not pay relevant attention to it at that time. So let us share with you, Dear Sir, our discovery.

This is the real story which unfolded due to the rich, colorful imagination of its author. But to understand its character and premises, some introductory background should be presented at the beginning:

After the World War II since 1945 the German occupation of Poland was replaced by the Soviet domination due to Yalta Conference decisions. The communist system of inhuman oppression was widely introduced to the country and its people. The Soviet directives ruined the Polish economy. The freedom of speech and travelling abroad was forbidden. The secret police searched the people. The communist prisons and courts were cruel to the opposition. The Roman – Catholic church was seriously persecuted. Shortage of food and goods was hard to describe in spite of we have a good soil to cultivate and valuable natural resources to utilise. Just to mention a few basic limitations of the human rights. However, the Polish nation has never accepted violation of the Polish freedom and the democratic tradition in its over thousand years of history. In my written unforgettable memories describing Polish teenager’s approach to the political system existing in the horrible fifties one may read, that: “The wide range of our interests as well as our partial escape into the world of fantasy, abstraction, playful absurdity, bright colors and spiritual survivals created an illusion of a pinch of Freedom, anyway. For example my philatelic hobby and post stamps exchange helped me a lot in half - opening my closed window to the Free World.” (A short fragment of my printed memories).

After several heavy, meaningful riots (1956, 1968, 1971, 1976, 1980) in Poland against the communist system, the strong opposition movement has been created and widely known all over the world for its name SOLIDARITY and for its substantial achievements. Its founders were mostly workers from big factories and intellectuals of various professions, e.g. historians, artists, journalists, scientists and many others. Then 1981 year came and the tension for changes has reached its zenith in Poland with 10 million members of SOLIDARITY Trade Union (and the Soviet Army bases spread all over Poland). The country reminded us of the kettle with a boiling water quickly changing into steam, just a minute  before the final explosion. Unfortunately, this optimistic tendency and hope was crushed on December 12, 1981 by the Martial Law introduced by general Jaruzelski, communist leader and dictator. And the nightmare came again to our country for almost a decade. 

Franciszek Starowieyski
Franciszek Starowieyski,  Polish painter, graphic artist, scenographer and writer (Sept. 2005)

Franciszek Starowieyski, the author of the title story, outstanding painter, graphic artist, writer and art lecturer has created, thanks to his own unlimited imagination, over 20 Theatres of Drawing Art and prepared over 200 exhibitions of his paintings all over the world. His works (paintings, posters, graphics) were real masterpieces full of forms, emotions and reflections. He was the first Polish artist who had the individual exhibition of his paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He died in Warsaw on the 23d of February 2009.  In  mid December 2008 he was interviewed by Mr. Tomasz Piwowarczyk, journalist from a Polish daily newspaper FAKT with over half a million copies circulation at that time. The last interview with the much regretted artist and description of its circumstances has been published in the Christmas Eve (2008) edition which also enclosed his fairy tale with its real background.

Now, let us get acquainted with a very fascinating story with a politically implied meaning conveyed to us by Franciszek Starowieyski. It was translated by us into English and provided with our footnotes. Here we go: 

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In the summer time preceeding the introduction of The Martial Law in Poland  we went to Romania with our children for a short vacation. There are still remains of the huge oil installations at the Black Sea coast, close to the beaches. Each pipe smells of oil, humming and mysterious sounds can be heard. At once my boys were interested in this phenomenon and asked me a question about it? My answer was: The underground Great Army of Mauritius goes marching on! It goes to liberate Poland, to liberate us! It is quite near! And then all of these oil installations started to throb, to whirr and to whistle. It could be easily heard that the soldiers are somewhere close to us, that they are almost approaching the place.

My boys, Mikolaj and Antoni, were 6 and 8 years old at that time. They started to run around, to keep their ears open and literally to trace movements of imaginary forces. The Great Army of Mauritius has left its island on the Indian Ocean – I carried on the story – it has reached the Saudi Arabia and has overcame the Turkish mountains of Anatolia.  This is why it can be heard on the Romanian coast as its advanced armored units has reached the Straits of Bosphorus. For sure they are at the bottom of the Black Sea now! The water surface is a very good transmitter of sounds when millions of soldiers are marching on even in a distance of many kilometers from here. The marching of tanks and armored cars  could be heard easily and clearly. 

We walked through the wild, abandoned land in Romania and every now and then listened to the strange sounds coming from twisted pipes and chimneys. Was it only a wind? My boys had a very rich imagination so my story about the Great Army of Mauritius became more uncommon but also more real day after day. 

It was something improbable, indeed! The imagination of my sons has developed with each stroll. Every single whistle of wind has brought, no doubt, sounds of the mysterious and so much expected army, which will come soon to liberate us. These stories sounded as military orders, as well:  General!, I am reporting to you an execution of the task! We are just passing under the Black Sea, Sir! I have tried to persuade my sons that the suspicious sound coming out of the rust- eroded chimney can be explained as a bit muffled but clear enough sounds of the Great Army in its march.

The boys have added something what they tried to hear in these pipes or among trees where the wind danced or the birds sang. It could be also a coded signal or a classified information to our ears only transmitted from the Headquarters of the Great Army of Mauritius! We must listen very carefully as the order should be possibly transmitted to the other Poles. And immediately to run, to fly and to cry to our compatriots: We in Poland need to help the Great Army of Mauritius ! They are here with us just now!

This Army was the matchless pattern of a perfect organization. Strong, undefeated and awaking a feeling of fear but also extremely noble – minded. The Army decided to liberate  Poland as Poland needed the biggest help in these times. Poland was a heroic, great and magnificent country! It was Poland which had to stand up on its knees. We were degraded and humiliated too much. The beginning of the eighties, were extremely difficult as communism revelled in our country. One could scent some unknown threat. The more so as the Martial Law was planned to be introduced quite soon. Therefore we lived believing the fairy tales. For example that general Anders  will come on a white horse and will liberate us from the Red Disease. Upon his sign the Great Polish Army will be formed under the Giewont Mountain.  

The Great Army of Mauritius was able to reach Poland exploring special, underground tunnels which  were constructed very quickly. After our return from vacation, now at our home in Warsaw, my sons with a great enthusiasm studied maps and wondered which passage is the most advantageous. The Army needed to overcome route at the Black Sea bottom and then cross Carpathian Mountains. The boys even checked the geological conditions trying to find the best trails for construction of underground tunnels and for the benefit of a million Mauritian soldiers marching on. 

My sons gave some thought to the Carpathian Mountains ridge which is curved from Romania in the shape of a bow. Is it not to difficult to pass through? Maybe the route across Ukraine and then through Lublin land is the best way to be in Poland? And Antoni, my older son, shouted out:  Yes! The Great Army of Mauritius will go through Sulejowek village, where Jozef Pilsudski  lived! No doubt, both my sons were patriotically engaged!

The Great Army had an excellent logistic knowledge, underground car and railway transport network. And what is more important: due to underground routes it could not be found out by the enemies of Poland. 

The Great Army knew how to utilise, let us say, the useless iron junk in Romania for permanent communication with us. The boys were going to see in a while the Great Army with its million soldiers coming out from underground tunnels. The twisted structures and constructions created the system of communication.  After return to Poland some old, post-industrial areas where we walked together strangely influenced or enriched our imagination.

Antoni and Mikolaj have entered into this game very quickly. We played magnificently and had a great time together.  At the same time I am sure that it was quite a good lesson of patriotism.  These days I think myself  that the Great Army of Mauritius simply resided in our minds. That the Army has been created by us, Poles with the aim to defeat an enemy. And that we needed such a dream because what is the value of life without dreams, even however irrational they are at  first sight.

Why The Great Army originated from Mauritius, the island on the Indian Ocean? Why? After all the most expensive postage stamps valued at million dollars originate from this country. So it was quite obvious for all of us. 

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Divinia Polonia
The controversial, allegorical image Divina Polonia Rapta Per Europa Profana (Divine Poland eloped by Europe profane) painted by Franciszek Starowieyski in 1998 and exhibited at the Polish representation to the European Union in Brussels 

This is the end of this fairy dream and this beautiful story. But these dreams which originated in the minds of Franciszek Starowieyski and his sons as well as of many Polish people have reached their conclusion and changed into the real success. Since 1989 Poland is a free, independent, democratic country with many significant initiatives towards sustainable economic and social development. One important advantage of the changes for me and Krystyna was possibility to travel abroad, to make friendship with the other people, to visit beautiful Mauritius and to tell you this story without fear as well.

We do not know whether Franciszek Starowieyski had a chance to visit Mauritius. But getting acquainted with his magnificent imagination and his works there is no doubt that such a visit was among his dreams behind “the iron curtain” in early eighties and earlier.  

Mieczyslaw and Krystyna Metlers
Warsaw, Poland, October 10, 2018