LONDON IS RICH in memorials. Some of them commemorate well-known figures and events and others make the observer aware of lesser-known aspects of history. One of these obscurer memorials is on number 218 Sussex Gardens, next to St James Church and not far from Paddington Station. It was placed on the building, which was rented by the Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association (UCSA) [Союз Українських Канадійських Вояків] in 1943.
According to an informative website (www.ukrainiansintheuk.info/eng/03/ucsa-e.htm), the UCSA was:
“…formed on 7 January 1943 in Manchester, to cater for the social and cultural needs of Ukrainian Canadians serving overseas. Initially the association had 37 members. By the end of the war there were 1,500 active members and over 3,000 additional names on the association’s mailing list.”
That is clear enough, but I wondered about the story of the Ukrainian Canadians. In 2016, there were more than 1.4 million Canadians with Ukrainian ancestry. Canada has the third largest population of Ukrainians after Russia and Ukraine. Almost certainly, 1891 marked the start of the migration of significant numbers of Ukrainians to Canada. Back in those days, the territory, which is now the republic of Ukraine was divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. They were welcomed in Canada as the country needed workers to populate and cultivate the prairies.
The UCSA occupied the house in Sussex Gardens from late 1943 until early 1946. The website quoted above revealed that the UCSA:
“… organised social gatherings, or “get-togethers”, for its members, initially in Manchester and later also in London. A choir and a dance orchestra were organised at the London club, and a library and reading room were maintained there. The association’s activities also included visiting sick and wounded Ukrainian Canadians, compiling lists of those who had died or were taken prisoner, and looking after the graves of the dead (at various cemeteries in the UK, including Brookwood Military Cemetery near Woking, Surrey). From September 1943 the association published an UCSA Newsletter.”
As WW2 drew to a close, the UCSA also provided assistance to Ukrainian displaced persons and refugees from mainland Europe.
The memorial plaque on 218 Sussex Gardens was placed in September 1995, long before Russia began its current conflict with Ukraine. Unlike the statue of the Ukrainian Saint Volodmyr, which stands in Holland Park Avenue, the building near Paddington did not have any pro-Ukraine flags or other patriotic items affixed to it. The plaque is a discrete memorial to an aspect of the history of WW2, about which I knew nothing until today.