Touching WWII love story between Polish musician and Scottish nurse uncovered after discovery of haunting waltz
The discovery of a melancholy waltz written during World War Two by a Polish musician in a Scottish hospital has prompted a search for both the musician and the Scottish nurse to whom it was dedicated.
The music was discovered by Scottish archivists when they were sifting through old files to find records of historical interest.
The waltz dated 9 July 1940 is called A Girl’s Tears and was dedicated to the musician’s nurse Jean Johnstone.
The outside cover of the sheet music had a drawing of a map depicting Scotland coloured in a tartan pattern along with flags of the Allies pushing bayonets back against the Germans, who are depicted as an ominous dark cloud over the English channel and France.
Head of Records at NHS Lanarkshire John Duncan was intrigued by the find and decided to find out as much as he could.
“I issued an appeal to find staff who could read music and have it recorded. I was amazed by the response. After a few weeks I had the recording. The music is definitely an original piece. It is a slow waltz and although quite sad it is beautiful at the same time,” he said.
The waltz was composed by pre-war Polish composer Bolesław ‘Bollo’ Ilnicki when he was a patient in Hairmyres hospital in Lanarkshire, Scotland.
‘Bollo’ Ilnicki appears in Polish records in 1920 when he published another melancholy waltz in Warsaw called Why Did You Leave?
Duncan contacted the Glasgow Polish Society to find out what the musician may have been doing in Scotland in 1940.
However, all they could say for sure was that he was not in the Polish Air Force or Navy, nor was he an officer in the army.
According to the Polish Society, Ilnicki may have moved to England. A person with a similar name appears in a newspaper report in the Daily Herald from 1956.
The report says that a Dollo Ilnicki discovered a possible Van Dyck painting when clearing out an old person’s home. The report gives Ilnicki’s nationality as Czech, though the similarity between the two names is tantalising.
If it is the same ‘Bollo’, he would have moved to London where he ran an antiques shop on Finchley Road. He got married in 1947 and died in 1979 in St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. The is no information about any heirs.
A death certificate shows that a Boleslaw Ilnicki from Poland died in Westminster in 1979.
Intrigued by what he already discovered, the tenacious keeper of records issued an appeal to have the lyrics that accompanied the waltz translated.
“To my delight I discovered that one of my staff in the Medical Records department at Monklands is Polish and she got to work on the translation, only to find that it was written in Old Polish so she asked her Gran to help translate it.
“The song title is A Girl’s Tears and a strong theme is about duty and honour. We have two interpretations of the lyrics – either the nurse is sad about leaving the hospital and Bollo or she is sad that Bollo is the one who is leaving.
“We think it is about Bollo having to return to Poland or mainland Europe to join the war effort,” Duncan said.
The lyrics suggest the intense feelings that must have smouldered between the two in wartime Scotland.
“You are leaving because you have to.
I understand you though you hurt my heart with that.
One day when you come back you will kiss my tears away
And our happiness will bloom like a flower.
Don’t worry about my tears
Honour is calling you today.
You must leave and I understand it
So why do my tears still flow.”
Through his research, Duncan says that he has learned about the fate of Polish people during the war.
“Musicians and entertainers like Bollo, who stayed behind in Poland, were made to entertain German Officers in clubs while at the same time they served in the resistance movement,’ he said
The waltz was performed live on Facebook on May 31 by musician Tensheds.
“It was the first time I heard the song. It was very poignant and moving,” Duncan said.
Tensheds has pledged to make a recording of the song and give to NHS Lanarkshire to be placed in the archive where it will sit alongside the record of Hairmyres most famous patient, George Orwell, who was stayed there in 1947.
Tensheds said before he played the piece: “I think it quite fitting at the moment to play something dedicated to a nurse as they are looking after people at the moment and stores like this may be happening right now.”
Duncan is keen to note that the music score would probably still be buried in archives if it were not for the Public Records Act Scotland from 2011, which places a requirement on public bodies to search their archives for material that could be of historical interest.
The next stage of Duncan’s research is to search for the nurse Jean Johnstone. However, he said that it may be difficult as her name was very common in Scotland at that time.
In the meantime, Duncan is searching for Ilnicki’s descendants of family members so that he can put them in touch with their family history.
The waltz can be heard 15 minutes into this recording: