Remembering an Olympic hero
CRAWLEY has had its share of sporting giants over the years, familiar names such as Alan Minter and Nick Buckfield, but how many people are aware that an Olympic hero is buried in Snell Hatch cemetery?
Polish national Jerzy Braun lived in the town in the 50s and 60s, two decades after winning bronze and silver medals for rowing in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Until recently, his grave had fallen into disrepair but now, 80 years on from his Olympic achievement, his resting place has been fitted with a new headstone and he has been honoured with a blessing ceremony.
The battle to renovate Jerzy’s grave began in 2011 after Renata Jarecka, of Broadfield, was speaking with some of the elderly members of Crawley’s Polish community who told her about Jerzy’s life and where he was buried.
Renata, 39, has worked with Crawley Borough Council, Ballard & Shortall funeral directors and even the Polish embassy and was delighted when the Polish government agreed to cover the cost of renovating the grave.
She said: “My grandfather died 14 years ago and his grave is so far away, in south east Poland, so Jerzy Braun became someone very important in my life.
“He was like my new grandfather who I could visit here in Snell Hatch Cemetery. He became also someone important to all my family, my children and husband.
“He had no children in his life but now he can enjoy quite a large family. The children from school, Polish scouts, their parents - we all know the history of Jerzy Braun.”
Renata explained that in November each year, she and other Polish residents observe the tradition of visiting the graves of friends, family and even unknown countrymen to leave flowers and light candles.
It is a tradition that she and other members from the Polish School plan to carry on when it comes to Jerzy’s grave.
As well as being an accomplished sportsman, Jerzy was a war hero. He served with the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division alongside the British Eighth Army during World War Two and was decorated with two medals of valour.
Renata added: “We feel that having this tomb here has meaning for us all, including the young and future Polish generations.
“It should have meaning for British residents too as Mr Braun, living and working in the area, was part of the community.
“It is like a testament to our heritage. It reminds us of the history, that those Polish fought not only for their country but also for other countries including the UK.”
The graveside blessing was held on September 2 following a mass in Polish at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church, in Langley Green.
The blessing was attended by MP Henry Smith and the Mayor and Mayoress, Cllrs Keith and Sally Blake.
Cllr Keith Blake (Con, Gossops Green), said: “It was a touching ceremony and an honour to be present. He achieved an extraordinary amount during his life and it’s right for it to be remembered and for Crawley people to be made aware of such a brave and successful man.”
Jerzy died in 1968, aged 56.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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