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John Kapelko 1992 - Poles Apart

The following story has been kindly donated by Tony Kapelko. All copyright belongs to Tony Kapelko and permission is required for any part to be copied. The Kapelko family reserve all rights to these materials for any publication including electronic media.
Introduction
Throughout the history of mankind the greed and selfishness of man has ordained that he takes advantage of the weakest individual, clan, community or nation. The few have lived selfish lives and congest the history books as dead heroes, but as the pages colour, the most precious memory of all, lives on in the hearts of the many........

This book is dedicated to the selfless thousands whose names are still not known but who are the real heroes of man's progress though our on-going creation.

No one should envy the man who wins the first heat, only those who win the everlasting race....

I have travelled many miles, met thousands of people, but never met anyone I did not love, but there was one about all others.... the lady who rebuild a shattered world.....my dear wife....Ruth.


It started like any other summer's day. The sky was blue, the warmth from the sun subdued only by the persistent breeze. Hearts were as high as the corn and bursting with life; but it was not to last. In April, Hitler had denounced the Anglo-German Naval agreement and the Polish Non-Aggression Treaty. The Nazi hordes were spoiling to invade.

My village, Dabrowa, was due South of Warsaw and only about a hundred miles from the Czechoslovakian border. Already worried, when Chamberlain reaffirmed Britain's pledge to Poland, those worries remained.

My notice to report for army training arrived later that day. It may have been imagination that the sun began to sink below the far horizon.

At home I had but a few days to make my farewells to Mum, Dad and other relatives. Then, none of us realised that it would be many years before we would meet again, and no-one even suspected that many would never return.

With heavy heart I reported to the army training school in Modlin. After the preliminaries I was issued a full kit and attached to an armoured SAP Regiment. I recall clearly, walking along the banks of the Vistula, but my despair found no solace from the depths of its dark impenetrable waters.

The next day my unit moved to the Pomeranian frontier.

On the twenty-third of August the German ambassador, Herr von Ribbentrop signed the German-soviet Pact of non-aggression. Poland was now the small filling between two parts of a gigantic sandwich. There was now deep foreboding..

On the twenty-third of August the German ambassador, Herr von Ribbentrop signed the German-soviet Pact of non-aggression. Poland was now the small filling between two parts of a gigantic sandwich. There was now deep foreboding..

On September first, German troops invaded our beloved country. Britain and France had immediately mobilised but it was too late.

The German army by-passed Pomerania and the Panzer divisions headed straight for Warsaw. The Luftwaffe dive bombed a practically defenceless city. But it took all the might of the German army seventeen days before the heroic citizens were forced to capitulate. What remained of the Polish army was driven towards the Russian frontier, but some units managed to Rumania and the Dardanelles in Turkey. The unfolding of history since the breakup of the U.S.S.R. has exposed how many Polish officers were murdered by the Russian troops and buried in unmarked graves near the Soviet Borders. My unit was captured by the Red Army and evacuated to Russia by train. We travelled via Hialystok, Minak, and eventually to Smolensk. Our soldiers were packed like sardines in cattle trucks. There was no privacy, even to satisfy the demands of nature; and barely room to stand and stretch.

Most of us were frightened, but I had an advantage over my comrades; I spoke Russian fluently.

I learned that we were destined for internment camps deep in the North Russian territory.

The more our difficulties gave anguish, the more obdurate my friends and I became. I had two close and very determined friends with me. When we managed to talk, which was seldom, we decided that at the first opportunity we would make a break, and try to get to some neutral country.

Our opportunity came as the train slowly puffed its laborious path through dense pine forests towards Smolensk. The guardsman, an extremely young, tired conscript, was looking away and in the direction of the train’s movement. That gave us our chance.

At a signal the three of us jumped from the train into the ditch at the side of the rail line. Aboard the train the alarm had been given and rifle fire followed us for some moments, but it was too late. The train was now far off and it was clear that they did not intend to waste time returning to search. We wasted no time but were already concealed in the thicket, skirting the woods.

We had prepared as best we could on the train by wrapping scarves and old sacking around our legs. We had also avowed that if anyone broke a leg or became incapacitated in any way the other two would try to press on to try and join the free forces......... somewhere...........

We stopped our headlong rush when so exhausted we could scarcely move. However, we had a good start, even if the escape was reported at Smolensk, it would be some hours before any organised search could be mounted.

During the rest we planned our next move.

We agreed that our only hope was to head for the Ukraine and Black Sea, or Rumanian coast. By now we were desperate for food and had no money.

We sustained strength, and spirits, by helping ourselves to the abundance of fruit ready for picking at the height of the season. Market gardens and plantations were raided and we gorged ourselves with plums, pears, apples and indeed, peaches.

We had noticed Russian troop movements for some miles and were delighted when we happened upon a small holding set back from the main road. As we passed a lady, attractive and possibly in her mid-twenties hailed us, "What are you doing here?" she asked. This part of the Ukraine was remote and a characteristic of the local people was their friendliness. She was no exception in that she seemed overjoyed to welcome strangers.

We stopped and strolled over to the gate.

Her smile was beguiling at first, and then warmed as I explained that we were heading for Odessa on the Black Sea to report for Service in the Army, one colleague was similarly bound for the Navy. She shook our hands and insisted that we accept her hospitality for hot drinks and sandwiches. This was a happy thought after our recent diet.

We chatted for some time then she asked how we intended to complete the journey as it was many kilometres away across very rough terrain. I was told her we must walk as we had not money or food. Her eyes sparkled. "Well, this is like manna from heaven. I am left to work the farm alone and I desperately need help. Would you like to help me for a while? I'll be able to pay you." This offer we could not refuse so promised to stay and work for as long as we could.

After replenishing our drained mugs she told us that her Father and her Husband were already in the Army; every able man had been mobilised into the Red Army, leaving all the farms in the area without help in the season of harvest. It seemed to me that this would make an ideal, luxurious bivouac that would give work and more important shelter from the scattered Red Army groups. She told me that the nearest town Kishinev was about 60 kilometres to the North West and Kiev over 250 kilometres due North.

That evening she made a meal that could not have been equalled in the Kremlin itself. After the added luxury of a hot bath, in a mood of contentment we all fell asleep.

The next day, well breakfasted, we packed over a hundred boxes of apples, addressed them to a jam factory in Odessa, then loaded them onto a lorry for despatch. This was to be the same routine for a week. During this time we got to know many of the workers. They were all women, and though they toiled long and hard it was clear that the mammoth task was quite beyond them. We discussed this with Bronia, our hostess, and decided that, as she had been so kind we would stay a while longer to reap the harvest. Overjoyed by this she showed her delight by feasting us with home baking, cheese cakes, fresh salamis, and at night, a more generous helping of Vodka.

Three weeks had passed since we jumped train, and the good food and plenty of sleep fortified us for the journey to come. Soon after, it was a blistering hot day, we lay resting beneath a large, overburdened pear tree, discussing how we could best collect the crop without damage when Bronia appeared. The smile was missing and she looked distressed as she handed me a copy of the paper 'Izvestia'. Looking me straight in the eyes she said no word for several minutes, and then she started to read. The essence was simple; the last resistance of the Polish forces had been squashed. There remained only a few isolated pockets of resistance in remote, scattered districts. The Red Army command in the Ukraine was now searching for the remnants. The report finished by saying that General Rydz and the Polish High Command had escaped and were heading for the Rumanian border when they had been offered asylum.

We held a crisis meeting after Vodka that night and eventually agreed that we must leave to avoid possible capture by the Red troops. When we told Bronia she was tearful and upset but realised our Idyll must end. She thanked us for all our works then after an excellent breakfast, loaded with food and cartons of drink, we took our goodbyes. As I shook her hand she pressed 150 Roubles into it. I was deeply moved but after protesting for some time agreed to take 50 for emergencies.

The lorry onto which we were herded was packed with fruit, as were three other vehicles in the convoy. They were destined for the border areas of Kamienied Litewski and Ostov. The borders we learned were heavily fortified but the intention was to drop us off in the countryside near the border then we would have to try to cross by foot. My colleagues Leo and Andrew could not speak Russian so they were concealed in boxes; I sat with Bronia in the driving cab.

The women who had been our hard working companions these last weeks were out in force to see us off. Many a tear was shed as we parted knowing that we would never meet again. As we drove off I could not restrain and final look back. They stood tall for moments that got smaller and smaller, until at last they disappeared into the dust on the horizon.

Everything had so far gone smoothly. We were fortunate in that we were not stopped or hindered by the ravaging groups of the Red Army or militia. On one occasion we were petrified when we found that we had run into a large contingent of Red troops. However, although surrounded by them, they did not interfere. They seemed to be heading for the old Polish frontier, so Bronia decided to lag behind and let the other lorries move in that direction with them. We lingered and eventually saw them well ahead. Bronia was concerned; she dare not go to the West. Indeed, we learned at one shop where we stopped to buy milk that the Germans had over run the border with Poland and they were advancing on all fronts. She headed for Odessa. We figured that we were some 40-60 kilometres from the Rumanian border when we decided to leave her and travel on foot.

Leo and Andrew had been salvaged from their crates some kilometres back but were still in a subdued state, the lids had been jammed on with such force that they had not got much air and were like lobsters as they sprawled on the back floor of the vehicle.

We took our leave of the charming lady. It was another solemn and tearful moment, but the appearance of troops in the distance made it a brief farewell. As she drove off for Odessa we sought concealment in nearby woods until the way was clear.

This area of country was hazardous. There were many very deep streams to fjord and ravines to cross. This undulating country seemed endless but we knew we must endure it right to the Carpathian Mountains. The nights were when most of our journey was done to avoid the increasing number of patrols of Red units, who were obviously alert for the possibility of German advance units, even parachute divisions being a vanguard in their advance.

Two nights on we had some luck. As we marched we came upon an encampment of Polish soldiers who were refreshing themselves by a campfire. Their settlement was totally obscured by trees and bushes. When we identified ourselves they were overjoyed and immediately we had to join the festivities. Such food as we had not seen for some time, refreshments, and when relaxed a large glass of Vodka! There were four high rank officers in the group and they were eager to learn movements of troops in the area from whence we had come. Once the intelligence had been extracted we sat again and chatted. There were 80 men in the group, all ex-cavalry soldiers. Their tales were terrifying, but mostly horses against tanks!

It was the hand, fickle as may be, of chance that my old O.C. was one of the four officers, Henry Heitz.

There was a considerable time for reminiscing then the demands of utmost urgency. We had to move before the frontier was closed for good.

It has to be said that the Rumanian authorities were exceedingly considerate towards the Polish soldiers, every aid and assistance was afforded.

We were assisted to board trains which were far removed from our previous experience in cattle trains, dirty and evil smelling. We relaxed with only one thought, that at the end of this trip we would be in Turkey, where a new life and more important, soon would cease to be running from the German hordes and would be able to turn and stand against the evil regime presently over running the peace of Europe. Only god knew how we felt at that moment; the prospect of freedom, other than the threat of Hitler and Stalin's brutal and sadistic regimes.

The pall of smoke from the steam train hung like a shroud over the carriage windows but we knew we would soon pass through, leaving behind a Europe boiling like a kettle.

Both the Polish and the Rumanian authorities were concerned at the fast advance of the German forces and the marauding Russian troops and were desperate that Polish soldiers and the residue of the army were transferred from Rumanian soil to the friendly sanctuary of the Turkish hinterland. Turkey was then the oldest friend and ally of Poland, bound by the Treaty of Cooperation 1683.

The authorities spent every effort to provide shelter food and other civilised necessities for a wandering group of wandering people. The comforts were such that we could have stayed there for a long time. However, this was not to be; the Germans had started this brutal was and we could not rest until their evil presence was expunged from decent society.

Once the strain of our journey had eased with rest, we decided that it was essential that we make the next move soon. This was to be to Syria. There a fast formation of units for integration into the British eighth army had commenced. Syria was of course, a French colony and as France had already fallen to the Panzer divisions the Syrians were decidedly pro-German as they visualised their hope of freedom and complete independence from French domination lay with a German victory. There had been and still were frequent uprisings by the nationalist fundamental factions which gave the British trouble.

The free Polish forces gathered and integrated into a most formidable battle force, well drilled and organised. Britain, as an ally to the defeated French, did not seek to interfere in Arabian politics and differences so they turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Polish Brigade and left them to maintain peace and order within Syria.

We settled for a while over that Road to Damascus where Jesus and St Paul walked in thought and taught all who would listen how to love one another.

There was no Hilton or Holiday Inn around in those bleak days; our reservations were inside an outsized tent! There were 24 men to each tent and all ablutions and chores were perpetrated with those skill walls. The atmosphere on occasions scarce required definition or identification.

The training we were given was hard and regular, but it was most essential. We all knew that when the call came we would have to be fit and able to meet it for we would have but one chance against a ruthless, remorseless foe. The heat at night was oppressive often unbearable. At day it was abnormal to impossible. Sweat and dehydration were a constant demand for attention.

Training was carried out until 10am by then the temperature was ahead of the instructors in calling 'Halt'. This was called 'Tropical hours'. Everyone was required to rest on blankets. We very soon learned that there were enemies inside the tents as well as out-with. Scorpions plagued us. They sidled into the tents to avoid the burning sun and would conceal themselves in boots or blanket or any other convenient garment.

In the event of your misfortune to have been bitten, the first action, or should it be reaction, had to scarper, unclothed if so circumstanced, to the M.O. in the clinic. The instant treatment was a 'jag' in the posterior from the medic. Ours had bi-focal with glasses, which resembled a wrong way look through Pyrex plates. He usually took four or five stabs before hitting the target. We always made absolutely sure that he never participated in the only leisure activity, which we could find - darts!

We adjusted steadily to the climate and soon began to resemble our Arab friends who were extremely friendly knowing we were interested in fighting for the peace and freedom of all peoples loving peace.

The longer one stays in a place, once an affinity grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave.

Unfortunately the day came when we had to determine to say our goodbyes and prepare to leave for Palestine.



John Kapelko (L) probably in Iraq with a friend

The Polish army had formed a brigade called the Carpathian Brigade. Brigadier General S. Kopariski was given command. Leo and I were seconded to that unit to train in mine laying fortifications and digging trenches, building bridges or any other necessary activity to help the troops. Andrew was transferred to England for training with the RAF to become a pilot.

For over six months we had no word of him; but we felt sure he had made it and was, even then, swinging across the skies shooting down 'Jerries' over the English Channel.

Leo and I were subjugated to intensive training for any conceivable contingency or emergency.

The worst part of this period to my mind was hand to hand combat. This could be jolly if done in the school gym with hockey sticks but in striking distance of the battlefield such trial combat had different connotations. Every bash was for real and if you happened to tap your opponent on the upper lip in accident he would come back like a bat out of hell. All these years later I still bear bruises.

Despite the national censorship in vogue at that time, one day word went around that Germany had landed troops in Algeria, Tunisia and North Africa. These were under the control of Manfred Rommel.

General Rommel had a reputation as a brilliant strategist, and a brave and honest soldier. We could only think of but one of many Hun enemies. Once he arrived in North Africa however, he soon earned the title of the 'Desert Fox'. This is a title many of us were to remember. But the news brought us great joy; here at last was an opportunity to prove to our British allies that we, the free Poles, could beat the Nazis in open field.

We sat one evening and assayed our position. We had battle scared warriors with first class morals, support of the Navy and air force units who could scarce be contained. With honour at stake, we made our points and waited our call.

The phoney war allowed many to relax and await some indication or guidance. Some got complacent; we did not. During what some found to be a relaxing time, my colleague Leon Bucheltz and I were looking forward in the future to seeing much of the world that had sprung to our sight only from geography books. Our dream vision led us from Asia, to Africa then Libya, Cairo and Alexandria. The general direction would only be interrupted by essential stops for visiting. Such places as the Pyramids, the Valley of Kings and Luxor were essential ingredients of our dream trip. Come the dawn, little was left but we did manage a trip to the Pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx. Our inquisitiveness led us with candles into the tombs and wonder at the structural beauty of those ancients. Then even this fleeting pleasure was gone, we had to prepare for duty. The truth is we got lost in the tombs for two days and were found only because a casual group of tourists had travelled the paths of Egyptian pioneers a thousand years before.

Back at camp we learned that the Germans had boasted that nothing could stop them moving forward across North Africa to Cairo, over the Nile and into Palestine and so to the Middle East and then Asia. Rommel sent a message to Hitler saying "I'll soon complete this mission".

Our Brigade was directed into the Tobruk peninsula. Immediately we started to build defences from sea shore to desert sand dune. The sappers were stretched to their utmost, digging ditches and trenches and laying mine fields. While this was going on inside the encampment we send out patrols at regular intervals searching out German units or presence for miles around. We knew too well the 'Blitzkreig tactics of the Panzers and attack may come without warning by day or night.

As anticipated the attack came. First by bombardment then dive-bombers, stukas for the most part, but initial attacks were well taken and we responded with vigour. The firing subsided during the evening and we were able to relax and take stock. Leo came to enquire if I was alright. I smiled, "I'm alright". And an afterthought; "Thank God for our good fortune this day. Let's see what the morrow may bring". Leo looked pensive. "I'm wondering about our families. Wonder if they are alright? This is Christmas. They'll be getting snow while we are roasted with the sun. Hope the kids get a good Christmas".

We then got news of our first casualty. He was but a boy of 19. But it wasn't eh Hin's gun that had killed him but a heart attack.

Possibly for the first time the stupidity of war hit us. There was a long period of heart searching. This young man who had not yet learned to live, dead at our feet. Far from home and his dear ones, he would never see them again but only ort in the foul sand with the creatures of the earth. How futile it all was.

The right flank of our defence was held by a Scottish Highland division. The 'Jocks' were great soldiers and wonderful companions; they regularly met for chats and swapping food. Most liked a smoke and were delighted that I and others had plenty of cigarettes, for we did not smoke.

Sensitive of the ever present threat of German attack Leo was assigned with a party of 12 men to reconnoitre the surrounding desert for any sign of movement of the enemy troops. We knew that parties of Italian and Germans were engaged on sorties in the area.

The men enjoyed these excursions as it gave them the opportunity to stretch their legs and see some of the territory mostly occupied by Bedouins and their camels. Many proved to be very friendly and stopped to talk. From their conversations we learnt that the previous day they had talked with German patrols that were in the same place. They were mostly small groups of a dozen men. They confirmed that the men were all on foot. There were no tanks, armoured cars or mechanical vehicles of any kind.

Reassured we moved further into the desert.

We happened upon several Arab villages. It was clear they did not expect any callers as there was no sign of any sentry being posted. We circled on such villages and were surprised to see in one extra large tent several German Officers relaxing on mats smoking and drinking. They were in good humour and obviously had no thought of any intrusion upon their jollity. But the laughter died and words still born, then we entered the tent with our automatic guns at the ready. Only two had the presence of mind to grab for their guns and were immediately cautioned. The others just sat with their mouths open in surprise.

"Who are you?" One ventured.

We were tense at this first confrontation but I recalled our recent course of instruction, especially the instructor who I thought at the time, to be a brute and a sadist. When he instructed us how to take possession of accommodation occupied by several of the enemy, his words were burned into my brain. "Create a diversion at the real and the sides, and then force the front entrance. Once inside get your back to a wall. Then command them to surrender. If anyone moves, shoot him, he's thinking. The others will be in shock. His body will protract the state of shock".

I knew what to do but this was different. Here the enemy seemed friendly. They made no move to their guns. The one who seemed senior in command repeated, "Who are you?"

When they learned we were Polish they seemed delighted. "We met you in Narvik, Norway in France, now here. It is most unexpected.

One of our number with little more courage, but in far better voice told the occupants. "No matter where you may choose to put your feet we shall be there - remember that!"

There was silence, then their courage failed them, they fell silent and their arms dropped to their sides.

Slowly, reluctantly, they obeyed our order to follow. They were led to the tent of a senior officer for interrogation. We considered ourselves fortunate; here we had captured sixteen enemy soldiers without a shot being fired. More important, their strict interrogation would provide intelligence about the enemy strength and troop movements in the area. We were congratulated on our initiative and were self-satisfied at our success. We sat down to our first substantial meal for a long time and washed it well down with copious gulps of wine. Our siesta, which was to be a short period of ease and recovery, stretched out to be a span of days then months. During this time the Germans had, from such reports as we received, made very little progress, and gained insignificant territory. The early fears that the Blitzkrieg may result in early German occupation of Tobruk, Alexandria or Cairo, had not materialised.

Almost before we knew it Christmas was upon us. But instead of joy it brought only sadness at the inhumanity of mankind, and the absence of our dear ones. At such moments imagination is sometimes the saviour; we were wishing like hell that Santa would deliver the goods. But it was not to be. Then, as imagination faded, we became realists and accepted that, not only are there no Reindeer in hot climates, but they certainly are not airborne anywhere. Then I thought back to the halcyon days as a boy in Poland when my only wish was to own my own horse. I recalled clearly, one Christmas, I had worked myself into a frenzy of hope that I may get a horse from Santa. I wrote a very long letter to him and pinned it to the mantle shelf. It was, at least I thought so, clear and defined with precision........... I wanted a horse of 14 hands; a piebald would do, as all my film heroes rode one.

On Christmas day I awakened late, I had been awake with anticipation most of the dreary, black night, and dived for the pillowslip I had left. Alas, there was no horse.......... but I know it had been there.

Alas, there are disappointed children and there are disappointed grown-ups. I was always unsure who suffered most? .............

We found supplies were drying up and were beginning to feel the pinch. The Germans had total control of the Gibraltar straits. The dominance of the Luftwaffe and the U-boats ensured that there was almost a total blockade from Europe to the African battleground.

It was about that this time that a Polish transport ship was bombed by the Nazi's and sunk about three hundred yards from the shores of Tobruk. It may have been the hand of fortune that the waters were not deep and the upper decks were about two metres above the water level. From where we were situated it was possible to scan the scene but we knew the Germans could do likewise. After careful reconnoitre we decided to rescue the sailors clearly seen on those upper decks and we imagined, in a distressed state. All able men who could swim were marshalled. A dozen selected men were briefed for the trip. They all reached the vessel without difficulty. Those who we rescued were despatched by boat to the shore, and we searched the ship for its cargo.

It was an Aladdin's cave!

What's more we did not even have to say "Abracadabra", or "open sesame', all we required was a few hundred wheelbarrows. There was abundant foodstuff in the galley, drink for every taste, and medicine for those with ailments, and there were many. In addition there were abundant stocks of all kinds of clothing, uniforms and ancillary requirements of the fashion conscious. There was also a cargo of munitions, machine guns and ammunition, partly concealed, but most important our search exposed many boxes of spirits and kegs of beer. For the moment all thoughts of articles of war were vanquished and all thoughts were concentrated on this excisable liquor, and how it would be possible to get it to the nearest point ashore.

Eventually this was solved in the simplest way. The wooden boxes and kegs were heaved overboard. Miraculously they all floated and it remained for us to slip into the water and swim to shore pushing our chosen packages before us.

It must be unnecessary to record that everyone was soon filled with the spirit of Christmas, in the most satisfying way. And while our allies in London were still speculating on the conduct of the war, we organised the speediest and certainly the most effective and joyful party any of us could recall. The Polish colleagues and British colleagues gathered all troops and ancillary staff into the stores to join the repast.

The unprecedented revelry and noise attracted a German unit in the area and they opened machine-gun fire. Fortunately no-one was hurt and we soon saw the intruders off. The momentary respite from the thoughts of war eased the tension we harboured for so long; the friendship and comradeship were on a high. But with the dawn, when the effects of the previous night were relieved, we realised that the clouds of war were closing in, and were darker than ever.

The latest news from West Europe to reach us was that Field Marshall Montgomery had taken over the 8th Army. The Polish Carpathian Brigade had withdrawn to Egypt and replaced by units from Australia and New Zealand. My friends, colleagues and the whole of our present Brigade had been sorely tried and the effects were obvious. We desperately need a rest to recover and replenish our reserves of energy. The opportunity came when we were holed up at Tobruk for almost eight months; precious months which were used by Monty to restore morale and build up forces to full standard. Almost daily armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and tanks were added to his force. One was soon to be directed against the wily Desert Fox Rommel, the first to blunt his initiatives and then to drive his forces out of Africa.

The next news to reach us came one glorious Sunday in June. We learned that Panzer divisions had crossed the River Bug into that part of Poland occupied by Russian troops. The fortress at Brest-Litovsk had managed to hold the advance but the Russians were giving way along the rest of the front. This treacherous invasion against the Soviet peoples changed the picture and the fortunes of many people. The Russian people were now our allies.

General Sikorski was reported as arranging to fly immediately to Moscow to persuade Stalin to release all Polish prisoners, citizens and soldiers. From this visit and with agreement between Britain, America and Poland, the Soviet Union agreed to release immediately, all such Polish prisoners held in various remote areas of the U.S.S.R. They would be directed to Krasnovodsk, which was situated on the west bank of the Caspian Sea. From there they would be transferred to Pahlevi on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, in Iran.

At this time our units were dispatched east. Some to bases in the Gaza strip in Palestine, others to bases around Kirkuk in Iraq. All the men were highly trained, expert sappers and the soon erected tents and established suitable bases.

Our Brigade required being completely re-equipped. All equipment was shipped from England to the Port of Basra, and much aid supplied by the U.S.A. was shipped there. All available drivers were sent to the port to take delivery of Lorries, armoured cars, tanks, food, artillery and munitions. These they delivered to the many bases established around Kirkuk.

This was a monumental and arduous task. The temperature was always over 60 degrees and there was just no place to hide from it. The distance of 1000 miles between Basra and Kirkuk, including a desert and the rivers Tigres and Euphrates, the endless stretch of Mesopotamia with its ancient biblical connections and cities, were exhausting to the traveller. Water in cans or flasks boiled, and when the appetite called, eggs could be fired on any stone, or even the sand itself. We were surprised that, despite the stress and anxiety ever present. The English lads in the contingent always managed to have their 'cuppa'. They even managed to novel way to make their brew. They would fill an empty can with sand, fill it with petrol until saturated, and then light it with a match. It made an excellent Primus stove.

While tea seemed to be the preference of the Englishman, our choice of refreshment was an orange.

Of all the hazards on the journey from Basra the worst by far was the negotiation of the bridges across the two rivers. They were narrow and had no barriers. Being very narrow there was one-way traffic; even the most skilled, experienced drivers had to show the utmost caution, specially forced to cross at night or during the sand storms which often happened without warning. One unfortunate driver swerved but an inch or two or so to avoid an Arab, next thing he found himself steering air until the vehicle hit the waters of the Tigris some 60 metres below.

The lorry and its precious cargo of machinery were lost in the turbulent waters, but the driver managed to open the cab door and swim towards the bank only to be picked up by a river patrol boat. That driver was censured and never again allowed to drive that route. My log records that I made eleven trips from Basra to Kirkuk.

While this build up continued there seemed to be little movement on other fronts. Then out of the blue we were notified that the 10th Battalion of Sappers was ordered to move on to establish a base in Pahlevi. This was the site on the shores of the Caspian Sea chosen to receive the prisoners released from the Soviet territory. The movement began immediately and once they arrived in Pahlevi. The troops wasted no time in building encampments, first aid and hospital facilities for the thousands expected to arrive over the coming weeks.

Soon the flow started. Hundreds of thousands of released prisoners arrived from Kazakhstan and Krasnovodsk by sea to be landed and the sea post encampment. It was one of history's major tragedies that so many people had suffered so much through the actions of two men, Hitler and Stalin.

The memory of the first boat to arrive will ever linger............

Men women and children were packed like sardines on top decks and below decks. From the shore we saw them clinging onto the guard rails and every nook and cranny they could squeeze into. It was clear there had been inadequate sanitary facilities; the smell was nauseating; there had been little drinking water and no food.

They were hurriedly disembarked. The stretcher cases and the sick were the first, and they were immediately sent to special provision made for them. Women and children were sent to separate quarters for examination and treatment if required. All able bodied men were sent to recruitment centres and registered. They were then posted to various units according to their past experience or established capability. Once the women and children had been through their procedure, they were allowed a period to rest and were well fed. Once they had settled to normal activity they had to start yet another long journey. This time they were destined for farm plantations in Uganda or Kenya where they would stay to work on the farm plantations until the war was over.

We were now under a new Commander, a General Anders. Our units were put back to the Basra-Kirkuk reinforcements run. Arabian nights were once the stuff that dreams were made of but there were few dreams of pleasure in the desert in which we slaved. As the days passed more and more troops were added to the free Polish forces. From every corner of the world, Polish people were flooding to join the crusade against the evils of Nazi tyranny. Soon, as far as we knew, all Polish people had been released from the vast Soviet Republic, from Siberia to Kazakhstan, and they were funnelled through the filter at Pahlevi, and so to the Western world.

We were now the 2nd Corps and were under the command of General Anders. The Free Polish forces in Scotland formed from the 1st Corps and were under the command of General Maczek, but there was a third army, Ludoen Armia (People's Army). This was commanded by communist generals.

Whatever little time was available from the continuing runs to Kirkuk was used for training, training and more training. From the High Command to the newest recruit, we were all determined to be absolutely ready for that longed for moment when the entire civilised world is prepared to act simultaneously against the most evil enemy yet known.

Against the backcloth of killing, and warm I found some consolation by my frequent walks around the land where, so long ago, Our Lord was preaching, that we must love each other and live in peace. I traced from my now worn bible and a near shredded map of the area, such places as Babylon, Nazareth and Jericho conjured only our old idealistic memories of Jerusalem.

The Arabs were very kind and helpful. A nation of traders they were every ready to supply oranges, melons, red water melons and dates. They had an ability to provide any fruit that grew in Asia.

One evening I updated my worn-out map by plotting the latest developments. By the dim light I scanned it. I saw that, from Mosul, in North Iraq, to Kirkuk, to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Gaza thence to the Suez Canal we had so many established Polish camps. From these, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we could identify and communicate to allied posts, the movements of enemy shipping.

Now, for the moment, there was a breathing space. We worked now, only six days. Sundays were reserved for relaxation; maybe we could treat it as a holiday or loiter until 11am before attending mass. Later we could linger again, waiting for Monday and for goodness knows what to expect.

Fortunately in excellent health, and the best of spirits, I enjoyed my next assignment delivering goods to stores.

However, trivia could not long obscure more serious matter. We did not then know why but already, Polish troops had been alerted, and heavy artillery was being moved from Iraq to Palestine and Egypt, across the Suez Canal to Alexandria.

Another day will live long in memory. I recall it was a burning hot day when general Sikorski arrived, accompanied by General Anders to inspect our position. He viewed the Sapper's equipment for crossing the rivers and asked many questions before inspecting the troops. It was a happy occasion when he shook my hand before taking his leave for Cairo. From there he was bound to go first to Gibraltar and from there by air to London. There was sadness in all our hearts when he went for he was not only our Commander and a great leader, but he was like a Father to us all.

Leo and I were again selected to return to the Basra route to collect more heavy artillery units. We did not mind as by now we knew the road like the back of our hands.

There was quite a while to wait while our cargos were loaded, so we availed ourselves of the opportunity to do a tour of the town and see the sights. It proved to be a typical merchant town and reminded me so much of Venice with its canals and Palm trees. We wandered the streets for some time, joining many others who seemed to be strolling without aim. There were several cabaret shows and being young but once, and bearing in mind the army would pay, we visited one and were very excited, almost overwhelmed at the sight of the attractive Arabian belly dancers.

We had no idea at the time but this was to be our last run. After our sightseeing we felt tired and so accepted the hospitality of the owner of a bar. A Russian, he had escaped from Kazan and across the Volga River after the revolution, and proved to be a good comrade and entertaining host.

Next morning we returned to Kirkuk. It was there we heard that our much loved General Sikorski had been killed. It happened when the plane taking him from Gibraltar nosedived into the sea. Not only the General died but his daughter, who accompanied him, was also killed.

The tidings devastated the troops and a heavy silence shrouded the camp for some days. There were many days of mourning and resting, and then this had to end when we were instructed that we must be ready and fit to move to our next assignment.

That evening I lay on a mattress gazing up at the bottomless vault of the sky, wondering how Mother and Father were keeping, and my brothers? They were, I believed, in partisan units somewhere in Bialowieza Forest. And the students and teachers at my old college in Silesia? The last word from home was that my Brothers were fighting and harassing German convoys, which were ferrying troops to the Russian front. Many letters were written to them but without one single reply and the Red Cross were not able to help.

The following morning we were told that we had to go to Mosul Mountains for training and practice in mountaineering. All we could glean was that such experience was considered to be necessary for some future, but unnamed, exploit against the enemy.

Our venue we found was in the far North of Iraq, the land of the Kurdistan. The people we found to be very friendly towards us, but very hostile to the Iraqi's. It was as we stood on hills overlooking Turkey that we scanned the frontier and the far off Caucasian mountains that we realised that despite the beauty of the view, to cross would be a long and arduous task. With this conviction we set to our training with increased vigour.

When we returned home to base, the Quartermaster told us not to get too comfortable as we were destined to move now to Palestine. Everything had to.

Sunday was always a special day for us. The cares and oft time's indifferences of the past week were discarded and we would parade with mirrored boots, smooth shaven chins and neatly pressed uniform and a sparkle in our eyes as we attended Mass in the chapel.

Our tributes and devotion attended we would return to camp and spend the remainder of the day resting or playing cards. We also tempted the inner man with fresh salad, lettuce, cucumber sandwiches, olives and salami. Mostly to extract the utmost satisfaction the delightful food was washed down with copious sampling of Vodka-Arak. In the army, all become a bit philosophical in the belief that we should 'Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow who knows?"

We have learned that we shall be on the road to Damascus; that we shall have to cross the River Jordan and so to the Mediterranean Coast, Haifa, Tel-Aviv, Rehovot and Gaza.

The call came on Monday morning. We were up early as usual and had breakfast. No sooner over than we were directed to load all our equipment and personal belongings into the waiting trucks. Mechanics checked the oil, petrol, tyres etc and the convoy were ready to head towards our goal. Cheering Arabs wished us luck and vowed to remember us always; the column moved towards the desert, mirages and sand-storms. With our unit bearing the symbol of Bialowieza Bison on uniform sleeves and motor vehicles, we were happy knowing that each mile brought us nearer to our beloved Poland. It would be a hard trail but we would make it.

Our convoy moved slowly. There was no need to fear the enemy who was too far away. In fact, we were moving towards him. We were obliged to stop frequently to check oil and tyre pressures and ensure all was running smoothly and that there was no prospect of overheating. An engine failure by seizure would mean abandoning the vehicle. In spite of this our Commander seemed more than satisfied with progress.

I found myself reflecting upon those months we held Tobruk. There was no doubt that by holding the German forces at bay we gave the British and the Allied command time to accumulate armour and men ready for the inevitable big battle that must surely be a prelude to driving the German forces out of Tripoli, Benghazi and ultimately out of Libya. It came of course, with the battle of El Ala Mein.

The 2nd Corps took up positions in Palestine in a rough line from Haifa to Gaza, with some advance units at El Qantara west of the Suez Canal.

My unit settled at Yibna. Here we settled into serious training and had been told that this was a preparation for the invasion of Sicily and Italy. At last our fortunes seemed to be turning from running, then defence, and now we were going to take the initiative for the first time.

The excitement was, at times, almost unbearable. After those months of anguish and suffering it seemed at last we should soon be able to find some retribution for the misery that hateful regime had caused my people and indeed, the world.

The stress and strenuous demands of training were exhausting but we did manage to make a pilgrimage to the holy places like Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which Our Jesus Christ once walked....and preached.

These thoughts, still in our hearts, seemed to give us all the power and strength we all needed for the coming ordeal.

When the Polish prisoners were released and evacuated from the U.S.S.R. there were many Jewish soldiers in their midst. During those months and years they had been loyal, obedient soldiers and good friends. However, when they came to Palestine, many of them deserted in order to join Israeli underground units, which were fighting for freedom in their own country. We lost practically all the Jews from our forces. Somehow I believe the allied command made no effort to treat them as deserters, after all, this country was now theirs. These people, who once fled to Egypt to find their promised land, seemed now to have at least found it..........

The peoples of Palestine were very kind to us during our stay, they were ever courteous and polite; every cafe and hostelry welcomed us.

We gave thanks that now, peoples of all nationalities were fighting the German hordes, from Russia to the Atlantic, from Norway to Africa, and freedom loving people were uniting in the common struggle. "Thank God America is well established on our side and pressing hard on Rommel's flank".

Morale is high indeed and we are straining at the leash to return to Europe.

There was a further boost to our morale. Now based at Gaza we felt we had returned, well almost, to civilisation. The routine of training was hard, but there was much more relaxation after duty. For the first time in years we had visits from professional entertainers and groups such as E.N.S.A. One of the celebrities to entertain us was Vera Lynn, but there were so many others from England and the United States. The concerts were given in the open air. This Al Fresco style was delightful. With the backcloth of sky shaded from azure to deep purple, the light from the twinkling stars, and the principal participants in tuxedo or evening gown, the effect was dreamlike; it took us a million miles from our reality.

After the last show we grieved for two of our colleagues, our companions during the years of anxiety; we had lost them, not in battle, but like so many others they had deserted.

Now we began to suffer with another problem. For so long we had been pressed to feed ourselves and attend all our needs regardless of others. Now we had to contend with so many prisoners and enemy troops who were deserting that we could scarce feed or house them. While we had built camps for prisoners of war, the Italians were surrendering in droves and without a fight.

When we seemed to be settled, fate again intervened; we were told that we must be prepared to move again. This time we were to move to a camp near Cairo and Alexandria. We were assured that this was logistical; we were placed ready for the invasion of Italy.

We were pleased however, that we would be allowed to take our mascot on this latest adventure. He was called 'Wojtek'. He is a brown bear we found in the mountains of Iran, then a wee cub. We spoiled him; now he is a monster. We love him. He has grown large and intelligent. When we play football he stays in goal. It's great! The players are scared stiff to tackle him; a far better bear than the Russian Bruno. The whole Brigade was proud of him and avowed to bring him home to the forest of Bialowieza when the war was over.

The latest news arrives and we learn that allied troops are pushing forward on all fronts. German forces are being pushed from Africa to Sicily and Italy; the entire North African Coast is subject to constant air bombardment by allied planes. German ships are finding it increasingly difficult to fly between North Africa and Malta, their principle line of communication. The Adriatic Sea was similarly blockaded and in the Port of Bari, 28 ships were sunk and the base isolated.

Then came the long awaited news. The Americans were preparing a landing on the beach at Anzio. There is also talk of the allies planning the second front on the Coast of Normandy. It may have been coincidental, but at this time we got the news that General Rommel had been relieved of his command in North Africa and he would leave the corps to go to prepare the coast as far as Belgium.

From the Russian front came more good news. The Russian forces were attacking and advancing on all fronts from Murmansk to the Black Sea. The city of Leningrad had been under siege for 900 days, but the Germans had been beaten and the siege had been lifted. The Germans were learning the hard way. Just like Napoleon about 150 years before; that it was impossible to maintain communications during the harsh Russian winter.

I mused for a moment. Here I was sweltering in the near tropic sun while my Brothers and Father were fighting Germans in Poland. Recently I had word from home that they were attacking trains and convoys which were trying to get supplies and relieve the frozen, starving German troops in Russia. Their tactics were of necessity, typically guerrilla actions, but they had the advantage in that they know every district, forest, field and marsh intimately. They could attack then disappear into the countryside.

One difficulty in our location at Gaza was that it had a high population of Palestinians, Arabs, and many pro-Germans. Ever present was the risk that some would be tempted to infiltrate our security and sabotage our armoury, equipment or even to cause injury. To avoid this possibility we had to make sure that sentries were vigilant and ready for any emergency.

Arabs with evil intent were the most dangerous of adversaries; they moved silently and preferred the knife to a gun. This apart, our stay was very pleasant. Palestine has an excellent climate; food was plentiful, fruit in abundance and for the most part, the people charming. In so many ways it reminded me of our beloved homeland, Poland.

Life was indeed pleasant and enjoyable and when so disposed, we had access to beer and whisky.

It is said that all good things come to an end; our stay was to be no exception. Once more I was selected with my friends to move into Egypt to prepare a new base for our division. The site chosen was vacated recently by the British Army, whose units had been transferred to Sicily prior to the invasion of mainland Italy.

In discussions with the Allied high command, Churchill referred to Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe. When the invasion of Europe was planned to start with bridgeheads on the beaches of Normandy, Anzio, to the South of Rome was considered a suitable locus for the other half of the allied pincers.

The invasion at Anzio was a bloody affair with heavy allied losses. But after struggling for some time the bridgehead was secured and heavy armour landed. Slowly the axis forces were forced north to turn and hold out in a string of fortifications, one of the main ones being Monte Casino. Here, high on the hill, this mountain citadel was defended by crack Nazi SS.

Our new base was prepared for the incoming troops. It was an excellent location on the road to El Alamain, just outside Alexandria. We concluded that the authorities deemed it a suitable 'dropping off' place for troops destined for more active duty on the continent of Europe.

We were all now well prepared, fit, and our morale was high. It only remained for our command to give the order to – "March!"

During the period of waiting and indecision we continued to spend much time visiting the holy places around Jerusalem. We realised that, with invasion imminent, these precious hours may well be our last.

Many of our lads spent their days in the Garden of Gethsemane and around the Mount of Olives, praying to God for success n our coming mission, and, of course, our speedy return from it to our homes and loved ones.

It was always surprising that, at the time of melancholy, there always seems to be news that spurred our flagging spirits. This time we received news that our units with the allied command had made advances after the Anzio landing, but had suffered heavy losses at Monte Casino.

The German fortifications had held the allied troops, and the bodies of our dead lay everywhere, there were no way they could be recovered and buried whilst the heavy bombardment from the SS. troops continued.

My unit was ordered to prepare to leave Alexandria by ship for the coast at Brindisi and Bari on the eastern seaboard of Italy. The journey to the Italian mainland was now not so hazardous as the allied navies had cleared the seas of enemy ships from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles.

The battleships and submarines were cowed; this left only the occasional plane and these obviously preferred to avoid conflict.

Our eventual landing was at Bari.

Later we were transferred to Isernia. It was here we had to establish yet another new base. It was here we started to organise movement of all necessary supplies and equipment to support the inevitable attack on Monte Casino.

By day and night we heard the constancy of heavy artillery bombardment from our lines, there was no rest from the Germans, wave after wave of British and American bombers saturated the German lines.

It was at this time that the Italian people were turning in support for dictator Mussolini and were forming parties that were anti-fascist. Some were openly sympathetic towards us and welcomed us into their homes. Many buildings used as stored for munitions were camouflaged to avoid being identified by allied bombers, but often this was futile.

Leo and I were fortunate to be allocated to a house owned by a charming man and his wife. They had a daughter of 18 who was still at home and we learned that his son, aged 24, was in the army and had served in North Africa. He had been captured by the British at El Alamain and was a P.O.W. Both parents were extremely worried about their son; fortunately we were able to reassure them that the allies would scrupulously observe the articles of Geneva relating to prisoners of war.

Living almost at the front line made life complicated. We were constantly working, delivering ammunition to remote outposts. Many were out of reach of normal transport and it was necessary to use mules, horses or donkeys. On occasion we even had to use our pet mascot, Wojtek the bear. He was o strong yet gentle and he could outsmart most other animals and never shied away or complained when we strapped heavy boxes on his back.

When off duty we spent many happy hours with the family, eating, drinking wine and they tried valiantly to teach us Italian. There was always something to do. On Sundays we attended mass at the chapel at Motto or occasionally at Isernia. On these jaunts everyone was dressed in his best and morale was high. We even organised dances in the Fire Brigade hall.

On May 10th 1944 this all came to an end. On that day all our units were put on full alert. The time had come to take our leave of the marvellous people who had befriended us. The daughter wept uncontrollably, her eyes were flooded with tears as she bade us farewell and God's speed.

She promised to wait our return but it was not to be. At dawn we moved out. News on the radio told that at last the allies were beginning to turn the tide and the Nazis were being repulsed on all fronts.

My diary records:

On 6th January 1944 the German armies in the Caucuses and in the Don elbow are in full retreat. On the 18th, Leningrad found its siege lifted and that after eighteen months of suffering. On the 23rd, Tripoli was occupied by the allied army. On the 27th, American bombers made their first attack Germany. On the 31st, the last remnants army surrendered outside Stalingrad.

On the 9th February we heard that Guadacanal had been cleared of all Japanese troops. By the 23rd the British eighth army had taken the Mareth line. By 7th (March) Tunis and Bizerta were captured by the allies. On 12th we heard that all organised resistance by the Germans in Tunisia had ceased. It was on the 16th the famous dam busters had breached the dams on the Rhur.

July 10th was another landmark. The allies invaded Sicily. On the 25th, Mussolini resigned. On the 28th the Fascist party in Italy was dissolved.

On August 17th Sicily was in allied hands. On September 3rd the Italian mainland was invaded. On the 8th Italy surrendered. On the 9th British and American troops landed near Naples. On the 14th Salamaua was taken from the Japanese and on the 25th Smolensk was taken by the Russians.

Also on the 25th the radio told us that Russian troops had taken Dnepropetrovsk and Dneprodzerzhinck. For the first time German radio admitted that the situation in Southern Russia was grave.

On January 23rd the allies landed troops at Anzio and on March 15th, a date I shall ever remember, the Casino was destroyed by allied bombs. But I pause here. The Monte Casino, which lay in front of us was intensively fortified by the Germans. From the German fortifications they could scan any movement across the River Rapido.

All attacks including those of American, French and New Zealand divisions had been rebutted with enormous casualties.

After several futile attempts it was left to the Polish 2nd Corps to arraign a massive assault on the highway and monastery. This was done on the 11th May. The Wilenska brigade took Saint Angelo Hill, point 706 - 601, also 575. After heavy fighting the 1st Carpathian brigade took over point 593 and Albeneta Farm. The Germans then collapsed like a burst balloon and all fighting ceased. There was no Gustav Line ahead now, only the road to freedom.

On the 18th May the white and red Polish flag was hoisted over the battered monastery. The Polish 2nd Corps, the Carpathian Rifle division, the 5th Kresowl division and 2nd Armoured division were on top of the mount, and indeed the world.

But there was tragedy for me, as I stood high on the hill overlooking 593 I was struck by bullets from a marauding plane. I recall only severe pain and then spinning as I fell. I knew my fighting days were over.

On the 5th June the King of Italy signed decrees passing all his powers to his son Prince Alberto. The allied forces marched through Rome. The next day the 6th, we all celebrated; the long awaited 'D-Day" had arrived. There were 4,000 ships in the fleet. The fortunes of war had indeed changed.

An asterisk marks one date in my diary which I shall never forget; 2nd June 1944. I opened my eyes startled that I had no idea where I was. Everything seemed white and bright, and I was surrounded by people all dressed in white. It was strange. Then I noticed the pungent aroma of antiseptic. It must be a dream. It certainly was not real. I could not move and breathing was difficult. Then by rolling my eyes I saw that I was completely encased in plaster of Paris. My mind was like a sea fog: thoughts were intangible. Then he told me he was the doctor and asked how I felt. He smiled and turned to the lady beside him. "Give him these tablets and a drink Sister. He'll be alright now. I'll come and see him again in the morning".

A few moments later I found everything going dark and I sank into oblivion.

When I awakened the next day I felt better. Such parts of me that were visible were bathed by a nurse, then after a visit by the doctor, I was made as comfortable as it was possible in a prostrate position.

My anxieties were vanquished in an instant when mid morning, I received my first visitors from my unit. My pals were eager to give me all the news. In fact, they were so delighted to see me that they all spoke at once. When the initial excitement quietened, I gathered that we had won a great victory at the battle with the Germans at the Benedictine monastery.

My dear friend Leon Bucholtz had travelled all the way from the Pedimonte to visit me in hospital. Which I learned was in Palagiano, just outside Taranto.

Leo told me that I had been hit by machine gun bullets from a low flying German aircraft. I had been left for dead and it was two days before the ambulance men found a spark of life and immediately took me to the field hospital where they operated to remove bullets from my left leg and stomach. Four bullets went through my body. English doctors wanted to amputate my right leg away but a young Jewish doctor steadfastly refused to accept this. He operated then put me on traction. He told me that I would be strung up on this Heath Robinson contraption for six months and then in plaster.

Leon also told me that we had incurred a very heavy loss of lives and casualties but the Germans had been practically wiped out: they were the crack S.S. divisions.

At Palagiano hospital the wards were full and the staff doing a magnificent job trying to cope with the rush of emergency cases. I discovered the name of the doctor who operated on me: it was Dr Webster. He did a daily round of patients and I was delighted when he told me that my lef was doing well, and in six months it would be as good as normal. He figured that in those months 4" of new bone would have grown and with care, I would be able to perform as usual.

However, as far as the war was concerned, I was finished.

I was told I was to be sent to Ismalia, El Kantara hospital on the Suez Canal in Egypt; a hospital for long term medical and surgery cases.

Being away from the constant bombing and action of was hard to adjust to. Here it was calm and peaceful. We also had the pleasure of many visitors. I had scarcely settled when my dear friend Leon arrived with two of my old pals from my early school days in Drohiczyn on the River Bug. Leon brought my personal bag with all my treasured possessions, including my diary, the one which allows these memoirs to be written.

Leon also brought sad tidings of the many friends whose travels had ceased with death on the continent of Africa. We had suffered together and their precious memories would always be with me.

A mattress can prove a more secure prison than brick and steel bars, the only thing left free is one's mind. My long sojourn in bed gave me ample time to update my diary and reflect on the details of memory.

On his next visit Leo brought the news that our division was being moved again to the front line near Ancona on the Adriatic Coast. We were both sad at parting but avowed never to forget each other, where ever fate may guide us. I envied Leo for he was heading nearer to our beloved Poland North while I was destined to move South.

The Doctor told me that serious cases of injury requiring long terms of medical treatment or further operations were sent to Palagiano.

Before he left, Leo mentioned that many of our friends and colleagues were being sent to Yugoslavia to help Marshall Tito in his brave fight against superior German forces. They were commando trained troops and were also to aid the Michailovic partisans in the Yugoslavian hills.

Once I was settled in at my new Hospital I found its care of the highest order. The food and attention were first class and we had frequent visits from the Red Cross units, the Salvation Army and Christian Sisters. They would radio reports from all fronts.

From one report we learned that the 1st Polish Panzer division and paratroopers had landed in Holland under the command of General Maczek.

The news of the progress of the war was most encouraging, but idly lying in the comfort and security of a hospital bed, one found the war so very far away.

The hospital lay in beautiful surroundings with gardens filled with flowers and palm trees so tall and dense that they kept the wards shaded and comparatively cool. The temperature notwithstanding this was usually in the region of 110 - 120 degrees. Patients lay in bed as stark as Adam and Eve were in Eden. In some respects the hospital resembled a holiday camp. Those who were allowed up spent most of their waking hours in the water, but all were relaxing and accumulating energy towards a speedy recovery.

I found myself in a happy state of mind after the last visit from the surgeon who examined my leg and stomach. He was so pleased with the progress that he ordered the plaster to be removed and that I was washed down with spirit. It was a bit like losing an old friend for the plaster was the original one, which had been fitted on 18th May 1944. I had found that while pain can be borne the constant itch was unbearable. Pain can be countered by morphine, which makes you sleep, but there is no care for the insidious itch.

After the wash and further examination a new plaster was fitted and the doctor told me that I must bear this for another 3 months after which it will be removed and I should be able to live a normal life.

As I settled back to rest I turned on the radio to hear that Polish troops were about to take Ancona.

On taking Ancona this road was open to Bolognia and the port of Triest on the Adriatic Sea. The prospects now seemed better for the free Polish forces in Italy, while in Normandy there was much greater resistance from the Germans. In Holland heavy casualties were inflicted upon a Polish Paratrooper Brigade at Arnhem. On the Eastern front, a force of two hundred men were moving fast, west towards the River Bug and Vistula to join with Marshall Zukov's army.

The free Polish forces had done so much to liberate Czechoslovakia and its capital Prague. In Normandy, the Polish 1st Panzer division was in full strength beside the British army.

While history was being written my health was improving. Soon I was able to walk, at first with the aid of a stick, then on my own. I considered myself inordinately fortunate, there were no facial or other visible scars like those inflicted upon so many of my colleagues. The nursing staff, alas, too often unmentioned for their selfless dedication and service, were marvellous. My nurse told me my leg had healed well and I would soon be back in the battles with my colleagues. When the day came I was delirious.

My euphoria was quenched the moment I called to collect my belongings on discharge. I discovered someone had taken my golden pocket watch and chain, given to me by my Father. My treasured belt also disappeared. I grieved because the watch was over 100 years old and of great importance to me. Anguished I though back. The moment I was lifted in to the ambulance for conveyance to a field hospital I recalled an assistant taking all my belongings........... They were never returned.

I still have nightmares about that watch. It was made in Vienna in 1894 for my Grandfather. He in turn gave it to my Father. All enquiries brought no solution.

Slowly my plasters were discarded and walking improved. Then came the wonderful news from Sister that I was to be transferred to England. The anticipated time for this was to be about Christmas or early in the New Year. Having travelled almost around the world by my estimate some 1500 miles, the thought of seeing once more my own home, brought a deluge of euphoria and nostalgia; at any time a heady mix.

This was the time of year when Santa Claus and Madame Bountiful united in the common cause to bring a little cheer into the lives of those of us parted from our loved ones. Under the banner of the Red Cross their unimaginable trials to try and ensure that food parcels reached us were worthy only of the highest praise and honour. Sadly I grieved, as on this occasion there was none for me. Indeed, it had been five long years of anguish and agony without any word of my family.

The last word I had was that my Father and Brothers were fighting in the partisans' army and were engaged in fighting the German divisions day and night to ensure they had no respite or free movement on Polish soil.

We found great consolation in these dark times from our radios. The BBC broadcasts were particularly informative. Their messages were the one communication we had with other sections of resistance to the Nazi forces. We heard that there had been very heavy fighting between the Germans and resistance forces in Janow Forrest. The enemy had been repelled with enormous losses of transport and personnel and were now retreating from the region of Janow. Our spirits were high.

I had spent almost nine months in bed with my leg in plaster of Paris, and on traction, but then the moment when the doctor gave word to remove the plaster; after a thorough wash and inspection, I was told I was fit to go.

The mental joy at this decision was soon brought to a realistic level when I started the rehabilitation course of treatment. The muscles were near vanquished and I had daily routines of exercise to complete against the clock. No aspirant for the Olympic Games could have been subject to such gruelling regimen. But it all paid off. Soon I was able to walk around the gardens and extensive grounds of the hospital; and I have to say that after gazing at a whitewashed ceiling for so long, I now found absolute wonderment in the flowers, birds, butterflies and every aspect of nature that I had previously taken for granted.

Inevitably, the day came when I was told to prepare to go home, and they were specific: I had to go to England!

This brought more anxiety - I must learn another language. The destination was to be Ormskirk, quite near Liverpool. The anxiety was all but vanquished when we learned that the Sisters, Nurses and many of the staff who had tended us for so long were also going.

At one briefing we were all told that England had a very cold climate, and that Summer is a very short season, so we mourned that we must abandon all thoughts and indeed dreams of Arabian blue skies and hot weather; but we found great pleasure in the thought that this may well be our last movement as soldiers.

Our patience was rewarded when a list was posted with the names of those chosen to go. I recall it was a Saturday morning. Soon we were all seated in ambulances heading for the Port of Alexandria, where waited a boat, and the glorious prospect of England; then home.

But, the kindly hospitality of Egypt will always be remembered.

After the initial difficulties in loading the boat we eventually set sail. Setting course for Gibraltar we sat on deck watching dolphins gambol as they escorted us along the coast. Our one regret now was that we had no cameras. The Mediterranean was now clear of German U-Boats but we were warned that once we entered the Bay of Biscay, we must wear life jackets at all times, and carry a torch.

Once in the Bay, the weather was so dreadful; the rain was torrential, the storm and lightening were frightening. We all were very sick. We all thought we may die, but hope survived us; Old soldiers never die, and the thought of the English channel where no Germans now were to be seen was a promise of peace at last.

The last part of the voyage was past the Bristol Channel to Liverpool docks. There the majesty of the buildings conveyed a sense of total subservience to peace. We felt safe at last.

When the immigration and other formalities were satisfied we were all taken by ambulance to nearby Ormskirk Military Hospital. The reception by doctors and staff was marvellous and we were all categorised according to our injuries and treatment required. The kindliness, compassion and understanding of everyone in the hospital were to be remembered all our lives.

In my ward were many soldiers from 1st Armoured Division who had been injured in the Normandy landing, in France or Holland and many from the Paratrooper's Brigade. After the brutality experienced at the hands of the German troops we all found it a most remarkable and significant change to be treated with such care and tenderness; and this without any consideration or bias towards race, colour, nationality or rank.

The passage of time, gentle handling and excellent food all interspersed with plenty of graduated exercise, soon restored my health and the only remaining witness from the terror of Monte Casino was a slight limp.

Privation and suffering are the most effective catalysts to ensure lasing friendships. All patients were on excellent terms with each other and talked for hours about the war exchanging views about every other subject from mud pies to mathematics.

The news reaching us on the wireless was now most heartening and daily, the prospect of war ending became clearer. The British/American ring was tightening around Europe like a merciless garrotte. Italy and Yugoslavia were liberated and the borders of Austria were breeched. On the Eastern front the Russian army was relentlessly heading for its final battle at Kersh and so opening the way to Berlin. This advance was supported by a Polish army of 200,000 determined men. The mighty German army was on the brink of collapse.

In the Far East the American forces were slowly driving the Japanese from all the territory they had occupied in the first stages of the war from the Pacific Islands, China, Burma, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.

The surrender of Germany was received with great joy by all the western allies but the joy was tempered by the realisation of the enormous cost that had been incurred. The jubilation in London and Paris was understandable. But in my beloved country Poland, a government was set up of Russian approval in Lublin and based on communist dogma. This was no victory for the Polish people - yet.

At the armistice the allies accepted the Russian demands on border-line limitation. The Polish frontier was changed to their demands and a front line established from Grodno to the River Bug, on to Lwow South. To compensate they placed the west frontier on River Odra-Nysam, Luzycka to Opole. It was at the conference at Potsdam that the allies agreed to this division. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin were all in agreement at this geographical compromise. We Poles pondered in wonderment, the British and French agreed with Hitler that he could have Czechoslovakia, providing he made no more territorial claims in Europe. The Chamberlain paper signed by himself and Hitler proved worthless. When Hitler invaded Poland, Chamberlain went to war to help my country, now they give it away.

The 'free' Polish forces were now in a dilemma; to return to Poland and be disarmed, be subjugated to communist rule, and accept a philosophy that all other allies refuted; or be outlawed and maybe stateless.

Many Poles had no option. Their lands were in Russian occupied areas agreed by the three at Potsdam.

Poles felt they had been betrayed.

Many found a choice difficult. Some went to Canada, some to America and accepted citizenship of their chosen country. Others chose to stay in Britain. Some were given the option to go to university to complete studies shattered by the war.



John (L) on R'n'R London

Six million Polish people gave their lives willingly for freedom of all people, in Europe, Asia and Africa but to what purpose?

One of my dearest comrades opted to go and live in Canada, as he had several relatives living just outside Toronto. My only wish was to go to my home and expunge the agonies and torture that the Nazi criminals had wrought on the world. But it was not to be.

I agreed after much thought, that I had only one prospect, and that, when discharged from Ormskirk hospital I would accept the offer to resume my studies at college.

Until 1939 I had been studying Mining Engineering at Dabrowa Gornicza in Silesia, but the war put an end to that. After all the hostilities ceased I found my war injuries such that I could not resume deep mining so I changed tack to Commercial Education. I was registered at Stow College, Glasgow; but in addition to attending studies I had to attend Killermont Military Hospital as an outpatient for many months.

Finance for my studies came from a government grant. That was the least of my problems, but I had to find lodgings near to the college and at times this seemed insurmountable. Every hostel, lodging and rental properties displayed a sign, "No Vacancies".

Every vacant property had been commandeered for the services use during the war and most were still filled with R.A.F., Navy and Army serving personnel.

I was thoroughly frustrated and near despair when one day while strolling around the Kelvin Park area, I spied a notice in one window advertising a vacant room. I could scarcely wait to drag my ong time friend and colleague along to negotiate. The door had a pearly countenance which may have been coincidental but it opened by the guiding hand of a lovely young girl. Without a word the appraised the situation and called, "Mum, two Polish soldiers are looking for a room".

There seemed to be an instant unspoken bond between us, for after a few muttered words we were invited in and offered the room that a Canadian Officer would be leaving that night.

The room was the nearest we had yet been to paradise. It was the original room with a view, a view of Glasgow University, the Kelvingrove Park and the Art Gallery. Furthermore it was within easy travelling distance of the Stow College. Madame Fortune is accused of being fickle but on this occasion she was indeed, Lady Bountiful. The family were so warm and it was abundantly clear, of Italian origin. I was over the moon, for the third time I would be living with Italian kindred folk.

We settled in then collected our army supply rations for fourteen days. At that time in Scotland food was all on ration and only obtainable on a ration book. These supplies helped the family menu and the supply of beef, sweets and chocolates endeared us to our new family. "Mum" knew precisely how to make a fair distribution among us all. This may well have been 1500 miles from Dabrowa but it was now home.

Mum's ministrations and the family support and help made every successive day so much happier than the previous one.

My classes were going well and the evenings were spent walking around the park or the occasional visit to the to the cinema nearby.

My knowledge of the English language was still wanting and I decided that I owed it to my new family to learn it better; better communications and we could only draw closer.

At the time emotion was such that I did not realise what was happening but the gentle massage of time made clear to me that I had a very special affinity with Ruth the younger of the sisters.

She was so very special. Her devotion and understanding were of such quality and selflessness that it was soon clear that I could not exist without her. Soon we were together all the time, in fact inseparable.

The many walks, visits to the cinema, and the occasional seat at the famous Glasgow Empire Theatre - at that time the best seat cost five shillings - there was soon an affinity that simply had to be permanent.

One day these halcyon days were interrupted by a call from the army to report to Johnstone, just outside Paisley, for my demobilisation order. After six years of soldiering I got my release papers, a modest sum, and a civilian suit of clothes........... So it was I said farewell to the army.

I recall my feelings when I got home that evening. I lay on the bed in the quiet of twilight, the city had the angry noise of its traffic and I thought of bygone days.

For thousands of years, the Polish nation, geographically situated between Germany on the west, Russia on the east and Austria to the south, and that early date 966 when Poland became Christian. From then Poland had to fight. The German frontiers were most vulnerable to attack and there had to be defence on the front line of the Oder River and Mysa. From the east from the 13th century onward there were consistent fighting with Russia, Tartar and Turk. The Tartar's even brought in Monguls to fight.

In 1683 the Polish army defeated Turks and Tartars outside Vienna. From that time their aggression was directed toward the Crimas. The Swedes tried to invade but they were defeated and hurried back to their own land across the Baltic Sea. In 1410 the German warmongers were so whipped at the battle of Grunwald that they accepted a peace concession for a hundred years.

In my lifetime, on 1st September 1939 the German Nazis invaded Poland without any cause whatsoever. Poland took the first stand against the Nazis and it was for the survival of the nation.

It is a matter of historical regret that as Britain and France betrayed Czechoslovakia, they also betrayed Poland. The first nation to stand against the Blitzkrieg and dive-bombings, the Poles got no help. Horses against the armoured might of the Germans was an impossible task, but every Pole rose with hammer, breadknife and even toothbrush. But to no avail. Their allies set off a fuselage of words. After 35 days of fighting against impossible odds the Polish resistance collapsed. They had lost a battle but not a war.

When I completed my course at Stow College I decided that there was no possibility of returning home, principally because Poland was no longer free, thanks to the triumvirate administration of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt.

History has left its mark for posterity; wicked evil sears across the human tissues, but there is hope. I have settled in Scotland. Now communist Russia is no more. My dear wife Ruth is at hand on the tiller as my ever devoted guide........... We married on the 1st of August 1946.

We are now all Scots. But it seems we now battle for our new country.


 
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