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The story of Dr Mieczysław (Mietek) Jan de Sas Kropiwnicki

The following story has been kindly donated by Professor Michael Knott. All copyright belongs to Aleksandra de Sas Kropiwnicka and permission is required for any part to be copied. The family reserve all rights to these materials for any publication including electronic media.

Parts of chapter five from the book, “Oleńka in London” by Aleksandra (Oleńka) de Sas Kropiwnicka (née Hall)

We met again as I was anxious to hear the rest of Mietek’s life story. He was leaving London the next day for a new assignment in Scotland. This time he had invited me for coffee at Ognisko Polskie in South Kensington. We chose a table in a quiet corner of the restaurant and I asked him about his life in Lwów. I told him that I too had visited Lwów with a group of schoolgirls before the war and I remembered the cemetery of Orlęta Lwowskie.

Again, Mietek was eager to share his reminiscences with me.

“My stay in the Carpathian Mountains was spoilt and the atmosphere in the forest hut was tense. It all ended when one day a telegram arrived which had been re-addressed from Lwów to Niźniów and from there to the Forestry Department. I was informed that I had to urgently report to the Army.

We left immediately and travelled to Niźniów. From there, after a tearful farewell, I took the train to Stanisławów and on the 1st September 1939, I reported to Captain Dutkiewicz of the 49th Infantry Regiment for active service. On the same day the German navy attacked the Polish military post at Westerplatte and the German Army entered Poland at several border points. The Second World War had begun. (See attached WWII diary - click here)

I was assigned to the Regiment of Second Colonel Józef Szelęga and my duties were based in the garrison at Stanisławów. The news that we started to receive was tragic. The Germans bombarded the main airports of our cities and destroyed most of our planes. German planes also kept on destroying bridges, railway connections and killing thousands of refugees who were fleeing from the enemy. The refugees crowded the roads leading east. The Polish Army was in constant retreat. We had some minor victories and there were even charges of the Polish cavalry on German tanks, but on the whole our Army was too weak and too poorly equipped to stand any chance against powerful Germany. Only besieged Warsaw was still desperately defended by soldiers and later only by civilians.

We heard all this news in despair. We simply could not believe all that we had been told and believed that it was just sheer propaganda. Poland was weak and was not prepared for war.

On the 5th September we received an order to march to Stryj. I was in charge of Platoon II. From Stryj we marched to Strzałków to organise our defence. On the 15th September we marched back to Stryj and waited for further orders. On the 17th September we received news that the Soviets had crossed the eastern borders of Poland. This was disastrous news and it shocked us all. Along with all the others, I also despaired over the fate of our families. I dared not contemplate the fate of my wife and my dear aunt.

In the meanwhile, I was sent with Platoon I to cover the defence line between Grabowice and Lubience. It was there that we came under artillery fire. We suffered no casualties, but our supply wagons were destroyed.

The news came that we were to cross the Hungarian border. General Rydz-Śmigły and his staff had already left Poland and were now in Romania. No words could describe our feelings of anger and disappointment in our Polish Army generals and our leader.

On the 21st September, we crossed the Hungarian border and the next day we surrendered our weapons. We were then taken into custody and sent to a camp at Levél.

In October of the same year I tried to escape, but I was betrayed and captured and sent to a camp at Gyor.

On the 3rd February 1940, I finally managed to escape to Budapest and from there I travelled to the border with Yugoslavia. At Barcz I crossed the River Drava and finally reached Zagreb on the 9th February.

I eventually managed to get to Modena in Italy and from there I travelled to France. I was just in time, as it was just before Italy entered the war on the side of Germany.

I landed up at Camp de Carpiagne in Marseille. After verification I was sent to Val-André in Brittany. In June 1940, I was sent on a course to Granville, then to St. Malo and finally to Le Verdon.

On the 22nd June as the defeat of France was evident, we embarked for England and reached Liverpool three days later. From there, we travelled to Douglas in Scotland. I was assigned to the Canadian Rifle Brigade. From Douglas, I was transferred to the Canadian II Rifle Brigade in Gratham close to RAF Spitgate where Col. Stanisław Sosabowski was stationed. Our Brigade had changed its name to BKS, Brigade of Cadre Riflemen. In January 1941, I was sent on a rifle course at Fort William and then for a communication course in Dundee. In February I941 I attended a parachute course in Ringway and in June 1941, I completed a course in mechanics.

In September 1941 our Brigade had changed its name again and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade of the Polish Armed Forces was created. Our Commandant was Stanisław Sosabowski. On 23rd September 1941, I received my parachute token no. 0030.

Paratrooper badge

Our brigade was directly responsible to the Polish Government in London and its aim was to parachute agents into occupied Poland and aid underground organisations. This was not acceptable to the British Government who wanted us to take part in action based in western Europe. There was evident disagreement and as a result we did not take part in any active war activities for some time. The parachute agents sent to Poland were selected by the Polish Government in London and they were motivated mainly by their political association. I felt disappointed and frustrated and wished to return to Poland as soon as possible. I was also motivated by a selfish reason. I had received news that my wife had given birth to our son, Zdzislaw Andrzej on the 17th May 1940. They were safe and were living in Kraków. My sister and my aunt had also managed to escape. All Polish people were forced to leave what was now known as the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Many were sent to Siberia. I was happy to hear that my wife and son were now in Kraków.

I had passed a special guerrilla combatant course in London, named course ‘O’ and I was ready to be dropped into Poland. I was sure that I would find a way during my work as a parachute agent or Cichociemni (which means silent and dark) to visit my family. We were the elite special-operations paratroopers of the Polish Army in exile.

In the meantime, I was recalled to the staff of High Command in London. There I met an Army Chaplain named Father Bełch with whom I made a close acquaintance. We talked a lot and he opened my eyes to the many problems that our Government in London was facing. He also encouraged me to think seriously of finishing my studies. I was a graduate from Lwów Veterinary Academy, but I had no proof to show it. All my documents, together with my study index were left in Niźniów and had probably now been lost or destroyed. My professors either died or were detained in Soviet concentration camps. Here in Britain I had a chance to qualify again. The London Government had money to offer as stipends to Polish students, thanks to Polish gold which was smuggled from Poland in 1939 and deposited into the Bank of England. There were English universities that created faculties for Polish students who wanted to finalize their studies. One of them was the Royal Dick Veterinary College in Edinburgh. I had to apply for temporary leave from the Army and a grant or stipend from the Interim Treasury Committee.

I was undecided as what to do, but suddenly I received shocking news from Zbigniew Doroszynski whom I met again in London. He was also in the Army and was waiting for a stipend to finish his studies. He was very happy to meet me again, but he was reluctant to speak about Ela. Only after a few drinks did he disclose that Ela had given birth to my son, Zdzislaw. Zdzislaw was now staying with her friend Jadwiga Dułyk and she was seeing somebody else. Jadwiga was married to an artist and photographer named Mikołaj Dułyk. He had a photographic shop in Kraków. The couple was childless. In order to pacify me he added that hopefully, it was just Ela’s harmless flirtation and that maybe the news was incorrect, as so often happens when the news does not come from the original source.

I was furious and nearly killed the innocent Zbigniew who got very offended by my reaction.

“You have left her and she is trying to make a new life for herself,” he said. “I’m sure you are also not quite so innocent in this matter.”

Now I wanted to go to Poland even more. I applied to High Command for the permission to be dropped at the earliest date. I had to go to Kraków and sort things out, even if it would cost my life. However, permission was not granted and instead I was transferred to the School Brigade in Kinghorn, Scotland. I had a suspicion that Father Bełch had something to do with this matter.

I applied to study at the Medical Veterinary College in Edinburgh and I was granted leave of temporary absence from the Army. As a result, I began my studies on the 15th October 1942.

I had settled quite well in Edinburgh, but I was well aware of a war going on and of the terrible sacrifices made by the soldiers and civilians in Europe. I had often thought of the fate of the Polish people in my beloved eastern part of Poland. I also thought of the cruel German occupation and the holocaust of the Jews.

I only hoped and prayed that my little son was well cared for. I hoped that he would survive and that one day I would meet him. Here in England we also had a dose of bombardments and destruction of cities. However, since the Nazis had attacked Russia, in 1941, England was spared the wrath of Hitler. Our Polish Forces were taking part on all fronts of the Allied campaigns. Now, a new Polish Army had been formed by people who were in exile in the Siberian camps and who were now free to join General Anders Second Corps.

Every year I had to apply for an extension of leave from the Army. It was always granted on the grounds that there would be a great demand for veterinary surgeons in the new Poland for which we were now fighting.

Finished my final examinations and practical tests in 1944. I was awarded a degree in Veterinary Surgery. This also entitled me to obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. The degree I received enabled me to practice veterinary medicine and surgery according to the laws of the Polish Republic.

The uprising which broke out in Warsaw in August 1944 was unexpected and such exciting news. I was eager to join my Parachute Brigade and take part in the battle of Warsaw. I was hoping that this time my luck would hold and that I would be accepted for the jump. Alas, there was a new disappointment waiting for us. The British Government refused the Parachute Brigade to participate in action based on political, technical and/or other reasons. There was an outcry and a rebellion amongst the troopers. General Sosabowski had to intervene although he was for our participation and action in Warsaw.

Warsaw had fallen after four weeks of heroic attempts to free the city. I had returned to Edinburgh and applied to study surgery with Professor Formston at the Royal Veterinary College in Streatley. My application was granted till the 18th May 1945.

On the 8th May 1945, World War II came to an end with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. However, we Poles had no desire to celebrate. The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences in which Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin participated, had determined the post-war borders in Europe. Poland was given to the Soviet sphere of domination. Our leaders were never even consulted and our London Government lost its credibility. I cried for my Niźniów and Lwów which were now lost forever.

I was still in the Army and after the war I was allocated to various infantry centres in Scotland. For a while, I was also stationed at the Registration Office of the Infantry Regiment in London. Everybody that I spoke to was disorientated and did not know what to do. I even visited Father Bełch at his centre in Earl’s Court and had a long chat with him. He encouraged me to be patient and continue with my studies. Father Bełch was busy doing his Doctorate in Theology and was very active amongst the new students arriving in Britain. I met some of them and was deplored when I heard how many of them were not aware of the real situation in Poland.

Since peace was declared, I started receiving letters from Poland. First, via the Red Cross and later by normal communication at the post office. The letters from Jadwiga Dułyk always made me very happy. Zdzisio was growing up. She sent me photographs of him since he was one year old. Now, at the age of five he looked so big and healthy. He had dark hair like his mother but his facial features resembled mine. I was so proud of having a son. Unfortunately, he did not know of my existence. Jadwiga thought it would be better if he thought that her husband was his Tata. I was very disappointed but there was nothing that I could do, except to return to Poland and claim my rights. However, the danger of such action was great. We heard more and more of arrests, prisons and torture stories of people who were returning home to Poland. Those who returned were considered terrorists who wanted to destroy the present Communist regime. I knew of a few of my colleagues who had disappeared without a trace on their return. I started to contemplate emigration.

Two countries had already offered to accept Polish ex-combatants, namely Argentina and Brazil. I had decided on Brazil and had made inquiries at the Brazilian Embassy, in view of applying for a permanent emigration visa.

I then realised that my recent degree in veterinary medicine would not be acceptable outside Poland, and even in Poland, I would probably have trouble being accepted as a qualified veterinary doctor. I needed a degree that would be acceptable all over the whole world.

I was offered a teaching post for veterinary subjects at the Polish agricultural school in Glasgow and the Army accepted my transfer. While teaching, I began to make enquiries at the Glasgow Royal College of Veterinary Medicine about the nostrification of my degree. They accepted me as an external student for the final year and I passed all the required examinations in 1947. Thereafter, I was fully qualified to practise the Art and Science of Veterinary Surgery and Medicine and I was declared a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons by order of the Council. At the graduation ceremony I was handed my degree, which had the stamp of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and was dated the 10th July 1947.”

I had heard nothing from Mietek in a long time. However, I knew that he had left for South Africa in December 1947 straight after his demobilisation papers had come through.

M. Kropiwnicki War Diaries - translations

Dates from 1.IX.1939 till...

Sas-Kropiwnicki M. second lieteunant

1.IX.1939. Mobilized to the 48th Infantry Regiment. Evacuation officer Captain Dutkiewicz, commander Lieutenant Colonel Józef Szeląg.
2.IX. - 3.IX. I served as an officer inspector in the garrison Stanisławów.
4.IX. Assigned to 5 companies OZN. Reserve lieutenant commander Piesek Albin.
5.IX.-8.IX. March to Stryj.
9.IX. Assigned as the commander of the 1st platoon to the Company of a separate group of general Dębliński. On this day, the commander of active anti-aircraft defense.
10.IX./11.IX. Marching to Strzałków
11.IX. - 15.IX. I organized defense on the section from Strzałków - to the village.
15.IX. March to Stryj and back.
16.IX. At the order of Lieutenant Colonel Józef Szeląg, I enlisted a post in P. in front of Stryj, and took over from Lieutenant Nowak from the 49th Infantry Regiment.

17.IX.replaced from service at 20:00 I’ve heard about the Bolshevik invasion and the intended march to Hungary.
18.IX. My company, as the 7th corps of the Szeląg regiment, was ordered to insure Dębiński's garrison group from the right.
The Grabowce - Zubińce route
1st platoon - me, 2nd platoon - Fedorowicz, 3rd platoon Kokoszka.
We passed under German fire without any loss. Our camps are broken.
19.IX. in Skole I became a company commander.
19.IX./20.IX. accommodation in Annaberg (Nahirne) and briefing on the border crossing.

20.IX. I received an order from Szeląg to march as a rear guard.
20.IX./21.IX. Overnight in Klimec.
21.IX. at 9 o’clock we crossed the Hungarian border.
22.IX. After giving back my weapon, I became the commander of the 3rd platoon in the company brought by Lieutenant Ekstein Alexander. Piesek was a commander of the company, 1st platoon Ekstein, II - St. Droński, III platoon - me.
23.IX. I gave my horse to the rolling stock under the command of Captain Sobolta, in the evening of that day we went to Leva (town in .
25.IX. we came to Leva. Polish commandant lieutenant colonel Szeląg

Garrison commander Colonel Beltem Wolvi.
Commander of the Hungarian camp Major Sonkay. In October I organized the escape of France with the help of Kugler, because they detected.
3.XII. transfers to the camp in Gyor.
Camp commandant, Colonel Kotowicz.
On May 3, 1940, I left Budapest for France.
9.V. I crossed the border of Yugoslavia in Barcz across the Drawa River.
9.V. - 15.V. I was in Zagreb.
15.V. I went through Italy to France.
17.V. I came to Modena.

18.V. to the congregation station in Carpiagne
31.V. 1940 verified, verification list 212.
6.VI. I went with a transport under the command of Colonel Giey through Paris to Val-Andre.
7.VI. We came to Val-Andre.
10.VI. I went on a anti-tank course to Granvile
15.VI. from Granvile to St. Malo
17.VI. Nantes
18.VI. La Restele
19.VI. Bordeaux
20.VI. Le Verdon
22.VI. We sailed to England
25.VI. We unloaded at Liverpool - arriving in Glasgow

30.VI. I came to Douglas and organized an Officer's Legion. Commander Colonel Julian Godabowski, Major Company Commander Major Kosolubski, Major Company Commander Major Dobkiewicz.
I was in the second company.
12.VII. General Iwkowski was in Douglas.
27.VII. I was assigned to the 4th Canadian Shooting Brigade, 4th anti-tank battalion in Ganguhar, comp. Eliock, commander colonel Stanisław Sosabowski, commander of the anti-tank battalion lieutenant colonel Alojzy Mazurkiewicz, deputy major Michał Bilik.
2.viii. Bishop Gawlina was in the camp.
4.IX. General Sikorski was in the camp.
5.XI. Major Bilik left the camp..
12.IX. Lieutenant Colonel Mazurkiewicz left.

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