Interviewed by Mrs. Anna Labieniec in May 2010.
(Adam Bardach's life story was published, in Polish, in the May 2010 quarterly edition of the “Polish Combatants Association in Canada" magazine.)
Adam Bardach - Captain (rotmistrz) of the 3rd Silesian Lancers Armoured Cavalry Regiment. Adam was a participant in the battle of Monte Cassino, Italy; was awarded the Monte Cassino Cross, Cross of Valour and the Star of Italy, as well as several others; and has dedicated his post-World War Two life to the building and development of the Canadian communications industry - taking part in many prestigious, Canadian international trade missions. Best known as Vice President Emeritus of Memotec/Teleglobe where he worked for many years, he now resides in his charming 13th house on Richmond Road, Ottawa - in the middle of a condominium complex. He likes to spend his free time playing the piano in a living room with an oak-beamed ceiling, amid antique furniture, china and thirteen antique clocks that chime every hour on the hour.
Anna Labieniec. You belong to the worldwide club of people originating from Lwow. What do you remember about Lwow - when you were young?
Lwow was my first town and country. These were my early days: school, skating and summers in the country. I always had too much to do, too many activities. Cafes were the centers of the adults' social life. This is where my mother went almost daily to meet her friends, have a chat and socialize. As far as I can remember my early days, whoever had a high position worked less: the exact opposite being true of life in Canada.
I was born in Lwow on October 25th, 1923. My father was a physician. My mother was a pianist and graduated from the music conservatory. She did not continue her career after she was married.
My music career started early, at the age of four. I had a piano teacher, as my mother believed a stranger could teach a child better. However, she always corrected me and saw that I practiced regularly. Music was a part of my life throughout my school days. Declaration of war interrupted it, and I was one year short of graduating at the Lwow Conservatory. In Lwow I attended the public school named after famous Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, and then High School No. 3 (named after Polish King Stefan Batory). The school maintained literary and classical traditions.
Back in 1935, at that high school, I met my lifelong friend, Andrzej Garlicki, who is now president of the Polish Combatants Association in Canada. We were in the same grade with one exception; Andrzej studied German while I took French. We share many memories. I well remember the Arts classes and sketching. Frequently I finished the assignment early and was told by Professor Karol Rutkowski to sit at the piano and bring music to the classroom. I often played the professor's favorite composition, Weber's "Invitation to the Waltz”.
My childhood was not only in Lwow. I always spent my school holidays in the country - on my grandparents’ estate Nizborg, near Kopyczynce, or at my aunt's in Korolowka (not far from a well-known summer resort - Zaleszczyki). I shall always remember the good times and playing with local kids who lived on the estate, or others like me, spending summer vacations away from the city. I remember swimming in the lake, river kayaking and horseback riding. My favorite horse "Nikodem" once bit me quite badly because he did not like the treat I gave him. He wanted a lump of sugar.
This was all away from our home in Lwow, where my father practiced as an M.D. and Dental Surgeon. He was always extremely busy. We lived in a large apartment on 3rd of May Street, number 19. The building belonged to count Baworowski, and was directly across from the University. Now it houses the Law Department. I received a picture of the house from my friend Andrzej, who visited Lwow a few years ago. (They also renamed the street "The Street of Sich Riflemen”, but number 19 still exists.)
A.L.: Since Poland regained independence have you ever had a chance to visit the city where you were born?
Unfortunately not, Lwow lives only in my memories. I visited Poland with my wife several times on personal visits, or as a member of a Canadian trade mission. At that time Lwow was east of the USSR border and is now in Ukraine.
A.L.: Where were you when war was declared? How do you remember that moment?
I was in Lwow when they declared war. My father, whom they had already called to the army as medical officer, sent my mother and me to Zaleszczyki, (the most southeastern part of Poland) thinking that the Germans would not get there, and he was right. A few days later the whole Polish government arrived there. When, on September 17th 1939, the Russians invaded Poland, the Romanians opened their border on the new bridge (also in Zaleszczyki) allowing the refugees and their small luggage to find safety in Romania.
At the time I was a very independent teenager: always active in a variety of sports. My parents were successful in teaching me how to live with discipline. Throughout my life I was always organized and punctual. I was never late.
In Romania the situation for the refugees, under German pressure, was getting worse and worse. The Polish Government in Exile assisted families to be evacuated to the Middle East (Cyprus, Palestine and Syria/Lebanon).
This is where I joined the Polish Army, and became a soldier in the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade under the command of General Stanislaw Kopanski. I graduated from the O.C.T.U. (Officer Cadet Training Unit) in Beit Jirja near Gaza in Palestine.
I was already on the ship with replacement personnel, about to leave for Tobruk, when the news arrived that Tobruk fell. We landed back in Egypt, and as far as I can remember it was 1941 or 1942. From Egypt we sailed to Iraq to join the Second Polish Corps under the command of General Anders. As a graduate of O.T.C., I was assigned to the 3rd Antitank Artillery Regiment, a unit of the 3rd Carpathian Riflemen's Division.
A.L.: Did you take part in the famous battle of Monte Cassino? What was your role?
Yes, I did. Lack of success in capturing the Monastery of Monte Cassino on the Allied side called for a change. The Polish Second Corps was given that task. I was in a small group of volunteers selected to carry during the night, in pieces, two 17 lb. antitank guns weighing more than 2 tons each. We took them literally on our backs and positioned them on Hill 324, less them one kilometer away from the Monastery. Later, we were able to shoot in a straight line and were successful in making a large break in the walls. Artillery firing above us supported two of our guns. The Indian Ghurkas, at night, brought the ammunition. At the same time, we were a preferred target of the German artillery. After we fired a few shots of our seventeen pounders we had to run into the shelter. German fire on us was instantaneous. It was a race for life.
During the last attack on the Monastery, all artillery units of the Polish 2nd Corps were focused on the assigned targets. Infantry and other soldiers had to climb the tall rocks to approach and get close to the targeted edifice, where even during peacetime nobody dared to climb. The heroic effort of the Polish forces accomplished the impossible, taking over the Monastery of Monte Cassino and opening the road to Rome. The price of the victory was paid by thousands who were either killed or wounded. Lancers of the 12th Podole Lancers Regiment, in early morning, entered the Monastery through the opening made by our seventeen pounders. During the night the Germans withdrew. When the sun rose, everything was quiet and peaceful. It was a bright sunny day. We could relax. We had accomplished what no one else could. We reached our objective.
Canadians frequently refer to the most important achievements and battles in Italy, which were: Monte Cassino, Ortona and Ancona. The fourth was Bologna. We were there, as members of the Polish 2nd Corps.
Melchior Wankowicz, a well-known writer, dedicated a popular book about this battle, and featured many soldiers who took part in it. He visited my unit but unfortunately I was out visiting friends and so I missed my opportunity to meet a celebrity, as well as get an honourable mention in his book. I am fond of his work and have a lot of respect for his talent.
A.L.: The book had a lot of positives, caused admiration and criticism. As a fighting member of the battle, what is your opinion?
I am sure that Melchior Wankowicz very cleverly described the events and faithfully portrayed the feelings of the participants. He recreated the prevailing atmosphere, documented the events; talked to hundreds of participants of the battle. Interviewing thousands of soldiers who took part in the battle was not possible. This is the likely reason for complaints that someone was bypassed or deliberately ignored by the author. The book features many, many interviews with the men who took active part in the fight.
I feel the interviews were authentic and accurately portrayed what had happened. I found names of my many friends and fellow soldiers and the depiction of their part as written in the book agrees with what I remember.
A.L.: What were the prevailing feelings among you?
It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. We knew that we had to take over the monastery. Others could not do it. We did it, regardless of the cost. This was our show and our chance to be different. All acted heroically, tremendous difficulties having to be overcome. Let us compare the attitude and perception then and compare to what happens now, in the year 2010. When one or a few Canadian soldiers die and are killed fighting in Afghanistan the whole world hears about it. These tragic events have become front-page news. The sympathy expressed is overwhelming and rightly so. However, when during World War 2 thousand were killed in one day, very few recognized their sacrifice, knew or talked about it. The expressed sympathy and sorrow were then low-key events. It seemed nobody cared. This dramatically shows the difference of the prevailing attitude between then and now. The worth of a soldier's life has increased exponentially.
A.L.: What happened to you after the battle?
Later, during the encounters near the village of Scapezzano, I was wounded in action and became ill with hepatitis, which was then known as jaundice. I landed in the military hospital in Cassa Massima near Bari, where I spent about a month recuperating. I was then posted to the newly formed 3rd Silesian Lancers Regiment, which was a part of the 14th Wielkopolska Armoured Brigade - where I was till the war ended. On joining the regiment I received my commission and promotion to Lieutenant. Thus, I ended my military career as a cavalry officer.
I spoke English, fluently, which perhaps explained what happened later. One early morning in El Amirya, Egypt, the regimental sergeant major (in cavalry - wachmistrz) came to me and gave me the message that I had to report immediately to the C.O., Colonel Jerzy Anders, brother of General Anders C.B., V.M., C.V. The Colonel asked me whether I was aware of the responsibilities of an Adjutant. When I answered "no” I was told that I had one hour to learn and he congratulated me on the appointment and promotion. At the tender age of twenty-one I automatically inherited the function of the most senior "rotmistrz" (cavalry captain) in the Regiment. For many years I kept in touch with Colonel Anders, who also came to Canada and lived in Toronto.
I have very positive memories of my younger days. I like to talk about the past and have formed many long-lasting friendships. I am pleased that my memories can still be of interest. Ten members of the 3rd Silesian Lancers Regiment came to Canada and I am the last survivor.
When the war ended in Europe, General Anders had a vision of post-World War 2 life and made it possible for any member of the Second Corps, regardless of rank, to begin or to continue their studies. I enrolled at the University of Turin (Reale Politechnico di Torino), where I met my classroom friend from Lwow, Andrzej Garlicki. I spent a year and a half studying in Turin. I am fluent in Polish, Italian, French, German, and of course, English. Later in life, knowledge of languages became extremely helpful. In my younger days I spent summer holidays with my grandparents (on my mother's side) in the country, so I could also get by in Ukrainian.
Toward the end of 1946 the Polish Students Centre was closed, so students were moved to Great Britain and this is how I landed in London. When I joined Civie Street, I switched to Economics and Linguistics. I passed the professional exams in Commerce and Accounting and have the diplomas from the London Chamber of Commerce. On the languages side, I also passed all the examinations of the Institute of Linguists and was an associate member of that institute (A.I.L.)
Having finished my studies, I started looking for a job and found it in a small manufacturing firm in London. Also in London I met my wife Krystyna, and we decided to emigrate to Canada. We applied for Canadian visas, which we received within a few months, but forgot the most essential part of our plan: transportation. When we went to the Cunard Shipping Line to book the cheapest passage - economy, third or fourth class - we learned that the passage was sold out for one full year ahead. Thunderstruck, we looked at each other, then a thought came to me; is first class passage still available? The reply was positive. Not having any other choice, we booked two first class tickets to Canada and, in the summer of 1952, we crossed the Atlantic - First Class, on Cunard's MS Scythia - landing in Quebec City. We have lived First Class ever since.
It is a very small world. When we arrived by train in Montreal and were coming out of the taxi on Peel Street we were greeted by my very good friend Joe Pogorski. He was one of the ten. We served in the same regiment.
My wife Krystyna found employment immediately. It was more difficult for me. I applied for a position at Burroughs Business Machines, manufacturer of book-keeping machines, prior to the computer age. I had to wait two and a half months for approval - pending Receipt of good references from the U.K. When references arrived by mail, in September 1952, I started my new career in Canada. As a point of interest, Burroughs was in the same type of business as IBM, and now exists under the name of Unisys.
I stayed there for nineteen years. At that time, when someone was promoted, he was usually transferred to another branch, or another city. Our family became larger, we became parents of three children: Nicholas, James and Marianne. The whole family, Krystyna and the kids included, followed our work place. In Canada we lived in Montreal, Fredericton, Ottawa, Saint John, Halifax and Toronto.
A.L.: In your professional life did you only change place of residence or also the employer?
Both. In 1971 I resigned from Burroughs as I was Head-Hunted by GTE for their newly formed Information Systems subsidiary, initially in Toronto, then in their European subsidiary in Brussels, and finally in their Head Office in United States. My transfer to the U.S. was caused by a corporate change of policy in telecommunication's future plans and emphasis. They moved successful European operations management responsibilities to Stamford Con. Firing me as a domestic employee in the United States was rather also much cheaper than in Europe, where a "Golden Parachute" of four years was mandatory. So in 1977, when I was in my mid-fifties, I had to look for employment. This was rare in view of my performance, age and experience. GTE became Verizon. I did not give up.
I found employment with Honeywell in Ottawa and three years later I moved on. I was appointed General Manager (C.E.O.) of Memotec, a newly formed Telecommunication company with HQ in Montreal. In a few years we already had representation in thirty-five countries. I have done much international traveling. At that time Memotec bought out Teleglobe - which was in the process of being privatized. This transaction was described as "an ant that swallowed a giant." Memotec's annual revenues were in the fifteen million dollar range, Teleglobe was a five hundred million-crown corporation. In the year of my retirement - I was then Vice President responsible for international affairs - Teleglobe surpassed four billion dollars and had 4,500 employees. It was then that BCE (Bell Canada Enterprises) acquired Teleglobe and I became Vice President Emeritus. I continued to be invited to take part in several Canadian trade missions and in 1989 I was in the group accompanying then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to Moscow.
I also accompanied Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski in a trade mission to Warsaw, Poland. I was with Michael Wilson, then finance minister, in a mission to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia one week after these countries became independent republics. I also accompanied Michael Wilson in a trade mission to Kazakhstan.
A.L.: Can you describe your family life? Did a busy professional life allow you sufficient time in bringing up the children?
My wife Krystyna took on the responsibility of looking after the children and running a complex household when I was away on business. At least twice a year she came with me as a tourist and accompanied me on my business trip. We have seen many countries and had evenings and weekends together. We were a very happy couple and enjoyed our life and our lifestyle. We spent fifty-five wonderful years together. We had a very happy marriage. Krystyna passed away two years ago. I was left alone. I know I will join her before too long, as I am now eighty-six years old.
I was curious as to how many countries I had visited, and came up with the surprising number of fifty-seven. Until 1993 I did some consulting in international affairs. I had friends living all over the world. I was invited several times to join and participate in Canadian government-sponsored trade missions. I had a very interesting life; traveling the world I had contact with many cultures and met many people who became personal friends. I loved my work; it helped my family to prosper. I also contributed to the Canadian exports and international relations.
A.L.: What does the picture frame with No. 13 in the middle represent?
Thirteen became our lucky number. Let me tell you the whole story. In September 1939, the stepfather of my wife, then Krystyna Janowicz, member of the Polish Air Force and a well-known pilot, Colonel Stefan Adam Kowalczyk was the Air Force Military Attaché in the Polish Embassy in Berlin. Krystyna was in a boarding school named after Countess Zyberg-Plater in Warsaw. After the outbreak of World War Two she managed to escape to Stockholm, Sweden, to join her mother who was already there after her escape from Berlin. Sometime later they left for France and eventually arrived in London, England, where they spent the rest of the war years. I met Krystyna in late 1951, we were engaged in November, and were married on Krystyna's name day, Friday, March 13th 1952.
Many important events in our lives took place on the 13th. Our oldest son was born on the thirteenth. We became convinced by events that thirteen was our lucky number. We live in our thirteenth house. This is an old house and every piece of furniture is ancient and has a history. My wife and I were passionate about antiques. We accumulated quite a collection. I felt we had enough but Krystyna always pleaded that it is possible to squeeze in another something and she was right. Souvenirs from trips, eighteenth and early nineteenth century furniture, porcelain, glass, clocks and other antiques are everywhere. All this contributed to our wellbeing. I used to say that I am the youngest thing in our household.
A.L.: Do you have any other passions outside your profession?
For many years I was a member of the Rotary Club: in Saint John, N.B. in 1961, then Halifax N.S., Toronto (Scarborough) and Brussels, Belgium. I also attended a few meetings as a visiting Rotarian in Warsaw, Poland.
Other passions outside collecting antiques were swimming and sailing. I also owned a twenty-four foot "Shark" class sloop named "Partner-Ship" which I kept at the Britannia Yacht Club in Ottawa. Beginning in my childhood I loved swimming and riding. In 1938 I won second place in junior classifications in Lwow. Also, at the end of the war, in Milan, Italy, I came first in the backstroke style in an event, which included all Allied forces. Music continues to be my passion and I enjoy touching the ivories. The last time I played in public was at The Manor, for the sailors' Carols Singalong during the last Christmas get together.
A.L.: You are also a Veteran/Combatant, are you active in Polish Organizations?
I joined the Polish Combatants Association in Ottawa in 1958. I still have the Members ID issued by Waclaw Kurowski, who was the treasurer at the time. I always belonged to the local branch. This was often not possible, as I lived in several cities where the combatants association was not established. I was the treasurer many years later in Ottawa. I still am sorry that I could not have participated in the group trip to Monte Cassino. I was very committed professionally, but health problems later developed. I saw the videos brought back by my friends from their trip and listened to their experiences. I have many very close friends and long-term members of the association.
A.L. What were your feelings towards the members of the association after the war ended?
We were not only a group of friends; we became members of the family. It is always nice to be able to ask: do you remember? Many friendships went as far back as school years, as was the case with Andrzej Garlicki. Our wives and children also became friends. Real family members and relatives were either far away, or killed during the war years. The combatants association became a second family where level of education or military rank was not important. For example, in Ottawa Air Force, General Sznuk, also most senior member, helped us maintain some of the military traditions. It is always a pleasure for me to participate in many initiatives of the Polish Combatants Association aimed at the Polish community. I am a member of the Ottawa Branch No. 8
A.L.: When you visited Poland, later in life, how did it look to you?
At the time, in 1973, we lived in Brussels, Belgium. Our whole family decided to visit Poland. My wife, Krystyna was born in Poznan. We all wanted to meet and visit her side of the family, in their own surroundings. We visited Warsaw where we both had relatives. We also visited Krakow. My old hometown, Lwow, was beyond reach in Ukraine. We developed excellent relations with our families during the reunions. They were all smiling, complaining a little and, wherever we went, we were warmly received and lavishly hosted. They had difficulty understanding how it is possible to have to move every few years from one city to another, all because of work. They spent their whole lives not only in the same city but also in the same apartment or house. They were curious about how we lived, but they never asked what I did for a living nor what was my profession, but were trying to guess what our income was. They admired our new Oldsmobile with automatic transmission. They were absolutely sure we were millionaires.
I remember, when driving to Krakow, I was stopped for speeding and the fine, which I had to pay in cash, amounted to the equivalent of twenty-five cents Canadian.
When I took part in the Canadian government-sponsored trade mission to Poland, I always stated that I was born in Poland and, even after so many years in Canada, I can speak Polish fluently. I signed a few agreements but the results were not spectacular.
Many years of communism taught the people not to display initiative, drive or independent thinking. However, in telecommunications between Poland and Canada we did increase, profitably for both, the number of telephone circuits and satellite channels. The last time I visited Poland in the late nineties and had a consulting assignment regarding the establishment of cellular telephony. I remember well the visit to Poland in the entourage of the Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, who was also the minister of Agriculture. One morning, when they were short of interpreters, Don asked to me participate in his meeting and translate for them. There was a lot of talk about the merits of purebred Canadian cows, how much more milk they produce annually, and - of course - artificial insemination, to maintain the exclusivity of the breed. The Polish side mentioned that Polish farmers prefer to see nature take its course.
I could not resist the temptation and added: "In Canada, even the cows work hard and have no time for pleasure". This comment was picked up by the press and was featured in the Polish Radio and TV news.
My Polish heritage was helpful on many occasions. A few days after Baltic republics broke away from the USSR in the early nineties, Michael Wilson - then the minister of finance - quickly organized a trade mission to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This was of interest to Teleglobe because it offered the opportunity to connect ex-Soviet Union republics directly to the West, bypassing Moscow. (Teleglobe had already accomplished this with the Republics of Moldova and Ukraine.) The Lithuanian minister of communication participated in the meeting and was the only English-speaking person amongst the Lithuanians. When he was called away to another meeting, we could not communicate. Nobody spoke French or German. So I improvised, in Polish. A few minutes later he rejoined us, and we continued Canadian-Lithuanian discussions and negotiations - in Polish.
At about the same time the Polish government decided to thank all living World War Two veterans and give them a promotion. Thus I became a major.
A.L.: What does Canada mean to you?
My wife was the main motivator and proponent of moving to Canada. She had no problems convincing me. It was a great decision. Krystyna felt that Canadians were generous, friendly people. There is NO prejudice against other nationals - we are ALL equal and welcome. Canada became OUR home and country. Family was always very important to us. Canada changed since our arrival in 1952. Canada prospered more and more. And so did we. We led a wonderful life and we have lots of friends who enjoyed success in life. So did we. We can depend on them. They can depend on us. Canada is the country where we began our married life. Our children were born in Canada. We were happy here. THIS IS OUR HOME.
Permission to include this story was kindly granted by SPK Branch No. 8 in Ottawa, Canada
Adam's WW2 medals
Adam in uniform, circa 1942.
Adam's first Polish Combatant's Association ID from 1958
Meeting King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
Representing Teleglobe Inc., Vice President, Government Relations and International Affairs,
Adam Bardach shakes hands with King Juan Carlos I as the Honourable Michael Wilson (far left), Minister of Industry, Science and Technology as well as Minister of International Trade; Dr. Andrew Jones, Director, Spar; Keith Burrows, Vice President, Bristol Aerospace; and George Meagher, Chairman, DSMA look on.
Krystyna and Adam Bardach celebrating 50 years of marriage.
Adam Bardach in 2011.