Polish 2nd Corps
My name is Andrzej Marian Garlicki, and I was born on the 16th of July 1923, in Szulhanowka, in eastern Poland. My father, Tadeusz, was an agricultural engineer who had graduated from the renowned Agricultural University of Dublany, near Lwow. My mother was Stefania Maria, nee Dobiecka. My brother Jan was 3 years older than I. He was arrested in 1939, when he tried to cross the Polish-Hungarian border with a group of friends, and he ended up in a Russian jail.
Before the outbreak of WWII, I completed my high school education in Lwow. At the age of sixteen, I joined an underground resistance organization that was later incorporated into the Home Army. Our objective was to resist the communist indoctrination that was being forced upon us by the invading Russians.
My one great pastime has always been the piano, which I studied from a young age. I was a student of the Music Academy to the very end of my time in Lwow. I remember attending two great concerts in Lwow; they have remained the two concerts that had the greatest impact on me. The first was the Lwow symphony orchestra, under the Direction of Mieczyslaw Soltys, performing the “Second Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt”, and the second was a concert by the renowned violinist Winiewski. After the second concert, I rushed back home and immediately adapted the music to the piano. These two pieces have remained my favorites throughout my life. With music, I can communicate my feelings to others – be that joy, love, anger, etc.
Every student at the Music Academy had to perform in front of a concert audience at the end of the year. When it came my turn, I decided to play the Concert Waltz by Arthur Durand. I performed this on the 23rd of September 1939 – it was my last concert in Lwow before being deported.
ARREST and DEPORTATION
The Russians came to arrest my father at three in the morning. They barged into our home and conducted a brutal and thorough search of the premises. We could see that they were stealing our things, as they turned drawers and cupboards inside out. They were sneaking items into their pockets when they thought no one was looking.
After father’s arrest, we suspected that we would also be arrested. On the 13th of April 1940, my mother and I were forcibly taken from our home, and we spent 2 years in the northeastern steppes of Kazakhstan. The train had taken us to Semipalatynsk, and we were then taken by lorry to a state farm called ‘Znamenka’, which was about 60 km from the station.
As a 16 year old, my job was to shepherd the cattle, which allowed me to gather fuel for the winter. Winters were very harsh in that area and the locals used cow droppings, called ‘kiziak’, for fuel. My mother would bring food to me when I was out with the cattle, and she also worked in the fields. As payment for our work, we received very meager quantities of food (for example, a few potatoes, a small sack of grain, or some watermelons, etc.) It was certainly not enough to feed two people.
The population of the kolkhoz was made up of Kazakhs, as well as Ukrainians from previous deportations, and the Poles who had been deported there with us.
We lived in huts made of clay, since they had no other building materials. To make windows, they would set a pane of glass into the clay, and that was it. To prepare for the harsh winters, everyone concentrated on amassing as much of the ‘kiziak’ for fuel as possible. We also gathered tumbleweeds to burn. This produced a lot of heat when lit, but would burn off in a very short time.
I am always amazed when I think back on some of the discussions that took place among the deportees. For instance, the women would exchange recipes and describe in great detail how to prepare them. They would write down the directions on any scrap of paper they could find! Here we were, starving, and without the barest essentials in terms of ingredients, and yet they exchanged recipes from home!
When amnesty was declared, we left the kolkhoz on sleighs that the Russians supplied for us, and travelled the 60 km to the outskirts of Semipalatinsk. Semipalatinsk was a fairly large city, although all the buildings were also made of clay. The Irtysh River flowed by the city. The river would be frozen solid in winter, so we would cross it on foot in order to gather wood from the forests on the other side. This saved us from freezing to death!
I was told that, in order to find work, it would be a good thing to take some sort of technical course, and the best one would be a driver’s course. There was just such a course being given in the city, so I signed up. It was the end of November and getting quite cold, but I walked the 8 km to the city every day, in order to attend this course. The instructor was a very personable Russian engineer, who repeatedly told me that I was top of the class. However, once the exam results were published, my name was 4th on the list of graduates. I asked him how this was possible; how could I have come in 4th when he had told me I was at the top of the class? The instructor answered “Andrzejku, the top three spots are always reserved for Party members!”
JOINING THE POLISH ARMY
Soon, two Polish groups arrived in the city. The first were representatives of the Polish government-in-exile, and the second were representatives of the Polish Army who were organizing the army in the USSR. I soon received word that I was to present myself at such and such a place, in order to determine if I was fit to serve in the Army. I was accepted, and so I joined the Polish Army.
I travelled to Krasnowodsk and then across the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi, with the Army, while my mother made her way there with a group of ladies from the kolkhoz.
My mother also joined the Army – she had a talent for writing articles, playing the piano, and liked social kinds of work. When she volunteered for the Army, she was sent to Africa, near Nairobi, where she lived in the home of a British doctor. She spent the rest of the war there. She learned the language, and helped in any way she could.
I recall two particularly poignant moments in Pahlavi. The first was when we were marching through the city and I saw a bridge, where a Russian soldier stood at one end (with the typical pointed helmet and long bayonet) and a Hindi soldier stood at the other end (looking like a dressed up doll). It was quite a striking sight. The other thing that quite overwhelmed me was the view of the market stalls as we marched by: the assortment of fruits that was piled high everywhere you looked, the boiled eggs, the varieties of fish; it was all quite incredible to our starving eyes. We felt like we had ended up in paradise.
I had a very emotional reunion with my brother on the beach in Pahlavi! A fellow soldier ran up to me and said he had just heard the name Garlicki being read off a list. He did not hear the first name, so there was no way to know if it was my brother or my father. I went straight to the beach and started searching through the recent arrivals, trying to locate him. I asked one of the soldiers there, and he pointed to a fellow who was kneeling on a blanket and cutting some bread that had just been delivered. It was my brother Jan. We embraced for the longest time, and could not believe that we had found each other after over 2 years of separation.
Jan also joined the 2nd Corps and ended up serving in the Transport Division in Italy. He completed Junior High School in Italy and, once we reached the UK, he joined the PRC and took an electrical course. This allowed him to work at repairing radios and telephones, and earn a good wage.
After a few months in Teheran, we were transported to Palestine. Things were much more organized in Palestine, where we lived in British military camps. The weather was pleasant, we were housed in large roomy tents, and this is where we remained until it was time to set sail for Italy. While in Palestine, I attended classes put on for the Officer Cadets by the Polish Army. Thanks to the 2nd Corps, I completed both Junior High and College courses, obtaining my Bachelor degree. During this time, I was assigned to the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division.
THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN
The Italian front was a difficult situation for us. We arrived there in winter, and winter in the Apennines mountain range is very cold. There were moments that were more tolerable, and moments that were less tolerable. However, I must say is that the mood of the troops was always a very positive one – particularly among young soldiers like me. I was 18 years old by then.
One particular incident that comes to mind: a group of us were in a building being fired upon by the Germans. We had no choice but to get out and get away from there. I ended up jumping from a 2nd floor window, onto a hardened courtyard. My commanding officer, who was a very stout and very serious fellow, also had to jump from that height. I later mentioned to him that I would have liked to have had a camera, and he upbraided me for being so frivolous at such a serious time. But curiosity got the better of him and he eventually asked me why I wanted a camera. So I told him that I would have taken a picture of him, when he had jumped from that window, because he looked like a gazelle doing it! To the end of the war, he did not forgive that gazelle reference! It is clear that he had absolutely no sense of humour.
Another encounter that I recall is when I met Wojtek the Bear! He was very tame, and acted just like all the other soldiers – he liked to have a beer, and smoke a cigarette, right along with them. But he was also very helpful. At Cassino, he would carry tens of kilos of ammunition from the Lorries right up to the artillery batteries, thereby making things a lot easier on the soldiers.
We arrived at Cassino at 11 or 12 at night. The fire power that was unleashed there was truly an other-worldly scene. Approximately 1,000 canons started firing all at once. The noise cannot be described! In the end, I participated in the battles of Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna, and then stayed on in Italy with the 2nd Corps for the year following the end of the war.
My mother had been sent to the camp at Dunholm Lodge, near Redcar, in England, and became a sergeant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. We both ended up in London, sharing accommodations, while I continued my studies. Mother had joined the PRC, and secured work as a seamstress in a hotel as a result. I had studied for a year at the Royal Technical University of Turin, Italy, and then completed my studies at the Polish University College in London, obtaining a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
I met my first wife, Krystyna in London. She had also been deported and had suffered a serious infection, but they had somehow managed to save her. We lived in the same area of town while I was studying, and this is how we met.
During all this time, I never stopped searching for my father. I made numerous enquiries through the Red Cross, but they could not locate him. I finally went through the 2nd Corps HQ and, in June 1946 or 1947, I learned that he had joined the Army when he had been released from the Soviet prison, and had made it to England after the war. But that is where all trace of him vanished. We never did manage to reunite with him.
A NEW LIFE IN CANADA
I lived in England for about 5 years before coming to Canada in 1952. I was attracted to Canada because of the beautiful scenery here, and the fact that there is a winter season. I was an avid skier, so this was important for me. However, the early years in Canada were not particularly easy ones for any of us – my mother was some 20 years older than I, so the change was even more difficult for her.
I first settled in Galt, Ontario (now called Cambridge) where I worked for a company that was associated with the one I had worked for in London. In those early years, I moved from job to job, company to company, slowly climbing the corporate ladder, and meeting very many interesting people along the way. For twelve years, I worked in industry, achieving the position of chief engineer at London Concrete Machinery Co., in London, Ontario.
In 1964, I moved to Ottawa and started working in Forestry Research for the Department of Environment. I worked on a number of very interesting projects there; including transporting trees by means of helicopters and balloons. We used the same balloons that had been used against aircraft in the Battle of Britain. I worked there for 10 years, and then we suddenly learned that the Government had sold this lab to a Montreal firm that would do the same work.
In 1976, I earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Ottawa. During the course of my career, I authored or co-authored fifty-five scientific and technical publications.
My next, and last, position was with the National Research Council. I have always considered that my position at the NRC was the reward of my entire life’s work. My office was located near the airport and I would keep my skis at the office, in order to take advantage of the access to ski trails in the area. I worked at NRC for 9 years, and learned a great deal during that time. After I retired, I stayed on as a Guest Research Scientist for the next 10 years. It was an unpaid position, my hours were very flexible, and I greatly enjoyed these years as well.
Engaged in the activities of the Polish community, I served as senior adviser, vice-president and president of the Polish Canadian Congress (1996-98), and have been national president of the Polish Combatants’ Association since 2003. I am also active in the Canadian Forces Reserve as Deputy Commander of the 3rd Field Squadron of the Royal Canadian Engineers.
The SPK offices are in Toronto, and this requires a 4.5 hour train ride to get there. To the closed circle of Toronto veterans, I was considered an outsider, yet I have managed to serve 4 terms as SPK national president.
In 2009, I was one of only two Canadian veterans invited by the Polish government to participate in five days of remembrance events commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the start of WWII.
MEDALS and AWARDS
I wear my medals with great pride. I received the Order of Canada in 1985, for my years of community work with Polonia. I was also awarded Canada’s Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Confederation in 1992.
Among my World War Two decorations are the Gold and Silver Cross of Merit, the Cross of Valour, the Bronze Cross of Merit with Swords, the Home Army Cross, the Cross of Monte Cassino, the 1939-45 Star, and the Italy Star.
Among my professional distinctions are: the Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Engineering Applications of Mechanics, and the Special Research Achievement Award of the National Research Council 1989-90.
For lobbying the Federal Government to support Poland’s membership in NATO, I was awarded the Knight’s, Officer’s and Commander’s Crosses of the Order Polonia Restituta by the Polish Government.