Augustyn Karolewski was born on August 12 1925 at the Polish village of Zduny, near the pre-war frontier with Germany. In 1939, just before the Nazi invasion, the 14-year-old Augustyn was sent to walk the family’s cattle to a safer location, but in the chaos of war found himself a refugee.
Having made his way to Hungary, he joined General Stanislaw Maczek’s Polish forces which crossed Yugoslavia and Italy to reach France, and then Britain. He was not yet 16.
Maczek’s 1st Polish Armoured Division was first stationed in Scotland to face the threat of German invasion, and in July 1944 landed in Normandy. By now a lance-corporal, Karolewski served with the Polish Armoured Division in the Falaise Pocket, where the Poles suffered more than 2,000 casualties. He spent his 19th birthday in the thick of battle.
The Division then fought across northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands before taking the surrender of the German naval headquarters at Wilhelmshaven. Karolewski recalled sleeping in a cattle trough in freezing weather during the Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne.
Back in Scotland in 1945, he learned that his family in Poland had survived; but the communist takeover made it unsafe to return home, and Karolewski was transferred to the Polish Resettlement Corps at RAF Winfield in Berwickshire. It was there that he first encountered Woytek, the Syrian brown bear who had become the mascot of another Polish 2nd Corps during the campaigns in North Africa and Italy. Woytek was given a name, rank and number, and is said to have helped carry ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino; he later lived near the village of Hutton in the Borders and ended his days at Edinburgh Zoo, dying in 1963.
Karolewski would visit Voytek, with whom he enjoyed sharing cigarettes and beer: “As soon as I mentioned his name he would sit on his backside and shake his head, wanting a cigarette.”
While based at Winfield, Karolewski caught the eye of Bette Hall, the innkeeper’s daughter at Hutton, and they married in 1948 after he had secured a labouring job on a local farm. He later became secretary of his farm workers’ union branch.
He and Bette had two daughters and two sons, and in 1953 moved into a new council house at Hutton. He became a British citizen in 1962.
Karolewski’s formal education had been cut short by the war, but he had a flair for languages. He was also extremely inquisitive, and always enjoyed arguing a point, never missing an opportunity to have his say to successive local MPs.
In 1968 he, Bette and their four children drove in their Vauxhall Cavalier across Germany, through Checkpoint Charlie in the Berlin Wall, to meet his Polish relations at Zduny. They saw the poverty and oppression of the communist system, but after the collapse of the regime in 1989 it became possible to make regular visits to his native country.
While making his living in Scotland as a farm labourer, in 1957 Karolewski joined the salmon netting crew at the Watham fishery on the Tweed, rowing cobles (flat-bottomed boats) and hauling nets at all hours and in all weathers. In 1964 he became skipper at the North Bells salmon fishery, near Paxton, a few miles west of Berwick.
Net and coble fishing dates back at least to the 12th century. Typically, a netting team consisted of about half a dozen men: one rowing the boat, another pulling the net along the bank, and the rest pulling in the net at the landing point.
Catches were usually modest, and often yielded no fish at all. In 1986, however, the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Trust, funded largely by angling interests on the upper Tweed, bought almost all the netting rights on the river and closed them down. Most Tweed netsmen faced redundancy without compensation.
Karolewski, who by then had worked on the river for some 30 years, was adamant that this ancient skill should survive. He approached John Home Robertson, whose family owned Paxton House on the Tweed near Berwick and still retained the local netting rights. Home Robertson gave him permission to start a new fishery there, and Karolewski ran it for some years; it survives today, under different management.
Every Remembrance Sunday Karolewski turned out on parade at the Polish War Memorial in Duns to commemorate his fallen comrades.
Karolewski’s wife died in 2006; Augustyn died December 3rd, 2012 and is survived by their children.
Source: Augustyn's obituary
Copyright: Karlowski family