Deported with his family, released on 'amnesty', Edward and two brothers joined the cadets, while his father and oldest brothers served in the Polish 2nd Corps. After the war, they spent some time in the UK before emigrating to the US. Edward went on to serve in the US military.
I was born on 14 November 1932 in the village of Chocznia near Wadowice, in the region of Krakow, in southern Poland. I was the seventh and last child of a farming family. My parents were Jozef and Rozalia (nee Suwaj) and my siblings were Jan, Stefan, Maria, Mieczyslaw, Halina, and Stanislaw. One of my earliest memories from this time was being on all fours and encountering a hog that bit my ear.
These were particularly difficult economic times, and my father was running out of resources with which to maintain his widowed mother’s farm. In the hopes of improving the family’s financial situation, he moved the family to a newly established settlement called Janowa Dolina in the Wolyn region of eastern Poland. I remember being carried in my mother’s arms as the family detrained at this new place.
This settlement had been created in order to house the workers of the Basalt Rock Quarry. This is where my father worked, and my two older brothers were later employed there as well, and our standard of living slowly improved. A neighbour from Chocznia, Andrzej Romanczyk, also moved his family to this place. He had a daughter, Jadwiga, who would later become my wife.
My siblings attended school and took part in Scouting activities, and team sports, etc. While in kindergarten, I performed in school plays, and later went to the same school as my siblings.
When the war broke out in September 1939, all sense of normalcy ceased. When the Soviets invaded Eastern Poland, my two oldest brothers, Jan and Stefan, were arrested by the NKVD for their membership in a paramilitary organization (Strzelcy). We later learned that Jan was murdered by the NKVD at Starobielsk, near Kiev, Ukraine (as part of what is referred to as the Katyn massacres), and Stefan was sentenced and shipped to a Gulag prison.
On 13 April 1940, the rest of the family was forcibly removed from our home, and deported to Kazakhstan. Only my married sister Maria stayed behind, as she was considered part of another family. In Kazakhstan, Father, my 15 year old brother Mietek, and 13 year old sister Halina were put to work on a government farm. My 11 year old brother Staszek, and I (I was 9 years old at the time) were forced to attend a Russian school. Our mother stayed home, which consisted of a 10 x 22 foot room, in a communal building
It was difficult to survive on the meagre food allowance provided, so families struggled to supplement their food. In the summer, Staszek and I would sneak into the fields at night and pick cotton. We would separate the seeds from the cotton by using a bowstring. These seeds, although extremely bitter, were a supplement to our diet. We spun the yarn on a homemade spindle and Halina knitted socks and scarves for the family. Staszek and I would also supplement the family diet by fishing in the local irrigation canals after school.
My father worked as a cart driver, and would often haul farm produce to warehouses. He would sometimes manage to ‘lose’ pumpkins along the way, and my brother and I would retrieve these under cover of darkness. All of these methods managed to help us survive, and somehow my mother was able to cook our meagre supplies and keep us all fed.
AMNESTY and THE MIDDLE EAST
In January of 1942, we were notified of the ‘amnesty’ that was available to Polish deportees ad prisoners. My father soon left to join the Polish Army that was forming in southern Russia, and then notified us that the Army was also forming a ‘Junak’ (cadet) Corps. My brother Mietek left the government farm to join the Junaks at Wrewskoje, along with his friend Tadek Salwa. A short time later, Father sent a subsequent letter, advising Mother to bring the youngest boys to the Junak formation at Wrewskoje. Mother brought us there, along with our neighbour’s son, Emil Sawczyszyn., but she had to go back to the government farm. On her return journey, she left my sister Halina at an orphanage. This was the last time that we saw our mother.
Staszek and I joined the 7th Junak Company that left for Krasnowodsk within a matter of weeks, and then boarded a ship to cross the Caspian Sea to Persia (modern-day Iran). In Teheran we were quartered in one of the hangars on an airfield. Soon, other Junak Companies, from various parts of the USSR, joined us. This is where we spent Easter 1942. We were then transported through Iraq and Palestine where my older brother Stefan (who had been sentenced to the Gulag) found us through the Red Cross. Stefan was now a member of the 3rd DSK of the Polish 2nd Corps, stationed in Quastina, Palestine.
When we arrived at Bashit, all Junak Companies were sorted by age and previous school experience. My 16 year old brother Mietek was assigned to the ‘Junacka Szkola Kadecka’, 12 year old Staszek and I were assigned to the ‘Mlodsza Junacka Szkola Powszechna (Younger Junak grade School) in Nazareth.
At this time, my father was released from the Army because he was suffering from typhoid fever; he joined the civilian camp in Isfahan, Persia and then later went to India. He tracked us down through the Red Cross and informed us that our mother had died in Kazakhstan.
My 14 year old sister Halina had also been evacuated from the USSR with the Polish Army. She lied about her age and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Service, and served in Scotland. In 1944, Mietek was also assigned to the 3 DSK, and met up with Stefan at Monte Cassino.
In 1948, the four surviving Bator brothers met in Nottingham England. We later learned, again through the Red Cross, that our sister Maria along with her husband and baby son, had survived the Russian and German occupations in eastern Poland, and had returned to the family home in Chocznia, near Krakow.
After 5 years with the Junaks, it was difficult to return to a normal civilian life. I found myself in a new country, with a new and unfamiliar language, and new customs. It was a lot to absorb all at once. Soldiers from the 2nd Corps had the option of joining the Polish Resettlement Corps, in order to gain assistance with education and with finding employment. This option was not open to me as, at age 16, I was too young. So I went to work on a government farm, harvesting beets along with my father and a group of Poles. Because of my young age, I received the lowest wage, so my father found me a job in construction. Within a year I was apprenticed to a plumber and learned a great deal from him about this trade.
I went on to work for another company that was engaged in rebuilding RAF airports to the standards required by the new Jets. On one of the jobs I was assigned to, I worked near a US Air Force base, and this is where I became enamoured with the USA. My friends and I decided that we had to find a way to enter the American Army. I wrote frequent letters to the American embassy in London, but nothing ever came of this.
My father had remarried, and his new wife had five children of her own: Zygmunt, Jozef, Miroslaw, Zbigniew and Janina. His wife was a good seamstress and helped supplement the family income, so they moved from the camp and bought a home in Yorkshire, near my three brothers
US ARMED FORCES
I travelled to Germany and registered at the US Army Recruiting Centre there. Several months later, after considerable machinations, I was accepted into the American Forces. This was under a new US initiative that allowed foreigners to enlist, serve 5 years, and then be eligible for US citizenship.
I sailed to the US to undergo our basic training and was then assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Benning, Georgia. I ended up in Germany, as part of the 32nd Engineering Group. I began a correspondence with Jadwiga, who was part of a family that were our pre-war neighbours in Chocznia. Some months later, we met in France and were married there. Eleven months later our first child, Edward Junior, was born. When my required foreign tour of duty was over, I received my US citizenship and then moved to Fort Knox, USA, with my wife and son.
I spent a year in Korea and then was sent to the NCO Academy, after which I was posted to Okinawa, and then Vietnam. I returned to the USA when our daughter Mira was already 9 months old. A month later, I was posted with my family to Nelingen, Germany. When I was again posted to Vietnam, the family, along with Jadzia’s mother who had joined us from Poland, moved to Detroit to await my return. This time, I was posted to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Once more, the family was separated, and I was posted to Hawaii. After this posting, I decided to retire from the Armed Forces.
Polish: Bronze Cross of Merit, with swords