From Przemysl to the "Children of Lwow" Regiment
by Franciszek Jakielaszek
I was born in a village in the county of Przeworsk in 1916 when the region was still occupied by the Austrians. This county was entirely Polish and that was how I was brought up. I was fifteen years old when my father purchased a farm situated to the east of Przemysl, to which the family moved. The villages surrounding Przemysl and especially those to the east of the San River, were Ukrainian and hostile towards Poles. I quickly realized that one would have to fight for Poland.
I fulfilled my military training obligation during the 1936 - 1937 season with the 3rd battalion, 5th Regiment Podhalanska Rifles, 22nd Mountain Infantry Division. On the 27th of August, 1939, I was mobilized by the Polish Armed Forces and reassigned to the same regiment and even the same battalion. On the 1st of September, the battalion left Przemysl and was to join up with the regiment which was in action somewhere near the German border.
Our train moved very slowly and by the evening of the 2nd, we had just passed Krakow, still headed west. While we slept, the train kept rolling all night long. We could not join up with the Regiment, which may have already been either destroyed or bypassed by the Germans. In the morning we found out that we were at a small station west of Krakow and here we were to disembark. The unloading process went slowly because the station did not have a platform and we had supply cars, wagons, horses and three horse-drawn machine gun carts. A gangplank was assembled and the carts unloaded while the quartermaster stayed behind to unload the supplies and field kitchen.
The battalion marched in the direction of Krakow, which we passed by on the way to Wieliczka. To the east of Wieliczka we began to occupy defensive positions but this process was interrupted by the arrival of new orders directing us to Dobczyce. We marched all night long, bypassing Dobczyce on our way towards Raciechowice. By nighfall on the following day, we occupied defensive positions at some road crossing.
Before noon on the 5th of September, we were informed that we were surrounded by a large German unit. We did have two POWs; a motorcyclist, severely wounded by our heavy machine gun, and an officer who had been checking the bridges on this road to see if they had been damaged. We returned to Dobczyce in a day, in such good form as if we were simply returning from exercises. Near Dobczyce we stopped in a small wood and our forward patrol brought us news that German vehicles were on the Dobczyce - Bochnia road.
Both the battalion and company commanders decided that we would follow the Raba River corridor to the Wisla River, then head for Sandomierz. We made it only as far as the Niepolomskie Forest when we were attacked by a large German unit. Our battalion commander was killed and the rest of us were taken prisoner.
We were not in great shape as were marched into a barrack in Bochnia. The quartermaster never did reach us with the supplies and we lived only off of fruit we took from the orchards. We had been there 4 or 5 days before the mayor and citizens of Bochnia were able to organize a relief effort so that at least once a day we could get a bit to eat.
After a few days we were transferred to Kobierzyn (near Krakow). Here were the cavalry barracks, now with empty stables. There were already a few thousand Polish POWs there. The Germans did not give us any sustenance at all. We slept in the horse barns but at night we were not allowed to open the doors in order to take care of our natural needs.
A local countess had a large property nearby (I don't remember her name). She could speak German and so arranged with the camp commander to allow the local people to feed us on occasion, so once a day we received a cup of hot vegetable soup and a couple of thin slices of bread with a thin layer of cold cuts in between.
On the 17th of September we learned that the Soviets had invaded Poland, that now we had two enemies. That same day, a possible opportunity to slip past the fence presented itself. I was successful and found myself, it seemed, a free man. Home lay 250 km away on the east bank of the River San, near Przemysl, and I had to get there on foot. The journey took 11 or 12 days. By the end of September, I found myself standing on the east bank of the river, just 10 km from home. On the west bank of the river stood a German soldier, and on the east bank, a Soviet. The road bridge was in the water and the railway bridge was off limits to all. One woman mentioned that before the war, further downstream, there was a river crossing made in boats and that it should still be possible to get to the other side. And so I found myself on the east bank. The very next day, the Soviets put an end to those crossings and Przemysl became a city divided in two.
We began a life under occupation, living day to day. There were no Soviet soldiers visible in the streets of Przemysl and it surprised us that the Soviet authorities did not set up headquarters anywhere. No one could get any information as to where and how we were to obtain the provisions and supplies required for everyday life. Local supplies ran out quickly to the point that one could not even obtain salt, though there were sources readily available nearby in Drohobycz and Boryslaw.
Meanwhile, in every locality, some lone administrator opened up an office though no one knew why he was there or what his job was to be. It wasn't until those people summoned to him during the night never returned home that we realized that something strange and unknown to us was happening. The first to go missing were the Polish pre-war policemen (like my neighbour, a corporal of the reserve Military Police who left behind his wife and two young children), school teachers, farm managers and others who had worked for the government before the war. Every few days an acquaintance or neighbour would disappear during the night, an alleged or imagined enemy of the Soviet State.
Somewhere at the beginning of December, I too was called out at night and I thought for sure that I would never again see my home. The administrator greeted me very politely and explained that I had been summoned as a witness in the case of a neighbour who was accused of beating Ukrainians that had ventured too close to his house. I tried to explain that this man could not beat up Ukrainians as he was about 60 years of age and that the field in which he had sown grain for bread for his family lies next to a road used by the local Ukrainians to herd their livestock, and further, that some 12 to 14 year-old boys were destroying some of this grain and that he therefore had just cause to defend his crop. The boys knew full well that he could not possibly beat them up as he could never catch them. The administrator declared that thanks to my testimony, my neighbour, Pupka, was cleared of the charges and the both of us may return home.
On the way out however, he stopped me and said: "You are a 'umnyj czolowiek,' a smart man. My office is open 24 hours a day and should you have any information for me, please come by at your convenience. I know that you spend your evenings at various homes and especially at one particular home. What do you do there?"
I laughed and replied: "If you already know this, you know that there is a good-looking 17 year-old girl there with whom I have spent many evenings for quite a while."
He quickly changed the subject as I realized what his job in fact was and that I now have a "guardian angel." As he dismissed me he added "You may go now, but don't forget me."
Sometime during November every home received a visit from an clerk who wrote down the names and surnames of the residents, the names of their relatives both living and deceased and made note of all our plows, weapons, carts and sleighs, everything but the pitchforks for manure and hay. He assured us that it was just a count of people and property.
We figured that living in villages and growing our own grain for bread, we would be able to scrape by but the situation in the cities was hopeless. Polish zloty were worthless but no one wanted the Russian rubles. All of the pre-war factories and workshops stood silent and no one made a move to put people to work and let them earn a living. No one knew what was happening today or what would happen tommorow.
On the 10th of February, 1940 at 3:00 a.m. there was a knocking at the door. When I opened the door, I saw the very same Ukrainian administrator who came for me in December. He informed me that I must immediately team my horse with that of my neighbour Sikora, attach Sikora's sleigh and take this combination to the school in the village of Nowosiolki Male. Neither my horse nor Sikora's were outfitted for winter travel, I thought to myself in Polish, as I closed the door and returned to bed. The local Ukrainians for the most part carried out these orders while the Poles tended to do as I did and ignore them.
However at 5:00 a.m. once again, although much louder this time, there was a pounding on the door. When I opened it I found myself looking at a long bayonet attached to the rifle of a Soviet soldier. He did not say a word but forced me back into the house, at the point of his bayonet, without closing the door. Not until he was in the kitchen and standing in the corner with the two walls to his back and the bayonet at the ready, did he speak: "wsie podnimat sia!"
I had to loudly repeat his words and the entire family, still dressed in their night shirts, had to come into the kitchen. We had to sit in our night clothes by the wall for about an hour when, at approximately 6:00 a.m., an officer of the NKWD came in and without uttering a word, went straight into the bedroom and began to pull the mattresses off of the beds and upturn all of the wardrobes and drawers such that the house looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane.
I continued to think that this was punishment for not following their earlier orders. After completing his search, the officer opened up his briefcase and took out a large book, read out our names and said: " Wy kak to narod nie zdiesznyj ukazom wierhownojo sowjeta peresedlenij butietie w drugiji miesta," that is, "as you are not local people, by order of the Soviet Union you will be relocated to another town." After 15 minutes, a cart was waiting for us. I began to think that this had nothing to do with the earlier incident but rather part of a greater operation. But why would they include my 74 year-old father and 64 year-old mother who suffered from a heart condition?
After filling the cart with our belongings, we moved off. On the road, we saw our nearest neighbours driven off in the same way. After one kilometer we came to a crossroads which joined three villages; Nowosiolki Male, Nowosiolki Wielkie and Pleszowice. As we approached the crossroads, day was breaking but a heavy snow was falling, driven by a strong wind as if Mother Nature herself had turned against these defenseless beings and desired to erase any trace of this crime.
One could not see much in the storm but what one could see was more sleighs and people. Poles from Nowosiolki Wielki and Pleszowice. A column was thus formed and headed for the town of Medyka. Behind the wagons, followed mothers with infants in their arms, the old and the ill. Further on we were joined by people from Popowic and Bykowa. It was 8 km from my village to Medyka. How these people made it I just don't know. No one had eaten breakfast, the infants had not been fed, the sick half sat on, half hung from the sides of the sleighs. The cold and wind did not allow anyone to sit, only movement through through the soft snow gave warmth. The elderly and the mothers with children hung on to the sleighs with their hands but even this was not simple as no one had mittens. How long could one hold on to frozen wood with their bare hands? The teenagers helped the elderly and the mothers with children falling in the drifting snow.
During the entire trip, we were accompanied by the "mannequins," the soldiers with their bayonets at the ready. We made it to the train station in Medyka where a series of numbered freight cars were waiting for us. A few of them were already loaded with people. I could see a few faces peeking from tiny openings and recognized them as Poles from the town of Chalubki Medyckie which was closer to the station.
Everything here happened in quiet order with the NKWD officer reading out the names and a soldier leading each family to its assigned car. Guarding the doors was another "mannequin" armed with a rifle and opening and closing the doors. My family was loaded into a two-axle wagon with more families shared our fate until there were 35 of us inside. Others were loaded into the four-axle wagons which held 70 people. The entire procedure took only a few minutes with the wagons locked or screwed shut such that those on the inside could not open the doors.
Inside the wagons there was a stove in the centre with a bucket of coal and on either side of the car, a double row of planks for sleeping on. The second set of doors were closed in such a way that they could not be further opened yet they were not completely shut either. Instead, the gap was filled by a six to eight inch wide board in which a hole had been cut and a funnel (the type one would use to fill bottles) inserted. This funnel had a neck of about 2 inches in diameter and was to serve as our toilet. The eldest in our wagon was my father at 74 years of age, the youngest was a 6 week old baby. In between, all ages and both sexes. An 18 year-old girl had to use the toilet in front of 20 year-old men. The Soviets had turned us into livestock.
While we were being kicked out of our homes, people took whatever was in front of them or whatever they could get their hands on. Someone brought a loaf of bread, others bricks of butter or a hunk of meat but others brought nothing save for their children and themselves. On that first day we all shared what we had. That night we were given 400 grams of bread per person with even the infants getting a full portion. This is what we survived on until the 11th of February when we were thrown another 400 grams of bread and a bucket of water.
The train left Medyka at dusk. We all knew that the only direction possible was east. At the small town of Sadowa Wisnia, closer to Lwow, the train stopped for a very short time as a few more wagons were added. On the morning of the 13th of February we stopped at Tarnopol where even more wagons were added. There was still daylight when I made out the sign that read Podwoloczyska. Goodbye Poland, goodbye to our beloved homeland. All of the adults burst into tears and once the mothers began to cry, so did the children, not even understanding why everyone was crying. Not many of these children returned to understand this sentiment.
On the morning of the 14th we reached Charkow. A few wagons at a time were opened and we were ordered to take the bucket as we were going for food. Two people per wagon were allowed to go and we were lucky as we had two buckets in our wagon. We returned with one bucket full of soup, although it was difficult to determine exactly what kind of soup it was, and the second bucket full of Kasha although none of these contained any fat, but they were warm. We also received another ration of 400 grams of bread.
Our transport train of 80 cars continued in an easterly direction. It made a stop at the small station of Komarczaga on the 27th, 250 km east of the River Jenisa in central Siberia. It is unbelievable to think of what awaited us there. I will only say that our fate was no different than that of any of the other residents of this huge country. Only death liberated one from the fear of what tomorrow would bring and brought freedom.
The outbreak of war between the Germans and Soviets brought hope to the Russian people that the tyranny would come to an end while for Poles the hope that we would be freed of the shackles of the N.K.W.D (Narodnyj Komisarjat Wnutrijnych Diel). Even the Russian people could not understand that this government within a government needed to know not only what people were saying but also what they were thinking.
Our hopes were realized towards the end of August in 1941. We were free. We were informed that a Polish army was going to be organized on Russian soil and that we could join as volunteers. From the sparse news printed in Soviet newspapers we learned that the foreign embassies had been moved to Kujbiszew and so we determined that the Polish embassy must be there too. We three brothers decided that our 65 year old mother and 20 year old sister would stay behind until they heard from us. We left to find the Polish army and mother supported our decision. By then, our 75 year old father had already been "free" for one year and he remains there to this day.
On the 13th of October, 1941, we left Ungut Maly, our "guest quarters," which had been offered us by the thoughtful N.K.W.D. Although we had not officially organized anything, news of our plans reached the ears of people not only within our own community of Ungut Maly but also as far as Ungut Wielki where there were even more Polish families than at Maly. A few people from Maly joined us and, as the road passed by Wielki, a few more eager people were waiting to join us on our trip. There were in the end, 21 of us.
After two days of walking we arrived at the nearest railway station, Komarczaga, where we were sold tickets to Krasnojarsk. The trans-Siberian train stopped only at the larger stations and one had to buy tickets for it at those stations. We did not understand that, what the Russian people called the "Wiesci Sowieckiej," the trans-Siberian trains were reserved only for the privileged few. Rabble like us were expected to travel on freight trains.
At Krasnojarsk, we waited in the ticket line for two days only to find out that there were no seats left. On top of that, there was no store where one could buy a piece of bread. On the third day, the station's N.K.W.D. representative took an interest in us, took me aside and informed me that one was allowed to spend only one day in Krasnojarsk while we had already spent three. I told him that if they would sell us the tickets we would leave immediately! "I do not sell tickets" he answered. I replied back, in perfect Russian: "If you want it, we can leave today." One hour later we had our tickets although it took the train five hours to arrive. When we boarded this fancier train, we realized that it was rolling empty while countless people were standing in lines at stations everywhere.
The first class cars also had a restaurant car. Second class passengers had to survive on their own food supply but our trip took seven days. We finally arrived in Kujbiszew and located the Polska Opieke Spoleczna (Polish welfare office) where we were able to obtain a hot meal and the longed-for bread. We then located the Polish Embassy which directed us to the 6th Lwow Division being formed in the town of Tockoje.
With the 6th Armoured Regiment, "Children of Lwow"
2nd Armoured Brigade, Polish 2nd Corps
This unit was born in the town of Tockoje, U.S.S.R., in October of 1941, by order of General Kasprzycki. A Lwowian, Major Slepecki, was designated our "father" and commander.
Major Slepecki reserved for himself the right to choose his men over and above the efforts of the recruiting committee. He wanted to interview personally each and every volunteer. The original plan was that every member of the unit was to be a Lwowian. When it became obvious that there were not enough recruits from Lwow to form even a company, the plan was expanded to include all of the men who came from the province of Lwow.
The battalion that was formed was designated for special duties, as an independent unit "batiarow lwowskich" ("Rogues of Lwow"). The actual name of the unit was the 6th Battalion Reconnaissance and Diversion "Children of Lwow," 6th Lwow Division (6-ty Batalion Rozpoznawczo Dywersyjny "Dzieci Lwowskich," 6-ta Dywizja Lwowska).
In the last days of November a group of 20 volunteers arrived from the Krasnojarksi Kraj (Krasnojarsk Autonomous Region in the U.S.S.R.). Some of them were from the province of Tarnopol. They were only 17 or 18 year-old boys. Major Slepecki, realizing that he could not flesh out a battalion with men just from the province of Lwow, accepted them all. It no longer mattered where one was born. As of today, they all became rogues from Lwow. At that point, one of them unravelled a a bundle, which contained all of his belongings, and pulled out a real German automatic pistol complete with a magazine of ammunition. This pistol was carried to Siberia by this young boy all the way from the town of Medyk, near Przemysl. Handing it over he said "Take this to the Polish Army, I can't go because I am ill." He didn't look ill but a few months later he died of tuberculosis. Because of that, from the moment he accepted these young men into the unit, the commander of the battalion "Dzieci Lwowskich," wore on his hip, a real fire-arm.
Other than that one pistol, the battalion, indeed the entire 6th Division, was not provided with any weapons during its stay in the USSR. A few rifles and machine guns were loaned to us from the 5th Division, just so we could know what Russian weapons looked like.
After our departure from the Soviet Union and following our arrival in Iraq, the entire 2nd Polish Corps underwent a complete reorganization. It was decided that a brigade of tanks was required. There had been a 4th Armoured Regiment in Poland before the war and so it had been reborn in the USSR early on. However, as there had been no chance of obtaining materiel for an armoured unit in that country, the regiment departed the USSR in the spring of 1942 and was now based in Palestine. With our arrival in Iraq, the 4th Regiment rejoined us from Palestine. The only question now was where would another 2 regiments come from?
It was decided that the 1st Ulan Krechowieckich Regiment would be converted into a tank regiment. There was no other independent unit to draw from within the Corps. The “Children of Lwow” was only a battalion, but then again, with a bit of fleshing out it could be brought up to regiment strength. It was important that the age of the battalion members did not exceed 20 years. If you count those who added a year or two to their age back in Russia, the cut off age may have even been 19.
That's how it was in November of 1942. The 6th Reconnaissance Battalion received a new name: the 6th Armoured "Dzieci Lwowskich" Regiment of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. For sure they were children for the joy expressed by the group was truly that of children. The irony was that instead of Slepecki we got Swietlicki as a commander.
We were sent on courses for officer and non-com officer instructors. They were held at the Royal school of the British Army in Cairo. Until the spring of 1943, the regiment had sufficient numbers of instructors from various disciplines to school the tank crews, tank commanders, radio operators and drivers. We recieved our first vehicles and 3 tanks per squadron. We then moved to near Kirkuk where we received a full complement of tanks of the English Valentine type. These tanks were already outdated even though they had just come off the assembly line. The engine was under-powered for the tonnage of the tank and the length of the caterpillar track and it was not very maneuverable.
The armament consisted of either a two or six pound cannon and one machine gun. The Germans already had tanks of the Pantera class carrying 88 mm guns. In comparison, one could say that we were to go into battle with an air gun against a Mauser. The entire brigade received this type of armament.
In October of 1943 we loaded the Valentines onto trains, provided for us at Kirkuk, to ship them off to Basra. We thought that we would then be loading them onto ships since only the commanders and drivers were travelling with them. The entire brigade, together with the entire 2nd Corps, was moved to Palestine. In Basra we found out that the Valentines were staying put until the base command made sure that all of the soldiers had their driver's licences. We had to arrange for as great a number of various vehicles as possible and we were held up in Basra until a sufficiently large convoy was organized with the required allotments of food and fuel, so that we could get to Palestine.
We arrived in Palestine before Christmas. Upon reporting to our units, we saw that the regiment had aquired a full complement of American Sherman tanks each of which was equipped with a 75 mm cannon and three machine guns. It required a crew of five, held one hundred cannon shells and an undetermined number of rounds for the machine guns. It was powered by two diesel engines with synchronized gear boxes and a satellite differential which shifted during turns. The speed on roads was 30 mph. There were two radios; set A had a range of up to 10 miles while set B had a range of one mile for communication within the platoon.
In the New Year we arrived in Egypt. We knew that the 2nd Corps was occupying positions on the front line in Italy. The question was, would we be joining them? Finally, after our stays in Asiatic Siberia and the Middle East we would be back in Europe! So close to Poland.
Easter was spent at the feet of the Sphinx. We then were finally loaded onto a train bound for Alexandria, although not the entire crew just yet, for now the commander and driver. The balance of the crew was loaded onto the Batory at the port of Ismail. The tanks were loaded onto ships in Alexandria. The Polish 2nd Brigade and the British brigade's tanks were all mixed up on the various ships. This was an intentional safeguard so that in the event of our "taking a bath" those "bathing" would include only a few of each regiment or squadron. The Mediterranean Sea behaved well towards us for the most part although past Sicily we were forced to spend another night in the hold as the sea washed everything off of the deck that wasn't held down by steel cables.
Finally we touched down on European soil, then waited for the equipment to be unloaded. We were off to Neopol (Naples). The spring season was in full swing and after 2 years in the desert, we delighted in a beautiful and verdant Europe. We had to quickly begin to "parlare italiane," and "amore poco poco." In the Soviet Union, every soldier thought only of how hearty the soup would be at lunch that day and one could not find a woman anywhere but here, "mama mia," so many "signorinas belle e bellissimas" and "amore piaciere."
Our idyll did not last long however as our trucks brought many boxes of real ammunition! For the cannon and machine guns, one thousand boxes and help yourself to whatever amount you desire for your tank. Take as much as you can jam inside. We sat and stood on our ammunition.
On the 17th of May, "arrividerci, signorinas," the crews got into their tanks and hit the road northward bound. We knew that units of the Polish army, though bloodied, were holding their positions at Monte Cassino. “Children of Lwow” were to attack the second line of defences at the town of Piedimonte, which lay on the flank of St. Lucia.
We began our attack in the afternoon but our christening in battle and lack of experience led to losses. By nightfall we had lost 2 squadron commanders and 21 dead and there were wounded and burning tanks still on the battlefield.
After dark we attempted to reorganize but at dawn the Germans laid down mortar fire on our positions and there were more wounded. The worst of it was that our "father" Swietlicki lost his foot and the Regiment its commander. The Brigade commander, "grandpa" as we called General Rakowski, had to make a lightning fast decision: to pull the Regiment out of action or name a new commander. He chose Major Motyka to take over the regiment's command.
Major Motyka was a non-commissioned officer who gained an officer's commission but had never attended any advanced military training school. He had been a captain in the "Dzieci Lwowskich" from the day of its genesis. Known as Felek, it took him a day on the battlefield to appoint new squadron commanders and their seconds, then he led the Regiment in a further attack.
This time the objectives were achieved and only then did we find the time to replenish the unit with more men and materiel. We then received orders to move to the Adriatic sector.
The Regiment was truly manned by children. During the replenishment of our manpower, we accepted a number of 16 and 17 year-old boys from the cadet school into our ranks. The squadron commanders are officers who at Piedimonte were 2nd lieutenants.
For the next battle, the “Children of Lwow” moved out of their camp at Loreto. The goal was to take Castelfidardo. This time there were no mistakes. The Regiment advanced quickly and with great fire from the starting line, destroying the German artillery. The very next day the Regiment occupied Castelfidardo.
The 1st Regiment Krechowieckich Lancers did not take part in the battles at Cassino. Now they were attacking to take the town of Ossimo where German units countered with tough resistance. “Children of Lwow” performed a flanking manoeuvre to the right of Ossimo in a bid to have the Germans give up their positions. We sustained losses in both men and materiel. All of the damage had been done by German artillery as we did not encounter their tanks or anti-tank guns.
Once again, a quick replenishment and the Regiment was moved at night to the right flank of the Polish Corps as we entered into the battle for Ancona. The “Children of Lwow” Regiment and a regiment of British Hussars quickly encircled the German positions such that in two hours we had achieved our objective without any losses, but destroying five German tanks before they even had a chance to get into the fight.
As I was in one of the lead tanks, I can give an example of the reports and orders that could be heard on the radios:
Lead Tank: "Celina, Dorota, Barbara, German tanks on the horizon!"
Felek: "Boys, for Piedimonte!"
Felek: "One is on fire! A second one is on fire! Third one is on fire! Fourth: enemy retreating...!"
One of the German tanks hid behind a screen, but we got him soon enough.
In one of the stranger moments, a German first aid medic drove right up to our positions to collect her wounded, almost right under my caterpillar tracks. We let them pick up the wounded, then they drove off casually as if there was no war going on around them.
Following our complete and efficient encirclement of Ancona, "grandpa" drove up to visit the Regiment at our forward positions. No one would have paid any attention to him had he not arrived in a Jeep with his general's ensign flying. He stopped at the house where Felek had set up quarters. There was no "Guard, at attention!" for there was no guard. Someone yelled out "Attention!" Our commander heard this and came out of the building to report: "General Sir, Major Motyka repor..." but he was interrupted by General Rakowski who said: "Colonel Motyka." Felek did not get it and attempted to correct the General: "Major," but Rakowski repeated "Colonel Motyka!" Colonel Motyka later recounted: "I had been a major for less time than I had been a private but as a colonel they gave me soldiers to whom I did not have to give orders."
Our next battle was for Rimini followed by an advance in the area of Bibiena Arreco and the occupation of our winter positions by the River Segno. Here we stayed quite bored until April of 1945. To be sure, the Germans fired artillery and mortars at us, mostly at night, thereby disturbing our sleep. On the other hand, there was wine, wine, wine; full barrels in the cellars.
The local Italians had been evacuated from the entire front line. The front line soldiers didn't drink alcohol and the boys didn't know which wine in which barrel was the best. Someone sent some back to the artillery and supply units, which then sent up trucks to fill up with this wine as if it were our own. The sad thing was that there were no signorinas or senioras, e nienty amore...
Towards the end of April, 1945, our next attack was across the River Segno. In the lead was the British tank brigade whose sappers threw up "Bailey" bridges under cover of the tanks' flamethrowers. This allowed the 2nd Polish Armoured Brigade, the “Children of Lwow” included, to press on with the attack.
Heading at a pretty quick speed in the direction of Bologna, we crossed the River Quaderno where we were held up by German artillery firing into our positions. We suffered destroyed tanks, killed and wounded. It was hot and we were at a standstill. Some of the tank crews got out of their machines. Another shell landed and killed a sixteen year-old soldier. And then all quiet, as if the war had come to an end. When I heard on the radio that Bolcio had been killed, I cried for the first time. He had been in my platoon for a while. I treated him like a son. He was so well behaved and friendly and he had to be killed by the last shell of the war.
We approached Bologna without a shot being fired. Two days later, the German army in Italy surrendered.
The 6th Armoured Regiment “Children of Lwow” was awarded the Silver Cross "Virtuti Militari". Polonia in France funded the cost for a standard for the Regiment. After demobilization in England, the standard was donated to the Sikorski Museum in London. I had been a soldier of the "Children of Lwow" from its organization to its disbandment.