Franciszek (Frank) NEDZA
by his son Mark Nedza
My father is Polish-born, and was brought up in Rzeszow in the south-east of Poland. In 1939 he was already in the Polish Army and he always tells this story:
“It was our first pass out from camp to Warsaw in March 1939. With two friends Boniek and Banasiuk, I went for a coffee. While we were there, a young gypsy girl came to us to tell our fortune for nothing. As it was not going to cost us anything, we went ahead.
First to Boniek: plenty of romance and so on, but you will be at home very soon.
Second to Banasiuk: more romance, etc,, but soon you will be on the move for a long journey and you will never go back home. (He was killed in action at Tobruk).
Finally, Franciszek: you will be on the move for a long journey as well, but after a long time you will be at home again."
Escape From Poland
Franciszek was a radio officer in the army, based in Warsaw. When war broke out, he was sent with his friends and some equipment to join up with various Polish units. However, due to the speed of the German advance, he soon found himself on the clogged roads, leaving Warsaw for the south.
His diary entry of 5 September 1939: I have been sent to collect - car with full equipment and join the front line, but instead we have to go back through Siedlce - Biala Podlaska - Helm-Tomaszow Lub. to Hungary.
Because he had a radio in his car, he was able to monitor the position of the German and then the Russian army. He writes '...so we managed to reach the Hungarian border by four o’clock in the morning on 18th or 19th September 1939 with some luck, as by 6:00 the road was closed by the Russian army.'
Like many others, Franciszek was interned in Hungary (at Sajoszentkiraly near Putnik) but eventually managed to escape via Budapest to Zagreb, then across Northern Italy into France, arriving in Modane on the 1st of May 1940.
After a few days he and his comrades were sent by train to a Polish camp in Coetguidan near Rennes. Here he was given a French First World War uniform and rifle, and a makeshift Polish unit was then sent forward to defend Paris. Before they could get there, the Germans had overrun the low countries and were advancing so rapidly on Paris that he found himself once again fleeing from the advancing Germans.
Franciszek eventually reached Bordeaux on approximately 11 June 1940 and, according to his diary, sailed on the 'Royal Scotsman' to Liverpool, arriving on the 26th of June 1940. On arrival they were quickly loaded onto a train and sent to Glasgow. My father remembers spending the first couple of weeks in the UK, living in what he remembers as Celtic’s football ground.
The1st Polish Armoured Division
For the next three years or so he was part of the1st Polish Armoured Division based in Scotland. It was originally meant to defend the UK from invasion via Norway. He spent many happy days around Dalkeith and Edinburgh, with various visits to other training camps around the UK.
In August 1944, he landed in Normandy with the1st Polish Armoured Division, and was with them at Caen, Falaise and the eventual sweep up the coast of France, via Abbeville, into Belgium, liberating Ypres, and into Holland, where the division liberated Breda.
At Breda, the Division was taken out of the line for R&R, and many friendships were made with the Dutch population. The division was subsequently honoured with the freedom of the city and many Polish soldiers married Dutch girls and settled in the area after the war (including my father's driver).
In the spring of 1945, the division went into action again and ended the war at Wilhemshaven, Germany.
Franciszek spent the next two years in Germany and then faced the difficult decision of where to go. Following receipt of a letter from his father (whom he never saw again) he decided to settle in the UK.
After being demobbed, he worked in a radio factory in Rugby, and then moved to South Wales to work in a new radio factory. Here he settled down, married and had six children and now has ten grandchildren.
Source: Mark Nedza at BBC website: bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar