Jan Wladyslaw (John) URIASZ
2nd Polish Rifles Division & the French Resistance
A former Press and Journal photographer who survived the Nazi Blitzkrieg in his native Poland before working with the French resistance to undermine the German war effort has died aged 98 in Aberdeen.
Jan Wladyslaw Uriasz, known affectionately known as Johnnie the Pole to his friends and neighbours in Banchory, lived a hard but fascinating life.
Born on December 12, 1916, in Pilzno, Poland, he began looking after his bedridden mother and father at the age of four. His mother had been terribly injured after being hit and dragged by a horse and carriage, and his father was bed ridden from illness. His brothers and sisters were much older than he and had left home years before his birth.
Young Jan would get out of bed before 4am so he could take the cow out to pasture, feed the hens and complete whatever other household chores needed doing before making his way to school on time.
One day his homework was not at all up to scratch and his teacher asked him to stay behind. After drawing the brave young lad’s story of circumstances from him, the dedicated educator tutored him at home after school.
At 16 years old, John’s brother who had become a Captain in the army helped his sibling get into cadets and, after four years arduous training, Jan attained the rank of Private.
Private Uriasz was posted 20 miles from his family home, at Tarnoff, which enabled him to visit his invalided mother on the rare occasions when he had leave.
His first love was for music and, after passing his battalion accordion exams with distinction, his skill would save his life years later as he won over enemy soldiers with his gift.
When the Second World War started, now Sergeant Major Uriasz, was on the front line and lost many friends during Germany’s infamously efficient and brutal Blitzskrieg campaign across mainland Europe.
As part of the vastly depleted but heroic Polish army Jan faced countless life-threatening situations, including twice escaping firing squads.
John fought through Romania, Greece and France, before being cut off near Dunkirk.
His division, the 2nd Polish Rifles, were none too keen on being surrounded and broke through the German lines into ‘neutral’ Switzerland. A large number of the 15,000+ division was captured and interned for the rest of the war, but not ‘Johnnie the Pole’.
His interpersonal and linguistic skills (the war having made him fluent in German and French) saw him recruited for clandestine actions as a despatches carrier.
John travelled behind, through and around enemy lines, delivering vital intelligence to Polish General Anders and US General Clark in Italy.
Next, he became a vital assistant to the French resistance, conspiring with the underground in subversive action against the occupying fascists.
Jan caused chaos to retreating German forces following the liberation of Paris and when the war ended he was honoured with the highest of French Medals: the ‘Croix de Guerre’.
Leaving war behind, his battalion was sent to Scotland where Jan was appointed Welfare officer, and headquartered in Durris House.
He repeatedly turned down being commissioned to officer ranking so he could remain among his men and look out for them. During this time, he met the love of his life Jean Christie, and they married on November 25, 1947, going on to spend more than 50 happy years together before she died in 2000.
After being demobbed, Jan spent some time in London as a butler but returned to Scotland for the birth of his first son, Edward in 1949, and the happy family settled in Banchory shortly after.
In 1951 he began what would become a 30 year career as a photographer.
During this time he photographed the Royal family on many occasions and became a favourite of the Queen Mother, whom he met on several occasions.
Owing to his uncanny ability to make a great picture regardless of rain, wind or snow, he won the favour, and business of many a wedding party.
His next son, Richard, must have been keen to meet his family and was born on the steps of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, six weeks premature.
Richard told the Piper: “In the village (Banchory) he was affectionately known as ‘Johnnie the Pole’ and spent many evenings with friends
enjoying each others company to the wee hours.
“He always wanted to learn and help those who were not as fortunate as himself.
“He was good with his hands and loved to repair broken kettles, fridges, cookers and the like.
“More than anything else, he was a family man and husband and loved his wife and children as only a true Christian can do.
“He will be sadly missed by his family, especially his grandchildren Nicole and Ashleigh who always kept in contact with him, despite living 4,000 miles away.
“We would also like to thank the close friends that frequently visited, checked in and kept John’s spirits high, especially Tommy, Jim, Sandra and Lubisa. May God Bless him.”
Jan Wladyslaw Uriasz: December 12, 1916 - May 8, 2015