Extract from a personal memoir titled ‘Together We Survived’ written by Józef Leduchowicz and his sister Frania (Leduchowicz) Migdał in 2011
My family in Africa
The story circulated that Kidugala had been a German missionary settlement until the locals murdered the nuns and left the place to rack and ruin. A beautiful brick church and the adjoining buildings lent credibility to the mission story and filled my family’s hearts with awe. Gradually more and more people arrived to settle in Kidugala. The natives were hired to build houses. People set up a hospital, schools, library and other services. There was no question of financial reward at that stage, people worked for mutual benefit and in response to basic human needs.
At the time of arrival at Kidugala our parents were already past normal retirement age, but both of them occupied themselves with relatively hard work. Father volunteered for building work. In fact, due to his building skills he was made charge hand, and looked after large groups of local people who were employed to build western style houses out of brick. Father had to spend a lot of time training the men to do the work, communicating in the local Swahili language, which he somehow managed to learn from them.
As for my mother, in addition to her normal work as a housewife, doing domestic jobs, she used her clothes-making skills to produce various garments from wool. My sisters said that they were always well provided for with jumpers, cardigans and hats, as were many of the other residents.
For children, life in Kidugala was simply sheer bliss. School hours were short, because it was too hot to work in the afternoon and there was the lure of the jungle with mysterious insects and animals to explore. When it was unbearably hot, the children spent time in their tree house, which was made very comfortable with tree bark, branches and leaves. They did almost all of their homework there, wrote poetry and children’s plays. When the scorching sun lost some of its strength they usually left their tree house to explore the bush, or the bank of the overgrown river. There were snakes, lizards, chameleons, crabs and a variety of insects. Every child’s ambition was to have the largest and the most colourful display of butterflies pinned to a board, incidentally killed by immersing them in paraffin! They were totally oblivious to any cruelty or wrongdoing to these creatures. The question of animals’ well-being simply did not arise.
The evenings in Africa were warm and spectacular. The sky was full of bright stars. These were the best evenings to play ‘hide and seek’ and ‘policemen and robbers’. Children roamed the neighbourhood hiding in the shadows of houses and trees, using calls to announce their whereabouts. From their point of view, life was one long adventure. They were impatient with our parents for calling them indoors for meals, or even more so for long vigils and prayers for soldiers in action. At that time the war and its cruelties had little meaning to the children, but Frania clearly recollects our mother’s anxiety when receiving the post. An envelope with a black corner had the sinister message ‘fell in action’.
As time went on, more and more natives came to the settlement to sell fruit, vegetables and ornamental articles. The children’s curiosity took them further and further into the bush to observe their way of life. Theirs was a very primitive existence; they lived in round bamboo and mud huts with straw roofs radiating from a central pole. Women and children often sat or crouched in front of the huts, or were pounding the corn, cooking on an open fire singing repetitive songs. Men seemed to sit around a lot, smoking or playing self-made primitive string instruments. But it was late at night that their regular drum beats and loud singing echoed mysteriously in the neighbourhood. As we learned later it was their way of frightening off lions who presented a real threat to them and to their livestock. Once, using their spears and picks, they managed to kill a lion. They tied its legs to a long pole, fixed the pole on to a lorry and brought it to the settlement dancing and singing alongside the slowly moving lorry. Now and again they made thrusting movements with their spears, as if to show how the kill was accomplished. It was a strange sight indeed to see the enormous ‘king of the beasts’ with open eyes and big teeth protruding from its jaws, dangling limply, surrounded by the jubilant crowd of jostling men.
The climax of Frania’s African experience was the safari. Mother could hardly afford the fifteen shillings it cost, but she decided that both daughters should take advantage of the opportunity. Frania and Marysia set out very early in the morning in an open top lorry, wearing helmets to protect them from the sun and full length trousers to protect them from the troublesome insects. They travelled through areas of dry, cracked soil, deprived of any vegetation apart from the thorny bushes looking as brown and dead as the rest of the landscape. After some seven hours of journey, the scenery changed completely. Long golden grass covered the land with abundant green bushes and tall trees, spreading their canopies like huge, green umbrellas. As their lorry laboriously made its way deeper into this countryside, more and more animals became visible. Sometimes whole herds stampeded by, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. There were deer, antelopes, wildebeest, zebras and graceful giraffes standing under lofty trees, with their heads turned towards them, but holding their ground and showing no intention of making a single step, until without any warning, the hunter shot at the galloping herd of zebras and set all creatures on the run for their life, with screeching birds flying in several directions. All peace was shattered and drama begun. One zebra was hit in the leg by a hunter’s spear. At first it tried to keep up with the herd, but soon it started to slow down and seeing that it had no chance to keep up, started to limp towards their lorry, and some twenty metres away, fell heavily on the ground with its legs waving helplessly in the air. The natives were sent to cut its throat, the hunter’s face shone with triumphant satisfaction.
For Frania it was the end of a temporary carefree childhood and the beginning of reflection on human actions and the meaning of all life on earth. Her display of butterflies lost its appeal as she started to ponder on their life prior to finding themselves stretched and pinned to the board.
Soon the memorable year of 1945 arrived. The end of the war was announced on the loudspeakers. People crowded the streets dancing and singing for joy. Groups of young people gathered at the main town square, singing patriotic songs, dancing and cheering. The church bells rang to summon people to a thanksgiving service, although for us Poles the end of the war did not signify freedom and a return home.
My mother cried for joy because Bronek, who had been in action, had survived. In the letter that came from Bronek, we found out that his unit was leaving Italy for England. Leon and I were already in England studying at the RAF Halton Apprentice School.
My parents, Marysia and Frania were to remain in Kidugala for another two and half years, during which time Marysia qualified as a nurse. At first, she found some hospital work intolerable and passed out during the first operation. However, after a time, when she worked in Loliondo, Dr.Mogilnicki asked for her specifically to assist him during difficult operations. It was well known that Marysia was very well liked by her patients. Loliondo was principally a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis.
Frania and her close friend Zośia Krynicka started attending second form of the Grammar School in Kidugala. They still used the tree house to study, but gradually the place lost its appeal and was abandoned as a relic of their childhood days. Most of the study was now done at home, by the table, in a more grown up fashion. The childish games of ‘hide and seek’ and ‘policemen and robbers’ also lost their appeal and gave way to discos, social games and cinema.
At school Frania achieved above average marks in most subjects and proceeded to do very well in Ancient History, Latin and Mathematics. She lost a lot of schooling through illness, particularly due to regular attacks of malaria and enlarged tonsils. During malaria one usually had a very high temperature and shook spasmodically with cold, no matter how warmly one was covered. The medicine for malaria was quinine, the bitterest pill imaginable. She tried to take it covered with bread, even paper, to avoid its dreadful taste. Then after several days, the whole body including the whites of eyes, turned yellow for several weeks. The remedy for enlarged tonsils was to be bandaged like an Egyptian mummy, head and neck, and to wear this dressing for days. Considering how hot it was, the discomfort of this dressing was considerable. Fortunately, after every illness the abundance of fresh fruit, such as oranges, bananas, pineapples, and mangoes helped to regain vitality and strength.
In the summer of 1947 repatriation of the families started. Some people who had no family anywhere in the world except Poland, opted to settle in Australia or America, or to return home to Poland in spite of the communist system there. Zośia’s mother, after years of separation from her husband, who had spent the war years in Poland, decided to join him there. This was sad news for Zośia and Frania as it meant that they would be separated, probably forever. Frania helped her pack and promised to take care of her cat after her departure. Unfortunately, the cat was so distressed about Zośia’s departure that it refused any food and started to fend for itself in the bush.
For our family with three members already in the UK, the choice seemed obvious. They were soon on the list to travel to the UK, provided they passed their medical examination. People who had serious illnesses such as tuberculosis were not allowed to enter the UK.
There was a lot of excitement when packing started. Mother bought Frania her first watch for one hundred and twenty shillings, her most valued possession for a long time. The first part of their journey took them to Tengeru, the last settlement before departure to England. Tengeru was beautifully situated, surrounded by thick jungle with the snow covered Mount Kilimanjaro, towering majestically above the clouds. They lived in Tengeru for six months and in the first few weeks, they occupied a round ‘bee hive’ type house with a roof of palm leaves, through which the sky could be seen. To their amazement, the roof did not leak, even in the most torrential rain, but when a troop of monkeys decided to dance on it during one night, then African workers had to be called in to mend it.
It was extremely hot during mid-day hours. The air close to the ground seemed to wave and glisten in the sun. It was time to rest and sprinkle oneself with water in order to keep cool. However, when it rained during the day, the whole of nature became refreshed and rejuvenated. But ten minutes of sunshine would remove most of the moisture. The jungle always had the air of cooling freshness. Its crystal clear rain droplets trapped in chalice shaped flowers and leaves, never dried, but made the air humid, a paradise for insect life.
My family’s time in Africa was coming to an end. It was time for them to pack their bags again. On the 9th of July, 1948 they boarded a train to Mombasa.
Together We Survived is a personal account of a Polish family’s forced deportation from Eastern Poland in 1940 to a Siberian labour camp in Diabrino. There, they were to experience some of the harshest conditions that led to the deaths of many thousands of their countrymen.
The family was fortunate to survive its ordeal, and due to an amnesty was released from the labour camp. Alongside other Polish families their escape route took them through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Persia, the Middle East and Africa. Eventually the whole family settled in England after the Second World War.
This remarkable account is a tribute to the fortitude of people in the most adverse circumstances imaginable and to the frequent good nature of total strangers.
Together We Survived ( ISBN 978-0-9567849-0-2) is not currently available to purchase.
Summary of the family member's experiences:
Parents: Hipolit and Maria Leduchowicz spent the war years in Kidugala, Africa, before joining the family in the UK.
Son Bronek - served with the Polish Second Corps in the Middle East and Italy, then joined his brother Leon in the UK.
Son Jozef - had joined the cadets in the Middle East, at the same time as Leon, but was later released due to illness and was sent to Kidugala wit his parents. Later, he joined Leon at RAF Halton in the UK.
Son Leon - joined the Army Cadets in the Middle East and was later sent at RAF Halton in the UK.
Daughter Marysia - sent to Kidugala, Africa, where she ended up becoming a nurse.
Daughter Frania - spent the war years with her parents in Africa.
Bronek in Egypt around 1943
Leon and Józef at RAF Halton
RAF Halton Mess Room
Leon, Bronek and Józef in 1948
Top left to right: Frania, Bronek, mother Maria, father Hipolit, and Marysia. Kneeling: Leon and Józef.