by his son, Adrian Nessel
The name NESSEL certainly does not conjure up an image of a traditional Polish family. In fact as a child, I was always told that in fact the name originated from Austria. Not so, it would seem. Research suggests that the name originates from Germany. However what’s in a name, anyone who knew Józef Nessel born 29 September 1911, the eldest son of Protestant, Jan Nessel and Roman Catholic, Maria Kubas in Janów, Karaczynow, Grodek Jagielonski, Lwów, could ever suggest that he was anything other than Polish and proud of it.
My grandfather Jan was a wheelwright who was killed in 1915. Where or how remains a mystery. All I can say is that the only photograph in existence is of him wearing what would appear to be a German uniform. The untimely death of my grandfather when my father was so young deprived him of the many pleasurable times I shared with my own father during my formative years. The death of Jan Nessel meant that my pregnant grandmother was required to bring up Józef, his sister Julia ,and later their youngest sister Sofia, on her own, with little or no assistance from others.
They were poor, simple people, who owned some sort of small farm prior to the death of my grandfather. Having returned to that property after his death, they discovered that an uncle who had been tasked with the maintenance of the farm in his brother’s absence had sold same to another family and disappeared. Unlike today, there was little recourse for the actions of my grandfather’s brother, and the family moved into the city of Lwów where they were to live and work for the remainder of my father’s formative years. I believe my grandmother had a small shop and my father kept pigeons, rabbits and chickens. However, no matter how hungry he was, my father could not bring himself to eat the birds and animals he had grown to love as pets.
How my father achieved at school is unknown. As a young man his mother had hoped that he would enter the priesthood, but this was not to be. Instead he learned the trade of upholstery until being called to National Service on 27 March 1934. He was posted to 89 Company, 40 Infantry Regiment, Lwów, where he attested on 15 May 1934. In September of that year, he commenced Non-Commissioned Officers’ School, which he completed in March 1935 as Corporal. In 1936 he was re-called from reserve for training purposes, and was posted to 43 Infantry Regiment, stationed at Dubno, County of Wołyń now Western Ukraine.
Between 1936 and 1939 things are unclear and it is fair to say that those of us still living do not really know what my father did. Research suggests that he was still resident in Lwów at the address ul. Konduktorska 55, which is very close to the large railway sidings in the Bogdanowka 2 area. I know this from examining maps of the time. I believe that my grandmother was also living nearby at ul. Mariacki, with my aunt Julia and her young family.
This part of his life was never really discussed with either my mother or me. As a youngster, it did not seem too important. In fact, all I really know is that he sustained a bullet wound to his upper thigh and talked about running away and not realizing he had been hit until he found sanctuary somewhere. There was reference to the Polish Government-in-exile, France, and that the target had been something Russian with a reference to the railway. We can all make things fit a perceived version of events that seems attractive and interesting to an audience, but my father never did. What he said I now repeat verbatim.
This incident, together with my recent research, now gives me a better understanding of why he disliked the Russian Authorities so much. Imagine my dismay having contacted the Ministry of Defense in London I discover not only that my father had been married in Poland to someone by the name Ewa Chudziak, but also that they had a son born in 1940 called Stanisław. Being an only child for some 40 years, I found this hard to take in. Not just me however; what about my elderly mother whom also knew nothing of this.
Records held confirm this is no mistake but are based on information provided by my father. Therefore, what happened to Ewa Chudziak and Stanisław?
My father’s military action was like many in Poland, brief but no doubt bloody. September 1939 came and went, his location and actions are unknown, but some time thereafter, he was taken from his home as a prisoner of the Soviet Authorities and transferred to an unknown location in Siberia. What happened to his family as a result of his apprehension? No one knows at this time. Did they also suffer the same fate of being taken to a similar but different forced labour camp? I am told that if they survived and are living today, that it is not in the Poland we know today.
Between 1939 and 24 September 1941, time passed slowly for my father and the many thousands like him. While locations are unknown I do know he traveled by train to his eventual destination, where they had to build the accommodation for their Soviet guards before commencing the construction of their own quarters, sleeping in the snow until their accommodation was completed.
Having been released as part of the Sikorski-Maisky agreement, like so many others, he enlisted in the Polish Army and is posted to 19 Infantry Regiment, traveling with other Polish Military Units via the Soviet-Iranian frontier. Later, he and his comrades were evacuated to Iran and came under the command of the British 8th Army, prior to being transferred to Palestine.
The re-organisation of the Polish Army in the Middle East meant further change for my father, who was posted to 23 Rifle Battalion, 7 Infantry Division, 2nd Polish Corps, 8th British Army with effect from 4 June 1942, and on 27 February 1943 he was transferred to the Polish Army Reserve Depot in Palestine.
Serving in the Middle East between 1942 and 1943 passed and was relatively uneventful, apart from one thing, which was to trouble him for many years to come – Malaria. Many years later and now living in Scotland, he still suffered the re-occurring symptoms this illness can cause. My father’s arrival in Scotland ultimately coming about as a result of a lengthy journey on the former cruise ship “Ile De France”, which traveled to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil where my father recalled looking at the famous statue of Christ on the hill above this wonderful city. Due to the activities of a patrolling German U-boat, the sanctuary of the harbour provided a welcome respite for all on board. Eventually, the ship continued on its journey, which saw it call at Durban, South Africa before arriving safely at the port of Liverpool, England on 21 June 1943.
My father’s fondest memories of his arrival in the UK, being the personnel on hand from the Salvation Army, who provided him and the other many tired and hungry souls with hot food and drink. He never ever forgot their generosity and for the remainder of his life continued to support the Salvation Army and their causes with what ever he could afford.
His purpose for initially coming to the UK was to enlist in the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, as he saw this as the most likely way of returning home to assist in freeing his country from the aggressions of others. On 30 June 1943, he was posted to the 2 Battalion, 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, 1st Polish Corps and launched himself into his training, in preparation for the return home completing training courses in Largo, Scotland at the famous “Monkey Grove” and Ringway, Manchester, eventually becoming a parachute instructor himself.
At this time the Brigade were stationed in the East Neuk of Fife, famous for its fishing activities and picturesque beauty, and only a short distance from the home of golf; St. Andrews. My father actually lived in the village of Elie, at the home of a very affluent family whose home was on the edge of the local golf course. The nearby Golf Hotel also provided accommodation for many other Spadochron alike. He spoke very little English but, like so many other Polish soldiers, he was smart, courteous and generous.
Scottish girls took to these men immediately, to the demise of many local males who had neither the appearance nor courting skills to better their Polish comrades. This brought about the inevitable fights, like only those seen during the rutting season when stags fight for supremacy within the herd. A popular local haunt for many locals and Poles alike were the frequent dances at the Village Hall in Upper Largo, Fife. A place of fond memories for both my mother and father, who met at one such dance.
The period 1 July 1943 to 30 June 1944, held many memories for both my parents, during which time their relationship developed. However, unbeknownst to many, including my mother, the existence of Ewa Chudziak and Stanisław was never discussed.
During this period my father was promoted to Sergeant. However, this did not guarantee his inclusion in the force being assembled at Ringway to enter into the field of battle at Arnhem. In fact, my father found himself transferred to the Reserve Depot, 1st Polish Corps on 30 June 1944. I recall him saying many times that this had probably saved his life, as so many of his comrades never returned to Scotland to prepare for their intended return home or to marry the many Scottish sweethearts they had fallen in love with prior to their departure.
From 20 June 1944 until 25 April 1946, he continued to train and prepare others for the return home while, no doubt, privately wondering what had become of his family in Poland. On 25 April 1946, he was again transferred; this time to 4 Warszawski Rifle Battalion, 4 Infantry Division, 1st Polish Corps, during which time he apparently discovered the fate of his wife and son. Due to a gradual demobilization of the Polish Forces under British command, he enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps and continued to serve at various locations in Scotland until finally being discharged on absorption into industry.
My mother and father had undoubtedly fallen in love by this time, albeit my father still chose not to reveal the truth about his past. However, after tracing the remainder of his family in Bytom, contact was made with the Parish of sw. Barbary in Bytom. Documentary evidence later received clearly confirms my father’s right to marry. In fact, my parents married on 27 December 1947 and began their new life together in Buckhaven, Fife. My mother worked for the local Coal Company, while my father obtained employment in his former trade of upholstery.
Employment for Poles in their adopted country was not always easy to find, let alone retain, and like many others my father soon found himself unemployed, with the return of the Scottish workforce from the many battlefields around the world. Spells in the building trade followed until employment was secured with the National Coal Board, where he was to remain for the remainder of his working life.
My mother and father both continued to work until my birth in 1961, when the role of breadwinner was left entirely to my father. Times were often hard and pay was poor, and the two National Mine Workers strikes meant even more hardship. My father often talked of returning home to see his mother but never did. I often wonder if it was purely financial hardship that was the cause, as he would often suggest, or was it something more sinister, his forgotten family or worse; the Communist Government. After learning about my grandmother’s death on 7 January 1972, I noticed a change in my father who was an extremely private individual. The talk of returning home was never discussed again. Józef Nessel died 18 August 1988 a broken man, this simple upholster had lost everything Polish.
In conclusion, my mother was 77 when she learned of Ewa Chudziak and Stanisław for the first time, and could not accept that this had never been discussed during her marriage to my father. To this day, I continue to convince her that the information contained in the records held by the Ministry of Defense Polish Section, London is in fact a mistake!