NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL

(Part 3)

by Julian Rybarczyk

____________________________________________________

Time passed and Christmas came and went. There were rumours reaching us now about the formation of a Polish Army. A woman from our village, Wala Syrokwasz, along with one or two Polish men from elsewhere, bravely or foolhardily went off by train to try and join-up. After some time they returned, starving, lousy and disillusioned. They had found the place where there was the beginnings of preparations for organising the recruitment for an army but it had been chaotic. They realised they had gone too early and as there was no food or shelter for them had decided to return and try again later.

 

Then one day the postwoman knocked on our door. She had a letter for us. We recognised the writing at once. It was from father! It is too difficult to describe our emotions. We were crying with happiness as this was the first communication we had had from him since he had been taken from Poland. The information he gave us was as astounding as receiving the letter. He had written and sent the letter from Buzułuk which was far, far away from us, west of the Ural Mountains. He wrote that he had already joined the Polish Army which was soon going to move south east to Jangijul close to the Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan border (near Tashkent). Father explained that he had got leave and permission to come to Szczerbakty to collect us so we could all travel to Jangijul together and join the Army. More was to come as he went on to say he had train tickets not only for the five of us but also for our friend Mrs. Ołszewska, her son Josef and daughter Halina. He would be arriving by train within the next ten days and we were to prepare ourselves for moving away. The whole thing seemed unbelievable from suddenly receiving the letter to the sensational plans within. We were up in the clouds and it took a while for us to come down to earth again.

 

So every day I trudged the six or seven miles into Szczerbakty to meet any trains that might be due. There were hardly any and not reliable. For nine days I made this daily journey but was always disappointed as father never arrived. On the tenth day, for some reason, I didn't go and of course that was when he came. Somehow he managed to get a message to our farm that he had arrived. The manageress of the farm, Bohdanowa, kindly lent me the best sledge and a horse so that I could quickly go and meet him and bring him back. Funnily enough my meeting with father is not crystal clear in my memory. I do recall that I had to go to some house in Szczerbakty where father must have been invited by some Polish people. He was sitting at a table when I entered and of course rose to embrace me. He had aged and was thin and gaunt but he was looking rather smart in a British khaki battle dress, great coat, army boots and cap. We quickly departed and headed for our village.

 

There had been quite a fall of snow which always got blown about a lot. The road and open flat countryside might not have too thick a covering but of course the windswept snow would always pile up round the walls of the houses, often nearly covering them. As we reached the village I pointed out our house to father but he was puzzled as all he could see was the smoking chimney sticking up out of the snow. On leaving the sledge we walked up to the house. Father was even more surprised at finding steps, hewn out of the packed snow, and leading downwards to the door of our porch.

 

The reunion between father and the five of us was all you might imagine. It was one of the happiest and most emotional days of our lives. After the first excitement of father's return had died down a little he began to tell us what had happened to him after he had been removed from our home that Christmas Eve in 1939. He had been locked up in our town and accused, along with his friend and fellow stationmaster Mr. Olszewski, of the trumped up charge of spying. The evidence for this was that they had both worked at the same railway station, which was near the Polish – Russian border, for twenty years. Both father and Mr. Olszewski were beaten and kicked in a futile attempt to obtain a confession from them. Father was put "on trial", found guilty and given eight years in a labour camp. When he heard this sentence father laughed out loud. When asked why he laughed he answered, "Because I will not live that long."  Father told us that Mr. Olszewski was dead, having died due to the beatings and appalling treatment he had received shortly after his arrest. For example, father told us how forty of them had been locked in a room without enough ventilation. They had had to move round the room slowly so that everyone could pass the single window to get some air. Later father had been sent to a labour camp in the north of Russia in the vicinity of Archangel. He was kept in primitive conditions and worked in a quarry.

 

After the amnesty father, along with others, were free to make their way south to Buzułuk where he understood the Polish Army was forming. First they travelled by boat along a river and then by train. Arriving at Buzułuk station father's luck was to change dramatically for on stepping off the train who should he meet but Mr. Sanok. Now Mr. Sanok plays a crucial part in this story and if it hadn't been for him things would have probably turned out very differently for us. Firstly, Mr. Sanok had been a town councillor in Mołodeczno and knew father well. He was already in the Polish Army and was on duty at the station to meet and assist Polish prisoners who were arriving to join up. It must have been wonderful for father to meet someone he knew and no doubt Mr. Sanok helped father in his recruitment into the army. Father, being a railway man and not only speaking Russian but able to read and write it as well, was put into the Railway Company of the army. But most importantly of all was the fact that Mr. Sanok knew where we were. All this time from Christmas 1939, father didn't know what had happened to us. We had learned that father was serving an eight year sentence in a labour camp but we had no idea where. Mr Sanok had met me when I went to the forest for wood and he was living in the village there. We had chatted and I had told him I was living with my family in the village of Kus-Kuduk. Of course Mr. Sanok remembered this and was able to tell father all he could about us and our address and thus gave us the miraculous chance to be reunited. And so it was that as soon as he could, father sent that letter off to us and now we were together again.

 

Now father was thinking that he would have to break the news to Mrs. Olszewska that her husband had died. She was still living in the other room of our two roomed house. However, before he could say anything, she said she didn't want to know if her husband was dead and would prefer to go on living in the hope that her husband would turn up, just like father. And so father said nothing.

 

Mrs. Olszewska also stated she didn't want to leave the village and join the army. Who could blame her as there was going to be a long journey into the unknown ahead for us. There was the shortage of food to consider and rumours of typhus. What could she do in the army anyway she wanted to know? Father tried to persuade her to join us but she refused. With this decision she was making a mistake but of course we couldn't know this at the time. She said her son, Josef, could come with us but she would keep her daughter, Halina, who was only about sixteen, with her. Two young lads, one my age and the other younger were only too glad to take up the offer of the two spare tickets from father. Now we had to plan our exodus and father said that first he and I must collect some food for the journey. He had a chit from the army which entitled him to pick up supplies for all of us from a depot in Pawûodar, on the river Irtish. We had to take the train there, a distance of roughly fifty miles I think. Father, of course, was wearing his uniform which drew some attention everywhere. People had never seen anything like it. It was much superior in quality to the Russian soldier's uniform and father was regarded with respect which he duly acknowledged. On reaching Pawłodar we were directed to a certain building. We walked into an outer office where some people, perhaps minor officials, were sitting. On seeing father in his uniform, they all sprang to attention much to our amusement. It turned out not to be the right office and we were sent off to another building in a nearby street. The same thing happened again, with people standing up for father when we entered. Once more we were redirected to yet another building where we were at last taken into a huge underground refrigerated store. It was filled with rows and rows of frozen carcasses of sheep, cows, pigs etc. hanging from the ceiling. Also there were lots of smoked sausages.

 

Father produced his army documents and we left with a sack or two of smoked sausages and loaves of bread. Extremely happy with this bounty we returned to Kus-Kuduk.

 

Jangijul

 

In a day or two we were all set to leave and two or three sledges, with drivers, were provided from the farm. They took us to Szczerbakty to catch our train. And what a train it was! Nothing like the cattle wagons we had arrived in from Poland. This train had soft padded seats with plenty of room for everyone and no overcrowding. On the journey the train would stop at different stations and we often jumped off to buy tea or coffee, and even cakes from people offering these things for sale. Father lingered too long over his purchases once then suddenly noticed the train had begun to move away. Dropping everything he had bought he rushed to the train, grabbed a handrail at the rear of a carriage and jumped up as best he could. He landed with his knee on the step and from there managed to pull himself up and enter a door. After that episode father was not allowed to leave the train again at any other stops.

 

It was a long journey of a good few days. We had to change trains at Novosibirsk where we spent the night in the station. We placed all our belongings together on the floor and lay or huddled round them as we suspected things would be stolen if left unattended. Next day we boarded the train for Tashkent on the Turkestan–Siberia Railway line, always more or less heading in a southerly direction.

 

Eventually we arrived at Tashkent where we were taken to Jangijul (pronounced yangyool) a smallish place with a large tented camp just outside it. What struck us immediately was the warm pleasant climate and the oriental appearance of the inhabitants. We were fascinated when we saw people travelling on donkeys and camels. At last we had left behind the terrible Siberian winter with it's snow, freezing temperatures and dreadful Buran winds.

 

The camp was huge and divided into different sections spread over a good few miles. There were a great many people and more arriving every day. After being so recently reunited with father we were now going to be parted again but in happier circumstances. I was put, with other young men, in a camp for potential soldiers, Kazia and Marysia were placed with young women and Zbyszek went with the school aged children. The camp was being run by the new Polish Army and father had work to do. He managed to rent a room in Jangijuland he and mother lived there.

 

The camp was very basic but there were kitchens with cooks and adequate food. We weren't issued yet with uniforms but we had some kind of daily routine involving drill and marching. It was very important to keep clean and we spent some time each day inspecting our clothes and bodies for lice. These were so easily picked up under the conditions we were living in and with new people arriving every day. We had people in the camp who had picked up typhus on their journey south and a few of them were dying daily. I, along with all the other young men, had no idea what was going to happen to us but presumed we would ultimately be given uniforms and guns and after some training be packed off to fight the Germans on the Russian front.

 

We did not have to wait long before being issued with British uniforms. We were over the moon at being given these brand new clothes which included not only battle dress but boots socks and underwear. Our spirits soared and we felt we were part of a real army now even although no guns had yet appeared. Soon we were moving from this camp and as we proudly marched through the streets, on the way to the station, people stopped to watch us. We could see by the expression on their faces that they felt sorry for us, no doubt thinking we were on our way to the front lines.

 

Krasnovodsk and the Caspian Sea crossing

 

The train filled up until it was packed and then we were off on a journey again. We travelled westwards for about three days, not to the war zone, but to Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi), a part of the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (spelling of place names now taken from a British atlas). Somewhere on this journey news had filtered through to us that we were to be sent out of the USSR to another country to continue our military training. Our joy and relief on hearing that at last we were going to escape from the clutches of this vile communist regime knew no bounds. On leaving the train we marched a further few kilometres to the docks where there were a number of ships tied up. One particularly decrepit ship, already nearly full of soldiers, was to be ours. Now we were informed before embarking we must hand over any roubles that we had. It was impressed on us that if we didn't give up all our Russian money and were found still to have some we would be sent back to Siberia. A blanket was spread out on the ground which we had to file past, throwing our roubles into it as we went. I was loathe to give up money that had been so hard to come by but was too frightened to hold on to any of it.

 

Josef Olszewski was with me at this time and we met, on the quayside, a man we both knew from Poland. His name was Wâoeik (pronounced Vongshik) and he had been the village policeman in Olechnowicze and was now one of the soldiers helping to organise our departure. It was pleasant to meet someone we knew and he gave us some rather dry bread, probably because he had some knowledge of the difficult sea journey that lay ahead for us. As we approached the gangway there were a group of four or five KGB (Soviet secret police) standing. They were having a good look at everyone, scrutinising each face before letting them proceed aboard the ship. Who or what they were looking for I don't know but it was a scary time for all of us. On looking back I think that the explanation for packing so many of us into these ships and sending us off in such poor conditions, without proper food was that everyone was frightened that Stalin might suddenly change his mind and put a stop to this mass exodus of Polish nationals.

 

Once on board Josef and I found the deck so packed it was difficult to find a place to stand let alone sit down. Below decks was already full up but I don't think we would have fancied going there anyway. This ship could be described as a rust bucket and even in better times was meant for carrying cargoes not people. Round the perimeter of the deck was a puny fence, broken in many places and completely missing in others. That was all there was to stop anyone from falling overboard. After a lot of manoeuvring and squeezing everyone managed to sit on the deck. It wasn't long before we discovered that the only drinking water had to be obtained from a single tap. Soon there was some kind of queue there and later altercations flared up as bad tempered, thi rsty men waited for a drink. Unbelievably, with such a shortage of water, the only food we were given on this three day trip was salted herring. The longing for a drink became almost unbearable. Occasionally a small window on a sailor's cabin on deck would open and a sailor started filling up soldier's hip flasks but as soon as a crowd gathered the window shut again. Some of us were driven to lower an empty tin can over the side of the ship and pull it up full of sea water but it was so salty we were unable to swallow it. Another memorable thing about this ship was the toilet arrangements. For our part of the ship there was a single small wooden shed -like structure perched at the edge of the deck. It was only big enough for one person but it was so filthy with excrement and urine it was horrible to enter and practically impossible to use as it was intended.

 

No land was visible as we crossed the Caspian Sea until the third day when the coast of Persia (now Iran) came into view. We anchored off shore and soon began disembarking onto a much smaller craft which had come along side. We didn't like the look of this conveyance which resembled a large flat metal box with no portholes or windows. We weren't allowed to stay on the deck of it but had to go below, down the one and only hatchway. We found ourselves in nearly total darkness and so it was an unpleasant and somewhat frightening journey to reach land. However we did not have to suffer this incarceration for long because the craft soon reached the Persian shore at Pahlavi and we scrambled off onto the beach. What a moment it was for all of us! Out of Russia at last.

 

Practically the first thing that took our attention were the groups of young boys on the shore holding baskets full of goods for sale. There was all kinds of fruits, bread rolls, hard boiled eggs, chocolate, cigarettes and other delicacies but of course our roubles had all been given up back in Russia. Then we were astounded to see that amongst us a few individuals were digging deep into their clothing and producing some old roubles to spend on these luxuries. These men had taken a great risk in hiding this money about their persons but now they were able to purchase things they had not probably seen since leaving Poland. They were very lucky as they could just as easily found themselves back in Siberia if they had been discovered, instead of being free at last.

 

Our Sergeant gathered us together and checked to see if we were all present and correct. Next he gave us a pep-talk and told us, among other things, that from now on we would be well fed and have "white bread and butter" to eat. Suddenly we heard loud g uffaws and on turning round found a Russian soldier standing a few yards from us. What was going through his mind we wondered? At that point the sergeant lined us up and we thankfully marched away on our new adventure.

 

Pahlavi to Aqaba

 

We marched through Pahlavi (currently Bandar-e Anzali) admiring the buildings and the proper asphalt roads but most of all we were amazed at the sight of the shops. We feasted our eyes, as we passed, at the shop windows, filled with all manner of things, bright and beautifully displayed. These were riches we had been starved of for so long. The people living there seemed interested and glad to see us. There was a very noticeable difference between these Persian (now Iranian) people and the poor Russian people we had left behind. They were well dressed and looked happy and were anxious to hear our stories. Some of them spoke Russian and even French.

 

Preparations had been made for our arrival at a nearby campsite and we were immediately directed to some buildings which turned out to be for delousing and showering. Before entering we had to take off all our clothes and leave them lying to be collected and burned. Inside were showers, soap and towels for thorough washing. Next came the hairdressers who shaved all our hair off, everywhere. Now scrupulously clean we were given a complete set of new clothes - uniform, underwear, everything. After that it wasn't long before we were fed on a plentiful supply of good food.

 

After a day or two we were loaded onto open lorries which had Persian drivers and headed off to Tehran. The countryside was very mountainous and the road was dangerous with many hairpin bends. One side of the road fell away with nothing to stop us falling down the precipitous drop should the lorry come off the road. A few lorries very nearly did slither over the edge at the sharp corners and other particularly dangerous parts but none of them in our convoy actually crashed and we all arrived safely in Tehran. From there we marched a few kilometres to a railway station where we boarded a train and set off once again.

 

Travelling south west we passed through Arak, Dezful and on to Ahvaz. Here we stayed for a while in a temporary camp. We passed some time doing physical training but it was too hot in this desert to do much. We were confined to exercising between the hours of 6am to 10am and 4pm to 6pm. We were issued with tropical kit including pith helmets to protect our heads from the sun and which I think have now gone out of fas hion and use. Soon it was time to leave this sandy desert and once more on a train we crossed a rocky desert to the port of Bandar Shahpur (now Bandar Khomeini) on the Persian Gulf. There we boarded a large ship which was comfortable and provided good food. The crew were friendly and it was a completely different experience from the horrific crossing we had to endure on the Caspian Sea. Our journey took us across the Arabian Sea to the port of Aden. We made a short stop and I can remember the small native boats coming to the side of our ship and offering things for sale. From here, in the Gulf of Aden, we entered the Red Sea and sailed northwards right to the top of the Gulf of Aqaba which in all took roughly a week. There were different kinds of sleeping arrangements on board ship and I chose a hammock. I took it to the edge of the deck and fastened it to two perpendicular posts on the very side of the ship so that one side of the hammock was over the deck and the other side over the sea! I slept very soundly and with the motion of the ship my hammock swung gently to and fro, to and fro, over the deck then over the sea. Looking back I am surprised at how foolhardy I was and put it down to my youth. I wonder why the duty officer didn't spot the situation and order me to move and smartly? I seem to remember that after a few nights the absurdity of what I was doing finally hit me and I moved my hammock to somewhere safer.

 

Palestine

 

At Aqaba we disembarked and made our way overland to Palestine (now Israel). Here we were to stay for quite a while in several camps, always under canvas and I really experienced a most enjoyable time. We were able to visit Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Gaza. The weather was exceptionally beautiful. We had money in our pockets to spend on so many delicious things. There was such a variety of rich cakes to choose from and all kinds of fresh fruit. In particular there were sweet delicious oranges, tangerines, grapes, figs, dates and bananas. There were beautiful beaches to enjoy, with swimming in the Mediterranean especially at Tel Aviv. It was just a heaven for us.

 

I would like to mention here just how well organised our journey had been, all the way from when we had arrived in Persia. Presumably this had been the work of the British Military Authorities. We had been very well treated and provided with new clothing, good food, accommodation and all our travelling arrangements had been efficient.

 

Our stay in Palestine in a way was like a holiday, after all we had been through. The place was full of Allied troops from many countries. The roads were filled with their vehicles and they would willingly stop and give us a lift so we were able to go sight-seeing when we were allowed out of camp.

 

We were not idle all the time of course but were continuing our army training. Now we had been given guns and had to learn how to use them and take care of them. We went out into the desert sometimes on manoeuvres, often with high ranking officers in attendance.

 

Once on manoeuvres we had a very nasty accident. I was with the infantry with the artillery behind us. The idea was for the artillery to fire over our heads at the "enemy" beyond so that we could then advance safely. For some reason a shell fell short of its target killing a few infantry soldiers. Such a sad waste and upsetting for everyone.

 

By this time we had reorganised. Our Polish Army, gathered from the labour camps and other places throughout Russia had been integrated with the existing Polish Army which had been in North Africa for some time and had fought at Tobruk. This army had originated from Poles who had escaped from Poland early in the war to France and other countries. Later it was formed into the 1st Polish Independent Brigade. We now joined with them and were renamed the 3rd Carpathian Division and apart from that a number of different Polish Units formed. The 3rd Carpathian Division was made up of two brigades and I was put into the 3rd Company of the 5th Battalion of the 2nd Brigade.

 

It was about this time that sport entered my army career. I had always enjoyed games and had taken part in different activities back in Poland, encouraged by my father. I had played volleyball and basketball, had skied and swam and thrown the javelin and discus. Incidentally football was not played at school as it was considered too dangerous for growing children. Of course this didn't stop us kicking a ball about out of school, or even an empty tin can or large mushroom. Anyway, one day back in Palestine, I was walking past some soldiers playing football and was idly thinking of offering my services when I noticed further on other soldiers playing volleyball. Although I didn't know it at the time, these were the best players the sergeant in charge could find and he was now sorting them out into a first and second team. I asked him if I could join in but at first he refused. I was still standing watching when he had a change of heart and said I could play for a bit. He put me with the players he was considering would be in the second team but after watching me for a short while, moved me in with the better players. This was the beginning of my very happy sporting career as a private in the army. Because I played so well I became widely known and popular, with everyone wanting to speak to me. We went on to play matches with other units and I was captain of our team in most of them. I remember, in particular, one match we played against the 4th Battalion where everyone became really worked up and excited. Supporters of both sides were betting on their teams and a big crowd came to watch the match. The standard of play was high and both teams were playing well. With the support I was receiving during the match from my team-mates I was able to smash the ball over the net many times earning many points and so we won the match. At the finish of the game I was carried shoulder high back to a large tent where we celebrated with some food and drink. A lieutenant who was in charge of the sporting activities of the battalion made a short speech praising our prowess and we were heartened to know we were so appreciated.

 

I also got into the battalions top football team but I must admit, I wasn't nearly as good a football player as I was a volleyball player. Still I must have been better than most because I retained my place in this first team and could play any position. A Free French Army football team came to play a match with us and we beat them 9 - 1. They invited us to Beirut for a return match and beat us 2 - 1. We also had one or two matches with the British Army teams. I came to grief in one practice game when I went to header the ball while another player arrived to kick at it, missed and kicked me full in the mouth instead. My top lip was split open and a front tooth broken off, only leaving the root. My mouth was full of blood and pieces of tooth which I spat out. One of our medical orderlies, Corporal Bruno Kotewa, went with me in an open lorry to a neighbouring camp to see a doctor. By now it was evening and dark. I lay on a wooden table in a tent while Bruno held a paraffin lamp up close to my face to enable the doctor to see clearly. The doctor treated my lip with some yellow powder and then, taking a needle began the intricate task of sewing the torn flesh back together. While endeavouring to do this he lost his grip of my lip which was too much for Bruno who fainted and fell to the ground with the lamp which went out plunging us into darkness. The doctor immediately turned his attention to Bruno, revived him and helped him to his feet. After a few minutes the two of them re-lit the lamp and the operation on my lip resumed. The doctor sewed the tear on my lip together with two stitches and I was able to return to my camp the same evening with a big dressing on my face tied round and secured at the back of my head. I was unable to eat for several weeks and could only take liquids through a straw. During my convalescence a volleyball match came up and some pressure was put on me to play. I didn't want to in case my injured lip received a bump and I was still feeling rather weak. The more I declined, the more pressure was put on me until I gave in. I played in the match and we won and luckily I emerged unscathed.

 

One day we were assembled outside to hear what a colonel had to say to us. He stood up in front of our company and announced that there was a demand for volunteers to join the navy or air force. Those wishing to take advantage of this opportunity would be sent to Britain for training. He then commanded that those volunteering should now take three steps forward. Out of the approximate hundreds of us about eight stepped forward, including myself as I rather fancied the idea of flying a plane. Right away the colonel noticed me, held up his hand and said "You are too good at playing volleyball. You are going nowhere. Step back in line". Rather disappointed I did as I was told but often wonder how my life might have turned out if I have been allowed to join the air force.

 

The members of the football and volleyball teams shared two large tents and had certain privileges. We had extra rations of fruit and chocolate and sometimes we were spared from exhausting exercises. For instance, periodically an alarm would go off in the camp during the night when we would normally have to awaken, jump up and dress. Then with full kit, go marching off into the darkness for a few hours. We were often excused from this duty and it was lovely just to turn over and go back to sleep. Army life was good to us at that time. We in return always put our heart into playing our best, hoping to entertain the troops and win our matches.

 

About this time I was delighted to receive a letter from my sisters which told me all their news. Like me, they had been brought out of Russia and were now also in Palestine in a place called Barbara, a village in the district of Gaza. They too were in the army but employed as teachers in a school set up for Polish children. With them was my cousin Zbyszek, who was a pupil in this school. It wasn't long before I was able to arrange a trip to go and visit my sisters who weren't very far from my camp. Although it was a joyous reunion it was somewhat marred by the shock they received at seeing my injured lip, and worse, my missing front tooth. It wasn't long before my sisters arranged for me to visit a dentist to see what could be done. The dentist opened one of his drawers to show us a selection of single artificial teeth. He picked one out which matched my remaining front tooth and set to work. After preparing the root which was left and then the new tooth, he cemented them together and told me that it should last me ten years, which it did. Marysia paid for this new tooth and the dentist's fee... altogether the princely sum of £2.

 

Not long afterwards I heard from my parents and was really overjoyed to learn that they too were now out of Russia. They had been separated at one time because father was in the army and mother was a civilian. Mother had caught typhus, like many others, while moving out of Russia and had been looked after in a hospital in Tehran. After her recovery she was actually in the army for a short time before being transferred to a civilian Displaced Persons Camp in Tanganika (now Tanzania), East Africa. When father reached the Middle East the army authorities decided that as he was now in his fifties and his lungs had been weakened by his Russian experiences, he should leave the army and join mother in Tanganika.

 

It was while we were in Palestine that we at last found out what had happened to my brother Bronek. Through the Red Cross we learned that he was alive but a prisoner of war in Germany. It was a wonderful relief to know that at least he was alive. We were then able to send him letters and some parcels which he received.

 

We had several serious accidents while carrying out our military training. One was while a group of soldiers were learning about mortar fire. When they dropped one particular shell into the mortar, instead of automatically being fired out, it exploded, killing two soldiers, 2nd Lieutenant Edward Szozda and Private Ignacy Gradowski and wounding others.

 

While practising driving lorries in the dark, one soldier would stand on the step of the cabin helping to direct the soldier who was actually driving. The idea being that the soldier on the step outside could see more clearly than the driver inside. Unfortunately one lorry came off the road and toppled over, killing the soldier who had been on the step.

 

Another horrible accident occurred while a platoon of cadet officers were assembled in a room of a hut receiving instructions about hand grenades and land mines. They were all grouped round a table examining these weapons when my friend, Mietek Gigiel, suddenly noticed something amiss with a live grenade. The safety pin had somehow been removed and an explosion was imminent. Grabbing it with the intention of throwing it out of the window, it exploded. I did not witness this accident but have had it described to me by people who were there. Poor Mietek, looking down at his arms he didn't know how he could go on living. Even after all these years it is nearly too distressing to write about it. His two hands had been blown off from the wrists and he also lost an eye. Four or five others were wounded too but not nearly so seriously. Mietek had a good brain and after the war attended Glasgow University where he attained a degree in the Russian Language. At his graduation ceremony, I was told by a friend, who was also graduating that day, that when Mietek's name was called all the graduates and visitors stood up and gave him an ovation. Some years later I met him by chance when we came face to face in Trafalgar square, London. He looked well, smart and cheerful and was working nearby in an office of the Ministry of Defence.

 

There were other accidents of course but these are the ones I remember clearly. I became a cadet officer and went on several courses, learning to drive a lorry on one of them. Learning to drive became particularly useful to me later in life.

 

All things considered, the time I spent in and around Palestine was full of mostly happy memories but of course I couldn't stay there forever. There was a war to be won and Poland to be set free. The Germans, after occupying so much of North Africa, had at last been halted as they neared Alexandria, Egypt, at a small place, now famous, named El Alamien. The British General Montgomary decided that this was far enough and the successful German Army should be allowed to go no further. And so the great and decisive

Battle of El Alamien was fought with many losses on both sides. This was one of the turning points of the Second World War because the Germans were defeated and began a retreat which ultimately led them to leave North Africa altogether and return to Europe.

 

By August 1943 the Allies had prepared themselves and were ready to go after the Germans and attack them through Italy. First they landed on the Island of Sicily and when they had secured it, turned their attention on the Italian mainland. In September landings were made in several places on the southern coast including Taranto and Bari. The Italian government soon capitulated but Italy was still occupied by the German Army who had no intention of surrendering and allowing the Allies free access northwards into the rest of Europe. If the Allies wanted to take that road they would have to fight nearly every inch of

the way.

 

Castel Di Sangro

 

By December 1943 I was on the move once more and by different methods of transport found myself in Port Said at the north end of the Suez Canal. A huge convoy of around seventy ships was assembled there to be filled with army personnel, vehicles of all kinds, tanks, guns and everything an army on the move required. Nearing the end of December we set sail out into the Mediterranean Sea heading for Italy. The weather was foul. Only a few could face eating at mealtimes but I was one of them. Most poor souls were leaning over the side being sick.

 

We were guarded all the way by ships of the Royal Navy and also by the air force. As far as I know we were not attacked at all although we heard alarms twice. Perhaps the stormy weather helped to protect us. After three days we drew close to Italy. As we neared the port of Taranto one destroyer guarding our convoy came quite close to us and suddenly someone on our ship noticed that it was flying the Polish flag. What excitement that caused! Nearly everyone rushed to the side of our ship nearest the destroyer, shouting and yelling and then throwing their hats up into the air. There were hundreds of hats airborne.

 

The crew of the destroyer saw and heard us and began shouting back, throwing their caps in the air too. It was a wonderful and emotional moment which cheered us all and lifted our spirits up. Shortly after, our ship docked and I set foot on yet another country, Italy.

 

My first impression was of terrible poverty. Children were coming round the soldiers and begging. They were not looking for just chocolate or sweeties but for anything. They were poorly clad and hungry. The population looked thin, sad and dejected. The front line was further to the north and we began making our way slowly towards it. Sometimes we marched and sometimes we travelled in lorries. The weather was wet and cold. Conditions for us were rather poor and we had to contend with a great deal of mud. At night we might stay in camps that the advancing army ahead of us had previously occupied. Other times we made use of any parts of houses that were still standing after being bombed or shelled. Sometimes we slept in tents or we just had to bed down in the open air.

 

Onwards we advanced, through Cerignola and Foggia. The rain had now turned to snow and with the strong wind blowing there were deep drifts. We were issued with spades and had to clear the roads to enable us to continue our journey ever northwards. In places the snow was three and four metres deep. All the bridges had been destroyed but some road bridges had been repaired by the Allied forces who had already passed this way.

 

Eventually we reached the village of Castel Di Sangro on the river Sangro. Many of the houses were bombed or shelled while some were undamaged. The villagers were still living there and were made up of mostly women and children as the menfolk had been taken away to fight. We occupied what we could in the unoccupied damaged houses and settled in for a short stay. The Germans were just some way ahead of us now, across the river and up in the mountains beyond. If the sun came out we could see them against the snow, sometimes moving about on skis. I was one of a group of ten soldiers who shared a ruined house. There were two rooms still standing which we could occupy and sleep on the floors. A young Italian lad of fourteen or fifteen years came to us offering his services. Like nearly all Italians he was pale and thin and certainly hungry. We gave him odd jobs to do, like sweeping the floor and polishing our boots, and paid him with bread or any other food we could spare. Money was again useless as the shops were empty and I think closed anyway.

 

From time to time there would be an exchange of artillery and mortar fire between us and the Germans positioned high on nearby hills.. We had some casualties when patrols went out and stepped on land mines. We soon realised the Germans were watching our movements during the day then sneaking across at night and laying mines where they knew we would be walking.

 

It was decided to do something about this. At one place there was a house situated just across the river which, it was suspected, the Germans were using for their night time mine laying manoeuvres. A patrol was to be sent out with the orders to try and intercept these Germans and if possible bring back some prisoners. I was one of the platoon of thirty soldiers. We went out one night with the instructions to hide by the river till the Germans arrived. We were told to stay three nights and three days if necessary and had enough rations with us for that length of time. Nearing the river we divided ourselves into three groups, ten in each. Two groups had to conceal themselves, about eighty metres apart, on the near side of the river while the third group had to cross the river by inflatable boat and occupy the house on the other side. There was something wrong with the boat which refused to be blown up. The boat had to be abandoned and the soldiers were forced to wade across the river with the water up to their armpits. They then made their way to the house where they were relieved to find only one occupant, a friendly Italian male. They had reason to believe this man made himself equally friendly to both the Germans and the Allies so they secured him and settled down to wait.

 

Meanwhile on my side of the river we had problems too. It had been decided from the beginning that the groups, once having concealed themselves separately, would keep in touch only by radio and would not visit each other. Almost immediately we, in our group, discovered our radio was not working. After a while it was decided that we had better let the other group on our side of the river know about this problem and I was sent to tell them. I felt a bit exposed and vulnerable as I made my way across towards them remembering that this was the very thing we had agreed not to do. The weather was absolutely terrible with snow and gale force winds blowing straight into my face. I called out to my comrades that I was coming but my voice was just blown away. I pictured them on the lookout and if seeing me probably deciding I was the enemy. Luckily as I drew nearer my frantic shouting was heard and recognised so their machine gun, which had been facing me, did not come into action.

 

I had been with this group for a few minutes when we heard bursts of machine gun fire from across the river and guessed correctly that some Germans had turned up at the house. Our group decided to fire towards the house but aiming high just to let any Germans know that there was more of us about. It wasn't long before all firing ceased and we ventured down to the river bank to find out what had happened. Already our group from the house were making their way back across the river with two prisoners. One was a wounded German and the other the Italian. It was difficult for them to cross the deep river because apart from manhandling the prisoners they had to carry the machine gun and other equipment. The Italian was struggling and suddenly broke free, dived deep down into the water and was away like a fish.

 

When the German patrol had approached the house expecting it to be only occupied by the friendly Italian they must have been greatly shocked to be met by deadly machine gun fire. They withdrew, leaving several dead comrades and one wounded. It needed four of our men to assist this man across the river. As they reached the shore we took over in helping. One of our radios was working so a call was made for an ambulance. It was quite a struggle to get the wounded man, plus all our equipment to the road which was over 200 metres away across difficult uphill terrain. Once at the road side we had only a short wait before the ambulance arrived and took our prisoner away for treatment and into captivity. As we now had successfully completed our mission we collected up all our equipment and made our way back to Castel di Sangro.

 

On a different occasion a patrol from another company of our Battalion was sent out to try and capture Germans laying mines in no man's land. Unfortunately this patrol suffered casualties. Private Krasinski was killed and my two friends, Cadet Officers Olek Bobrowski and Stanisûaw Janulewicz were both wounded. We were stationed for quite a while in Castel di Sangro and became friendly with the residents. It has to be said that quite a number of our soldiers became very friendly with some of the local girls. I think the Italians had had quite enough of the Germans and the war. Now that the Italian government had capitulated, Italy was no longer an ally of Germany so the German soldiers had become less friendly towards the Italian civilians. As they retreated northwards, up through Italy, they must have often been short of supplies because many Italian people repeatedly told us "The Germans have taken all our food and run away".

 

We were now nearing the front line and had already passed the town of Isernia from which the Germans had retreated from after it had been heavily bombed and shelled by the Allies and left in ruins. To the west of us was Monte Cassino with it's magnificent monastery perched high on its summit looking down to the town of Cassino and, more importantly, on the main highway, route 6, to Rome. The Germans were occupying this huge, impregnable building which had the strategic advantage of looking down at anyone or anything approaching from afar. It was obvious the Allies could not advance northwards along route 6 or over the flat surrounding plain towards Rome as long as the Germans could fire down on them from the monastery and the high ground around it. It was proving impossible to remove the Germans from this position which had the added advantage of tunnels under the monastery and a cave in which they could hide and shelter every time there was heavy artillery fire directed at them. Already the Allies had made three different unsuccessful attacks using Allied armies of several nationalities and suffering very heavy losses. Among them were British, Canadians, Americans, Indians, Free French and of course Poles.

 

On March 29th General Sosnkowski came to visit us. He was the overall chief of the Polish Army, Navy and Air Force at that time. During his short stay he decorated some of my comrades for bravery including Cadet Officer Dunajewski who had led the successful group that had captured the wounded German soldier at the house by the river.

Monte Cassino

 

Now the time had come to move out of Castel di Sangro and advance towards the front line at Monte Cassino. The local people had come out to wave us "goodbye" and it was with sadness they did this as they knew only to well what lay before us. We were approximately thirty miles north east of Monte Cassino as the crow flies and in mountainous country. Castel di Sangro was itself situated on a mountainside so we travelled downhill by lorry to Civitanuova. On May 6th we left this place for Venafro, where part of our army was gathering and resting before proceeding any nearer to Monte Cassino. We were now about ten miles from the fighting and could clearly hear the gunfire. There was no rest for me because the same day that we arrived I was sent out with a reconnaissance group to familiarise ourselves with the lay of the land on which we would soon have to traverse. Ahead of us was our 1st Brigade, who were already dug in and preparing for the forthcoming attack. The plan was that at some time after they had made their attack they would fall back and we, of the 2nd Brigade, would replace them and continue the fight.

 

We went by lorry across the flat land towards Monte Cassino but when we came to a minefield and where the road ahead of us had been damaged by bombs we had to leave the lorry and proceed on foot. Soldiers already there showed us the safe way to cross the minefield by following a narrow path marked out previously with white tape. We were near the River Rapido and approaching the foothills of the mountains just north of the monastery. We were now among some of our artillery guns which fired from time to time. Some soldiers who knew the area well guided us on a path which led up these mountains and along which all supplies of water, food, ammunition, medical equipment etc. had to be carried on the backs of mules. Higher in the mountains we were shown where our soldiers were positioned, hidden in different gullies. There were so many soldiers spread over this mountainous region that it took us several nights, and sometimes in daylight too, to locate them all and memorise their positions. With this vital information we had to report back to our superior officers. We at last returned down the mountains and met up with our 2 nd Brigade, who had in the meantime moved forward. Our reconnaissance group were exhausted from their exertions. I had previously dug myself a shallow trench in which I now lay down and feeling partly protected from flying shrapnel, fell into a deep sleep.

 

As I slept our Polish soldiers in the nearby hills commenced their attack. It was now 11 th May 1944 and at 11pm (23:00), 1,700 artillery guns opened fire on surrounding German positions including the monastery at Monte Cassino. The noise must have been deafening, not only with the firing of so many guns but also with the explosions when the shells landed. The Germans, of course, retaliated but not with so many guns. I slept on. Then just over one hour later at five minutes past midnight (00:05), on May 12 th, the first wave of soldiers, from the 1st Carpathian Brigade, moved forward to attack the German lines. At a quarter past one (01:15) the rest of the brigade foll owed them. Ten minutes later at one twenty five (01:25), the 5th Polish Infantry Division (Kresowa) positioned to the right of our 1st Brigade started their attack. I slept on.

 

At one forty-five (01:45) someone wakened me as my battalion was about to move forward in the direction of the 1st Battalions positions. At first we rode on lorries and experienced heavy artillery fire from German guns. We could only move very slowly as it was so dark we could hardly see and we could not use any lights. To our left, westwards, the British and American units were moving forward across the flat plain of Liri, beside route 6. When we could not proceed any further by lorry we had to continue by foot. We were now at the minefield where I had passed through previously so we were able to use the safe path marked through it. We also had to cross the River Rapido before we reached the supply path which led up into the hills. Up this path we went until it forked; to the right it led to the 5th Infantry Division (Kressowa) positioned at Mt. Cairo and to the left it led to our 1st Brigade positions which was our destination. We took the left fork and with mules carrying our supplies journeyed on some way further until ordered to stop. There, high on the hills, we had to dig in as best we could among the sheltering crevices of the mountainside. Here we remained for a few days, being periodically shelled by the Germans.

 

On receiving orders to move forward towards the 1st Brigade we began suffering casualties, including fatalities, to our soldiers and mules from German artillery fire. News of the 1st Brigade's first attack had now been relayed to us. They had managed to reach some German positions but because of heavy machine gun fire had had to retreat with heavy casualties. They were also shelled by artillery guns which had destroyed their means of communication.

 

On the 17th May our 2nd Brigade moved forward to Mass Albanety and by the next morning we were on high ground very near to the monastery of Monte Cassino. This once magnificent edifice had now been reduced, more or less, to a heap of stones by continual bombing and shelling. The hill it stood on was a sorry sight with all the green vegetation blasted away and only a few ragged stumps of trees remaining. Some of our 2nd Brigade were now ahead of my company and engaging in fighting the Germans sitting on pillboxes. Suddenly I met a group of returning soldiers belonging to the 1st Brigade and was amazed to see that one of them was Josef Olszewski, my friend and neighbour from Poland and who, along with his mother and sister, had shared our house in Kuskuduk, Siberia. He said he was sorry to tell me that after the heavy fighting of the last few days there were only thirty soldiers left alive in his company of about one hundred men. We could not talk for long as we were going in opposite directions, he was withdrawing while I was going forward. We said farewell and went on our way and our paths never crossed again.

 

During the last two days, as we had been walking nearer and nearer to the monastery, we came across many dead bodies of Polish soldiers. They lay there from the fighting that had commenced on May 12th. It was difficult for me to believe what I was seeing. Was it really true? These young men had been fit and well a few days ago and had been full of life, filled with hope of returning to a free Poland. The memory of them will always be deep in our hearts.

 

On our left was the 12th Regiment of Polish Lancers who had managed to make their way right up to the monastery. After days of fighting and a great deal of loss of life many of the remaining German soldiers had slipped away northwards under cover of darkness. Now the remaining German officer in charge contacted this Polish regiment and surrendered. He asked for help for his wounded soldiers. At long last the bloody fight for the Monastery of Monte Cassino was over. Some Polish soldiers managed to climb to the top of the ruined building and raise their Polish flag. Feelings were mixed. There was, of course, some jubilation but mainly the feelings were of relief and great sorrow at the tremendous loss of life in this, and previous attacks on this unforgettable building.

 

Our company was at that time about two hundred metres from the monastery after having walked through part of the night. We were commanded to halt and rest. I looked around for a suitable piece of ground to lie down on and noticed what I thought was an upturned saucepan. In the next split second I realised it was a land mine and one of quite a few lying about. I immediately warned other soldiers nearby and soon some sappers came forward to deal with the hazard.

 

We stayed in the area until early in the morning of May 22nd when our company received the order to advance northwest towards the nearby village of Piedmonte San Germano. We set off while it was still very dark and after some time the Germans began firing towards us with artillery guns and mortars. The whining noise of the shells coming near to us was frightening. We all dropped to the ground when we heard it. The shells landed all around us but as far as I know we had no casualties at that time. When the firing ceased we got up and walked forward until the firing began again and then we fell to the ground for shelter once more. While lying on the ground I was hit by a piece of flying shrapnel which luckily struck my helmet and did no damage. We continued to travel in this fashion for about one and a half hours.

 

Piedimonte

 

By then we had reached a house at the edge of Piedimonte. It was large and partly damaged by shells. We were ordered to enter this house and on doing so we realised that our company was far from complete and that some of us had got lost on the way. A decision was made quickly and I was ordered to return back the way we had come to try to find the missing soldiers. It was still in the hours of darkness as I slipped back out of the house, alone, with only my Tommy gun and two grenades for company. Although I could hardly see I thought I knew the direction in which to go. We had walked down out of the hills and were now on flat stony land but it was difficult to travel over this ground as it was covered in shell holes which, of course, I could not see. My task seemed hopeless. I listened but could hear no voices in any language let alone Polish ones. I certainly couldn't see anyone so I finally decided I would have to call out some of their names in the hope that they were nearby and might hear me. This was a risky thing to do as the Germans were aware of our presence hereabouts and might have sent out patrols hoping to intercept us. I took the chance and called out a few names without any answers. I walked on further and tried again. Louder and louder I shouted and before very long I got a welcoming reply. I met up with our group of soldiers and guided them back to the house to join up with the rest of the company. We were still not complete because as the sky lightened with the approaching dawn some more stragglers appeared and somehow managed to find where we were hidden.

 

When it was full daylight we saw that it was going to be a beautiful day, warm with blue skies. Piedmonte was right beside us although stretching up onto slightly higher ground. The plan was to attack it that day but first we had to establish if the Germans were still in occupation or had perhaps retreated further north. The tanks accompanying us, slightly to our rear, did not have an unlimited supply of shells so it was presumed prudent not to begin firing on Piedmonte if it might be abandoned already. When the time came for us to make a move it was Corporal Antek Krzyłanowski and I who were ordered to take small patrols of four men each and advance on Piedmonte, either to draw their fire or to find the village empty. In the event of the Germans firing at us we were to fire a rocket in their direction to pinpoint their position. Our two patrols left the house and, walking about twenty five metres apart, advanced towards the village. This was over open, stony ground with no cover whatsoever so we could be clearly seen from any village house we were approaching. We had only moved forward about thirty metres when, from one of the houses, there was a burst of machine gun fire with tracer bullets, aimed at the other patrol and narrowly missing them. Antek immediately fired his rocket and we all retreated back to the house.

 

Antek, myself and one other member of the patrol were then ordered to stay outside the house and act as observers. We sat on a flight of stone steps which ran up the side wall of the house. As soon as we had taken up this position the tanks opened fire with their shells and machine guns. Again the noise was deafening. Some of the bullets were passing just a metre and a half above us. Some were even catching the corner of the building and tiny bits of masonry were falling down on us. Some of the machine guns had tracer bullets which were clearly visible as they flew through the air enabling us to watch their passage as they flew overhead towards the village.

 

Suddenly I saw what can only be described as red lines coming, low down, towards us and my leg went numb. I toppled over to my left and rolled down the step, landing on my back on the ground, still holding my Tommy gun. I thought my leg had been shot away which was a terrible shock for me. I moved my hand towards my leg and with the tips of my fingers reassured myself that it was still there. Raising my head slightly I was more than relieved to see all my leg, including my foot, but I couldn't move it when I tried. The next thing I remember was our chief medic approaching and giving me a shot of morphine. This was big, cheery Bruno Kotewa, a talented violin player, and the very same soldier who had fainted while holding the lamp as I had my lip stitched back in the Middle East.. Bruno then tried to lift me up to carry me to the first aid post but I screamed with the excruciating pain so he had to lay me down again. Soon a stretcher was fetched and I was carried some fifty metres to receive attention. Antek had also been seriously wounded, his knee had been hit. He also had to be carried by stretcher but the third soldier, sitting on the steps, only received a flesh wound to his arm and was able to walk.

 

At the First Aid Post I learned that my left leg had been hit by shrapnel, shattering the top of the femur. My left hand had also been hit and a bone fractured. I remember seeing one bit of shrapnel sticking out of my finger and I pulled that bit out myself. Temporary dressings were put on my wounds as well as strappings on my broken leg to secure it. A carrier was brought forward which was a small version of a tank but with no superstructure. I was lifted up still on the stretcher, and placed across the top of this vehicle along with Antek and the other wounded soldier. We were to be taken to a position further behind the front lines. The ground was relatively flat but still very stony and full of bomb and shell craters. The driver did his best to avoid all these holes by twisting and turning between them. It was a terribly painful journey for us as we travelled on for about an hour. From time to time the Germans fired at us with their artillery guns and mortars but thankfully, although coming close, never hit us. When we finally stopped I found I was at another First Aid Post but this one was bigger, with tents and more equipment. Here my broken bones were set with bandages and plaster of Paris. I must have been kept at this First Aid Post for four nights but my memories of it are hazy, probably because of lack of sleep and morphine injections. On the 26th May I was put into an ambulance and travelling on a proper road, which was so much more comfortable, set off for a Polish Military Hospital some distance away leaving the sounds of war behind.

 

At the hospital I received further attention to my leg and hand from Mr. Srokowski, the head surgeon. The hospital building had previously been a school but had now been converted into a bright and adequate medical facility totally run by Polish staff of whom some were nuns. There were about six beds in every ward and it was well equipped, with generously sized beds and as comfortable as such a place can be. Every morning at around ten o'clock, Mr. Srokowski, with his entourage of doctors and nurses, would make his rounds of the wards. Stopping at every bed he would enquire how that patient was fairing. Notes were taken as they moved from bed to bed and it was obvious that every wounded soldier received proper care and attention.

 

An unexpected incident happened while I was lying there one day. When the surgeon came to a soldier lying in a bed diagonally opposite me he examined the patient's broken leg and was not satisfied at the way it was healing. In fact the leg was not straight. The surgeon took a blanket, folded it several times, laid it across the offending leg and then with a wooden implement, similar to a rolling pin, hit the leg one blow. The mending bone broke again. I was rather taken aback by this procedure and actually don't remember what followed but I presume the leg was reset and healed in a more straight fashion.

 

Traction had to be put on my leg to prevent it from shortening too much. This involved drilling a hole in the bone just below the knee and inserting a metal pin through it. The pin stuck out either side of my leg so that a stirrup contraption could be attached. This was then weighed down with the help of cords, pulleys and a bag of sand. Thankfully this was done under general anaesthetic.

 

The highlight of each day was when one of the nurses, a nun, would come into the ward with a bible in one hand and a bottle of rum in the other. She would kneel down in the centre of the floor and pray loudly. Everyone listened then afterwards she would go round each patient and pour them a glass of rum. There was something else that always cheered us up and that was when American ladies from the Red Cross would arrive and give out chocolates, cigarettes and chewing gum to us all.

 

We also had some well-known Polish artistes coming to entertain us who had broadcast on the radio from Lwów before the war. They had been very popular because of their different skills. Now they came round the wards, cheering us with Polish songs and amusing sketches. This was very much appreciated by all of us. The meals we received were excellent, both in quality and quantity.

 

At night-time if we couldn't sleep because of our wounds we would be given an injection of morphine. We would then have a deep sleep and forget all our pains and worries. There was one soldier in the bed furthest from the door who was perhaps a bit of a mummy's boy and who had the habit of calling out for a nurse during the night. As she passed my bed in the darkness on her way to him she occasionally and accidentally knocked against the foot of my bed which sent sharp pains through my broken bones.

 

Scotland

 

By the end of July more beds in the hospital were needed for the newly wounded soldiers so some of us had to be evacuated elsewhere. The walking wounded were sent to Egypt and some of the more seriously wounded, like myself, were examined and if found fit enough were prepared for a journey by ship to Great Britain. The surgeon began his round of soldiers with legs attached to traction contraptions and began the procedure of dismantling them. It seemed a relatively easy task. With his fingers the surgeon took hold of one end of the pin protruding from the patient's leg and gently, but firmly, pulled it out.

 

When he came to me and began pulling the pin it would not budge. It had grown into the bone!  Mr. Srokowski had to resort to more drastic methods. He produced a pair of pliers and with one hand holding my leg below the knee he gripped the end of the pin. Twisting the pliers a little one way and then a little the other way the pin gradually loosened and was slowly but surely extracted. It was excruciatingly painful and I could not help letting out a few screams. When the pin emerged it looked revoltingly gory. I was given two tots of rum and an injection of morphine. Despite this bit of extra drama my leg continued to heal but I had to have it re-plastered to give it protection for my forthcoming sea journey. And so it was that with others from our battle zone I was transported, on a stretcher, to the sea and boarded the hospital ship Atlantis. While on board we were on proper beds and very, very well looked after. In preparation for my future stay in Britain I learned two English words, "yes" and "no" and with this fluency of a new language I landed in Liverpool in August 1944.

 

From the ship I was carried, like many others, on a stretcher to waiting ambulances. We were driven to a station and put aboard a special train which had bunk beds for us and nurses in attendance. One nurse came round and gave each wounded soldier a small gift such as a comb, a razor or a pair of scissors. Somehow I was missed out and was too shy to speak up. The train carried us out of Liverpool on a long journey through the night. At the time I did not know where we were going but it turned out that our destination was Scotland. We finally arrived near Aberfeldy in Perthshire. We were surprised and delighted when we found out we were to stay in Taymouth Castle at the eastern end of Loch Tay, near the village of Kenmore. We were even more surprised to find this castle had been turned into a Polish military hospital, run by Polish doctors and nurses. Here the plaster was soon removed from my leg and I could walk with the aid of crutches. I stayed for a few weeks, gaining strength all the time and walking in the lovely grounds of the castle.

 

From there I was moved into a small convalescence home which must have been a private house at one time. It was named Killin and in Aberfeldy and I believe it is now no more. Here the nurses, like the others, were kind and beautiful but British. This house also had a lovely garden with a putting green which I was soon able to make use of. Before long I was even well enough to kick a ball about. Life was beginning to look good again.

 

When I had recovered enough to leave the convalescent home in Aberfeldy, I was sent to an army camp in Peebles where there were other recovering wounded servicemen. From there some would be returned to their army units and others, less fit like myself, were offered a variety of courses we could attend. I chose to go on a commercial course in Glasgow, which I hoped might benefit me on my return to Poland. My decision to go to Glasgow turned out to be a momentous one but not in the way I expected.