NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL
by Julian Rybarczyk
So we all began a new chapter in our lives. Betty and I were quite content although we would have liked to have had a house of our own. In 1949, our son George was born which brought great happiness to us all. Then in the next year we managed to rent a flat. It was property opposite the shop and had eight, mostly large rooms and a big kitchen. There were a few "sitting tenants" living in it who could not be put out but it still left plenty of space for us. This again was a new experience for us but it worked well most of the time in what was still a period of scarcity and hardship since the end of the war. Betty was no longer working in the shop and her mother was having difficulty in finding a suitable person to replace her. She asked me if I would care to come and help her and I agreed. So after being a carpet weaver for two years I became a shopkeeper.
In 1951 our second son, Antoni, was born and we were happy and busy. Kazia had met a Polish ex-paratrooper, Stanley Kołaczkowski, ("tall and handsome" she told us) and not long afterwards they were married. They bought quite a large terrace house near Clapham Common in London and later took our parents to live with them. Zbyszek, living in England, was finding it quite difficult to find employment, so we invited him to come and stay with us and try his luck in Glasgow. He lived with us for months and found several menial jobs but none of them were really suitable for him. He was a very clever young man but had had a broken education. One day some friends of his got in touch with him and asked him to join them in their printing business in London. He did just that and never looked back. He went on to marry a Polish lady pharmacist with her own chemist shop with a flat above. In time they had a daughter, Ewa.
While Zbyszek was still living with us we thought of purchasing a large flat and letting it out in single rooms. There seemed to be quite a few of this type of flat near us, on the market and not selling. Betty discovered one that we could purchase by paying off the asking price in small instalments with no interest added. We took the plunge and bought it and then spent a hectic time papering and painting as well as buying lots of furniture from the nearby auction rooms.
We had no sooner completed this flat and rented out the rooms when we heard of an even better and bigger flat going for a bargain price. This time, however, we had to have the full purchase price to buy it. With some savings and loans from Betty's granny and granny's brother, Alec, we managed to gather together the asking price. Again we papered and painted. Bronek came and helped us and Betty bought more furniture. Before long we had all the rooms furnished and let. Having these two flats and letting them out gave us an extra income but it is an activity I would not recommend.
Marek and Marysia had settled in Argentina. Marek had obtained quite a good civil engineering position, they had bought a house, made friends and were awaiting the birth of their baby. Sadly the baby boy was stillborn. Marysia, being very upset, was missing her family here in Britain even more and they longed to return. This was to prove very difficult.
You had to find a job that could not be filled by a Britisher and then obtain a work permit from the British authorities. Not easy. Betty had a friend who had an engineering firm and who was sympathetic to Marek's plight. He offered Marek work and wrote letters stating that he particularly wished to employ Marek because of his skills, including his languages, Polish, German, English and Spanish. The work permit was refused but he persisted and wrote more letters. Betty also wrote letters, arguing Marek's case and involved our MP, the much respected Walter Elliot, and even his wife. After three long years we were at last granted the work permit for Marek but then the authorities declared that Marysia would require one also! We were shocked and could not believe this so Betty decided to go to this government office in London and have it out with them, face to face. She went on the train, which was packed and she had to stand nearly all the way. On arriving she went straight from the station to the office in Eberry Street, in central London and what do you think she found? An office full of workers busy issuing Work Permits? No, instead a radio was on and everyone was listening intently to some cricket match and becoming very excited. Betty was none too pleased. She stated why she was there and how far she had come. "Oh, sorry!" they said "We've made a mistake. Your sister-in-law does not need a Work Permit to accompany her husband back to Britain". Betty left the office and made her way to Kazia's house where she spent the night and returned to Glasgow the next day, triumphant but annoyed. Marek and Marysia returned to our shores and Marek's new employer was delighted with him. Marek remained with that firm until he retired, not at sixty five but at seventy.
A few years after their return, Marysia decided to take up teaching again. Being fully qualified in Poland, she only had to complete a one year teacher's training course before becoming a primary school teacher here. She went on to work happily and diligently until her retirement.
During the early post-war years Polish people, who were already settled in Britain, would return to Poland for holidays or more likely to visit relatives. They found a rather sad country, not only badly damaged by the war but also shabby, with lots of scarcities and long queues in the shops for even basic commodities. Back here in Glasgow, people of the Polish community collected second hand clothes from their friends and relatives, had them driven to Poland in vans and distributed to needy people through the church.
Zbyszek was one of the people most anxious to visit Warsaw after the war to meet his family again. He had a mother, father and sister but his brother was dead, killed in the Warsaw Rising. Poor Henryk, who had lived with us while attending our local school as a young boy had remained quietly in Warsaw during the German occupation. Secretly he belonged to the Underground Army only waiting for a chance to liberate his country from the Germans. That day came, he thought, in 1944, when the Red Army, now advancing westwards towards Germany, had reached Warsaw but was still on the east side of the River Vistula. Henryk, with comrades, rose up from their hiding places, in and around Warsaw, to attack the retreating Germans, fully expecting the Russians to cross the river and join them. Alas the Red Army had been given orders to remain where they were. Henryk was shot dead in the street on the first day of the fighting. Although the Polish Underground Army fought on bravely for six weeks and suffered heavy losses, in the end they were defeated because of a lack of reinforcements and ammunition. Only after the defeat did the Russians cross the river and carry on with the fighting. Zbyszek continued to visit his family in Poland over the years and helped them as much as he could.
Nearing the end of the nineteen fifties I began to long for a business or career of my own and after considering many ideas I decided to try and become a driving instructor. I already possessed a driving licence so I bought a second hand car, had it fitted with dual controls, swotted up the Highway Code and had the car properly insured. In those days that was all one needed to do to become a driving instructor. I called myself "The Allied School of Motoring" and advertised but only through our shop. I started off with only a few pupils and Betty or her mother took my place in the shop while I was out teaching. My pupils were pleased with their tuition and recommended me to others. Gradually I grew busier and busier until I had to give up working in the shop and my mother-in-law replaced me with one of her cousins. My driving tuition went from strength to strength and sometimes I had a waiting list of prospective pupils and so it continued until I retired many years later.
In nineteen sixty one our third son, Kenneth, was born. It was about this time that the owners of our rented flat, The British Linen Bank, wanted us out as they had plans to change the whole property into offices. We decided to take over our biggest flat, which was all let out, and live in it ourselves. It was a huge flat on two levels, overlooking a park and Glasgow University. We made this house into roughly two flats and Betty's mother and grandmother came to live with us, separately but under the same roof. We moved into this lovely home, which was central yet quiet, and lived there for the next thirty three years.
Betty had always felt rather cheated because her education had been abruptly cut short on the sudden tragic death of her father in an accident when she had just turned fifteen. Because of the war she had to leave school and help her mother run their newsagent shop. Now in her thirties she took special interest in the fact that there was a shortage of teachers and the authorities were encouraging older people to take up this career and become mature students in teacher training colleges. This appealed to Betty so she attended night school to gain the qualifications she still needed to enter college. That done she enrolled for a three year teacher training course which she thoroughly enjoyed. Once she had graduated she had no trouble finding employment in the nearby primary school. The whole experience had been very worthwhile.
My father died aged sixty nine, while living with Kazia's family. Mother lived on there, but in later years she became slightly confused, so we took her to live with us for the last five years of her life and she died in her eighties.
Kazia and her husband brought up two sons. In time one son had a son of his own and the other son had two. Bronek had a family of five children who gave him twelve grandchildren. Betty and I had George, Antoni and Kenneth who became in turn a chartered accountant, an architect and a mathematics teacher. Antoni and his wife, Liz, had three children, Scott, Halina and Louise.
That is nearly everyone accounted for except unlucky Mrs. Olszewska and her daughter, Halina. After we left them in Siberia they were forced to spend another five years in that miserable place before being allowed to return to Poland. Her son survived the war and also returned to Poland.
Mrs Januszajtis, whose two little girls had died in Siberia, also survived the war and reached the safety of London, where my parents and Kazia met her some years later. She had not known the fate of her husband for a long time but eventually he had been released from some Russian labour camp and somehow managed to join her but died shortly afterwards.
Poland, I'm glad to say, has also survived those long difficult years after the war when it was under the heel of the Soviet Communists. Now, thanks to the late Polish Pope John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa and his ship building workers in Solidarity and many, many others. Poland has become at last a much happier, freer and prosperous country. Long may it last.
I consider myself fortunate to have come through the Second World War, often in traumatic and hopeless situations, and survived. To have been wrenched out of Poland with my family, been separated by large distances and yet all come together again, here in Britain, is quite miraculous. We have lived normal, fulfilled lives in Britain and have been free, more or less, to do what we chose without fear of the dreaded midnight knock on the door. For all of this we are truly thankful.
Although members of my family have made short visits to Poland over the years I have never returned. I would rather remember it as it was in my youth.
Neighbours from Hell, including maps of the journey, is available at this link