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Kazimierz BIERNACKI

Kazimierz was born on 20 December 1919 in Bejnarowka, Wolyn province, Poland. The Germans invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939, and the Russians invaded from the east on 17 September 1939. They divided Poland between them. In 1940, Kazimierz was forcibly conscripted into the Russian Army.

In June 1941, Germany turned on its ally, Russia. Stalin then quickly changed tactics and allied himself with the west so that the allies could help him defeat the Germans. This led to the signing of the Sikorski-Majewski agreement that called for the freeing of Poles imprisoned in POW camps and labour camps in the USSR, and the formation of a Polish Army in the southern USSR.

The news of this ‘amnesty’ did not reach every camp, but where it did become known, the men and boys soon made plans to make their way south to join the army. For most, this meant walking thousands of kilometres and only occasionally getting on a train for part of the journey.  Many did not make it, and those who did were emaciated skeletons by the time they got there.  Kazimierz made this difficult journey south to join the Polish army being formed in the USSR.

General Anders was in charge of the army, and he tried hard to get the Russians to provide the food and equipment they had promised. When this became more and more impossible, he negotiated the right to evacuate the army to Persia, where the British would provide what was needed.

Anders insisted on taking as many of the civilians that had reached the army as possible. There were 2 mass evacuations: in March/April 1942, and in September 1942. Then Stalin changed his mind and closed the borders. Those who had not been evacuated were now stuck in the USSR.

The evacuation took place by ship over the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi in Persia (now Iran). The ships that were used were oil tankers and coal ships, and other ships that were not equipped to handle passengers. They were filthy and lacked even the basic necessities, like water and latrines. The soldiers and civilians filled these ships to capacity for the 1-2 day trip. When there were storms, the situation got even worse – with most of the passengers suffering sea sickness.

Kazimierz trained in Persia (Iran), Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He then sailed to Italy with the Polish 2nd Corps and took part in the largest battle in Europe during the Second World War - the Battle of Monte Casino - where he was wounded. He also took part in the battles of Bologna, Loreto, and Ancona. He was awarded the Polish War medal, the Monte Casino Cross, the 1939-1945 Star, the Italy Star, the Cross of Valour, and several other medals.

After the war he came to Canada from Italy on a two-year work contract in November 1946. Here he met his sweetheart, Maria, while recovering from his wounds in Ninette, Manitoba. They married in August 1952 and settled in Winnipeg.

He joined the Polish Combatants’ Association Branch No. 13, and Royal Canadian Legion Mynarski V.C. Branch No. 34, and was a lifetime member of the Holy Ghost Parish.

He began his career as a barber and subsequently opened his own shop “Shaughnessy Barber Shop” on Railway Street, where one could get a haircut and solve the world’s problems, get good advice and discuss any topic that came up.  He retired in September 1986.

Kazimierz passed away in Winnipeg on 26 October 2001, at the age of 82 years. He is buried at the Holy Ghost Cemetery in Winnipeg.

Copyright: Biernacki family

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