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Translation of parts of an

interview by Prof. Patalas

I was born in the village of Lasowa, not far from Lwów [L’viv], In September of 1939, after they overran our part of the country, the Bolsheviks accused me and twenty others of murdering a Soviet officer. We were arrested in the middle of the night and tried the very next day. Our guilt was self-evident, we were told, so there was no need for any defenders; an NKVD [state security police] prosecutor was quite enough. Each of us was sentenced to twenty years in a labour camp. Without further ado, we were dispatched beyond the Ural Mountains, to Siberia. For a time we worked in sawmills, supplying lumber for zemlianki, or sunken huts, which were being constructed for potential refugees from Moscow, should it become necessary to evacuate the Soviet capital.

Later we worked on the construction of various airfields, and it was at one of those that we learned about the pact between Sikorski and Stalin. As soon as the news of the amnesty filtered through the layers of Soviet bureaucracy, we were released from the labour camp and allowed to travel to Totskoye. There we joined the ranks of the Polish soldiers and put on new uniforms sent by the British. My unit was assigned to the railway station: our task was to assist volunteers for the Polish army, arriving from all corners of the Soviet Union.

When our troops began to leave for Persia, we were assigned to Transport no. 113, consisting of about 13,000 people. The journey took days and the conditions were typically Soviet, with people starving and freezing on the train. Our supplies were so meagre that we could scarcely keep people alive.

Later in Krasnowodsk we were ushered onto a Soviet ship, which took us to Persia. Later my path led through Persia, India, Palestine, and South Africa. We were supposed to stay at that last destination for six months to recover from months of malnutrition, but after two months they asked for volunteers to serve on sea convoys. Most of us volunteered, and we spent three and a half months crossing the seas to Argentina, Australia, and the United States. On the trip to New York, we were guarding 2000 German POWs.

From New York we went to Halifax and then aboard a ship that formed part of a large convoy ferrying American and Canadian troops to Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe. We were escorted by several submarines and reached Glasgow without any incident.

I signed up for the paratroopers of the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade under General Sosnowski.  This seemed to promise a more daring career. They trained us in the so-called “monkey grove,” equipped with all kinds of training gear.

Our main objective was to capture a bridge on the Rhine, to be used by the troops of General Montgomery. Obviously, the Germans were aware of our intentions, and they put up fierce resistance. We got the order to cross the Rhine to Arnhem in the middle of the night, but once again the enemy seemed to be waiting for us. The river and the town turned into hell. Our boats were pounded by German artillery. I was wounded in the leg. Hurt and exhausted, with Germans closing in, we stood no chance. We received the order to save our lives and surrender. The Germans rounded us up and dispatched us to Brussels. We did not stay in the POW camp for long before being liberated by the Allied forces.

I was immediately transferred to a British hospital. My wound was from an incendiary shell, and the leg was all red and would not heal. The British surgeon said it would hve to be amputated. But I insisted on being switched to the Polish hospital. The very next day they sent me by train to Aberfelde, for consultation with an excellent Polish surgeon, Colonel Dr. Mazanek. He took a good look at my wound and told me not to worry, in three weeks I would be fine. To my delight, three weeks later I indeed recovered.

My heart had been set afire by an English girl from the Air Force Auxiliary Services, who specialized in the inspection of aircraft dials. I met her in 1944 while I was still in the hospital. We were married two years later in a Scottish church in Glasgow.

Making a living in England was very difficult, so we decoded to emigrate to Canada, sponsored by Holy Ghost parish. The beginnings were difficult, and good jobs were few and far between. But eventually things improved, and they were able to live comfortably and raise their two sons.

Coptright: Kowaliszyn family

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