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Translation of parts of an interview by Prof. Patalas

Lech was born to Michal and Antonina (nee Piotrowska) on December 29, 1925, in Kupiski Stare near Lomza in Poland. On February 10, 1940, at age 14, Lech and his family were deported by the Russian invaders to a labour camp in the Archangelsk region of Siberia.

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 kilometers 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. The women and children who followed later, encountered the same difficulties on their journey south.

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.

Having first joined the Polish 2nd Corps in Persia, Lech was discharged on medical grounds a month later. Consequently, he was sent to the Polish refugee camp in Mombassa, Tanzania, East Africa, along with his family. Contrary to today’s refugee camps around the world, the Polish refugee camps were equipped with schools – elementary, middle school, high school, and a technical school; a YMCA with sports and recreational facilities and a reasonable library; a cinema covered by a roof on stilts but without walls; and an open-air theatre. There was a co-op bakery, and a co-op store sold a modest supply of sundries along with foodstuffs from the settlement’s impressive farm. Established in order to make the settlement as self-sufficient as possible, the farm accomplished this with great success, combining crops native to Africa as well as – climate permitting – old favourites from Poland.

Lech had finished the first grade of junior high in Poland before the war. Now he started the second grade under an old baobab tree because they still had no classrooms at the time. He completed his high school education at the camp. and in April 1945, he put on a military uniform once again, although he never fought the Germans. training. Lech was admitted to an officer school which trained sappers in Capua near Naples, and later joined the Polish Resettlement Corps in England. Lech was discharged from the army in January of 1947 in Surrey, England. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant by a special order of General W. Anders, effective January 1, 1964.

Lech spent eight years in England, successfully completing a technical school specializing in lady’s handbag design, and he met there his future wife Mila Bohdanowicz. They were married in 1954, and the following year they joined Lech’s sister Janina and her husband Henryk Lorenc in Winnipeg.

Lech was a member of the Polish Combatants Association Branch No. 13 (S.P.K.) and in 1954, 1974 and 1975 he was president of the organization, which also served as the home base of the Royal Canadian Legion Andrew Mynarski V.C. Br. 34. He also participated in Polish Scouting (Z.H.P.), and the presidency of and an active role in the CZAS newspaper.

Lech passed away in Winnipeg on March 25, 2000, at the age of 74.

Copyright: Fulmyk fmily

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