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Leopold Pikulski was born in 1920 in Poland. He had just completed technical college and became a carpenter when the Germans invaded Poland from the west, followed two weeks later by the Russians invading from the east.

His father, who served as the chief of police, was arrested by the Russians, and the family lost all trace of him. It was only many years later that they learned that he had been executed by the Russians in what is known as the KATYN massacres.

Leopold, along with his mother, sister Maria, and two brothers, Zenon and Tadeusz, were deported to Siberia by the Russians in April 1940. The family were forcibly taken from their home at gunpoint, by Russian soldiers. They had been given lss than an hour to pack what they could, without knowing where they were being taken. They took what they could carry and had to leave the rest behind.

They were taken to the railway station and loaded into cattle cars with 50-60 other people. This included infants, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and seniors. Most of the adults and seniors were women. The cattle car had two shelves at either end, where people could sit or sleep – the rest had to make do with the floor. There was a cast iron stove, but they soon ran our of wood to fuel it. There was also a hole in the floor that served as a toilet.

They travelled like this for weeks, and were given some water, stale bread, and watery soup, only a few times. When someone died, their bodies were cast out next to the tracks and left there. Many infants and elders did not survive this journey.

When they reached the work camp in Siberia, they were told that this is where they would eventually die, but in the meantime, they had to work in order to earn their daily ration of bread. Children as young as 13 were set to work in the forests – cutting branches from the trees that had been cut down.

Aside from the extreme cold in winter, and extreme heat in summer, they had to contend with hordes of mosquitoes and black flies, as well as infestations of bed bugs in the barracks. There were no medical facilities in these camps, and diseases ran rampant, leading to a high death toll.

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. Leopold was one of the lucky ones – he reached the army and enlisted.

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 not 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.

Leopold’s sister Maria had died of disease, starvation, and malnutrition in Siberia, but his mother and brothers managed to make it to the southern USSR and were part of the evacuation to Persia.

Leopold spent some time in the Middle East with the Polish 2nd Corps, before enlisting in the 1st Polish Armoured Division and being sent to Scotland. There he trained with the Division until they were called to join the fight on the continent. The Division was attached to the Canadian Army and actively participated in the Normandy Invasion, where Leopold earned France's highest accolade for his valor.

Leopold participated in all the battles of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, fighting his way across France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany.  When the war ended, he remained in Germany for 2 years, as part of the occupying forces. He then returned to the UK, before relocating to Canada.

Leopold settled in Toronto, where he got married and started a family. He eventually established himself in Brantford, where he applied his carpentry skills  to renovating homes and running a rental business.

Leopold was a passionate organic gardener and an engaged member of the Polish Combatants (SPK) of Brantford. He had a particular interest in sharing his wartime experiences with young people during speaking engagements at local schools.


Leopold was awarded many distinguished medals for his service, such as Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour (France).  He died on April 25, 2015, and was buried at St. Joseph's cemetery.




Source: Polish Combatants (SPK) Brantford, Ontario


Copyright: Pikulski family

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