MARCZAK FAMILY ODYSSEY

 

Deported to Siberia, released on 'amnesty', 2 family members joined the Polish 2nd Corps, 2 members joined the 1st Polish Armoured Division, 2 members spent the war in Africa, and 1 family member remained behind in Russia..

1.  The Polish-Russian War

 

Stanislaw Marczak was born 15th April 1897 in Parczew in Eastern Poland - at the time the area was  part of the Russian partition.  Poland as a state had been wiped off the map in the German, Russian and Austrian partitions of 1772-1795.  Stanislaw's father, Josef, worked as one of the forestry workers in the local forests that belonged to the Tsar.  It was a time when the Polish population were subjected to a policy of Russification - no official Polish education was permitted.


Three months after WW1 finished, in Nov 1918, Poland was involved in the Polish-Russian War (Feb 1919 - October 1920).  Stanislaw served in the Polish Army, fighting the Russians.  He joined around June 1920 and was a member of the 214 Army Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.


In the period of 12 - 16 August 1920, Pilsudski ordered a pincer movement directed north from the Wieprz River and behind the Russians fighting to take Warsaw.   This move succeeded, when Stalin failed to send reinforcements and the Russians were routed.  This is known as the Battle of Warsaw of 1920.  Further battles around Zamosc, including the major Battle of Komarów on August 31st (considered the greatest cavalry battle of the 20th century) routed the Russians once again and forced them to abandoned Lwow.  By October 18, 1920 the fighting was over.


The volunteer regiment was promoted to 2the 24th Lancers Regiment, and was based at Krasnik.  . Poland regained some of the lands that it had lost during the partitions of 1772-1795 and, after nearly 150 stateless years, the 2nd Polish Republic was born.


In the spring of 1921, the soldiers who had fought in the Polish-Bolshevik War were chosen to resettle the lost lands in the east.  They were called Settlers


Stanislaw moved with his mother to the settlement of Ułańska Dola close to Targovica, between Lutsk and Dubno, Wolyn - in the Eastern Borderlands.  He was 24 yrs old.


In the Wolyn area there were 3,508 parcels of land given to the soldiers, of which 20 parcels of land around Targowica were granted to families.  Stanislaw was in the 24th Sabred Lancers known as Ułancy, which is why he and his colleagues named their settlement Ułańska Dola.  (Ulanska Dola translates into something like "Lancers Destiny").


Each Osadnik was given an average of 15 hectares of land, livestock, and American equipment.  They were taught the very latest efficient farming techniques, bringing improvements to the communities in which they lived.

2. Ulanska Dola / targowica

In Targowica, Stanislaw met Maria Kondradska from Lichaczowka (just across the Ikva River), and they married in 1922 (Stanislaw was 25 and Maria was 19).  Maria had two sisters, Antonina and Kamila - Antonina married Boleslaw Cieslik and they also set up a local farmstead.  The two families helped one another to build their new homes.  They farmed on the lands close to the Ikva and Styr Rivers.  [The river Styr held a strategically important defensive position - in both WW1 and WW2, the river was part of the Eastern Front between the Polish Legions / and the Germans and Russians]

Stanislaw and Maria had 5 children: Jurek and Leon were born in 1923, Tadzik in 1924, Renia in 1926 and Mietek in 1937.  Their house had a kitchen/dining area with a couch/bed, and a further bedroom where the whole family of eight slept.  

The Settlers would collect mail from th the post office located in Targowica.  The first School was in nearby Zady - in the home of a Ukrainian called Dyzio.  The settlement later built their own brick schoolhouse on the main Targowica to Zady street.  The school was also used as the local hall for dances, etc.  Each Sunday they would travel to the church in Targowica some 3 to 4 km away.  This was  the Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, a former convent that had been built in 1675 by the Dominican Fathers.  Where this road enters Targowica there was a large Mound, and the village also had a couple of mills.

 

Stanislaw's  plot was number 3, and consisted of 12 hectares of land  He had a further 1 hectare by the river for grass and reeds.  The house, built in 1922, was made from 17cm timbers with a wooden roof covered in straw.  The structure was 350 m3 in size.  The barn, built in 1923,  made with thick timbers and was  400m3 in size.  The stable, built in 1925, was 180m3 in size.  The well was dug in 1923.
 

Stanislaw also had two horses - one was called Kasztan, named after Marshall Pilsudski's favourite Arab mare.  The horses pulled an American McCormick hay-reaper, which was also owned by Stanislaw.  He would hire his services out to neighbours to reap/cut hay fon their plots.


When Jurek and Leon reached the age of 15 the Settlement Bursary Authorities in Warsaw offered the Marczaks a Bursary towards further education in an apprenticeship.  Jurek was sent to Poznan in Western Poland (approx 725km away) for an apprenticeship in Mechanical Studies.  As Leon had already been working as a helper on the farm, he went to a college especially designed for the Settlement Bursaries. It was in Beresteczko (about 35km south of Targovica on the Styr River).  He still remembers singing the Settlers' Hymn which translates roughly to:


From the Kresy borderlands
Somewhere among the battle fields
Arising from the hardships of soldiers' blood
The Marshal 's worthy people.

In September 1939, when Jurek was 16 and still in Poznan, the Germans invaded Poland.  Jurek and a colleague had 3 days to get back home.  They managed to get a train in Poznan for Warsaw but the train stopped at Kolo, 180km from Warsaw, because the station and line had been bombed.  So they had to get to Warsaw on foot.  They arrived in Warsaw on September 11th. The Germans had reached the outskirts of Warsaw on Sept 8th, so Jurek was actually walking through the front line surrounded by Germans.

 

Once in Warsaw they contacted the Settlers Bursary Authorities, who looked after them for the following  month.  By this time there were no trains running between towns, so again Jurek set off on foot to Brest-Litowski (200km) from where he caught a train to Lutsk.  At Lutsk by chance he bumped into his old Ukrainian teacher called 'Dyzio' from Zady.  Speculation has it that Dyzio was in Lutsk , looking for his wife.  She had run off and was staying with a Polish Jewish man called Furmanek.   Furmanek seems to have had two wives!  So Dyzio brought Jurek back home to Targowica.


On the 17th of September 1939, the Russians invade eastern Poland.  The NKVD (the Soviet Secret Police - later called the KGB) took control of the townships.  Disguised as "agricultural experts" they visited all the Settlement properties and documented all the families. 

3. Targowica

At the time, Targowica had a sizeable Jewish population who owned numerous shops..  The Polish Business Directory of 1929 for Targowica states that the village had 655 houses and 20 different types of businesses - some types had multiple entries, such as 5 different tailors.  Presumably, most of these would have been Jewish.  The town even had a Pub, run by Sznajder Bcia.

Today there are no shops, no administrative buildings, no Jews, no Dominican Church, no mill, no ancient cemeteries - all that remains are a few homes with rickety fences.  Targowica was destroyed and it's history is lost, but walking around it you can feel it in the air !


The Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Targowica, erected in 1675 as the former convent of Dominican Fathers, included the villages of Targowica, Babołoki, Borzemiec, Choroszcz, Krasne, Lichaczówka, Malowane, Ostryjów, Perekładowicze, Podhajce, Podłożce, Rudlów, Rykanie Wielkie, Stawrów, Szaława, Topule, Ułańska Dola, Wełnicze, Wilmazów, Wojnica, Zady, and Zawale. The parish lay in municipal Jarosławicze, Kniahinin, Młynów pow. Dubno. Dubna.  In 1938, the parish consisted of 950 worshipers.  The Church was destroyed by Ukrainians in 1943 and, after 1945, was completely demolished.


When the Russia invaded Poland in 1939, they collected all the details concerning the settlers and their families, and on 10 Feb 1940 they and their families were forcibly taken from their homes and deported to Siberia.


German troops entered Targowica on June 25, 1941.  Some 20 Jewish men were arrested.  The following day, they were taken out of the village and forced to dig pits. There they were shot to death. Poles and Ukrainians were also murdered by the Germans.  Later, while the area was still under German occupation, the conflict between Poles and Ukrainians in the Wolyn erupted, leading to 4 years of ethnic cleansing (1943-47) conducted by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).  All Polish Catholic churches in Wolyn were destroyed during the ethnic cleansing - along with all the settlement plots and buildings, and all the Jewish buildings in the town..  The peak of the massacres took place in July and August 1943 when a senior UPA commander, Dmytro Klyachkivsky, ordered the extermination of the entire Polish population and all properties that were Polish or Jewish.  Thus Poles that were not deported to Siberia were in for a worse fate - 80,000 Poles were murdered in Wolyn Province.  Had our famiy remained, it is probable that that they would have shared this fate.  A sobering thought.

 

The Russian NKVD later hunted down UPA members and, in Februaru 1945, Dmytro Klyachkivsky was killed in battle not far from Targowica.  Many surviving UPA members and their families were exiled to Siberia.

4.  Deported to Siberia - the Journey

On the night of the 9th to the 10th of February, 1940, the NKVD began the process of deporting all the Settlers and their families, in one mass deportation.

 

Marisia Stawiarska was born in Ulanska Dola.  Her mother was Antonina Kondradska, who had married Boleslaw Cieslik, and lived in Ulanska Dola.  Antonina was the sister of Stanislaw's wife Maria Kondradska.  The Komdradskis had always lived around Targovica and had lived there before Stanislaw arrived.  Marisia was 5 when our family was deported, yet she remembers the day very vividly as the two sisters were being torn from each other.


It was the harshest winter for may years.  In the early hours, whilst people slept, the Russians began arresting the Settler families at gun point.  Our grandfather had his hands tied behind his back and was made to lie face-down on the floor - he shook through fear.  Our grandmother Maria had to pack all the essential items.  They put these on a sleigh and were herded to the school at Ulanska Dola where they were guarded.

 

Word reached Antonina who was also living in Ulanska Dola at this time.  Horrified and with just scant clothing - throwing on some slippers - she ran through the snow to the school.  The sisters could only communicate through the school window.  Maria had packed some of her fine clothes and she was throwing these out through the window onto the snow for Antonina.  Maria didn't think she would be needing then where they were being sent.  Antonina had a bakery ( I think ) and had two sacks of dried breads at the store.  The guards were persuaded to allow Jurek and Leon to go to the bakery and collect the sacks for their journey.   They were escorted there under guard.

 

Trucks then arrived and took all the Settler families to the Dubno/Rowne railway station for the journey to Siberia.  At Rowne, they were herded onto cattle wagons.  The train was over a kilometer long and it would take nearly 3 weeks to reach Kotlas, leaving Rowne on 11th February.  This was the first of 4 phases of deportations executed by the Russians during WW2. Our family was deported to the Special Settlements in the far northern Archangelsk Oblast.

The cattle wagons had bunks against the far walls, there was a stove in the centre for heat and cooking,  and a hole in the floor that served as the toilet.  A blanket was hung from the ceiling to give some privacy.

 

The train headed south-east .towards Zdolbunów to Iwanko station,  crossing the Polish border at Szepetówka.  Then headed north-east towards Moscow.  At the Don River, it veered north, passing Karaczew, Aleksandrowka, Rybne, Holworsk and Voskriesensk.  East of Moscow, the train spent a lot of time standing at side rails.  The night lights of Moscow were bright against the snowy landscape.  Uncle Tadeusz seemed to think the authorities had not decided exactly where to send the train from there.  When the journey resumed, we headed due east, towards Gorki, crossing the Volga  River, then heading due north toward Kirow, Sobotkow.

On 27 February 1940 we arrived at Kotlas in the Archangelsk oblast.  Here we spent a couple of days waiting for sleds to arrive to take us further into the tundra forests.  It was -40 C.  The rivers were frozen and were the main throughways to move us 100 kms northeast to the Special Settlement of Bierdyszycha in the province of Lensky.  We arrived at Bierdyszycha on March 2nd.  Many of the Ulanska Dola families were kept together and sent to this location.

5. Special Settlement (work camp) "Bierdyszycha" in Archangelsk

The deportees were housed in special work camps, administered by the NKVD.  These were open settlements/prison farms unlike some of the fenced gulag prisons.  It was a means of supplying forced labour in remote areas of Russia.  According the Polish Index of the Repressed, the work camp at Bierdyszycha included 383 individuals from 80 families from the Rowne (123 individuals) and Tarnopol (260 individuals) departure stations. 

The camp consisted of primitive huts and barracks.  Convoys set out on foot and by barge down the Northern Dvina River and up the Vychegda River, taking people into the forests.  Here they had to build new settlements and work at cutting and rafting timber, and building roads.  The camp was only a few kilometers from Litvinovo, and Jurek recalls taking logs down to the river's edge and releasing them so that the logs would float downstream towards Kotlas.  


Their staple diet was porridge made from barley grain that they could buy, and bread.  The motto was, " He who does not work does not eat".  Our family consisted of a strong father with equally strong boys, and a mother who also worked preparing felled trees, each was rewarded with a kilo of bread each day.  At the end of the month each received a small amount of money for the work they did.  Collectively they were in surplus and distributed the bread to other families that did not have the same capacity to work - families with young children and sick fathers.  

 

The winter months were particularly hard - Leon remembers wearing fur shoes and fur jackets inside their primitive hut.  During summer months Jurek remembers that there was an abundance of blackberries and mushrooms.


The guards were governed by the Commandant.  The manager who allocated the forestry work was named Kolnuv Ilnisky, and the regional head was Katarski.  Katarski was of Polish decent but thoroughly Russified.  The main aim of these settlements was the assimilation of Poles into the Russian peasant culture.  The Poles were not allowed to speak in their native Polish tongue in public.


Our neighbour Sorderl died in Kotlas, due to asthma and the minus -42 temps.  Leon remembers that when it was really cold in the forest, they would make fires from the branches - even Renia would help to collect these bits of wood.  They were not allowed to burn wood in the summer months, though! 

 

Leon remembers that they used to eat at a communal dining area and that our grandmother worked in a bakery for a while.  The family were part of a specific team - felling trees, removing branches and cutting the trunks into three segments.  Monetary rewards were based on productivity, but only just enough to feed oneself.  Families were also granted some allotment space and the allotment size was based on the family's level of productivity.  Jurek recalls they had one of the largest allotments.


Initially, the deportees were crammed into overcrowded barracks, but with the tree felling they were instructed to build new log huts for themselves, and thus build their new settlement.  This included a very fine home for the Comandant.  It was believed that they would ever leave this new settlement.

 

Mietek was around 3 years of age at this time, and Stanislaw managed to get a cow from Russian neighbours and thus fresh milk, so things were looking up.  This was a luxury by work camp standards.
However, the cow didn't give much milk because she was lonely and away from the rest of the herd !

 

But change was on the horizon:  In June 1941, Germany attacked Russia, and in August 1941 Russia joined the western allies and negotiated a deal with Churchill and Sikorski to 'amnesty' all Poles held captive in the Soviet Union.

6.  'Amnesty'

The Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet government signed the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, which announced the willingness of both to fight together against Nazi Germany and for a Polish Army to be formed on Soviet territory.  The Polish general Władysław Anders was freed from a Russian prison and began organizing this Army.  In due course, General Anders requested information about the thousands of Polish officers who were missing.  Stalin assured him and Prime Minister Sikorski that all the Poles were freed, and that the Soviets "lost track" of these officers in Manchuria.  The Germans discovered the mass graves of Polish Officers in the Katyn Forest in 1943.  Stalin blamed the Germans for this act and denounced the Polish Government in exile in London for cooperating with the Germans in suggesting it was the Russians that carried out this massacre.


On 10th September 1941, the Marczak family were given papers allowing them to travel south to Soroczynsk near Buzuluk and Tockoye - where General Anders was gathering his Polish Army.  Winter was approaching, it had started to snow, and the cold had set in.  The Army has makeshift tents for shelter, but spirits are high.


Jurek and Leo, who are 18 years old now, leave first.   They set off with colleagues to join the Polish Army and head 1,750 miles south to Tashkent.  They split into smaller groups so as to have a better chance to hitch some transport and get food.  The rest of the Marczak family would follow a little later.

When the Russian government agreed that the Poles could assemble an army on Russian soil,  everyone assumed the Poles will fight alongside the Russians.  But the relationship between the Poles and Russians became increasingly strained, as there was no resolution regarding the missing Polish Officers.  Stalin made a surprising offer on July 2nd 1942, suggesting that the British evacuate 3 Polish divisions to the Middle East.  Consequently, the Polish Army assembled in Uzbekistan and moved to the British sphere of influence. 

Chaos reigns, food and water becomes an issue. There was always a reluctance to provide adequate food provisions for the gathering Army - Stalin had his own problems facing the Germans, feeding the Poles wasn't one of his high priorities.  Poles have to make their own way south although cattle wagons do stop to give Poles a ride to the south.  Weak and starving,  many perish in the hot climate.


The rest of the family set off south from Kotlas some months later, and it is during this journey that 13-year-old Renia gets off the train in search of food, and the train is gone when she gets back.  Tadzik recalls that he and his father Stanislaw made their way back to the station, but Renia was nowhere to be found.

 

Eventually Jurek and Leo get to Tashkent but there isn't enough food to feed the gathering Army.  The local Uzbeks had collective farms that required workers, so the Poles were encouraged to go and work there in order to get food to eat.  The local collective farms soon fill up, but Leon and Jurek get a tip that there is work in the cotton fields near the Aral Sea, nearly 1000 km away, so they travel to Moynoq there by cattle train and find work as repairing shoes for a couple of months.

In the summer of 1942, they realize there are no trains back to Tashkent where the Polish Army is assembling, so they start to walk back along the Amu Darya River towards Buchara.  They crossed these  desert lands,  all 465 miles, on foot !!  Jurek recalls that the Uzbeks generally welcomed the Poles and finding a place to sleep and some unleavened bread wasn't too difficult.  They learned a few vital Uzbek words - makara (friend) and karsch yaman (we're hungry).  Under-nourished and weak, walking between 50 and 100 km per day - this was some achievement.  They join the Army at Buchara. They joined up with the main Polish forces from Jangijul and were transported to Krasnovodsk at the Caspian Sea, where they were ailed on coal vessels to Pahlavi in Persia, a journey that took 24 hours.

Camps were set up on the beeches around Pahlavi and the soldiers received British uniforms and adequate rations.  The arriving ships were unloaded and the Poles were moved to the camps on the beaches of Pahlavi.  The tents housed women and children. The Army camped in an open space.  The sunshine warmed up tired bodies and the waves of the sea bathed and refreshed them.  The following day they were paraded to the bathhouses.  Old clothes had to be left outside before they were subjected to a delousing program.  All these clothes contained not only lice but also the germs of typhoid, dysentery and other diseases which were so rampant in Russia.  The clothes were burnt and, after a good shower (what a luxury!) the soldiers received new, clean British uniforms!

When they were told that they would receive 400g of bread a day they grumbled: "In Russia we had 800g of bread and we were hungry". "Don't worry" said the General "there is more".   They were happily surprised when they received their first meal on the beach, which included: corned beef, cheese, crackers, oranges, dates, and jam.  What a feast!  For supper they went to the field kitchen. That meal included soup, lamb, rice, and fruit.  Once they regained some strength, they moved to camps around Tehran, where they underwent more rigorous training.

 

Two evacuations from Kranovodsk took place between August 9th and August 30th 1941.  After this all further evacuations were stopped by the Russians.  Some 95,000 Polish soldiers were evacuated, along with about 35,000 civilians who would be sent to settlements in various British colonies in the Middle East, Africa, India and New Zealand, as well as in Mexico.


A request is received from the UK that Polish General Stanislaw Maczek's Polish 1st Armoured Division assembling in Scotland need reinforcements, so thousands of Polish troops were sent to Scotland.  Jurek and Leon were among them  They traveled via Baghdad, through Palestine, finally arriving in Suez where they boarded ships bound for the UK. Given that the Mediterranean and the Straights of Gibraltar were heavily guarded by German U-boats,  the route to the UK was a long one.  The ships headed south through the Suez Canal, around the horn of Africa to South Africa, and they stayed in Durban for a couple of months.  Another ship took them around west Africa and up to Glasgow, and Jurek and Leon were sent to a base in Kelso, Scotland.


Stanislaw and Tadzik join the Polish 2nd Corps (colloquially referred to as Anders Army) and were sent to Palestine and then onto Italy and the battle of Monte Casino.


Renia does get to Tashkent on her own - but the door to the west has now been closed. A Russian family in Tashkent take her in and she becomes part of their family.  She lives with them for 5 years until 1947, when Renia (now 21) made her way back to Poland.  The Russian family pleaded for her to stay, but her Polish roots were to deep not to come back.  She later told Jurek how good the Russian family were to her, but she never wrote to them.  Her hatred of Stalin and the Russian system stopped her from doing so - something that she regretted in later years.


Mietek (age 5) and Mother were sent to the Polish Settlement called Kidugala, in South Tanganyika, Africa.  The family had been truly splintered.  

7.  Scotland : 1st Polish Armoured Division

Having arrived in Kelso in Scotland, Leon and Jurek were now part of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. It had been formed from the remnants of the Polish Army that had founght in France and were evacuated to the UK at Dunkirk.  The Polish military structure in Scotland had grown larger, more sophisticated and more efficient.  Poles were scattered various locations: in Cupar, Leven, Milnathort, Auchtermuchty, Crawford, Biggar, Douglas, Duns, Kelso, Forres, Perth, Tayport, Lossiemouth, Arbroath, Forfar and Carnoustie.


The 1st Polish Armoured Division was headed by General Maczek and included 16,000 soldiers, 380 tanks, 470 guns.  They were subsequently integrated with the First Canadian Army.  Both Jurek and Leon were in the 1st Armoured Regiment, 51 - the 51 was painted on their tanks - and were part of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade.


The Coat of Arms included the feathered wings and helmet of the elite Polish Winged Hussars.  Between the Battle of Lubiszew in 1577 and the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Polish-Lithuanian Hussars had fought countless battles against a variety of enemies, and rarely lost a battle.  Polish Hussars were also famous for the huge 'wings' worn on their backs or attached to the saddles of their horses.  The wings were made of a wooden frame and, most commonly, eagle feathers.


In 1943, after training in Kelso, Jeremi (Jurek) and Longin (Leon) Marczak ,were split into separate tank groups, initially using British Crusader tanks.  They moved to Bury St. Edmunds, where they collected the American Sherman M4 tanks.  Toward the end of July 1944 they were sent to Caen in Normandy and  were soon engaging the German 7th Army.  On August 8th they had their first combat role in Operation Totalize.  Within another week they would be in the thick of things at the Battle of Falaise Pocket.


On day 4 the brigade encountered heavy resistance from German tanks that were sunk behind protective mounds and difficult to dislodge.  Soldiers had to go on a walkabout from time to time and Jurek had just got to a copse of trees some way from his tank.  At this moment, American planes arrived dropping bombs meant for the German tanks, but falling all around Jurek and continuing towards his brigade.  Jurek immediately dived into a bomb crater, in the belief  that lighting doesn't strike twice in the same location.  He heard calls from soldiers on the other side of the copse and jumped from one crater to another before finally reaching three Canadian soldiers also sheltering from the friendly fire.  When the raid had passed, Jurek hopped into a Canadian jeep and they drove him back to his brigade. Mayhem was all around - the brigade had lost soldiers in the raid and many were wounded.  Jurek was covered in dirt from head to foot after diving from one crater to another, and when his mates saw him they asked where on earth he had got to!

8.  Falaise – Maczuga

Commencing on 14th August 1944 with an attack on Falaise itself, it soon developed into a classic pincer movement to encircle the entire German 7th Army, heading them off between the towns of Falaise, Trun and Chambois.


General Maczek was a very modern armoured commander, having commanded brigades before the war and in the campaigns of 1939 and 1940 with great skill.  He had carefully studied German tactical methods and applied what he had learned in the field.  While the 3rd Rifle Brigade (with the 1st & 2nd Armoured Regiments (51 and 52 markings) was sent to seize The Mace (Mont Ormel or Hill 262 North), the 10th Cavalry Brigade to seize and hold the village of Chambois, thereby linking up with the US XV Corps coming up from Le Mans.


The British engaged the Germans in the east, whilst Patton's 3rd Army moved up from the south to Chambois.  The Canadians took Trun and the 1st Polish Armoured Division broke out from the Canadian ranks and forced through to Chambois, joining the Americans on August 19th, thus hoping to encircle the Germans.  Despite being somewhat exposed during this manoeuver, they did link up the Americans - candy bars were their reward.

 

Army resources were thin between Trun and Chambois, and a gap developed referred to as the  Falaise Gap,  through which the German 7th Army were able to retreat.  Hill 262 - Mont Ormel  (Maczuga - The Mace) was strategically positioned and the 1st Polish Armoured Division was best placed to try to take the hill and stem the German Retreat.  At this point the Poles were sandwiched between supporting German 2 SS Panzer divisions and the retreating 7th Army.  Hells Gate if ever there was one.  The German 7th, having sustained heavy losses from the direction of the hill, immediately set about eliminating the Polish position by throwing substantial forces at the hill, including diverting the 9 SS Panzer division.  The Poles were using up ammunition as fast as they were getting re-supplied, at times nearly running out.  Fierce fighting lasted for two full days, but the Poles hung on and on by August 21st the gap was closed.  The Poles lost 1,290 men and 3,820 were injured - 30% of the division.  The Poles won the respect of all the Allies.


General Crerar sent the following telegram to Maczek: First Canadian Army is very proud because the Polish Armoured Division is a part of us.  If in the future we all continue to fight as at the present time, the mutual celebration of final victory should not be much delayed.


It was biggest German defeat since Stalingrad.  In the week-long battle 10,000 to 15,000 Germans were killed and 50,000 taken prisoner, and most of their armoury was left behind in the pocket.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower commented, "No other battlefield presented such a horrible sight of death, hell and total destruction".

The trail of the 1st Polish Armoured Division:

  • Scotland Kelso

  • England - Bury St. Edmunds - Southampton

  • France - Arromanches/Gold Beach - Caen - Falaise (Maczuga - Mont Ormel - Hill 262) - Rouen

  • Belgium , Breda Holland

  • Wilhelmshaven Germany

After the Allied Armies broke out from Normandy, the 1st Polish Armoured Division pursued the Germans along the coast of the English Channel.  They liberated the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele, among others.  Some time after Falaise, Jurek's tank drove over a mine and was badly damaged.  The crew were fortunate to only get some small shrapnel wounds, and were soon patched up and given a new tank.  Although Jurek was the driver, he occasionally swapped places with the cannon gunner to fire off a few salvo's during stationary battle formations.

 

A successful outflanking manoeuvre, planned and performed by General Maczek, led to the liberation of the city of Breda on 29 October 1944, without any civilian casualties.  The Division spent the winter of 1944-1945 on the south bank of the Rhine River, guarding a sector around Moerdijk in the Netherlands. In early 1945 the Division was transferred to the province of Overijssel and joined the Allied push along the Dutch-German border, liberating the eastern parts of the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen with towns such as Emmen, Coevorden and Stadskanaal.

In April 1945, the 1st Polish Armoured Division entered Germany in the area of Emsland.  On May 6 the division seized the Kriegsmarine naval base in Wilhelmshaven, where General Maczek accepted the capitulation of the fortress, the naval base, the East Frisian Fleet, and more than 10 infantry divisions.  After the war the Polish troops remained as occupying forces for a further 2.5 years.  They were allowed holidays and, during one of these, Jurek went to Italy and met up with their father Stanislaw and brother Tadzik.


In 1947, Leon and Jurek returned to England and were barracked at Tilset near Salisbury.  Once de-mobbed, Jurek and  Leon were sent to Dolgellau in North Wales, where they cleared trails in the forest around the old gold mines.  Companies from South Wales came to offer work in the foundries of Port Talbat/Swansea, where they worked for 18 months before finally moving to Manchester.

9.  Carpathian Brigade of the 2nd Polish Corps

Stanislaw and Tadzik had joined the Polish Army in Jangijul near Tashkent in Russia.  They were then sent to Persia (Iran), Iraq, and Palestine (Israel).  In Palestine, their division joined the Carpathian Brigade and the 3 DSK (3rd Carpathian Division) was formed.

After the fall of France in June 1940, the brigade had moved to Palestine in order to avoid falling under Vichy control, and then to Tobruk where its commander, Major-General Stanisław Kopański, commanded the Allied garrison after the Australian garrison had been replaced.


In November 1941, the Division took part in the Crusader offensive in the Western Desert campaign before being withdrawn to Palestine in March 1942, having suffered 200 killed and 424 wounded.  It was then reorganized as the 3rd Carpathian Division, with the inclusion of freed Poles from Russia.  Stanislaw was in the transport battalion, moving ammunition up to the front.  "Wojtek the Bear" was with them.  Tadzik recalls seeing Wojtek, fully grown, when he visited his father Stanislaw during leave.

 

Tadzik was in the 3rd Carpathian Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment.   The 2nd Polish Corps was the Army that finally broke through and liberated the monastery of Monte Casino and then Loretto and Bologna.  Tadzik lost one of his best friends during the battle of Loreto; he was killed as he stood right next to him.  Tadzik recalled sadly, "I visited his grave and many other friends' graves when I visited Monte Cassino in 1973 and again in 1994".

 

The 3rd Carpathian Brigade's name reflected the soldiers' hopes that they would be able to liberate their homeland by crossing Southern Europe and the Carpathian Mountains.  This aim is immortalised in the words of the Polish National Anthem chorus sung to a Mazurka beat:  "March! March! Dabrowski! March from Italy to Poland!  Under your command, we shall reach our land".  Dabrowski was a Polish General whose army became one of Napoleons’ legions in Italy.   After the third partition, Polish legions had escaped the country and joined up with Napoleon.  But it was wishful thinking.  Napoleon was only interesting in having the support of large legions of Polish warriors in his army in order to gain Poland for himself, as an annex to France.  He never allowed Dabrowski to cross the Carpathian Alps into Poland.  In the end, the uniform of the army that crossed from Italy to Poland to help Poland gain it’s freedom wasn’t khaki but white - the colour of the Papacy.

10.  After the War

After the war the Polish troops remained as occupying forces for a further 2.5 years before they returned to England in 1947.

 

Renia was repatriated to Poland and was not allowed to join her family in England.


Stanislaw died in Manchester 1969.


General Maczek left the 1st Polish Armoured Division on 9 September 1948.  After the war, General Maczek was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the Communist government of Poland, and had to remain in Britain.  He and his family took up residence in Edinburgh.   Since Britain now recognized the Communist Polish Government, he was not considered by the British to be an Allied soldier, and was denied combatant rights and a military pension.  He worked as a bartender in an Edinburgh hotel.  In 1961, he published his memoir entitled: ‘’Od podwody do czolga” (From horsedrawn carriage to tank).  He died on December 11th, 1994, at the age of 102.  He is buried among his soldiers in the Polish Military Field of Honour on Ettensebaan in Breda, The Netherlands.  This was in accordance with his last wishes. 

 

Each year, during Liberation Day festivities, Breda is visited by a large Polish contingent and the city reserves part of the festivities for the fallen Polish soldiers.  The Poles fought alongside the Allies hoping to gain a free and Independent land, but it was not to be.  Despite having the fourth largest army facing the Germans (After Russia, GB and Canada) there was no room for Poland at the negotiating table in Yalta.  Roosevelt and Churchill had inaugurated the Atlantic Charter in August 1941, laying down Article 2, which stated that there would be no territorial adjustments without peoples' consent and Article 3, which protected people’s right to self-determination.  Yet, this had no bearing on the Yalta negotiations. The Russians retained the eastern borderlands, and the Poles were given part of the German lands (which had Polish roots historically) to compensate.  But Poland would fall into the Soviet Communist bloc. As a result the Polish fighters, and those that had escaped the Gulags of Siberia and Kazakhstan,  had no home to go back to.  They were offered residence throughout the Allied lands, but were not invited to participate in the Victory marches and celebrations.

PHOTOS

Ulanska Dola 1928 - Harvest time in the fields of Ulanska Dola. Stanislaw is sitting on the American McCormick hay-reaper. L-R:  Maria, Renia, Leon, Jurek, Tadzik, Stanislaw seated, and Grandmother Karolina.  In 2009, local Ukrainians confirmed that the hay-reaper was still in the area, abandoned in one of the forests !

Stanislaw and Tadzik in the 1st Polish Armoured Division during the Second World War

Maria and Mietek in Iran

Jurek and Leon in the Polish 2nd Corps during the Second World War

Maria and Mietek in Kidugala, Africa

Renia, after her return to Poland from Russia