by his son-in-law
Tadeusz Szymanski was born in Nowogrod, Poland on 29 March 1920. Nowogrod is located in Belarus today, but in 1920 it was in newly-independent Poland. Prior to independence, this part of Poland was ruled by Tsarist Russia during the 123 years of the partition of the country..
Sadly, the independence that Poland gained following the end of World War I was not set to last. On the 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland from the west and then the Russians invaded Poland from the east on the 17th of that month. Poland was now divided, the Germans occupying the west and the Russians, the east.
On 10 February 1940, the Russians began a programme of deporting civilians from the eastern borderlands of Poland to work camps in Siberia and northern Kazakhstan. This included landowners, intelligentsia, figures of authority, and civil servants. However, there were many instances where people were taken away for no particular reason. This was a way for the Soviets to exert their authority on the Polish population and bring about the ethnic cleansing of the area. Tadeusz found himself on a cattle train bound for Siberia.
Somehow Tadeusz managed to escape. He found his way back to Moscow, travelled across the city to find the correct terminus and hid himself under a train bound for Poland. The train guard was aware of the stowaway, but did not report this fact to the authorities. It has to be said that the Russian population was, for the greater part, sympathetic to the plight of the Poles and would give assistance where possible. Tyrannical rulers mark Russian history and, over the centuries, most ordinary people learned to give lip service or ignore them. It is understood, though, that any such assistance had to be given very discretely. Here again, centuries of conditioning must have played their part.
Tadeusz did manage to get back to Poland, walking across the border at night. However, one of the locals spotted him and alerted the authorities. He was quickly sent back to where he had started. This time, there was no escape.
In the latter half of June, 1941, the Germans launched a brutal attack on their former ally, the USSR. Following negotiations with the British and Polish governments, Stalin declared a so-called ‘amnesty’ whereby the Poles being held captive in the USSR were to regain their freedom. The first plan was for the Poles to fight alongside the Russians, helping them to repel the Nazi invader.
However, when the Russians did not supply the Poles with sufficient food, clothing, and other necessities, the newly formed Polish Army evacuated to Persia (Iran) and fell under British command. The Polish 2nd Corps trained in Persia, Iraq and Egypt, and then went on to fight in the Italian Campaign.
Tadeusz drove a lorry in the army, and did so during the Italian Campaign. Once the fighting had ended, he strove to impress Italian girls, with his driving prowess. One of his tricks was to momentarily switch off the ignition while the vehicle was in motion, which would allow the exhaust to fill with petrol vapour. Subsequent reactivation of the ignition would result in a very loud report from the exhaust and the young maidens would jump up in fright! There was, apparently, considerable skill involved in this process, as over-zealous application could result in total destruction of the exhaust system!
At the end of the war, Tadeusz’s homeland came under the sphere of influence of the USSR. With no free country to return to, he decided to settle in Britain, where he met and married, Regina.
Tadeusz Szymanski, 2nd from the right in the photo.
Source: Tadeusz Szymanski at BBC website: bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar