His memoir called "Human Traces"
The year 1947 was the most tragic one for my two younger sisters and for me.
It was even more dramatic and bitter than that of 1940, when we got deported to Russia.
During July of 1947, in Masindi, Uganda, in the middle of Africa, my life, instead of budding into flower, has very abruptly and tragically withered, yet again.
I kept asking, why have I and my two younger sisters, Irena and Izabella, had to suffer so much and so early in our lives for the second time?Hardly have I had a chance of unpacking my rucksack after my memorable scout camping, when my mother, suddenly took ill.In the middle of the night, I had to run two miles to hospital to get help and ask for an ambulance.Worried out of my mind, I did not sleep for the rest that night.
It was Sunday, the following morning, when I went to visit my Mother. She was unconscious. When I went again later that day, I had learnt, from the nursing staff, that my Mother had regained her consciousness at mid-day.
According to hospital staff, she must have had some premonition of her imminent death, for she said that she would be very saddened for leaving her three children as orphans.
When I heard that short briefing and the time of my Mother’s regaining her consciousness, I, immediately, knew that it was God’s special grace. My Mother, always, used to go to the high mass at twelve o’clock. It was at twelve o’clock, that fatal Sunday, when she had regained her consciousness. It only lasted for the duration of the high mass, until one o’clock. Then, she died peacefully. There was a blessing of peace and tranquility showing on her beautiful face.
Come Monday morning, the three of us, orphans had to make our own breakfast for the first time in our short lives.After a very Spartan meal, the three of us were preparing to be moved to the orphanage.
At fourteen, being the eldest, I decided not to take any of the kitchen utensils. Rightly, I thought that none of them would have been of any use to me. Neighbours had gathered around our hut, like vultures.
To get some peace, I gave them all the kitchen utensils. Then, I packed some of those belongings, which I had judged to be of some immediate and practical use to the three of us, orphans. In the main, they were our clothing, all the schoolbooks and some photographs. I took great care of their most treasured possession of all, our Mother’s heirloom, the blessed picture of Our Lady of Sorrows, which used to sanctify our cottage back home, in Poland.
With that light luggage, the three of us, Izabella, only six years old, Irena, just under ten and I, their big brother, arrived at the orphanage, on a cloudy evening, very depressed and completely heart broken.
Luckily, one young maiden, Maria Ostrowska at the orphanage, took great and loving care of the two girls. I, myself, ended in a different hut with other orphan boys.
There, in those most traumatic moments of great distraught and helplessness, I, also, was -somewhat- lucky. I ended being looked after by a very caring lady. Her name was Stanczak. She was an angel of a person, extremely caring, young woman. She was the sister of two, very gifted painters, mentioned before.
Miss Stanczak used to read all sorts of interesting stories, by the well-known authors, like Henryk Sienkiewicz. From time to time, she would even sing some lovely ballads.
Ms. Stanczak was one in a million. Unfortunately, she was not there for long.
There were hundreds of children, of different ages, at the orphanage. Some of who did not even remembers their parents. They had no knowledge of their parents’ whereabouts. They were, presumably dead and buried in Russia.Some children did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.
The orphanage was a place of sadness. There was thirteen years old Jurek with his ten years of age sister Maria. In addition, there were two brothers, whom I had befriended; Janek and Kazio and their sister Wlada. There were two sisters, Loda and young Renia, both of their parents were dead and the only brother was in the Polish armed forces, in Italy.
I also remember an excellent volleyball player, Alek and his sister Lucyna. There were twin sisters, Janina and Danuta. There were so many others; whose names, I have unfortunately forgotten, but whose sad faces, I can never forget, and never will, for as long as I will live.
Going to the funeral of our mother, was the saddest experience of all. Mother’s body was buried on the slopes of the mount Wanda.There, on the cemetery next to the church of The Virgin Lady of Czestochowa, lay over fifty bodies, until the day of the resurrection, as promised by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
That church is now called The Church of the Mother of God. The place where our settlement used to be is presently called Murro, P.O.Box 34, Hoima, Uganda, and E. Africa. Next to the church, are laid Polish traces, as witness of human, barbaric, conflicts of war.
In the heart of Africa lies my Mother’s body. Her everlasting soul is back with the merciful God. Her most loving heart lives in the three orphans’ until the end of our days on this valley of pains and sorrows.
After the morning exercise, we, the orphans would run back to our straw huts and look for our small bundles of the earthly possessions, from which to find something to clothe our bodies, something to wear.
Just as well, it was in Africa. It was really warm and there was no need for a lot of clothing to wear. With short-sleeved shirt and shorts, with light sandals on my feet, carrying my schoolbooks under my left arm, I would run to the big, dining, dwarf walled hut, for a very basic breakfast. It normally consisted of a cup of white coffee and a couple of slices of buttered bread. After breakfast, with two of my schoolmates, I would walk about two miles to the grammar school.Other youths, who used to go to the mechanical classes, had to go twice as far.
This brought some memories about the climatic conditions in Africa.African climate consists of two seasons: the dry and the rainy, monsoon season, In between, there, more often than not, would be some nasty hurricanes. Such hurricanes would lift all loose topsoil and turn an ordinary day into dark gray, semi-darkness. They would whistle and haul, turn and twist right up to the clouds above. There was so such power whirling, that some smaller trees would be uprooted like twigs. Then, they would be tossed and lifted into that dark, thick mass, upwards. There, it seemed to have been forever expanding with the increasing and more devastating force.
This tremendous power of the wild, unexpected wind of one such tornado has played a proper havoc with our school’s classroom hut. It stripped off the roof completely.As it happened just a day before the end of summer holidays, in a way, it had extended our holidays. Needless to say that I, and the rest of the lads from the form A of the first class of grammar school, ended up happily repairing the roofs with smiles on our young faces. After all, we had a chance of using our hand, in a different way and for a practical cause. In fact, we enjoyed it, because during the actual repair, we were singing, happy that some handicraft was being practiced by all. If any of us were to become designers, architects, engineers or whatever, that should have stood us as a very good baptism. We even composed a special song about those most unusual, hands on- experience. It showed an additional extension of our vocational talents, as we sang: “When we go on roof repairing, no one should be despairing”.... to the lively and very well known, old Polish tune.
In that happy and harmonious atmosphere, the school huts’ roofs got repaired in less than a week.
Typical to one of my Dziadzio’s sayings: “never a day without something different happening in one’s life; good, bad or indifferent”.This one happened in the orphanage. It was not only bad. It was very tragic.Food poisoning, from pigs’ brawn, which had been left in aluminum containers for too long, in that African heat, has taken place at the orphanage. Everybody, young and old, including kitchen staff, got food poisoned.
The aftermath was such that some were poisoned only lightly, while others were poisoned really badly.
Izabella; my youngest sister, being very young and having very little immunity in her small and week body, ended up very critically ill, near death, in hospital. While she was there, all the people in the settlement prayed for her recovery. There was even a special mass said in the church for her speedy recovery. The Almighty God of love answered our prayers by blessing Izabella with speedy recovery, sending her back to a full health and among the living, a few days later.
After the poison scare, the three of us were back together again.The echoes of the worldwide terrors and the hurricanes with the tornados had died.The war dust, too, was settling, while the wounds were beginning to heal - slowly.
All the displaced people, especially the Poles in exile, in Africa, scattered by the horrible blast of that ugly war of 1939-45, who survived, should be returning home soon.
Shortly before we left their small haven, war shelter in Masindi, at the beginning of 1948; I participated in one of the bigger expeditions into the unknown.The whole group, of some twenty young people, set off in the early morning. We got well supplied in food and water for the whole day.
I must have been, again, the youngest in that big group of grown up youth, to venture on such a daring challenge in one day.Let me tell you about this last, exciting experience of that kind in Uganda.
We took with us a compass and a map. On it, there were some unknown mountains, which were circled with red pencil by our leader. The mountain had no name to it and was some distance of possibly ten to fifteen miles from our orphanage in Masindi.
The strongest young men, in our party, carried sharp machetes. These were for cutting a passage through the thick terrain, we might have to cross, or even courageously face up to any wild animals, which might have been on our way.I thought that they were rather very brave. Needless to mention, I walked in the middle of the group, by order.We made very good progress.
By mid-day, we were already going through the last jungle, according to our map. There, we came across a small tribe of the natives. They were enjoying their mid- day dip in a big pool, in that jungle stream. A few men stood guard, with the spears and the shields at the ready, while the rest of them were in water; men, women and children. All of them were there, as the day they were born, naked; swimming around, laughing and generally enjoying their relaxation in the shades of the jungle, in the clear, cool water of the stream. The only intrusion to their privacy, until our arrival, was that from the monkeys. They were still jumping about, when we arrived, as if that pool was solely theirs, raving and throwing some twigs at the swimmers.
Not knowing as to how the natives might take to the additional intrusion, we walked some distance away, waving to them with smiles. They, in turn, waved back as we carried on our way.Soon, we were out that jungle.
Out in the open, we could just about see our destination, our mountain, only a short distance away. As it was mid-day out there and the sun’s heat was unbearable, we had to shelter for a little while in the shade of a large baobab tree.While resting, we had a bit of a snack. Afterwards, with the regained energy, we got to the top of our mountain at about two o’clock in the afternoon.
We were all out of breath. The magnificent view from the top of our mountain made the efforts more than worthwhile and well rewarding. The clean, fresh mountain air and the peaceful tranquility was something, which explained the reason why people put so much time, effort and energy into mountain climbing. The big horizon below was ablaze with the golden glint of pampas grass, swaying by a gentle breeze. With every turn of a head, there were different landscapes to admire.
As we went round the peak of our, newly conquered, mountain, we noticed that one slope of it had a vertical edge. It was so deep, that we could hardly see the valley down below.
We did not have to guess the distance from the mountain’s summit to the bottom of the valley below. We were going to find out. There was this huge boulder, right on the edge of that slope.
Soon, we found some dwarf trees, which we cut down and started with our experiment of getting that boulder down the steep slope, to calculate its depth."One, two, three, here we go"! With our extra exertion, the massive boulder began moving down the slope.
In no time, at all, we could hear horrifying rumbles, like thunder, around us. The whole mountain started shaking, like during an earthquake. We could hear and feel its reverberations. Some smoke was coming up, mixed with a strong smell of Sulphur, in the clear air around us, which was getting polluted by the ground brimstone, thus forming a tiny dark cloud flowing up into the clear sky above.
As the boulder was gaining its speed; it was crushing the trees below, bouncing off the rocky slope and creating sparks on its way, only to go down even with greater force and speed.A moment later, that boulder died completely, probably as a small pebble, at the bottom of the green valley below.
In all that excitement, we forgot to count, for to establish the distance from the peak to the bottom of the mountain, which we set out to doing in the first instance.
I can still hear that tremendous, like a roar thunder. I can almost smell that smoke, mixed with the ground brimstone, produced by that powerful, bouncing, force of the falling boulder.
After having a good sightseeing and taking a few photographs, we set off back on our return journey. We accomplished our goal of conquering that unknown mountain, so we took the most straightforward route, back, to our settlement.
As the heat was turning into refreshing breeze, we could walk that much quicker. The sun’s rays flickered and thus turning the dusk into bright evening. The tall grass was getting its desired moisture, as the happy, singing of the young alpinists were making their way back to their orphanage. We reached our orphanage and got to our huts, safely, well before mid-night.
Journey to England
We, the mountain climbers slept solidly right through the Saturday night. It was a late, Sunday morning; the eight o’clock bell got us up again.It was a Sunday to be remembered.
All the Polish people in Masindi had the privilege of being entertained later in the evening.
The entertainers were a large group of the native talents, similar to the one, which greeted us in Mombasa in 1942.
This time the group was from Masindi. There must have been a hundred of them. They were singing and dancing with so much vigour and verve, that they must have really put their hearts and their souls into the show, as if to say; "it has been nice having you here in our country, in Uganda".
Sadly, not only was that their first show of that magnitude in the settlement, but also their last farewell to their Polish guests.I, certainly, enjoyed their show so much, that I will never forget it.
A few days later at the beginning of April, I began packing the heavy baggage. It was going to be shipped to England, while the three of us were going to fly there from Nairobi with just a very light hand luggage.Why, we, the three Polish orphans, were going to England and not to our own country, to Poland?
The reasons were very complicated and grossly confusing, to put it very mildly, because they have been dealt and settled by ‘the great politicians’.There will be many volumes of documents, which the historians, eventually, might put right. In simple terms, though, and with the greatest understatement, the homeland of the orphans, Poland and her people were very badly let down by their allies, but in the man by the U.S.A.
The agreement between Stalin and Roosevelt, in Yalta, was the main reason. It also was the biggest travesty of justice done by those two, to so many millions of people, ever recorded in the history of any human conflict, anywhere in the whole world. It must also count as the most shameful act of the twentieth-century. It enslaved tens of millions of people for over fifty years of obscurity and depravation of basic human rights. That odious agreement, after killing off the Polish Commander in Chief, general Wladyslaw Sikorski, about Polish, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungerians, Rumanians and others, without their representations, not only cut off a big part of Poland. The shameful agreement sentenced all those millions of people in central and Eastern Europe to the brutal oppression and a new tyranny of the despotic regime of the oppressive communism for many decades.
After winning that war, which was supposed to free Poland in the first instance, the Polish people and other had lost everything.
Amongst many thousands, I lost my homeland, too, and ended being in Russia. With one stroke of a pen by a crippled, almost dying politician, I became homeless and in exile.
My father was with the allied armed forces. He ended up in England. That was the reason why the three of us, orphans were going to England also, to join our father. We were all under age. I was only fourteen at the time.
We traveled to Nairobi by train. Once there, we were housed in a small transit camp. As we waited for our flight, the youngest, Izabella took ill and was taken to hospital. We were delayed by two weeks.
Eventually, after a surgical operation, Iza got better and the three of us waited for the next flight out to England.It was a very hot day.The sky was clear, when we took off at about ten o’clock in the morning, on the second day of May 1948.
Altogether, there were forty passengers on a liberator plane, which had four engines with big propellers. It was flying low. This gave the passengers a great opportunity to admire the beauty of Africa for the last time, but with a bird’s eye view.The plane was heading north, along the ages old, the longest African river, like a long blue ribbon, the ancient Nile.
The scenery and the landscape from the plane were absolutely, breathtakingly, magnificent, with the background to the changing scenery below of dark green pastures on the both banks of the life-giving river.
That, so picturesque, beauty of Africa, which I had seen from the train journey of six years earlier, when coming to shelter from the devastating war, would have been incomplete without this view from the clear sky.
It was my last chance to whisper thank you for the most treasured hospitality, and the memory, as I waved my wholehearted fair well for the last time.There, below, were thousands of wildebeests roaming, as they have done for ages, happily, zigzagging about. They looked like a big cluster of birds in flight, suddenly changing their directions and hardly ever standing still. Herds of zebras, trying to shelter, from the blazing sun, under some dwarf trees and still managing to graze on.
At times, the plane flew so low that I could even see the dwellings and the people going about, with the struggles of their daily lives, down below. “Is this how the Angels see everything?” I wondered for a moment.
I was sitting in the front seat and could hear the propellers working hard to pull the plane, with that load, forward. Heavy noises were coming out from the exhausts.
The plane was in the air for about four hours, when one engine had stopped completely, yet the plane carried on flying on the remaining three. The captain assured us all that it was save to fly that particular, war, plane even on two engines.
After further two hours in the air, the plane landed at Khartoum airport. A group of mechanics went straight to the troubled engine.While the faulty engine was being repaired, we, the passengers had had an opportunity of stretching our legs and having something hot to eat. On the way to a hotel, we passed a big concentration camp. Behind the fences, thousands of Italian prisoners of war were held. They were walking around behind barbed wire fence, like the animals at the zoo. It was a very depressing sight, the result of human confrontation, war, a very horrid picture it was.
Every time, ever since, I went to a zoo; where there were wild animals in cages or in the open, but fenced off in confined spaces, I was very saddened. I was reminded of those prisoners of war behind the barbed wire in Khartoum.
The pilots, as if for showing the exceptional beauty of that part of Africa, circled the area, where the two Niles; the White and the Blue meet and form the mighty river Nile.It flows majestically, nourishing the lands, on both her banks, all the way to the ancient Egypt.
The direction of flight was northwest, across the biggest African desert, the Sahara.
The dusk was turning into night. Through the darkened sky, I could only see large dunes of sand, like an ocean, around and over the endless horizon.
Soon, I felt sleepy and tired. A moment later, I fell asleep. It was his most uncomfortable flight in my life. There were two reasons for the discomfort; the seats were made of canvas belt, the plane having been meant for parachutists, and the civilian passengers were packed like sardines. There was no room to even stretch our cramped feet. At the same time, after that experience with faulty engine, that plane felt safe. A few minutes later, the plane, needing refueling, landed in Tripoli.
When the doors opened, we all could smell the freshness of the early morning air was coming from the Mediterranean Sea.
After a short stroll to stretch my limbs, with my two sisters, we went with the rest of the travelers to a hotel to have a breakfast.Afterwards, we all went on a sightseeing trip round that ancient, Arabic city. It has so much history, from the brutal days of the Cartage Empire. It is hidden in and around every corner of the dark and narrow, cobbled streets, soaked with human blood of multiracial slaves. They paid with their lives for racial, social, political or religious injustice. It takes place now, even as I recollect this, my unusual memories of yesteryear.
Soon after wondering the streets of Tripoli, all of us were back on the plane and up in the air again, on our final part of the flight to London.At about eleven o’clock, the plane was flying over English coast. The white, chalky cliffs were standing out, marking a clear line between the water, the sea beyond and the green fields of the far horizon, that of the land ahead.
It was third of May. I, having had my schooling interrupted, yet once more, by upheaval of war, with history being my favourite. I was thinking of the Polish Constitution of third of May, of Kosciuszko and Pulawski. The devastations of Napoleonic wars, which took place just over a decade later, flashed through my mind. Suddenly, I could see the world famous city, London.It spread, like a giant Hydra, over both banks of the broad, slow flowing river, Thames.
English fog and Nissan huts
It was third of May and not a sign of any twilight, or colourful brightness to be seen over the horizon. Instead; I could smell dampness and felt cold even on the plane, before it landed.
The plane started descending through a thick, misty and cold drizzly fog.
On landing, I was shivering with cold. I only wore short-sleeved shirt and shorts, because when leaving Nairobi, the previous day, it was blazing hot over there.What cheered me up, though, and made me forget the cold, was a much unexpected welcome that greeted all of us. We, the Poles from exile in Uganda were greeted by the Polish soldiers. They were all very helpful. Extremely caring and hospitable, they were. Dressed in their soldier uniforms, they took all newly arrived, tired, children and their guardians, into comfortable coaches for a full, Polish lunch.
It consisted of hot beetroot borsch, to warm everyone up. Then followed homemade burger with mashed potatoes and mixed, side salad. We finished our lunch with a choice of sweet from a trolley.After lunch, re-energized, we were offered a sightseeing tour of this vast capital city - London.
Here and there, I could still see damages done by the indiscriminate, vicious bombing during the recent war by the Germans.Some heaps of ruins reminded me of my country’s capital, Warsaw. Our country’s capital got flattened completely during her inhabitants uprising in 1944. That thought of how pointless and how destructive that war has been crossed my mind. Especially, bearing in mind, that it was started by the -supposedly clever and industrious, God-fearing people of Germany. They caused all that damage and more, but ended with the fall of their own country. It happened to the Romans and others before them. They all had been destroyed by many years of wars. The ruins of many cities are their witnesses, like Babylon, Troy and the Aztec Cities in South America. Dresden, too, lay in ruins. The Russians, with great effort and even greater human sacrifice, eventually, with help of allied forces, defeated the Nazi Germans and occupied Berlin. They left the Brandenburg Gate in tact though. “What would the Germans have done, had they won that war and ended up in Moscow? Would they have flattened it, and left ruins, like they had done with Warsaw?” That question crossed my mind at that time.
After some refreshing cup of tea, English style for the first time, with milk instead of lemon, we were on the way to be reunited with our father It was after eight, long years, of war and being in exile that we saw our father again in Darlington camp.It was late afternoon, when we got there. The dark clouds covered the sky up and it carried on drizzling, as it did on our arrival in London.
When the three of us got out the coach, our eyes have met with a most depressing sight.
In front of us was a camp constructed of big, tarmac black, Nissan huts. It would have been better, perhaps, that we had arrived at the camp at nighttime. Maybe, just maybe, the shock of such a set up might have been less depressing under the cover of darkness.
Those Nissan huts had most dispiriting effect on me. Big lad, as I was, I felt like crying.
The huts were huge and so bare. Full of people, yet, to me, they looked so empty. Inside, there were two big coal-burning stoves, yet no warmth was felt from them, unless one was close, almost sitting on one.
Some people called, those large, semi-spherical shaped army barracks “the barrels of laughter”. I concluded that the funny name must have derived from the fact that there was no-body smiling but moving around with great depressions showing on their faces. They were living in those half barrels protruding from the ground. To me, they looked more like the barrels of sorrow and tears.
I could remember that, back home, in Poland, our two guard dogs, my pets, Aza and Azor have had better looking kennels. They used to be lined with fresh, clean hey for them to lie on. Here was to be yet another bitter experience for me to sustain, at the age of fourteen. This was my experience after the war. It was after having been knocked about the world over, experiencing all the deprivation, starvation and suffering from homelessness for so many years in exile, this was to be an additional traumatic experience in my short life.
Now with my father, instead of continuing with my education, I was being moved from one camp to another. We were moving from big Nissan barrels of tears to small asbestos huts of depression. I felt being knocked about, like a game of ball, from pillar to post. I had been to so many different camps all over England, in a short period of time, that I had forgotten the number, or the names of the places I had been to.
It seemed very obvious to me that our generous hosts did not know what to do with all those thousands of Polish exiles, whom they took into their country with warm and open arms.“These bloody Poles”, or “bloody foreigners” could be heard said in our direction in many places and in even more instances.
Eventually, the three of us, children with our father ended up in a big resettlement camp, near Leek, called Blackshamoor camp. There, I went to Polish classes. It was not a proper school as such. It was temporary arrangement, but it was better than just doing nothing.
There will be a separate part of my recollections, about my boarding school live, further on in this, in my memories, so we can move back to the camp life in Blackshawmoor, an ex-army camp.
For the grownups, there, certainly, was plenty of work to be done after the devastating war; especially for cheap laborers, for skilled and qualified people, but who did not speak any English at that time. All the quarries, coalmines and factories, which needed labour force, have been filled at a cheap rate for many years.
Those, who were allied friends and fought together for: “Your freedom and ours” were nothing better than the “bloody foreigners”. They were just Bo hunks, who had to have identity cards on them al all times, with which to report at police stations, every time they changed their addresses for longer than two weeks.
At the end of 1948, I, not being able to buy a bicycle, went to a scrap yard and picked some bits and pieces from different bicycles and built one that I could ride on. It was good. I could ride on it all the way to Leek, or even further, ten miles to Buxton. Unfortunately, one day, some screws went loose on this self-assembled, riding machine. One morning, as I was gaining speed down a hill, so as to make it easier going up again, towards Leek, a screw holding the front mudguard fell off?
The mudguard got entangled in the bicycle’s fork and I got thrown off, as if by a catapult, through the air. My bicycle rolled into the grassed ditch, while I ended down by an embankment, damaging my nose and face with deep bruises. I must have hit some stones, for my face looked a right mess. Somehow, I got up and got to the small stream below. As soon as I started washing my bruised face, I felt terrible agony of the nasty accident. I took my handkerchief out the pocket and soaked it with cold water with which I dabbed my badly damaged nose and face. Then I went to rinse it.That was when he realized the seriousness of the injuries and my bruises. The handkerchief was soaked in blood.
After gently dabbing my face with a cold wet handkerchief, I started making my way up the embankment. I gathered my strength, picked up my twisted bicycle and pushed it back to the camp. There was a first aid post, but unfortunately, no doctor was on hand. The nurse on duty patched up my nose and face, as best as she could, telling me to report back the following day.
In the morning, the next day, with my head covered in white bandages, I was on the way to an army hospital near Wrexham. There, even though all the bruises were fresh and could have been stitched up, they were not. Instead, some ignorant young doctor prescribed that penicillin powder be applied.
A week later, I was discharged from the hospital, looking as if I’d been involved in a fight.
Indeed, I looked a terrible mess for a long time after.Having already passed my exams and attending grammar school, in Masindi, Uganda,I had to take exams anew. After passing them, I went to a boarding grammar school. It was also housed in asbestos huts, near Beccles. After a year there, the five hundred plus of us, lads moved to Bottisham, also an ex-army camp, consisting of small Nissan barrels and asbestos huts.
Nicholas Copernicus Boarding College
My education was interrupted for the second time. Firstly, in Teheran, by the horrible fate of the war, then by traveling to England, I finished at a boarding college. It was like being in the orphanage once more.
In Eloe, near Beccles, the whole ex-army camp was spread over great area. It was probably done so for the prevention against any likelihood of bombing from air. That way, part of the camp would have a chance of staying in one piece.For the five hundred, plus, lads it meant constant running from one part of the camp to another.
In the morning, we would have to run a mile, or so, to the dining barrack. After breakfast, we’d run back to our dormitories, grab the books and on to the classroom huts. We had to do that three times a day, come rain or sunshine.
After a year there, we were moved to another ex-army camp. It was in Bottisham, seven miles from the famous academic city of Cambridge and a similar distance to the known, famous horseracing Newmarket.
The army barracks and the small Nissan huts of the camp complex were scattered over a very large area. Again, with hundreds of boys there, I had to run across the grassy fields, covered by numerous large oak trees park.
It was only four years after the war. The food was still rationed. The very talented and extremely skilful, ex-army cooks managed to feed us, the growing, hungry lads, rather well on thick mixture of greasy pork meat and beans. Those beans must have been dried before the First World War. There were traces of some of them having been partially eaten by worms, many generation of which have survived, to add to the ‘richness’ of that special "chief's" concoction. Our young stomachs kept on rumbling for more. We used to go to the nearest baker’s shop. We could be seen walking back, with a fresh loaf of bread in our hands, munching and finishing it on our way back to the camp.
Our Boarding College was named after the world famous Polish astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, who, among other theories, reversed the understanding of the movement of the sun going round the earth, as was mentioned before, street name in Masindi.
The college offered grammar education up to and including advanced level. It had excellent teachers and tutors. One of who was professor of mathematics at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow before the war. All of them had high academic degrees and doctorates. Even the physical education master was an Olympiad medal winner. He was really an excellent gymnast.
Did we need any additional physical training after running over ten miles every day? Like a hole in the head, it was.On top of the daily running, we also played football, volleyball. The latter is probably the most exerting ball game of all. We played basketball and even had a go at trying to play cricket, but without any level of success.
Boarding college life is a very monotonous life, though. It was like being in an orphanage. I had found that one day was very much like the next.At eight o’clock in the morning, the bell would ring to wake us all up. At the sound the bell, we would run to the wash-hut in our pajamas. Quick wash and back to the small Nissan huts, which was so small, that just eight of us filled it up. It was so badly designed, without any insulation, that it needed two coal stoves to keep it warm in the winter months.
Those cold winter mornings used to get everyone out the warm beds that much quicker and keep us running to our daily, destined duties that much faster.After dressing, as quickly as possible, we would either run across the field, the shorter way, or walk twice the distance along the pavement.
From the dinning barracks, we would run back to their huts for the books etc., and the run a further mile, or so, to the classroom huts, by then, running about four miles. So imagine us having to run for our P.E. further three miles each day, to the biggest building in the camp.
That building used to also house the cinema. It had a stage, which was used for variety and number of occasions; like own shows, pantomimes, nativity plays as well as poetry recitals and of course, cinema shows. It’s main hall, which was big enough to seat over five hundred plus, also had a very good wooden floor to be fair. It was there, where we would have our dances with the Polish lasses, traditionally, three months before seating for our advanced level examinations, the matriculation.
The young ladies had their own, separate boarding college, near Cheltenham. They too, have been accommodated in an ex-army camp. It must have been used as a hospital during the war.
It had been well planned and designed in such a manner that it was possible to walk around the whole complex in about quarter of an hour, without getting wet. It was connected with covered walkways. As it tends to rain a lot, on these scenic, green British islands, the girls got well protected against it by those covered corridors.
We, the near freshets from Bottisham would travel by two coach loads to Cheltenham.
We would get there before supper. After supper, there would be an all-night dance.
There were over a hundred young couples dancing during such memorable night, when romance was in the air. We danced to a live music; to the tunes of foxtrot, quicksteps, waltzes, very lively polkas and oberkas. Romantic slow waltzes and tangos too, were popular, during which, the girls form mistresses would pass silly comments like “not too close girls, not too close”. They must have forgotten when they were young once themselves. Besides, they had nothing to worry about anyhow. They had known very well about all youths having been soaked with bromide in our tea during the supper. Physical attractions were cooled down to only a sneak out for a warm cuddle and an innocent kiss or two.
After breakfast, the following morning, we would be on the way back to Bottisham; most of us with dreamy, starry eyes.
Back in Bottisham, our local postal worker was very busy for a few months afterwards. Love and romance would only bloom and partly blossom for a short time. Soon, all the poems and love letters had to go, finding their way into the waste bins. Precious time for dreams had to make room for the studies before the final examinations.
Every time I bring his thoughts about exams, it always reminds me of our third year form master - Franciszek Bellok. He was the youngest of all the teachers. He had studied at the Edinburgh University, just after the war. Besides being our third form master, Frank Bellok, B.A., also taught us English language. As his third form was, hard at, preparing for the ordinary level exams, I can remember our form master saying, "Examinations were all part and parcel of people’s lives". That no matter, whatever anyone might end up doing in the future, to earn their living, they’d always have to pass all kinds of tests, or exams.
often think how right my favourite teacher, our form master was. How true his comments turned out to be in real application. One passes on that which one knows and fails, or makes mistakes on the unknown.
Franciszek Bellok was the best form master of all those whom I had known. He was also very talented and devoted teacher. He loved his vocation of teaching. He also had a gift of turning the monotony and drudgery of the boarding school condition life, in those primitive ex-army huts, into a life of challenge. In the evenings, after finishing homework, he would get ‘his lads’, all thirty two of us, together for a bit of a discussion on different topics and some happy singing to finish the evening with.
I remember composing a short song about the college life in Bottisham and singing it during one such evening. I sang it to the known tune of “What shell we do with a drunken sailor".
Our form master would also organize a twenty questions quiz night. ‘His lads’ went on the radio competition with the girls at Stow ell Park. The girls had won the first round on questions of history. It is worth mentioning that the lads were revising geography at the time.
On his birthday, Mr. Bellok would invite the barracks’ prefects to a simple party of tea and biscuits. It also was another opportunity for all sorts of discussions.
He, even, tried a knock out competition between the teachers and the pupils. Unfortunately, it did not go down well with some old fashioned, outdated teachers.
That could have been the reason why our form master had left the college very soon after. His gain was his form’s loss. We, the third form lads, lost the most inspirational teacher in their form master.
From my own experience, as part time teacher, I followed my form master’s example. On the other hand, I would never recommend sending young children to a boarding school.
Like flowers, needing the warmth of the sun to bloom and to blossom; children need the warmth of their parent’s hearts, they need normal day-to-day environment to enjoy their youth, which is only but a short spell.
All work and no play is no good. Too much discipline is as bad as lack of any. Happy medium, as always, is the answer. “Moderation in everything”, as my Dziadzio would put it.
Apart from getting up early every morning, running to and from different huts and barracks, attending lessons and doing our homework every evening, what was the day to day life like in the boarding environment?Some of the lads, who were lucky to have both their parents alive to look after them, have had their own bicycles.
They would cycle to Cambridge, to the local cinemas or theatres there. During summer time, on a sunny weekend, the handful of lads, with their bicycles, would go to the open-air swimming pool in Newmarket. They would meet some lovely girls there and go to the cinema with them. That was something else, a special experience, which in a normal circumstance was a daily one.
Unfortunately, I was semi-orphan. I did not have a bicycle. My father could not afford to buy one neither could I myself afford one, out of my pocket money of half a crown a week. Those thirty pennies a week had to buy my toothpaste, my shoe polish as well as pay for my weekly ration of sweets.
Luckily, though, I had many good friends, one or two of who have had their own bicycles. I used to borrow one, now and then, and I, too, enjoyed cycling to those two mentioned places and even more interesting. I would experience the magic of them all, if only in minute portions.
Two or three of my mates would venture, on a Sunday morning, as far as the city of Ely. It was about twenty miles away- just to admire that famous, ancient cathedral there and cycle back for lunch.
The same pack of lads would cycle to the open swimming pool in Newmarket. We would go there, especially after that gossip of lovely girls in their swimming costumes. One Sunday afternoon, we had befriended three shapely swimming beauties by the names of Ida, Barbara and Margaret. We, also, ended with them at the local cinema and the usual group flirtation, as teenagers do.
One week-end, as we were playing a game of football, we noticed those three girls by the touch line, cheering their beaus, but by doing so embarrassing us, so we had stopped going to Newmarket swimming pool for a while.
Maybe we should have kept going there and developed our friendship further. The girls could have helped us with our English pronunciation drill. At the same time, the girls could have helped us getting rid of our strong Polish accent, which we acquired from our teachers, who themselves were trying to grasp the language, but with great difficulties.
Ever since losing my mother, I became a bit of a loner. I felt like a lost sheep and that is why I loved to wander about on my own.
Sometimes, I would borrow a bicycle and go all over, to different places. It gave me so much physical exercise and great deal of pleasure, as well as a lot of fresh air.
On such trips of recluse, I would stop by a fast running stream, or a river, to relax and to listen to the whisper of the beautiful nature around me. I would listen to the waterfalls and to the birds singing in the background. At times, all that sound was better music than that which a man can only try to imitate, but rarely ever succeed.
I enjoyed short escapades to the nearby villages. There is still so much history to be found around those manor houses, medieval buildings and churches.
Boarding college life did leave some happy memories. One stays vividly in my memory, is, when I went to sing with the choir in Cambridge. It was exceptionally colourful and warm evening, the last day of summer. There were about forty of us, young Polish students in a large barge, on the river, under a bridge. On the bridge and around it, were hundreds of people of all walks of life. They all came to listen to the cheerful and happy melodies being sung in English and in Polish, echoing all over along the calm waters of the river Cam.
Twenty years after getting my advanced level education, at the Nicholas Copernicus boarding college; and after qualifying as a design draughtsman, then running my own engineering business, I took my wife and our three children on holidays to Italy, in Lido de Jezolo. There, we went on a day trip to the nearby, world famous city of Venice.
We have had the pleasure of being entertained on the gondolas, on the main canal of that unique city. Unfortunately, it is slowly sinking into the filthy, polluted stinking, sewer water.
Whilst in Venice, it reminded me of that memorable evening in Cambridge, singing under the bridge on that last day of summer in 1952.
Just before closing down the last few pages of the chapters of my memories, I will tell you, very briefly, how I met my sweetheart, who became my wife.
I met my beautiful wife Kaziutka, the Queen of Spades, here in U.K., in 1954. We were both very young at the time. She was seventeen and I was just over twenty, finishing my apprentice draughtsmanship in Leek, Staffordshire.
Kazimiera Kozlowska, hence my pet name for her Ziutka, from Kazia, diminutive Kaziutka, was only two years old, when the ugly war broke up. The war stole the pastoral world of her childhood, a life full of love and parental tenderness.
Kaziutka lived happily, with her loving parents and her four years old sister, Irena. They lived in a lovely wooden house by the forest, for her father was a local forester. The red oppressors considered a forester to be a “kulak”, man of means. For this, they took the whole family to a Russian forced labour camp. There, the Kozlowskis had experienced a similar fate of exile to that of our family and thousands of others. They were there for over two years.
In 1942, they got out from that hell on earth and ended in Persia. There, Ziuta’s father joined the Polish 2nd Corps.Ziuta, with her older sister, Irena, and their loving mother, lived in the Masindi settlement in Uganda, as had I. It is a small world! We lived in different parts of the Masindi Camp. We did not know one another there, when we were young children.
Among children, three and half years make a lot of difference. While I was in fourth form, Kaziutka had only just begun her elementary schooling.
By the most amazing, coincidence or fate, we met at a Youth Christmas Dance. As I was the chairperson of the Polish Youth, I was trying to be a good host. There was this unwritten custom among our youth club members, whereby each member would buy another member, by luck of the draw, a small Christmas present.
When I noticed two beautiful young nymphs among our usual crowd, I decided to act quickly in getting some tokens of friendship for those two, so they would not feel left out. Fortunately, as I was getting closer to my finals to becoming an architectural designer, I had some money to my name and therefore always had something in store. I gave the two young ladies, Nina and Kazia, a box of chocolates each.
I always preferred blonds. At that dance though, on Boxing Day in 1954, I danced all through that magic night so happy with a new girlfriend, who was an auburn-haired girl.
Was this how it is to be falling in love? It was. It had happened from the first moment the two of us set eyes on each other. We have become inseparable ever since.
We live happily on the edge of a beautiful, friendly village in North Wales.In our three-bedroom modest bungalow, we often entertain our three grown children; Chez, who got his B.A. at Manchester University and works in Civil Service with his wife, Anne, or Ania, as we call her, the bubbly Scot. Teresa is our only daughter. She studied languages; Spanish, French and German, as well as Polish and English Diploma at the Birmingham Polytechnic. She also did business and management studies as well as shorthand and typing. Having worked abroad, Teresa, now prefers to stay single. Ryszard, everyone calls him Richey, who is studying to become an I.T. programmer, on top of his latest hobby of learning to play an electric guitar, and looking after his two marvelous children, Samantha and Matthew.
Our grandchildren are very intelligent, gifted, and really well behaved.Our grandchildren seem happy when spending their spare time with their Babcia and Dziadzio.On those frequent visits, they entertain everyone with their trilingual singing; Welsh, English and Polish. Let us hope that they will do well in future. God bless them and keep them in His loving care.
My wife and I have been knocked about by that horrible and senseless war through different parts of this beautiful world. We have seen so many human traces suffering and many of them have been wiped out completely.
Now, over fifty years later, in the twilight of my days, when I have gone from being a grandson to becoming father and grandfather myself, I often think about my experiences.
As I reminisce all those days of yesteryear, I can see from the distance of time, those terrible shadows; the two monsters, the ugly, selfish human greed and social evil inequality. It forever threatens to bring about the horrors of another conflict, the most evil war. When it comes, it‘ll come with such dimensions that it will wipe out all human traces completely.
I dedicate my memoirs to my beloved, most caring Mother Helena.
Please God; may her loving soul, and the souls of all the people of good will,
rest in peace. Her body is buried in far away place, in the hospitable soil of Uganda.
I finished writing my memoir on December 6, 1992
in Llansannan, North Wales, U.K.
Witold Stanislaw Szymański