Wladyslaw SZWENDER Sr.
(Wladyslaw's story was originally published on the Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta website
and is repeated here with their permission.
I was born October 24th1924 in Miedzyrzecze Podlaskie, voivodship of Lublin. When I was 1 year old, we moved to Baranowicze, voivodship of Nowogrod, where my father got a job on the railways (PKP). In this beautiful city of the Eastern Borderlands, I spent my childhood and the first years of my youth. I attended and completed The Maria Konopnicka elementary school, as well as two grades of Thaddeus Rejtan middle school. We lived near the train station - Baranowicze Poleskie - the main junction of five railway lines. It was near the military barracks of the 78 Infantry Regiment and the 26 Lancers Regiment, and where the last commander of the Nowogrod Cavalry Brigade was General Wladyslaw Anders. I was an alter boy at the garrison church.
The treacherous attack of Nazi Germany on Poland, on the 1st of September 1939, was the beginning of major changes in our lives. On September 17th 1939, Bolshevik Russia, which had signed a secret agreement with the Germans on August 23, to overrun our Eastern Borderlands. I will never forget the content of leaflets dropped from planes that day by the Bolsheviks, titled, "Kill your officers"
From the first days of the entry of the Russians, they began to arrest and plunder. My father was arrested on Sept. 26th 1939 and was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp near Archangel. The mass deportation of the Polish population to Siberia and Kazakhstan began on February 10th 1940. On April 13th 1940, we - that is mom, my sister and I, were sent to Kazakhstan. We were transported in cattle cars. We worked there for a year as exiles in a kolkhoz (state farm). After a year, they took us to Atbasar, in Akmola province in Kazakhstan, to build locomotive workshops - 5000 Polish exiles were brought in to work in these shops. We worked in two 12 hour shifts (per day) in slave-like conditions. There seemed no chance that our fate would change any time soon.
It was not until June 22nd 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded its murderous ally Russia, that for us exiles, shone a glimmer of hope that our fate might change. On July 30th 1941, the Polish Government in London (with the support of England) signed the so-called "Sikorski-Maysky Agreement," identifying a common struggle against Nazi Germany. In theory - it was an ‘amnesty’ for the deportees, for transgressions not committed by them. The arrangement was based on the establishment of a Polish Army and common struggle on the Eastern Front, under Russian command.
From every corner of Russia, the Polish deportees began to arrive in Buzuluk and Tatishchev - centers where the Polish Army was being formed. Conditions were terrible, people lived in tents in - 40C, without warm clothes, footwear, and poor nutrition. Such were the beginnings of the formation of the future army under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders, a former prisoner of "Lubyanka". Later, due to weather conditions, the formation of the Polish Army was transferred to areas of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and southern Kazakhstan, where it was warmer. Conditions there were not any better. There were more diseases, especially typhoid fever which took its toll, and other diseases.
When I learned about the formation of the Polish Army, my desire was to get into the army. After the so called ‘Amnesty’ our father joined us at Atbasar before Christmas 1941. By then I was 17 years and 4 months old. My parents tried to dissuade me from joining the army, telling me that I was too young. Nevertheless, my stubbornness and persistence won me consent. In a group of 35 like-minded lads, I left to join the forming Polish army. We drove to the village of Lugowaya, a venue of the 10 Infantry Division. It was February 1942.
Initially, due to the large influx of volunteers, lack of food and uniforms, young people like myself were not accepted. The situation was tragic. The army was not accepting us, and I could not go back to my parents because the return trip meant at least a 1 month of wandering without food. Therefore, a group of lads like myself wandered about the countryside until March of 1942 when transports with food and uniforms arrived from England. I was then admitted to the 27 Infantry Regiment of the 10th Infantry Division.
Thanks to General Anders, who himself was a prisoner of the Soviets and best understood our position, we left with the first transport across the Caspian Sea to Persia (Iran) in the British zone. At the port of Pahlavi (now Anzali), after burning our lice-infested rags and receiving new uniforms, we celebrated Easter on April 5th 1942 as free people. With this wise move, General Anders rescued about 120 thousand soldiers and civilians, creating a so-called "Free Poland" in exile. From Persia (Iran), we went to Palestine, where on May 3rdd, in Quastina camp, a new military formation was organized - the Independent Carpathian Rifle brigade. It was made by combining the 9th and 10th Infantry Division that came from the Soviet Union. On May 9th, this brigade officially became the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division. From that day on, I was a soldier of 4th company of the 6th Battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the 3 Carpathian Rifle Division, where I served until demobilization on November 13th 1946.
Then we were sent to Iraq, where we began intensive training on new equipment, and simultaneously defended the oil fields of Iraq against the German offensive. We were constantly training in the areas of Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon until the transition to Egypt and then departure for Italy. We landed in Taranto, Italy on December 22nd 1943. In February 1944, we went into action on the mountain section of the Sangro River. Our task was to patrol and defend the hills above the Sangro.
In April 1944, we replaced the British troops for the fourth Battle of Monte Cassino. To reach the starting point, we walked at night about 20 kilometers in very difficult, muddy, mountainous terrain. After a few days, our 4th Infantry Company was withdrawn to train to fight with tanks. We returned to our starting positions, but this time jeeps transported us. The first attack started after 2 hours of the first artillery fire at 1 AM on May 11th. Following large losses, we received orders to return to the starting point. We prepared for the next strike by detecting enemy positions and completing ammunition supplies, as well as other provisions.
The second attack took place on May 17th. We took part in it, together with tanks in the direction of Massa Albaneta. In the Gorge (name on the map), after massive fire by the enemy, I was wounded and brought to the first aid station, and then transported to the main medical point and to the hospital in Casa Massimo.
After recovery, I returned to my unit fighting near Osima - Castel Fidardo. In our constant fighting in pursuit of the enemy, we had gained the important port of Ancona on the Adriatic, and dozens of smaller towns. The culmination of battles of the Polish 2nd Corps was the conquest of Bologna and the end of the campaign in Italy.
Over the next two weeks, Germany surrendered (May 8th 1945) and World War II ended. For us, the soldiers of the 2nd Corps, most of which came from the Eastern Borderlands, it was not a joyous day. Our ancestral lands were occupied by the Red Army and in the hands of the Soviets, and they had no intension of returning our Eastern Borderlands. Our allies - England and the United States - had agreed to that at Yalta and Tehran, thereby betraying their most faithful ally (Poland).
Until the trip to England, we stayed in Italy and performed guard duty. Meanwhile, I attended 3 D.S.K. (3rd Carpathian Rifle Division) junior and high school, completing 4 years of junior high, and graduated with a junior high school diploma. Then I went on to complete high school and ended as an infantry platoon cadet.
I did not intend to return to Poland, which under communist rule. My parents and sister were still in Siberia. Since Canada proposed to accept 5,000 soldiers on two-year contracts to work on Canadian farms, I volunteered to go. After signing the contract and passing the medical tests, the first transport of 1,691 persons arrived in Halifax on board of "Sea Robin".
Even before we left for Canada, in the "Falconara" camp in Italy, a new organization, the Polish Combatants' Association (SPK) Canada, was established on October 3rd 1946. It turned out to be very helpful in our future life.
From Halifax, we left on a special train to our destinations in various provinces, according to the distribution list from Italy. My destination was Alberta, and I was assigned to work on a farm near Vermilion. After completing the two-year contract (I changed a few farms in search of better conditions and pay), I came to Edmonton, from where I would go for periods of 6 months to work in Fort Smith (NWT). In Edmonton, I met and married a fellow Siberian Pole on 7 January 1950. From this marriage were born five children: three boys and two girls. I found a job at the post office, as a postal worker, where I worked for 30 years, retiring in 1989. I am blessed with 11 grandchildren. I belong to the S.P.K., from 1946 to the present day, serving different functions in the organization. I received many awards: for my military service, I was awarded the Cross of Valor, the Cross of Monte Cassino, a badge for wounds, and I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
For community work, I was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit. I also received the Siberia Cross. I took an active part in raising funds for the Siberian monument in Biala Podlaska, and for the Monte Cassino monument, in Warsaw.
Text by: Wladyslaw Szwender
Translated from Polish by: Helena Fita
Unfortunately, no descriptions were provided for the photos.
Copyright: Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta