Sixty-nine years have passed since the establishment of the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade. On this day in 1940 in Paris, the Commander-in-Chief, General W. Sikorski, established the Carpathian Rifle Brigade. The place of formation was Syria. Colonel Kopański was appointed commander.
The 3 D.S.K. was organized 7 months after Poland was defeated by its eternal enemies. Soldiers from different units were drawn into it, taking different routes. There were also those who did not know the army before and were already outside the country before 1939.
Perhaps the most interesting and largest group of volunteers were those who escaped from both occupations, making their way through the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, and traveling more freely through Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy and Turkey. These volunteers/refugees, are people of different ages, but mostly young people, from different regions of Poland, different professions and different political beliefs, but united by one thought, one goal - to get into the Polish Army being formed in exile and continue to fight.
I belonged to the group that escaped the occupation. I lived in Silesia near Pszczyna. Silesia, automatically incorporated into Germany, found itself in different conditions than other Polish lands that were under occupation. The Germans quickly introduced their administration, with the help of Germans who lived in Poland before the war, and a certain fraction of Silesians who already in Polish times belonged to a German organization, i.e. the Volksbund. The Germans had two problems to solve - to destroy or neutralize former participants of the Silesian uprisings and young people brought up in the Polish spirit.
Almost all the remaining insurgents were sent to work in Germany or to camps from which they never returned. Young people were encouraged to volunteer to work in Germany and to join youth organizations such as Hitlerjugend.
There were few volunteers. The youth did not agree with the existing situation. Scouts and high school students gathered in parks or forests for meetings. It was an opportunity to exchange information about the situation in the world, on the fronts. Here, a secret newspaper and Polish books were distributed. We were very careful in these meetings because we were keenly watched by our former colleagues who had collaborated with the Germans.
In April 1940, the Germans announced conscription into their army. There was confusion and the question what to do? Only escape could save the situation. There were few people willing to escape. There were fears of being caught at the border, the difficulties of crossing, and the consequences for families. We received notices that we had to sign, stating that we had to register for the draft on April 13. Out of 30, I was the only one who didn't go to the draft. During the census, I gave my nationality as Polish and I thought that this would protect me from being drafted into the German army. The Germans did not pay attention to this and took everyone living in Silesia into the army.
After talking to my father, I decided to go to France, where the Polish Army was being formed. In the evening of that day, Franek came and announced that he was drafted but would not join the German army and wanted to escape with me.
Franek was one of those who volunteered to work in Germany in the fall of 1939. There he was beaten badly, he returned to Poland and joined the fire brigade, which protected him from being sent to Germany again. I didn't trust him, but Franek did everything he could to gain my trust.
After a few days, we set off around the world on bikes. I took Romer's school map of Poland and a small compass with me, as well as my parents' wishes for a safe journey. We head towards Kraków. In Oświęcim we meet a patrol on a bridge who would not let anyone in without a pass. We went back and crossed the river.
While staying overnight, we learn that people are being rounded up in Krakow and taken to Germany for forced labor. We change direction and go to Nowy Sącz. On the way we encounter a German patrol. Without a word, Franek turns and runs away. I'm moving on. In my excitement, I pass both armed Germans, who apparently did not notice Frank's escape and did not pay any attention to me. After a while, Franek joined me, bypassing the patrol along side paths.
In the evening, having reached the village of Osielec, we repaired my bike at a blacksmith's and spent the night. Everywhere we are welcomed warmly and hospitably. On Monday we stop in Rabka for lunch. We are hosted by a nice Miss Wiktoria B. After being fed, we move on. In the evening we pass Limanowa. We spend the night in Mordarka with the former village head, whose two daughters took such warm care of us that we stayed for a few days as guests of Misses Michalina and Stanisława. These few days allowed us to rest, get our bearings and think about what to do next. This is where the plan to move to Hungary was created.
On Tuesday, April 22, we say goodbye with tears in our eyes and move on. We are heading towards Szczawnica. Driving along the Dunajec River, we approach our destination in the evening. From a distance we see a barricade on the road and German guards. What should I do? Which way next? There is no sign of a living soul around the mountain... After a moment of visual exploration of the area, we notice a highlander working in the field. We approach him and ask him straight away, how can you cross the border here? The highlander, with wide eyes, asks who we are. After identifying ourselves, the highlander introduces himself. – He is a former police officer here in Szczawnica, his name is Jakub Salomon. He promises to help us, although it is not easy.
In the evening, he transports us, hidden in the car, to his home, to Szczawnica. We meet his mother, who advises us against escaping, saying that last week a group of 18 people caught in the mountains were brought and imprisoned, and that a young boy was recently found half-frozen, making his way to Hungary to see his father. However, we do not deviate from our decision. We have no way back.
Mr. Jakub went out to find out if anyone was going to that side to guide us. The next day, after selling the bikes, in highlander clothes, we say goodbye to Mr. Jakub and his mother and go to meet the guide. He is going to the Czech Republic for trade purposes and has agreed to take us across the border.
We met our guide, his name is Surzna, who said he wouldn't go today because of the heavy traffic of dog patrols on the border. Maybe it will be better tomorrow. From the moment we met Surzno, we don't trust him, but we have no choice.
The whole next day we lie hidden in the shed, listening to what is happening outside. In the evening, another fugitive arrives - a pilot from Warsaw. The five of us leave around 10 a.m. Starry night. We walk single file, listening from side to side. At one point we pass a boundary stone. Something tugs at my heartstrings. I look beyond myself, as if searching for something – something we leave behind. I asked myself if I would come back and when, and if I would see them... The pilot kneels and kisses the ground. The guide urges us to move on. After a while he announces that we are in Slovakia and that he is not going any further. Franek, a head taller, stands behind him and persuades him. That he has to keep going because we're not coming back. After exchanging rather harsh words, the guide starts going down. We cross a road with a small stream behind it and climb up again. In the morning we say goodbye to the guide and his companion and, just the three of us, we move on. We are approaching Slovaks working in the fields. They guess who we are, show us the way forward and wish us good luck. In the evening we come to the railway station, where the manager is a Jewish woman.
According to Mr. Jakub's information, she helps Poles escape. The station manager, a powerful lady, initially doesn't want to talk to us - she represents danger. There are a lot of Germans in the area, they come to her inn for a beer in the evenings. We support our requests with 80 Czech crowns, the woman submitted.
The next morning we were instructed how to behave on the train so as not to draw attention to ourselves, under the invisible care of an informed Slovak conductor, we arrived in Prestowo around noon. I buy tickets to Kosice Hamry here. The cashier, realizing that we were Poles and refugees, tried to stop us. I grabbed the tickets and we run to the next station, where we board the train and disappear into the crowd of people returning from work. The train was almost empty when the conductor approached us and gave us information on where to get off. After spending the night under the open sky, a shepherd we met showed us the way towards the Hungarian border. We walk along the peaks, avoiding people. In the afternoon, however, we go down to find out the direction again. When asked, the farmer points to a large clearing and says that beyond it is Hungary.
We move very carefully, often crawling. In the evening, at some distance, we pass a watchtower. Going further, we see a road with white and red stones on the road. We assume that we are in Hungary, freely and happily moving forward, singing. It's getting dark. At the edge of the forest we see a group of soldiers - they are brotherly Hungarians.
We approach them and say that we are Poles. The corporal declares that he must take us to the police. The situation is serious. The corporal softened when we said that the Pole and the Hungarian were two nephews. After assuring us that we had not met anyone before them, we were shown the way to Košice and allowed to leave.
It's already dark - we're entering Kosice. We find the building according to the address and enter. Amidst the movement and noise, we hear Polish speech. We are finally among our own people, the same as us, who walked a few hours earlier along different paths. We were taken into the office and we told who we were. Then a short interrogation, and a longer stay at Franek's document, which listed Deutch. After eating, we were given train tickets to Budapest and a few pengos. The next day, in Budapest, on Duna Utre, at the consulate we complete passport formalities throughout the day. Our stay in Budapest was not legal. An individual caught by the police in the city was imprisoned in a fortress on the other side of the Danube. This is where the three of us parted ways. The pilot went his way, Franek, having some pengo, enjoyed some Hungarian wine, while I preferred to take advantage of this opportunity to stay in Budapest and carefully explored the city.
We leave on the morning of May 7. Where to – nobody knows. Around 4 p.m. we get off in Herceg Sando, on the Yugoslav border. We were gathered in a large room next to the inn for a briefing and told that we were already soldiers, although still in civilian clothes. We were told we were crossing the border tonight. They read out the names. I'm listening... and I can't hear mine. I reacted very decisively and as a result, I was added to the reading group. In the evening we received Polish passports and the Hungarians said goodbye to us and went to the border. There are 120 of us, the first twenty go as a spearhead, some distance in front. At one point, after crossing the railway track on a high embankment, the spearhead encountered the Germans. There was a panic. The entire group scattered and collapsed in the nearby vineyards. After some time, 26 of us have gathered and we moved cautiously.
Around midnight we find ourselves in Yugoslavia. We report to the nearest police station and are given accommodation. The next morning the rest join us. In the evening, a train with a Yugoslav escort arrived and we were going to Belgrade. Here we travelled completely safely with Polish passports. We live in hotels and receive 12 denars a day. While waiting for further transport, we explore the city.
On May 12, we are going to Greece. At the border we are welcomed by the honorary Greek guard. At noon on May 14, we are in Athens. We wait again, we get drachmas, we visit the city. It's Wednesday, May 22. From the morning preparations for loading onto the ship. Our transport is the first to go to Syria. The previous ones went through Italy to France. After joining the war, the Italians closed the border.
We board the Greek ship "PAKH" (DRAK) in Piraeus, and at 5 p.m. we say goodbye to sunny Greece and, with it, Europe. This is my first sea trip, so I'm a little excited. On the high seas, excitement turns into seasickness. On the ship we were divided into groups. I was placed under the care of Tońcio Urny, whom I met in Bradford after 20 years. On the way we stop at Alexandria in Egypt, Jaffa and Tel-Aviv in Palestine.
On the morning of May 29, we arrived in Beirut, welcomed by our military authorities and the gendarmerie. In the camp near Beirut, formalities and a medical commission. After two days, we go through mountainous Lebanon to Syria, to Homs, to the Brigade's staging area.
The camp in Homs is located in the valley of the winds, situated on a plane of red soil. The climate – incredible heat. There is a division into weapons. My desire from an early age was to serve in the cavalry. I was disappointed, as I was assigned to the mountain artillery which had mules instead of horses. After putting on my uniform, I felt like a real soldier.
The prevailing heat, winds blowing red sand and thick French uniforms did not have a positive effect on our well-being. But you can't complain to a volunteer. Moreover, after traveling so much of the world, finding myself among my own people, in an army that many of my colleagues could envy, I had to patiently endure these various ailments.
Normal soldier days filled with training program now follow. Surrounding our camp are Arabs - ignorance and poverty - near the barracks of the Foreign Legion, where there are a number of Poles.
It's hard for me to get used to the atmosphere in the barracks. Most of the soldiers were interned in Hungary and Romania. Everyone has their own experiences I am struck by the constant complaints about our pre-war authorities, blamed for the lost war. I couldn't come to terms with it, because when I was in Poland after the war, I saw the power of Germany and assessed our capabilities. Over time, these complaints ceased as more news of German successes and, eventually, the fall of France arrived.
The brigade passes, or rather escapes, to Palestine, under British command. We pitch tents in Latrun. On leave in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, we meet many Jews who came here from Poland and remember it fondly. We continue the training. We feel better in English uniforms.
In October, the Brigade moves to Egypt, near Alexandria. We receive English equipment. We tenderly say goodbye to the mules and happily receive the cars. The Brigade's task - defense of Alexandria in a desert section of approximately 12 km.
In April 1941, there was a stir in the Brigade... We're going to defend Greece. However, it all ended with the departure of several ships and their return, because Greece could not withstand the pressure of the Germans.
In May we go to defend Matruh, a supply port for British forces. In August, 3 D.S.K. was sent to Tobruk. Tobruk is a separate stage of the Brigade's life and fighting. Although the Tobruk Brigade had a difficult task, I never heard any complaints. In December Tobruk was free. After three and a half months of defending the fortress, the Brigade finished its task by chasing the enemy. There was a cemetery in Tobruk where other fallen Brigades were to be buried.
Expectations have been disappointed - the well-deserved rest has not come now. The brigade was used to fight for Gazala, where the Germans put up fierce resistance. After the defeat of the Germans near Gazala, the artillery regiment was assigned to the commander of the 2nd South African Infantry Division besieging Bardia, where the Germans and Italians were stationed. After capturing Bardia, the Brigade moves to occupy Cyranejka.
In January 1942 there was talk of rest again... And again disappointment. The Germans are attacking and the Brigade covers the retreat of British troops on Mechila.
In February, the Brigade receives a new task of defending Gazala. In March, there are rumors of easing again - this time they are true.
We leave the desert proud that we completed all the tasks assigned to us and were the army that fought in the desert without a break for the longest time.
Near Alexandria, each of us took advantage of 2 weeks of vacation. As a censor officer, I went to a cadet school in Egypt. The brigade moved to Palestine, where it became the skeleton for the 3rd Carpathian Division, which was organized from the army arrived from Russia.The organizational and combat experience of the Brigade called the 3 D.S.K. in the future, play a serious role in the battles of the 2nd Corps in Italy.
This was my path to the Brigade and with the Brigade. Although 69 years have passed since then, each experience is so fresh in my memory that sometimes it seems that it is not 69 years, but it must have happened yesterday. I met Franek again in Italy.
Zbigniew Franciszek Pniewski:
Born in Biały Prądnik on October 4, 1920
Older brother, Staszek, and an older sister, Irene - they are deceased. Younger sister Wanda (died 2012) in Poland in Piasek, (near Pszczyna) in the family home.
Went from Poland to the Polish army. He was in the 3rd D.S.K and fought in Tobruk and Monte Cassino.
After the war he lived in Lowther Park, (post-war military camp) Penrith, Cumberland.
1953, due to work, he moved to Bradford with his family.
First he worked on a construction site and later in a factory using wool machines.
In the 1960s, as an activist in SPK Bradford, he ran a sports club
November 1968, agreed to be the manager of the SPK Veterans Home at 102 Great Horton Road and later at 14 Shearbridge Road. He held this position for 17 years until his retirement
In the 1990s, took over the ownership of SPK no. 451 Bradford.
Copyright: Pniewski family