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Re: [Kresy-Siberia] Polish Veteran's Epic Journey

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  • roman skulski
    Ted, You are quite right, I believe Lucyna meant to say thousands of people . I was one of them and can assure you that there were no millions of people
    Message 1 of 5 , Nov 6, 2007
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      Ted,
      You are quite right, I believe Lucyna meant to say "thousands of people".
      I was one of them and can assure you that there were no "millions of people moving in Pahlevi ".

      Roman Skulski
      Poland and WWII 1939-1945

      ted sebestianski <tsebestianski@...> wrote:
      I cant remember miljons of people moving in Pahlevi.....
      ted
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Lucyna Artymiuk
      To: Lucyna Artymiuk
      Sent: Monday, November 05, 2007 4:09 AM
      Subject: [Kresy-Siberia] Polish Veteran's Epic Journey

      Polish Veteran's Epic Journey To Britain thisisgloucestershire.co.uk

      03.11.07

      Until 1940, I lived happily with my parents, brother and sister at Rowne
      (now in the Ukraine), where my father had a restaurant.

      Germany and Russian squabbled continually over the frontiers after Germany
      had overrun Poland, but eventually an agreement was reached and we found
      that we were living in the Russian section.

      Life became intolerable for us as my father disliked and disagreed with the
      Communist regime and we were therefore considered by the Russians a danger
      to the state. One day, six Russian soldiers visited our house and said: "You
      have 50 minutes to get such belongings as you can carry with you and get to
      the station".

      My father was forced to remain in a chair, armed soldiers guarding him,
      while we collected our things together. They were afraid that he might try
      to escape and knew that without him we would not make any attempt to do so.

      The thought of Siberia was uppermost in our minds as, in the little time
      available, we packed what we could into cases, taking as much food as
      possible.

      Before we knew where we were, we were all hurriedly bundled off to the
      station.

      We were not alone by an means, for the Russians uprooted many families such
      as ours whom they considered a potential danger and moved them wherever they
      wanted labour.

      We knew we were destined for Siberia or thereabouts, but exactly where, we
      had no idea. I doubt if any English person can realise the terrible
      uncertainty and fears for the future existing in our minds - to have one's
      home life suddenly interrupted and not to know what the future has in store.

      When we arrived at the station we were herded like cattle into open trucks -
      65 or more to a truck. The weather was bitterly cold and as there was no
      heat or lighting in these trucks, everyone had to undue terrible discomfort.

      Eventually the train set off slowly. As we moved further north, the cold
      became more intense and many old people and young children never reached the
      end of the journey. Only the strongest survived.

      The train stopped interminably on the way, often being stationary for hours.
      We would move on from one station to another only to find ourselves going
      back to the station we had just left. The doors of the trucks were kept
      locked by the guards and often not opened for days, so the stench became
      almost unbearable.

      The only food given to us was a little black bread and water or,
      occasionally, a little salt fish (usually without water so that we became
      terribly thirsty) and we used to put our hands through the narrow windows at
      the top of the trucks and scoop up some snow off the roof to quench our
      thirst. This Russian bread was black and, when squeezed, water oozed out of
      it.

      We were also supplied with soap at most of the stations we stopped in.

      After a month, we arrived at a town we later discovered to be Kotlas and
      were told that our train journey was ended. We were allowed three hours'
      rest before continuing our journey.

      Mercifully, we as a family were all still alive. After this short rest, we
      had to set off again, this time by horse. We did not know where we were
      going, but eventually a halt was called near a large forest.

      We later found out that we were near Archangel on the borders of Siberia. We
      were housed in a group of rough shacks, four families to a medium-sized hut,
      which was bare except for one large stove in the middle.

      There were no beds or bedding. We made wooden beds from the timber which it
      was our job to cut down.

      BEFORE commencing regular work, we were allowed a short rest after the
      journey. My father and I then worked all day in the forest cutting down
      timber for which we were paid about 30 roubles a month by the Russians. Food
      consisted of the usual bread and water and occasionally we could buy a
      little salt fish. We were also able to receive parcels from our relatives
      left behind, which helped to eke out our meagre rations.

      Fortunately, we were able to keep the stove going day and night as we were
      able to get plenty of wood.

      The weather was bitterly cold and we felt the cold very much - our clothes
      weren't very good, we had no proper food and we looked more like skeletons
      than human beings.

      We managed to save what money the Russians paid us as there was nowhere to
      spend it and this was to prove a great help later on.

      We worked from March to September 1940 and, when Germany invaded Russia, we
      were given more freedom and told we could move about freely inside Russia.

      My father decided to move south to Kubibyshev, not only because it would be
      warmer but also because we would not be so completely cut off from the
      outside world. News rarely filtered through to Archangel and we were anxious
      to know what was happening. In the central and southern parts,
      communications were better and life a little easier.

      We walked to the River Severnaya Dvina and then managed to get a river
      steamer to take up on the first part of our journey to the nearest railway
      station. With the money we had saved my father bought tickets for each of us
      costing 75 roubles each (a lot of money in those days).

      We managed to get on the train, which was very overcrowded because many
      people were moving about and the war demanded much of the rolling stock.

      Ordinary trains in Russia were bad and journeys were never comfortable.

      The train moved slowly out of the station and we thought that at last we
      were safely on the way to our destination.

      But another shock awaited us when the train stopped at the first big
      station. We were told we must get out of the train we were in because it was
      wanted and wait for another train that would come along shortly.

      We waited three days at this station for the train and, when it did come, we
      found that it was made up of trucks similar to those in which we travelled
      to Archangel. The only difference was that there were no guards and no
      locked doors. We resented this changeover, but naturally could do nothing
      about it.

      We crawled on, getting what food we could at the larger stations. At one
      such station, my sister and I joined an enormous queue for food (there were
      huge queues at every station). She managed to get served, but by the time my
      turn came and I went back to where the train had been standing, I found it
      had gone. I was completely alone with no papers (my father had these) and
      only about 10 roubles in my pocket.

      I was only 17 years old. I was a little uncertain what to do and I wandered
      about the station. I saw a train full of soldiers from the north who were
      being moved southwards and I managed to scramble for this train and
      eventually had my first good meal for months - corned beef and bread.

      I travelled with these soldiers for some time and eventually arrived at
      Buzuluk. I moved about from place to place in the neighbourhood and finally
      I joined the Polish army, under the command of General Anders, on November
      18, 1941.

      The Army was poorly equipped. No one had a complete uniform. The Russians
      supplied what we had and no man was completely rigged out.

      Still moving about the Buzuluk district for a while, we eventually proceeded
      to Turkestan. We stayed here for a few days and then moved to Krasnovodsk -
      a port on the Caspian Sea. We had to wait here for a few days for a steamer,
      sleeping out in the open.

      The surrounding country was sandy and, as it was summer and warm, this was
      no great hardship.

      We were then ordered aboard a steamer for Pahlevi - a port on the other side
      of the sea. All these places were very overcrowded as the Russians were
      continually moving people from one place to another.

      As usual, the steamer was very full. The ordinary passengers were down below
      whilst we were quartered on the top deck.

      The journey took a day and a night and when we arrived at Pahlevi we were
      met by British soldiers and lorries and taken to a British camp just outside
      the town.

      Pahlevi was teeming with people of many nationalities. Two million people
      were brought in day after day by sea, sorted out and sent on to various
      destinations. When we arrived at the camp ragged, dirty and unkempt after
      our journey, we were given baths, vaccinated, inoculated and completely
      re-equipped from head to toe in British uniforms.

      We spent five days here resting and collecting our new equipment.

      In the evening, having nothing else to do, we often used to walk along the
      sea front at Pahlevi, and, on one such occasion, I met some people from my
      village.

      We were talking together and I found that they knew my mother and that she
      was in hospital. I was overjoyed to have news of her and, as soon as I
      could, I went to see her. I heard how my father had joined the Polish army
      and had moved with the army from place to place followed by the family and
      how eventually they had arrived at Pahlevi.

      My brother and sister had been with her, but were sent on ahead to East
      Africa, where my mother eventually joined them when she was well again.

      My mother now had my service number and would be able to write to me so that
      I did not feel so completely cut off from everyone.

      Soon we moved on by lorry with the British Eighth Army to Tehran in Persia
      (Iran). We spent about two days there resting and then once again moved on
      by lorry through wild and mountainous country to Kirkuk in Iraq.

      While at Kirkuk, as I was walking down the road one evening with a number of
      other soldiers, I suddenly saw my father coming towards me. It seems
      incredible that we should have met this way, but nevertheless it was so. It
      was wonderful to think that now I had been reunited with both my mother and
      father.

      From Kirkuk, my unit was moved to a camp just outside Baghdad. The surround
      country was mountainous and it was hot in the daytime and cold at night.

      The journey from Krasnovodsk to Baghdad took about one year, from

      1942 to 1943.

      WE spent a month at Baghdad and then moved yet again, this time to Palestine
      - first to Tel Aviv and then to Jerusalem. During this time, I was able to
      visit many places of interest, including Bethlehem.

      On again to various places in Trans Jordan and from there to Egypt; first to
      Cairo and then Port Said, still forming a unit of the British Eighth Army -
      we did not remain anywhere very long.

      We left Port Said in a British troop ship for Italy to reinforce the
      invading force there. We were to see action at last. There were no incidents
      on the way and we arrived safely at Naples having travelled round the heel
      of Italy through the Straits of Messina.

      After a short rest at Naples, we were sent up towards the front line to
      reinforce the main striking force.

      We arrived in time to take part in the great fight for the monastery at
      Cassino which the Germans had fortified so strongly in the mistaken idea
      that we would have some scruples about bombing this old and wonderful
      building.

      After some deliberations on the part of the Allies, it was decided such
      scruples must go and Allied aircraft rained bombs upon it. The great
      monastery of Monte Cassino ablaze amid a pall of smoke is one of the most
      vivid memories I have of this campaign.

      It was during the offensive that the enemy nearly wiped out one of our
      reconnaissance patrols and myself included.

      About 40 of us were sent out and we encountered stiff resistance.

      After some days, 11 of us managed to get back to our main force, but the
      rest never did return. For our work in this incident, we received a special
      award. Many thousands of Polish troops lost their lives in this offensive.
      It was during the fighting around Monte Cassino that my father was killed.

      From Monte Cassino, we pushed on - the American Fifth Army to Rome and the
      British Eighth towards Ancona. The Polish unit I was in remained with the
      British Eighth Army. We fought our way across Italy to Loreto, Orsima,
      Pesaro, Rimini and inland again to Forli and Faenza.

      The Germans fought delaying actions, mined bridges and roads, but still we
      moved forwards. Eventually we reached Bologna and were there when the war
      ended.

      We stayed in Italy for a little while, but could not remain indefinitely.
      Three choices were open to us. We could either make our way back to Poland
      via the north of Italy, go to Canada or go to England.

      I decided on England as my mother, brother and sister were in East Africa
      and I thought it would be much easier for me to get in touch with them from
      there.

      We left Bologna and travelled by sea to Dover. We arrived in September 1946
      and were taken by train to a camp just outside Salisbury.

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