- Contributed by
- mark nedza
- People in story:
- Frank Nedza
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 January 2004
My father (Frank) is Polish-born, and was brought up in Rzeszow in the south-east of Poland. In 1939 he was already in the Polish Army and he always tells this story:
It was our first pass out from camp to Warsaw in March 1939. With two friends Boniek and Banasiuk, I went for a coffee.
While we were there a young gypsy girl came to us to tell our fortune for nothing. As it wasn’t going to cost us anything we went ahead.
First to Boniek: plenty of romance and so on but you will be at home very soon, we were hoping that will be a holiday.
Second Banasiuk: more romance etc, but soon you will be on the move for a long journey but you will never go back home.
Finally, Frank: you will be on the move (what happened to the romance bit?) for a long journey as well, but after a long time you will be at home again.
In September Hitler invades Poland, then our journey starts. We leave Warsaw walking - Boniek took the skin on his feet from walking so hard to get away from the Germans that eventually he couldn't keep up and we left him behind - he somehow managed to get home. Myself and Banasiuk manage to go to Hungary. Soon after Banasiuk goes on to France joins up with the army again and was killed in Tobruk.
As for myself I rejoined the Polish army in France and went through until the end of the war, after 25 years I took my family back home to Poland for a Holiday.” (1963)
After much badgering I managed to get a bit more of his story, which I have documented mainly for myself and the rest of his family. The following is a brief outline of what he told me.
Escape From Poland
He was a radio officer in the army, based in Warsaw. When war broke out he was sent with his friends and some equipment to join up with various Polish units. However, due to the speed of the German advance, he soon found himself on the clogged roads, leaving Warsaw for the south.
His diary, 5-9-1939: 'I have been sent to collect - car with full equipment and join the front line, but instead we have to go back through Siedlce - Biala Podlaska - Helm-Tomaszow Lub. to Hungary.'
Because he had a radio in his car he was able to monitor the position of the German and then the Russian army. He writes '...so we managed to reach the Hungarian border by four o’clock in the morning on 18th or 19th September 1939 with some luck as by 6.00 the road was closed by the Russian army.'
Like many others, he was interned in Hungary (Sajoszentkiraly near Putnik) but eventually managed to escape via Budapest to Zagreb across Northern Italy into France, arriving in Modane 1-5-1940.
After a few days he and his comrades were sent by train to a Polish camp in Coetguidan near Rennes. Here he was given a French First World War uniform and rifle, and a makeshift Polish unit was then sent forward to defend Paris. However, before they could get there the Germans had overrun the low countries and were advancing so rapidly on Paris that he found himself once again fleeing from the advancing Germans.
He eventually reached Bordeaux on approximately 11 June 1940, and according to his diary sailed on the 'Royal Scotsman' to Liverpool, arriving 26-6-1940. On arrival they were quickly loaded onto a train and sent to Glasgow. My father remembers spending the first couple of weeks in the UK, living in what he remembers as Celtic’s football ground. (It may have been Rangers?)
For the next three years or so he was part of the Polish 1st Armoured Division based in Scotland - originally to defend the UK from invasion via Norway. He spent many happy days around Dalkeith and Edinburgh with various visits to other training camps around the UK.
In August 1944 he landed in Normandy with the Polish 1st Armoured Division, and was with them at Caen, Falaise and the eventual sweep up the coast of France, via Abbeville, into Belgium liberating Ypres, and into Holland, where the division liberated Breda.
At Breda the Division was taken out of the line for R&R, and many friendships were made with the Dutch population. The division was subsequently honoured with the freedom of the city and many Polish soldiers married Dutch girls and settled in the area after the war (including my father's driver).
In the spring of 1945 the division went into action again and ended the war at Wilhemshaven.
My father spent the next two years in Germany and then faced the difficult decision of where to go. Following receipt of a letter from his father (whom he never saw again) he decided to settle in the UK.
After being demobbed, he worked originally in a radio factory in Rugby, and then moved to South Wales to work in a new radio factory. Here he settled down, married and had six children and now has ten grandchildren.
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