My father died in 1969 when I was 11, we lived in Fife, Scotland. He was working as a Coal Miner then, he had worked in the coal mines in Poland as a very young man and since coming over to Scotland after the war.
When he was alive he never spoke much to anyone about his time during the war, or his life back in Poland, he had kept in contact by letter, with his family but up until 1968 he had never been back to his home to Katowice.
During the summer 1968 he managed to take all of us back to Poland, a holiday of which, I have many fond memories, however sadly, one year later he died. Tragically we never had any more contact with our Polish Relations, which is still something I personally find hard to come to terms with. For the last thirty odd year I have had a yearning to find out more about him, and to contact our Polish family and as I'm not getting any younger and my own children were asking about there grad father, I decided to start my search.
I first tried to contact the M.O.D. records department, Not really expecting to get very far. This day changed my life. The telephone call I made is very clear in my mind. When I got through I spoke to the lady in charge who ask for some very basic details, my fathers name and date of birth. She put the phone down, I heard her footsteps clip clopping across the floor and what sounded like the a massive filling cabinet drawer opening, then closing, clip clop back to the phone, she said yes, there was a file on my father, she was happy to send me a copy but said it would be best if my mother applied for these records. I was overjoyed.
They sent us a copy of his War Record which informed me that he had been conscripted into the German Army when Germany invaded Poland, I do not have any great details except what I am about to tell you, which is also on a record I subsequently received from an army records department in Germany.
Translation of German document information.
He was in The Grenadier Regiment 15 (Motorised) 3rd Company, I believe part of the 29th Tank Infantry Division
I believe that he had been in Africa, and as the german army was pushed out of Africa my father ended up eventually in Italy, I dred to think what he had been through, but from this account on his German records, enough was enough.
The Infantryman Kempik had at the 21,12.43 orders to get food, rations for his section. He delivered the rations at about 9.15pm.
after that Kempik (K) got the order to go back to his trench and to hold fort. Instead of filling this order, K was lying down to sleep in an empty bunker/shelter. Here he was found by a platoon messenger at the 22.12.43 at 2.00am. This person gave K the order to go to his trench immediately. At the next control at 5.00am. K was still sleeping in his bunker. Kempik got for the 3rd. time the order to go to his trench. He left the bunker and went in the direction of his trench. Since that point of time Kempik was never seen.
Because of the testimony of a witness one assumes, that Kempik is deserted to the enemy. This assumption is confirmed by the ascertainment that at his delivery of the food, two rations of sausage and two rations of chocolate were missing. K had the apparently the intent to desert and he used this opportunity to get food because there might have passed a longer time till he was captured.
I obviously have mixed feeling regards this information, I know what kind of a fighter in life my dad was. I feel he was in such a state then he was past caring, but he was obviously clever enough to know that his next warning would have probably meant the firing squad, so he had nothing to lose but how must he have felt deserting the Germans with them after him heading in the direction of the then enemy, us.
He was taken prisoner at a place called San Vittori in Italy by the American Army (I have actually managed to find a copy of a documentary film made at the time by John Houston, of the Battle at San Vittori ). His war could have been over, as I have been told by many people including members of his division. He was held prisoner till about May 1944. He joined the Polish 2nd Corps. 5th Kresowa Division 18th Lwowski Battalion who had just completed one of the bloodiest battles in WW2 at Monte Cassino, where very many Polish soldiers lost there lives. He saw his first action at Anconna and fought for the remainder of the war up to Bologna, May 1945.
His record also told us that he was entitled to some medals one of which was the Cross of Valour which totally took us by surprise, and so far we have not been able to find out how, where or when this was won.
Although I was sent loads of great information, there was nothing about what happened to him when he was resettled in Scotland and I am also trying to find out more about this.
Since receiving all this information I have been down to London, first for the 60th Anniversary of his Division being formed, where I met loads of old soldiers, sadly non that knew him, I have been down two more times and have now become very friendly with most of the men and women who attend.
I had also managed to go back to Katowice, for the first time since my dad died, Easter, 2001. We stayed in Krakow, this is approx. 30 miles from Katowice and due to the fact we had not been able to contact our family before we left Scotland, we were not able to spend a lot of time with them. While we were there we went to Auswitch Concentration camp which is only 15 miles from where my family live, this sent a chill through my bones not only because of the huge scale of the place and organised killing that took place in the camp but also because it was so close to my fathers home in Katowice.
As I said we managed to trace our family and found out my fathers sister is still alive, she is 82years old this year and been through an awful lot, her story is probably one that I will never know. She was a very beautiful young girl suffering first, invasion by Germany then supposed "liberation" by Russia.
I returned to Poland again this year and I had much more contact with my family, I managed to spend a whole week with them and was very lucky to have the services of a translator most days.
I am still trying to find out more about what my dad went through and to find out the circumstance in which he was awarded The Cross of Valour.
I think I will try and find out more about his German army history next. For the short term, I intend going over to Italy next May for the 60th anniversary of the fall of Monte Cassino, when there, I intend to visit also the place where my father was captured, probably a place most important to the family here in Scotland, if he had not deserted it is most likely we would not be here.
I feel I am on a journey started on the outbreak of WW2 that maybe I will not complete but may only be finished by the Grand children and Great Grand children of Jerzy Kempik.
This is my fathers still uncompleted story.
Today is the 11th of the 11th.
It got me thinking about a poem one of my school teachers told me was the memories of a solider lying close to death in the trenches during WW1. Is anyone able to confirm this, here it is.
I Remember, I Remember (By Thomas Hood)
I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away!
I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi'lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,--
The tree is living yet!
I remember, I remember,
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then,
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow!
I remember, I remember,
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from heav'n
Than when I was a boy.