Ludwik: a Corporal in Anders’ Army
Ludwik: a Corporal in Anders’ Army Introduction Ludwik Cytera (1) was born in Rudka, 80km north of Lwów in pre-war Poland, on 16th July 1913. As an army Corporal, he participated in World War II action in Monte Cassino and the rest of the Italian campaign. I always thought of him as a war hero because of this, but how he got from Lwów to Italy to fight with the Allies is not something that I ever knew much about until recently. Ludwik was my grandfather and this is his story. But it is one which he did not tell himself. He did not even tell it to his only surviving son, my father, who always said Ludwik never wanted to talk about it. So, this is not a story which has been passed on. Although I did not realise it at the time, one of my last meetings with Ludwik led me led me to piece it together some 25 years later, thanks to the landmark work “Trail of Hope” by Norman Davies. This revelatory book gave me the inspiration to dig up the old photos, look again at the medals and find out what it all really meant. I am now sure that this is what Ludwik intended me to do, so that I could tell his story in a way he could never bring himself to do. “Rosja zawsze będzie wrogiem” The only part of the story that Ludwik ever told me directly was this statement, that Russia was the enemy. I was in my 20s at the time, and rather puzzled by it. My knowledge of the Second World War was limited to having watched The Dambusters and Colditz on TV, and building Airfix models of planes like the Spitfire and ships like the Tirpitz in my teens. As far as I was concerned, the Russians were on our side in the war. As for why our family ended up in Great Britain, I had just swallowed the line from other Polish members of the family, who should have known better, that “the Russians had formed a Polish army”. Although this was staggeringly far from the truth, I did not question it at the time. However, Ludwik’s antipathy towards Russia did stick in my mind, his words repeatedly coming back to me as the age of Putin has unfolded. The reasons for his view are obvious from what happened to him. When the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany together invaded Poland at the start of World War II, Ludwik was deported to Siberia with his wife Adela and their three-year-old son, Mieczysław. They had this fate in common with around 1.5 million other Poles living in the eastern part of Poland known as the ‘Kresy’, with its two main population centres being Lwów in the south (present-day Lviv in Ukraine) and Wilno in the north (present-day Vilnius, Lithuania). These people suffered appalling conditions in gulags, most dying of hunger, disease or the winter. Unlike the people featured in “Trail of Hope”, we have no record of our family’s time in Siberia. No trace of their deportation to the Gulags, no train tickets or transit documents tracing their movements to the south of the Soviet Union where the Anders’ Army recruitment centres were located. But we know they were there, as my father’s first childhood memory testifies: the trans-Siberian journey to Iran. He remembered how people desperately needed to relieve themselves, left the train to do so when it stopped, and were left behind to freeze to death. No wonder that what came after seemed like paradise to him. “Rosja zawsze będzie wrogiem” The only part of the story that Ludwik ever told me directly was this statement, that Russia was the enemy. I was in my 20s at the time, and rather puzzled by it. My knowledge of the Second World War was limited to having watched The Dambusters and Colditz on TV, and building Airfix models of planes like the Spitfire and ships like the Tirpitz in my teens. As far as I was concerned, the Russians were on our side in the war. As for why our family ended up in Great Britain, I had just swallowed the line from other Polish members of the family, who should have known better, that “the Russians had formed a Polish army”. Although this was staggeringly far from the truth, I did not question it at the time. However, Ludwik’s antipathy towards Russia did stick in my mind, his words repeatedly coming back to me as the age of Putin has unfolded. The reasons for his view are obvious from what happened to him. When the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany together invaded Poland at the start of World War II, Ludwik was deported to Siberia with his wife Adela and their three-year-old son, Mieczysław. They had this fate in common with around 1.5 million other Poles living in the eastern part of Poland known as the ‘Kresy’, with its two main population centres being Lwów in the south (present-day Lviv in Ukraine) and Wilno in the north (present-day Vilnius, Lithuania). These people suffered appalling conditions in gulags, most dying of hunger, disease or the winter. Unlike the people featured in “Trail of Hope”, we have no record of our family’s time in Siberia. No trace of their deportation to the Gulags, no train tickets or transit documents tracing their movements to the south of the Soviet Union where the Anders’ Army recruitment centres were located. But we know they were there, as my father’s first childhood memory testifies: the trans-Siberian journey to Iran. He remembered how people desperately needed to relieve themselves, left the train to do so when it stopped, and were left behind to freeze to death. No wonder that what came after seemed like paradise to him. Escape from the USSR Everything changed when Hitler reneged on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1941. With his erstwhile ally now threatening to annihilate the USSR, Stalin was forced to collaborate with Great Britain. But although the Americans had not yet sent a single soldier to Europe, Britain was not alone as is often stated. Both the exiled French and Polish governments were based in London, and the latter had already supplied highly skilled military personnel who had escaped Poland. General Maczek’s 1st Polish Armoured Division was stationed in Scotland, the Carpathian Brigade in North Africa, and around 8000 Polish RAF personnel, including the famous 303 Squadron, had made all the difference in the Battle of Britain. Stalin therefore had to agree to the release the Poles from the Gulags to form an army to fight the Nazis. Stalin paid lip-service to the deal, resulting in many more deaths as Poles had to make their way hundreds of miles to army recruitment camps in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But some made it, including Ludwig and family. It was then down to the negotiating skill of General Anders, who had been put in charge of forming this army in the USSR, to get them to safety where they could be properly fed, accommodated, trained and equipped. 120,000 lives were thus saved, thanks to the great General Anders and the British Army in Persia. They were transported in two evacuations, and we know from the date of Adela’s Polish passport issued in Tehran on 6th June 1942 that the family must have been part of the first (2). From Persia they were separated, with soldiers’ wives and children sent to various corners of the world from New Zealand to Mexico. Adela and Mieczysław went to Masindi in Uganda, which my father often referred to as “the best time of my life”. Climbing up the trees to pick fresh mangoes was something he often mentioned, right up to the end of his life. The pictures bear witness to this paradise under the African sun. (3) 1943: Mieczyslaw and Adela in left photo and on left of right photo (4) 1945: Adela in dark dress in left photo and on right in right photo Despite this seeming paradise, tragedy was to befall them when Adela & Ludwik’s younger son, Josef, died from cholera. From Adela’s passport, we can see that he was not yet born when they were in Iran, so he must have been born either in Masindi or on the ship en route. Ludwik therefore can never have seen his second son. Training in the Middle East Now out of Soviet clutches and under British command, a real fighting force could be created. Ludwik’s documents state that he was in the 4th Lwów Light Artillery Regiment. According to Trail of Hope p.350, he would have been stationed at what was then Isdud in Palestine for training. [The 4000 Palestinian inhabitants were forced to flee in 1948 at the founding of the state of Israel, themselves becoming refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli city of Ashdud was founded on the ruins of Isdud in 1956]. The next three pictures (5,6,7) have inscriptions in Polish on the back. In the first, Ludwik is in the centre, he cannot be identified in the second, in the third he may be the one marked: (5) 10th August 1942: Palestyna. Kadra Plut (Palestine, Plut’s staff) (6) 2nd July 1942: Palestyna. Defilada przy dowódcy korpusu (Palestine, a parade by the commander of the corps) (9) 18th July 1942: Palestyna. Po ukonczenia strzelania (Palestine. After finishing shooting) (7) This is from a group of photos dated 1943, the year they moved on from Palestine to Egypt. Ludwik is just to the right of the dog at the front. The only thing I remember Ludwik saying about the middle east and Africa was the word “Tobruk” which I heard him utter to other Polish people at the dinner table. At the time, I assumed he was there, but he could not have been, he must have been recounting stories from the Carpathian Brigade who met. It was other family members who explained to me that he had been at Monte Cassino. The Italy Campaign Later in 1943, The Allies decided to deploy the Polish II Corps, the official name for Anders’ Army, to Italy. They formed part of the Eighth Army, possibly the most multi-national force every assembled, including troops from New Zealand, Canada, India and the Free French mostly from Algeria and Morocco. They were joined by large contingents of Americans who were by now fully committed to the Allied cause. Judging by the vegetation and the group of photos it was with, the action picture of Ludwik (8) may be from Italy shortly after landing at Taranto in 1944. The next four photos (10-12) must be from Italy judging by the buildings, possibly Taranto or Bari or Ancona. In the first, Ludwik is on the right on the balcony. In the second he is seated on the step at the front on the right. In the third and fourth he is with a family he seems to know. I went on a holiday to Poland in 1990, one year after the fall of communism. I was by myself with my Vauxhall Astra, a luxury car compared to the Trabants and Polski Fiats surrounding me. I had been advised to park it in a Parking Strzeżony (guarded car park) to avoid it being broken into, so I found one. The attendant informed me that it was full, so I duly informed him in my broken Polish that my grandfather had fought at Monte Cassino. As an older person, he knew what this meant, and immediately found me a parking space. I expected Ludwik to be delighted by the story when I got back to Great Britain, but he sat impassively and barely reacted. This is the nearest I got to talking about Monte Cassino with him. Whether he was too traumatised, too modest, or just too sad, I do not know. All he passed on from that story of unsurpassed bravery is this picture of the ruins (13). We know from the literature that the Polish II Corps stayed on in Italy until 1947. During that time Ludwik gained a Diploma in telephony, the certificate is here (14) alongside the only document he had left attesting to his marriage with Adela (15). These are pictures of the Monte Cassino demobilisation parade (16): - reprinted photos, issued, and not actually taken by Ludwik. • Bottom left: General Anders is on the right Bottom right: Queen Elizabeth (“Queen Mother”), King George VI, General Anders: Later Life Mieczysław and Adela arrived in Southampton, Great Britain in 1948 on the SS Carnarvon Castle. The excellent website http://www.polishresettlementcampsintheuk.co.uk/ does not have the passenger list but my father was sure it was that ship. Here is Adela’s immigration document which states Ludwik’s army number of 30038956 (17). Ludwik travelled via France, where he visited family, and was re-united with his wife and surviving son in Great Britain. Although Trail of Hope p. 540 states that the 5th and 6th Light Artillery went to resettlement camps in Gloucestershire, the 4th is not listed. We have no photos or records from any resettlement camp, nor was one ever mentioned. The earliest address we have for them is Cattybrook Farm, Almondsbury (near Bristol) where they shared a house with other Polish veterans: this may have been their first British home. Their lives started again in Bristol, where Ludwik found work. Mieczysław grew up and was introduced to a Polish lady also originating from the Kresy, near Wilno. Her parents had gone back to Poland after the war, so she had grown up under Communism. The introduction led to her emigration from Poland in 1962 and their marriage, resulting in my being born around a year later. Ludwik worked at Robinson’s Paper factory near Bristol (“Robinsona” as he called it), which later became Dickinson Robinson Group or DRG. The pay for his position of metal polisher, painter and general odd-job man must have been good compared to what is available for such jobs these days, as he was able to buy a decent 3-bedroom semi with a huge garden. I still have very vivid childhood memories of great times in this real-life garden of eden, full of fruit trees and berry bushes. Here I am with him in the garden in May 1964 (18), and at nearby Eastville Park with Adela and Ludwik in June of the same year (19). As the years went by and I grew up, I noticed how he always said little but kept himself busy. He was always either in the garden tending to the fruit trees, blackcurrant and redcurrant and gooseberry bushes, or tinkering with something in his workshop (szopa). He sometimes mentioned that he had been in the army, but said nothing about which army or where, or what he had done. He was always very helpful as I developed my interest in electronics, never hesitating to get me Ferric Chloride solution from Robinson’s stores to etch my printed circuit boards. He was Conservative-leaning as you might expect from someone who had escaped the horrors of Communism. But he was not extreme by any means. He always used to watch the ITN News with Trevor MacDonald, and when this most famous newsreader bid his viewers goodnight, Ludwik would salute him military fashion and say: “goodnight sir!”. This was many years before Sir Trevor was knighted so Ludwik was ahead of his time. I also remember him strongly criticising gun ownership in America when I brought him to see the flat I had bought in Redland in 1990. It was a touching sight when he and Adela stood up to leave as they were still holding hands at their age. It was the last time I was to see them together as Adela went to a nursing home after I had left Great Britain for a job in France. The Medals By the mid 90s’ I had moved from France to another job in Scotland, and I was on a visit to Bristol to see Ludwik who was living by himself by then. He did not answer the doorbell, so I started walking down the driveway, thinking he might be in the garden. I still vividly remember the scene as he came out of the back door to meet me in front of the garage clutching a plastic bag. He knew his time was nearly up and he wanted me to have his war medals. All six of them, including the prestigious Monte Cassino Cross. Much to my regret, I cannot remember his exact words, but I can picture the scene as if it were yesterday. He pointed to the bag and emphasised how important its contents were. He clearly wanted me to do something with them. He was not asking me for a favour, he was giving me an instruction. Only now has it become clear what it was. At the time, I was leading a somewhat nomadic existence and did not feel able to look after them. So, I gave them to my father for safekeeping, and they went away into one of his drawers for the next 20 years, the book closed, the story still untold. Only last year with my father’s passing have they seen the light of day, signalling me to tell the story as Ludwik had intended. (20) From left: Krzyż Pamiątkowy Monte Cassino (Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross); Polska Swemu Obroncy (Polish defence medal); The 1939-1945 Star; Italy Star; Defence Medal ; War Medal 1939-45. The Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross has a certificate called a “Legitymacja” on the left below. On the right is a certificate for the other Polish II corps medial signed by General Anders. The translation of the text on top and bottom is: “Let us reject everything that separates us, let us accept everything that unites us”(21,22). This certificate (23) has an even more poignant statement: Without Wilno and Lwów, there is no Poland. (24) is a certificate in Polish for the British Italy Star medal. The most interesting correspondence is from the War Office regarding the British 1939-45 War Medal, awarded in place of the Polish “Medal Wojska”. Although the correspondence is undated, the address is the earliest recorded one we have for them in Great Britain (25). The letter carries instructions for obtaining the fourth British medal, marked in red at the bottom. He already had the other three British medals which are all described in this list. End of Life, Start of Story I was the last person in the family to see Ludwik alive when I next come down from Scotland, a year so later. He had been forcibly removed from his home by the social services and was spending his last days at Blackberry Hill psychiatric hospital in Bristol. He acknowledged me but had clearly lost his mind, and spent the visit acting out some scene with imaginary people around him, constantly getting up from his bed, the staff getting him back in. It was an undignified end to what had been a proud life, although I could not help feeling that his state had been triggered by his removal and not the other way around. I felt helpless especially as my father had totally let him down, and said goodbye to him for the last time. He died at this hospital a few months later and is buried at South Bristol Cemetery in the Polish Plot. Here is his memorial which I had erected in 2014, many years after his death. The mention of Monte Cassino is the first time anyone had paid tribute to him, either in life or in death, since the award of his medals. It was only at my father’s funeral at Our Lady of Ostrobrama, the same church as that of Ludwik’s 20 years earlier, that I started to piece the story together. Keen to get the facts right for my father’s eulogy, I wanted to explain how the family got to Bristol from Poland. It was internet searches that taught me about the deportations, and the term “Anders’ Army” which I saw for the first time. The irony is that I was telling this story mostly to an ageing Polish congregation who ought to have known it far better than me. I was approached afterwards by a young lad from Co-Op funeral services who thanked me for it, said how interesting he found it, and that he did not know that part of history. Whilst I felt embarrassed at having known so little for so long, the widespread ignorance of what happened to the people the Kresy made me feel that I must learn more, so as to better tell this important and extraordinary story. A few months later Mark found the excellent BBC Radio documentary “The Odyssey of General Anders' Army”, from which I heard first-hand accounts of the Anders’ Army story for the first time. This in turn led me to find and buy Trail of Hope by Norman Davies as a Christmas present to myself. I ordered a book, but received a revelation. The rest, as they say, is history. Acknowledgements I would like to thank: Norman Davies, for writing Trail of Hope, which has enabled me to understand my grandfather’s story through the experiences of others in Anders’ Army; My brother Mark, for looking after the photos, acting as caretaker for the medals and providing endless support in this journey of discovery; The British Army, for providing a new home for the 120,000 soldiers and dependents who had lost their homes and escaped near-certain death at the hands of the Communists; The Late General Władisław Anders, without whose decisions my grandfather and family would not have survived to give us the wonderful lives we have had; Ludwik himself: his passing the medals to me was the highest honour I had ever received then or since, and which planted the seed which has driven me to discover and tell his story.