Soldier, Polish 2nd Corps, Polish Resettlement Corps in the UK
Listen to his narrative (Polish)
Forever in the West
Corporal WINCENTY ZARĘBA, Sunday. 17th August 1947. Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire. Currently serving with 513 Basic Unit, Polish Resettlement Corps… until tomorrow when I join that great Polish tradition of exile forever.
My battalion arrived from Italy in September of last year, on the SS Marine Raven. Funnily enough, we sailed on the same ship as WOJTEK the hero bear from 22 Supply Company. It was great watching this bear walking around the ship but when we got to Gibraltar the mood onboard changed. The weather got cold… it seemed to be a taste of things to come. England is a dull grey country… food rationing, fuel shortages and this winter… I haven’t seen a winter like this since Siberia. My English friends tell me it was the worst ever. God, I do miss Italy.
We landed with 30 officers and 742 men in our battalion and quickly got into a routine of lectures, drill, guard duty… and we also helped out in the fields with the harvest. There have been quite a few dances, very well attended by the local ladies, the Land Army and the ATS – Thursdays for the men and Saturdays for the officers… We have our own choir and there is a very good theatre which I joined. Mostly comedy reviews… We have to keep the mood light because life is so depressing. But it is nice to have some ladies in the theatre company too. I also got my second stripe, promoted to Corporal, but the British have frozen the money so I’m only being paid as Lance Corporal. Eh, what can you do?!
General Anders came to our camp in December. He told us he still had “faith in our ultimate victory and return to Poland…” I don’t know. I’m beginning to lose my faith. The British keep telling us to go back to Poland… keep telling us how safe it is… It’s not as if we don’t know. We have our own information; we know what is happening there… It seems the British really don’t want us here.
What is harder to understand is the British people and their great love of “Uncle Joe” Stalin. They look at him as a great hero. We know him to be a murdering butcher but when we say this, it just makes things worse. We were in a work party in the village and some English trade unionist started shouting at us how we were fascists… FASCISTS – US! We tried to explain but some people cannot be reasoned with. During the fighting our 13th Battalion had 735 casualties; dead, wounded and missing. And they dare to call us fascists.
Franek, our battalion boxing champion, took it all very personally and things got quite nasty… One day everyone will see the great tyrant for what he really is, but not yet. They have done a good job brainwashing these people. However, In general, most of the people we meet are very kind and understanding. Many of the single men have become very friendly with the local girls and there have been a number of weddings.
Actually… since December our battalion has officially been in the Polish Resettlement Corps. Registration started on the 16th and most of the lads have signed up. The PRC seems to be a good idea… it’s not what we were fighting for… but it’s better than nothing. Two years of vocational training…
English lessons… regular pay… good food… we make our own kiełbasa… just can’t get used to what the English call sausages! Actually there is a joke… the Polish initials for the resettlement corps are PKP… or as we say “Póki Król Płaci”… “while the king is paying!” Take the money, that’s what I say. It’s the least we deserve. Anyway, what else is there to do? Return to Poland or emigrate somewhere else, join the PRC or, and this is not really an option, get treated as a “Displaced Person”. They have threatened to send all the DPs to camps in Germany. 20 of our lads have not joined the Resettlement Corps and have been taken off to another camp.
As the men get civilian jobs, our numbers have been going down so we were merged with the 5th Heavy Machine Gun Battalion and in May we became 513 Basic Unit, PRC.
The English Ministry of Labour came to our camp to give us a test in English. My spoken English is good but I still have trouble writing…
But it’s the officers who will have the biggest problems. I am young and fit… and never been afraid of hard work… but what are the colonels and generals going to do? They are in their 50s, speak little English and have very few skills that can be transferred to England. Most have been professional soldiers since the First World War. It will be sad to see such men working in a factory or as a store-man. In September of last year the Warsaw Communists took away Polish citizenship from 76 of our most senior officers… including our own Colonel PIĄTKOWSKI , our Brigade Commander from the Battle for Ancona, … little thanks for a lifelong service to Poland.
As for our lads; a few have volunteered to go back to Poland, others are moving to Canada, Australia, America; most will be staying here in England. I was thinking about Canada but then I found this job at a local brick factory – it’s what I did before the war, so I can do the job… and there is piecework so the money should be good. I am saving my money to buy a motorcycle.
And then, two days ago I had my last Church Parade at the Catholic church in Abingdon. We celebrated Soldier’s Day as we do every August 15th. It was a very nice way to finish my time in the army. Nearly 7 years since I was taken from my home in Poland. Along the way I lost family, I lost a great number of friends; was it worth it? I have very mixed feelings now that it’s all over. Still… must be positive – I start work tomorrow. My family is arriving from Africa soon. We shall all have to start a new life here and do the best we can.