This book is based on the true story of Wladek a farmer from southern Poland. It describes the atrocities of war as seen through his eyes when he is called up to fight for his country in 1939 during the September Campaign of World War II. It tells of the soldiers’ struggles as they march and fight over some 400 kilometres of the war trail to the east of Poland where Wladek is captured by the Germans. He escapes from them and eventually from Poland across the Tatra Mountains or Green Frontier (illegal crossing) to Slovakia.
His journey continues through foreign lands to Syria where he enlists in the Polish Free Army and travels further to the hostile deserts of North Africa. He sails across the seas to Scotland where he lives in a castle. We also learn something of his life before the war.
Where dates are given these are actual occurrences either of historical events or of those personal to Wladek. Every attempt has been made to ensure that all historical facts are correct but comrades mentioned are fictitious.
This is a tale of the Polish indomitable spirit, of a nation which would never submit to their conquerors either in their homeland or abroad no matter how high the odds were stacked against them.
The author has personal knowledge of Wladek and of details from his war records. She has also researched the battle trails of the 1st Podhale Rifles Regiment in which Wladek fought and of the Polish Carpathian Rifle Brigade in Africa in which he enlisted.
The author is of Polish parentage and is familiar with the customs and culture of the mountain regions of Southern Poland. She has walked or climbed many of the trails in the Tatra Mountains some of which are mentioned in this book and has spent time in Kraków, Zakopane and Wladek’s home town of Rabka.
extracts from chapter 1:
Where did it all go wrong? How did his life work out this way? His wife had just given birth to a daughter in a haunted castle in the Highlands of Scotland. One might think what a wonderful beginning to life. However the child was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she was not born into the aristocracy. Far from it her parents were at the other end of the spectrum, incredibly poor, they had nothing to give except love so how could this birth in a castle occur? Was she the child of one of the serving maids? No a wing of the castle was being used as a maternity ward. The baby girl Katarzyna was the daughter of Phyllis and Władysław, known as Wladek. Wladek was Polish and his wife was English. How did they come to be here?
He began to think of the events of the past years and how he had come to be here. It was exactly eight years to the day August 31st since it had all began, this day in 1939 was the eve of World War II. The following day the Nazis marched into Poland, the day of the Blitzkrieg.
Here he was living in this foreign land of Scotland so far away from his homeland, his family and his friends. Wladek had no idea whether any of them were alive. He had never wanted to leave Poland but sadly circumstances had forced him to leave the country which he loved. Now he was here in Scotland with a wife and child. The last eight years had been very difficult for him as indeed it had been for many others.
As a young man of 29, he should have had a good future before him, but this was about to be cruelly taken away from him. In the summer of 1939 German forces were gathering along the Polish borders. As a member of the reserve Wladek was one of the first to be called up in August of 1939. Not only the large towns and cities were taken over by the Gestapo but also the countryside. There was a large Gestapo presence in his home town of Rabka and the city of Kraków just 45 kilometres away was made the seat of the German Government in Poland. Wladek however was not in Rabka on the 1st of September when the Germans crossed the Polish border. Wladek was in the Polish Army.
A few weeks later on the 24th of August 1939 a week before war broke out, Wladek was on a train travelling from Rabka to Nowy Sącz. He had been called up from the reserve with orders to report immediately to the 1st Podhale Rifles Regiment in Nowy Sącz in Southern Poland. The emergency call up had begun, all of the reserve were mobilised and 2nd Mountain Brigade’s headquarters had also been set up in the garrison town of Nowy Sącz. It was just over 4 kilometres to the railway station from Wladek’s home. Anna his stepmother had taken him there by horse and cart and she and his stepsister Emilia had hugged him and with tears in their eyes said their goodbyes to him.