Extract from the book by Captain Stanisław Maź “History of the Polish 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment 1941-1946 (against the background of the battles of the 2nd Polish Corps during the Second World War)”, published by the author in Polish – London 1981
Departure for England
In the second half of May 1946 decisions were made by the British government as to the mass transportation of the entire Polish Corps to England. The Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Bevin, who was responsible for such matters, aimed for a speedy resolution to the problem of the Polish army through so-called repatriation; those who did not wish to return would be directed towards the English job market. Minister Bevin, who inserted himself so sadly into Polish history in 1920, for whom the pronouncements of Jalta and Potsdam were absolute gospel, now had the task of deciding our fate. We felt the result of his decisions shortly after our arrival in England.
Before our departure from Italy we put all our artillery equipment and vehicles into storage, henceforth under the control of the British army. We were only able to bring with us our personal possessions.
The Regiment was divided into two groups; travelling by sea and by train. All soldiers belonging to the 1st and 2nd Divisions were allocated to the sea transport group, under the leadership of Captain Maź. Embarkation took place at Naples. The Regimental command, under Lieutenant-Colonel Walaski, departed by train through Austria and Germany to Calais. The departure of both transports from their respective camps (St. Elpidio, Monte Granaro and Monte Urano) took place on 25th July 1946. We left sunny Italy behind with sadness. Our transports, instead of carrying us from Italian to Polish soil, took us to a different, strange country. A big question mark still hovered over our future.
Camp Stobs: Langholm and Nettlebed
Our first stay on British soil, in Scotland to be precise, was camp Stobs. As well as the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment this held the command of the Artillery Group and the 9th PAN (Pulk Artylerii Najcięższej “Heaviest Artillery Regiment”). Two other regiments, the 12th and 13th Heavy Artillery Regiment were directed to camp Langholm, some 25 Kilometres from camp Stobs, and the 11th Heavy Artillery Regiment was encamped in the very north-west corner of Scotland.
Camp Stobs had all the characteristics of a camp in exile. Lying in the hills, far from any settlements or routes of communication, it formed a gloomy impression on us. Tin “barrels of laughter”, full of holes and leaking water during the frequent rainfalls here, not able to be heated during cold and wintry weather, made up the remainder. A small part of the camp, in a secluded location and better organised, was set aside for a group of German prisoners-of-war who were still staying here.
Two weeks after our arrival at the camp we were instructed to clear vast areas of terrain of live ammunition and unexploded ordnance, and deliver them to designated areas. A few soldiers, recruited to work on neighbouring farms, very quickly returned to the camp on account of mistreatment at the hands of the owners of those farms. It came as no surprise then, that loud murmurings of discontent arose within the Regiment with complaints against these conditions, for which none of the Polish leaders could obtain a satisfactory answer. We were all under orders from a couple of old officers from the B.A.S. (British Advisory Staff), whose only concern was to disband our units as quickly as possible. Under these circumstances there was some talk about returning to Poland or, within the limits of possibility, emigrating overseas.
In November 1946 we all received a leaflet from the British government with regard to joining the P.K.P.R. (Polski Korpus Przysposobienia i Rozmieszczenia, or “Polish Corps of Preparation and Deployment”). The leaflet was written in very poor Polish and contained very ambiguous decisions concerning our future, but at least made it possible to learn English on courses organised by the Regiment.
The 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment was officially disbanded on 6th December 1946. Henceforth, we were known as “Unit” with an added number; the word “Unit” was applied to everyone staying at the camp, irrespective of which regiment they had belonged to. The camp was under the command of the B.A.S. (British Advisory Staff), with just one of the Polish leaders having a very limited administrative role. At the beginning of May 1947 our Unit was transferred to camp Langholm and joined with the Unit there.
Pari passu the liquidation of the Polish units, an urgent matter arose with regard to the storage of numerous memorabilia, documents and standards belonging to the 2nd Corps. We did after all have a colourful history; with our march from Siberia, through the Middle East and Italy, we left behind many cemeteries with colleagues who were destined not to survive the war. All this was now passing into history, and it was our obligation to gather together all historical documents and materials belonging the regiment and deliver them safely to the Sikorski Institute in London. Delivery of our regimental standard and beautiful album took place on 10th July 1947. However, many other documents were lost, and there is little hope of finding them again.
In the last days of July 1947 we left camp Langholm in Scotland and were directed to camp Nettlebed, not far from Henley-on-Thames and Reading. This was to be our last camp. On the outskirts of London, with many factories on the line from London to Reading and the ease of obtaining work were all factors which enabled the British authorities to liquidate the camp quickly. This region to this very day has the highest concentration of settled ex-servicemen from the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment.
During the last weeks of our stay in camp Nettlebed another issue arose which affected every soldier of the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment. This concerned our regimental savings, the so-called Fundusz Gospodarczy 10 PAC (“Savings Fund”), with which one could at that time buy a fairly spacious house, and thus create a centre of life and tradition as befits the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment. Admittedly, there were many legal obstacles, but these could with time be overcome. The main issue was the choice of town or region where most of our soldiers could settle. The location of choice was without doubt the London – Reading axis. As for buying a house in faraway Glasgow – none of us had any connections there, nor had our marches ever taken us to that region – no-one from our Regiment made their home there. For this reason, any house that had been purchased there passed into the hands of the Związku Kombatantów Polskich w Glasgow (“Association of Polish Combatants”), and no soldier from the 10th PAC derived any benefit from it.
The camp in Nettlebed was the last to gather together a significant number of our soldiers, and it is here that the history of the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment comes to an end. There followed years of toil and journeys to other countries, and each one of us decided his own destiny. Despite many distractions and various hardships, our bonds as comrades remain very much alive.
author: Captain Stanisław Maź
translated into English by dr Stefan Stanisław Maź, the author’s son