Back To Page 31

-32-

Contents

31 December. The Feast of St Sylvester

We're attending Holy Mass in camp. The sun illuminates the heads bowed before the Highest Majesty. Concentrating, they ask for God's graces. Certainly everyone is thinking of Poland and their families; I'm certain everyone is commending Poland and their families to God's care. The Polish nation is after all loyal to God, He will not let it down.

Silence occasionally punctuated by a carol. Embittered hearts, blissful peace in one's soul.

It's Sunday today -I'm sure that our thoughts, jointly with the ones of those who pray there**, hasten together before the Lord's altar. God will hear us. We finished the Mass with a hymn, "May you return to us, Oh God, a free homeland"***, and went our separate ways, with heads bowed.

They give us lots of cigarettes. I've collected several packets already. Can't keep up with smoking them all, because they're all too strong. Obviously, the French like them strong.

Julek is moaning because some Arab women nicked his purse. One has come across theft in various forms ever since Rumania.

I should mention that we visited the town yesterday. The surrounding area is more interesting than the town. One senses an atmosphere similar to that in one of our little


* 31st December is St Sylvester's Day and hence New Year's Eve is known as the Feast of St Sylvester.

** "there", in Poland.

*** "Ojczyzne wolna racz nam wrocic Panie" -the final line of "Boze cos Polskke", a solemn Polish hymn, asking for God's protection for Poland.


-33-

towns on the eastern borders. The same mess, dirt and smells. Only the town centre is different, more European. Yellow houses, several storeys high, the warehouses in the colonnades are richer and cleaner. Here, again, one is struck by the similarity to Rumanian towns. The houses are decorated somewhat in the eastern style.

The most interesting are the market districts of the towns. Narrow lanes, cluttered with southern fruits, all types of footwear, all manner of household goods and necessities - you'll find it all here. It's so crowded, one can barely squeeze through. One meets all sorts of people here. Shouting and turmoil. The men mostly wear red Turkish hats, like flower pots. One comes across Arab women also, in black garb and black face veils.

Curious, looked around trying to find some pretty women. I didn't see any. The Arab women only had extraordinarily unusual eyes. Black, expressive, alluring - lovely!

Occasionally, one came across an Arab woman with her face veil drawn aside. You only had to look at her and immediately the veil fell back to cover her face. I noticed that the prettier women generally wore face veils, and the uglier ones I saw were usually uncovered. Generally, however, they were ungainly. Squat, without any obvious shape, and with pot bellies and ugly legs. I also saw two dromedaries shuffling lazily along the street, their humps laden.

Without any great feeling of delight, we returned home tired.

Great changes in the weather -rain and wind. The sky was spread with fleeting showers. The wind lashed the tent's canvas with drops of rain. It was dripping inside. What a shame to lose the beautiful sunny weather. Out of boredom the gang sings meaningless melodies. The dripping is becoming worse -we'll all drown here if it rains long.

They're finishing people off with the pointless roll-calls; the pre-war story continues to


-34-

exist.*

Sylvester Night**. The young are bursting to have a ball in the traditional manner.

Dear God, Sylvester - a night of merry-making. Roused by the moment, they want to celebrate - banish this miserable Old Year and welcome the New, from which we expect so much. They want to celebrate its arrival, to gain as many good favours as possible.

It's an empty, hollow enthusiasm, boys -have you considered the sad truth? Do you have any money, clothing, girls. I know what we young people need. And you're forgetting that the ground isn't frozen, after the rain the clay soil is sodden; how will we get there in our holey boots?

Everyone stayed. They didn't lose heart. They're singing, no! It's not song, it's something else. Are you truly feeling so happy? I'm also screaming like a lunatic.

How hard it is to come to terms with reality, how hard to experience these exceptional moments in adversity.

Mr Bruno has made himself a clarinet out of bamboo; he's been playing, like Wojski***, for several hours now. He's really struggling, poor chap; his forehead is bathed in sweat, but he plays on. I don't understand him.

Is Sylvester in Dawidgr6dek the same as it was a year ago? Are the same happy couples dancing my favourite waltz "Jeszcze jedna para sie zmiesci"****. I expect Krepel


* Yet another allusion to the strong feeling of disgruntlement amongst the ranks towards those in command.

** New Year's Eve.

*** Wojski - a character from "Pan Tadeusz" by Adam Mickiewicz

**** "There's room for one more couple" - a popular waltz.


-35-

Contents

is playing, he's the only one who plays it well. And on the stage, in the same way, is the Old Year, having handed over the world to the New Year , departing sadly, apologising to those gathered for its misdeeds. Oh! Just like last year, I don't think they'll forgive it, probably hurl curses after it. Not just curses -it's done so much harm to people.

Do they, on this day also, gather on the stage to sing the tango "Joanna" in harmony. Oh! they're singing! I can hear that beautiful sound. So they're having a good time. And I can see myself there too, because, after all, I'm there with them.

From a nearby tent the sound of carols being sung reaches us. It seems they are singing beneath my window at home. My friends have arrived, we're preparing to have a ball. "Another one!" I shout, throwing them a zloty. They're singing another one -one can hear them.

What are Urszulka, Mychna and the other girls up to now? Dear girls forgive me, I didn't take you seriously then, but now I love you all.

23.00 hours. We're playing bridge. We've decided to [stay up and] greet the New Year.

New Year 1940

Midnight. We came out in front of our tent beating on our mess-tins. We roused the whole camp. Shouts and cheers of "Long live the New Year". One could hear the national anthem, carols. Very moving. We wished one another, full of hope, that we might return to a free homeland this year, and en-joy some happiness. We're off to pass on our best wishes to everyone else.


-36-

Contents

Not a good start to the New Year; it's been raining since daybreak. The tent is leaking everywhere, lots of water on the paliasses. Maybe the New Year is washing away all the evil from the world.

Lunch. Horrors! the rain isn't stopping. Everything in the tent is wet. Phooey! It's a dog's life.

18:00 hours. It's still pouring. There isn't a single spot in the tent where the water isn't coming in. It's wet, filthy, quite impossible. It's unbearably boring. No hope of sleep - it's as if this was a punishment. Outside, the sodden clay soil sticks to our boots and is brought into the tent.

Beirut, 2nd January

At last we've come out into the sun, like frogs emerging from the water. I've shaved for the first time in a week; the barber even cut my hair. We do, after all, have some home comforts. The barber comes to one's tent. The Arabs bring lots of oranges which we buy for cigarettes. It's worth mentioning that we have running water and comfortable toilets.

More than three hundred sailed for France today. When will our turn come? No-one knows. For the time being they're taking the maintenance and anti-aircraft crews first. They obviously have enough flying personnel.

Horrors, the lice have got to us. My mates are catching them inside their shirts. I haven't noticed or felt any on me yet.

16:15 hours. They boys are boiling their louse-ridden clothing. I haven't found any

Contents

- 37-

on me yet. That's all I need.

20:10 hours. I'm a little bit tipsy. I've drunk a couple of mugs of wine. We were supposed to go into town, we didn't go; mud, our botts are covered in it right up to the ankles. We played bridge, but we didn't finish because we ran out of paraffin. One of the chaps has gone off to look for more; I don't know if he'll find any. The candle's about to burn out - it's gutted.

3rd January, Wednesday

The wind rattled the tent all night; it even came inside the tent, pushing in beneath the blankets. It was unpleasant, I felt as if I was in a draught. I thought that I'd fall ill, I didn't sleep. Because of all that I heard the howling of the jackals. It's horrible that howl, so tragic, like tormented children.

I can see people walking barefoot, their shoes refusing to walk through the sodden clay. Not a particularly appropriate time for this sort of attire - it's exceptionally cold today.

Jollier. We're moving; apparently we're going to the barracks in the town. I'm sure the lifestyle will be better, because the present one was unbearable. Wladzio is worrying because, firstly, they're staying behind, and, secondly, he's sad to have to part company with us. I feel sorry for Wladzio.

We're in the new place. Disappointment; the boys were looking forward to some comforts, but instead we're to be quartered in the garage. Well that's life, those who have it bad can have it even worse. At least it's better from the point of view that there's no sodden clay and there won't be anything dripping onto our noses.

They've split us up again, leaving only the second group here. Oh! Sorry, I've written a lie. What an unexpected gesture of hospitality on the part of the French. They're giving up some room in the barracks for us; apparently they're getting the garage ready for themselves. Our faces lit up when the Flying Officer told us of the change of plan.

I'm not on good form today. I've got a headache after the night's wind in the tent. Or maybe it's a leftover from yesterday's wine? What beautiful barracks they have -luxury. They're pavilions not military barracks.

Beautiful, ornate, two storey buildings with beautiful balconies.

We've received tin-plated mess-tins in the form of plates, mugs, forks, spoons - not the ugly pieces of sheet metal we had in our army.

We're at lunch. We were invited to the garage where the tables were laden with food served on tin-plated dishes. Everyone served themselves - how civilised. They offered us macaroni with sauce, a small portion of meat, a banana and wine, of course. It was a sorry sight after our chaps had finished. They left dirty tables behind them and just went. Sad.

I am observing the local army here. The young are free and relaxed in their attitude towards their elders. But when on duty, however, their discipline and obedience are apparent. There is absolutely no sign of the servility which was evident amongst us. One notices a general sense of respect and fellowship. One doesn't see any uniformity of dress - there are all sorts of combinations. A million miles away from our limited dress. God forbid that a private should have a different number of laceholes in his boots than that prescribed by the regulations. God forbid that one should have an attractive button or use one's own fabric to have a uniform made, which was, however, no different in terms of colour or style from the ones prescribed; it was enough that a corporal, as

- 40-

that's hard to bear.

A great thing happened recently. We gathered together and sang "We Place Ourselves In Your Care"* and the carol "In the still of the night"**. The French who were on the balcony were thrilled with our performance and began to cheer for Poland. Some obviously hadn't understood that this was a prayer, and they clapped and shouted "bis, encore" - maybe they thought it was a special performance for them. But, overall, we must have really appealed to them, because they were shouting so enthusiastically. We answered back with a three-fold cheer "Long live France!".

4 January, Thursday

We're visiting the joints of Beirut. Here, a chap has the chance of seeing the demi-monde. It's gaudy but quite unique. We're in a soldier's cabaret club, there are many of these. Lots of soldiers from all manner of units and of all kinds of nationalities, and a lot of blacks too. They're enjoying themselves, with an excess of licentious abandon. They dance mainly with each other, some with disgusting cabaret girls. What a delicious sight! A tall, comical Negro, black as soot, dancing with a wench. He gets away with some funny stunts. The music is on the balcony. Someone's singing a tango into a microphone - they sing well. Charming us with song. I listen with pleasure, and am moved. One can see there are educated civilians here too. One has to understand people's

* "Pod Twa Obrone" - a solemn Polish hymn, asking for Our Lady's protection.
** "Wsrod nocney ciszy" - popular Polish carol.

Contents

- 41 -

weaknesses and their partiality to this sort of recreation. I'm ready to stop being a passive spectator. Why don't they have any pretty girls here, I express my regret guiltily. They served some weak wine, something like a Rumanian spritzer. Again, a shame it's not stronger.

The music's beating out some familiar foxtrots. Zyg couldn't stop himself and let himself be carried off to the dance floor in the centre of the hall, by the local "Queen".

A fresh "Madame" has come out of her hole. Obviously she's out of clients. She's made up like some puppet, dressed in shiny black velvet, which hangs on her like on a peg. They look pitiful these girls, in the depths of misery.

We're moving on, somewhere else. We visit the places where those seeking love go.

These mademoiselles have such repugnant faces. Ugly, painted mugs, bodies: shapeless lumps of flesh. From this point of view, I liked Bucharest; I don't think I'll ever see anything like it again.

5 January. 1940

Hungry, we sit at table and wait for lunch to be brought to us. 12:00 hours. The food they give us here is tasty and there's plenty of it. The lunch they serve is made up of several courses, e.g. some unusual tasty soup, rice or pasta with sauce, a portion of meat, fruit and wine. Here one sees wealth and its corresponding distribution amongst the people. The soldier here is fed like any other well-to-do citizen. And what happens in our country?

We're in yesterday's cabaret club again. What else is there to do? A French brigadier

To Page 42

Contents