Back To Page 71

- 72-

wooded hills. From here it appears that the hillsides are steep - but they're probably not; the terrain is actually flat, rising gently upwards.

The mountains have become lower; we've left the snow-capped peaks behind. Here the peaks are covered in greenery - mountainous terrain.

A church is visible - on it a huge sign reads "Duce". Yes, the name of Duce, this man on whom, one way or another, our current situation arid its development depends.

The landscape - only patches of faded green, of grass and coniferous forest. Against this background red and white villlas lie scattered. At the water's edge the unending sprawl of the town.

11.00 hours. The coast is much closer. We pass an American ship. Our ship sails past too fast; I'm not able to take a note of everything. The island's end approaches. We see only the town built over this sandy peninsula. The end, the island has gone, the sea has again opened up and on the horizon two small ships are visible.

However, the peninsula is still here. We are sailing along its steep coast. High mountains covered in coniferous forest cut up by glades. There are no breaks in the continuity or rocks sticking out - everything is overgrown. There are gentle hollows on the slope, not reached by the sun's rays; they give the mountains an unreal appearance. Here and there, towns and villages.

The ship has turned a few dozen degrees to the left towards the shore of Sicily. It's picked up speed and both coasts are now receding from us. We sail away from the beautiful Italian shore - I see it maybe for the last time. What a beautiful excursion, how much pleasure this tragic journey holds. Only at the cost of losing Poland, am I able to see these different lands - the price is too high. Without any doubt, I do not see the intrinsic beauty of these lands and their true nature, because in being on this journey I have lost everything that is dear to me.

- 73-

I have a map. On our right we have just sailed past the town of Reggio, and on the left - on the island - past the town of Mesina. They say the volcano on Sicily which we passed, visible amongst the peaks, is Etna. The map doesn't quite agree because Etna is too far way from the coast.

Italy's coast moves further and further away, like swirling clouds hidden by fog lining the horizon. On the left hand side individual little isalnds of volcanic origin emerge from the sea. We are just approaching one such enormous mound. The volcano Stromboli. One of nature's wonders. The volcano is smoking. From time to time whirls of brown smoke spout forth.

I should like to write more about this beautiful Italian land. I was delighted by its varied landscapes and its dense population. I am lost for words.

I wonder why the Italians did not inspect the ship.

1530 hours. We are close to the fatal mound. How daring people are, they aren't afraid of death - there's a village at the very foot of the mound. Strange! Can these people sleep in peace? Smoke rises lazily like steam from the summit. Where does the smoke come from; is it really from the earth's core? And after all this entire island is lava thrown up from the sea. The wonders of nature.

We are sailing out into the open sea. The wind beats down on us ever more strongly, a little from the side this time. The same old story.

The stench of burning - probably the smoke from the volcano, because the wind carries it in our direction.

Oh! Hell on earth. Flames emanate from the volcano, a live fire. I saw it twice with my own eyes. Terrible.

The siren signals 16.00 hours. Again the time on my watch needs adjusting (moving

- 74-


back) by some 20 minutes.

Sunday. 21 January 1940

Sunday, miserable Sunday. No! this is not Sunday, Sunday used to be different.

Yes - sad reality but I looked different once. Unshaven, unwashed, sickened with a sour look on my face. Hateful world. What is there to live for if one doesn't have a life, why live if one has to suffer. They say that suffering improves a man; I would say otherwise. Such suffering transforms all noble feelings and instincts into indifference and passiveness. Unless we live through more than just suffering.

I am sitting on the balcony, looking into the misty distance. I see nothing but a fraction of a sea of waves. I tell myself, this is my future - I can see nothing ahead of me except for this small bit of sea.

Wind and rain. The cold torments. It's getting colder. One becomes smaller from the cold in the night, shrinking. Last night, with an excess of thought and nightmares and this hateful rocking, I became dizzy. Feebleness. A man is resistant when healthy, but the body is becoming exhausted. In one's head nothing is in its rightful place from all this rocking, an unclear pain in the chest. From time to time a cough which tears at one's insides.

Nagging cold. There is no warm corner [to be found] - a tragedy. In this dungeon, in these quarters of ours not only is it cold, but the air is terrible. I can smell stale vomit, the overflowing toilets nearby stink. In addition the loathsome smell of rum - that smell oppresses me, causes me to feel faint. A leftover from the "Patrisa". I am amazed that people can survive in these stinking hellholes; they must be drugged, because they lie there

- 75-

as if they were dead.

My fingers have frozen already. I can't hold a pencil.

I'm in the third class dining room - it's warm here, human. Here foursomes play bridge, unconcerned.

Today at midday we were supposed to be between Corsica and Sardinia. There is nothing in sight, even up ahead, and already it is 13.00 hours. Throughout the voyage land appears occasionally on the right hand side. Something unexpected along the way. They say we're sailing along the Italian coast - perhaps? I have prepared myself for one more night of penance; and after that... I still don't know what might happen.

14.35 hours. We have two islands to our right. A small one closer, and further away a large one. We are after all sailing along the Italian coast, hence the little islands which follow the Appenine peninsula. They say the larger island is Elba, according to the map that could even be true. The small one - Pianosa. As a result of poor communications we didn't sail between Corsica and Sardinia.

We have passed those two islands. Ahead of us, to the left, an island. Again this doesn't agree with the map, unless it isn't marked on the map - because it's only a small volcanic island.

Islands along all of our route. We are level with a small mountainous island. Monte Cristo, they say. So Elba is still ahead of us. In front of us on the right a larger island emerges - maybe this is Elba. It will be hard to know where one is for the time being, until one sees the coast of Corsica.

I have a map. It is, after all, more likely that Elba is still ahead of us. The first island, which one thought was Elba, was in fact Bigipio. . So if we are level with Monte Cristo then we must pass Pianosa up ahead. A lighthouse flashes, but there is no sign of land yet

- 76-


- maybe it's Pianosa. We shall see.

It's only strange that the famous island of Monte Cristo looks like an ordinary uninhabited mountain sticking out of the sea.

The ship sails very peacefully between the islands; and even the wind has tired. And liveliness, a good mood and an appetite for food return. And my frame of mind has improved markedly.

We are indeed approaching Corsica. In the darkness the port lights twinkle. It is possible that before we reach Corsica there will still be the afore-mentioned little island of Pianosa. We shall see.

And yet we are close, this will be the last night. Thank God that this "pleasure" will be over.

18.00 hours. Darkness has overwhelmed the sea. The sky is cloudy. Moonlight seeps through the thinner clouds. The ship moves on rapidly. The lights of the town have been left behind. On the left, close by, a high island naps in the darkness. This will be Pianosa; behind it still visible in the twilight - land - Elba, the island of Napoleon's exile.

22 January

We are almost at journey's end. We are sailing along the coast of France. We pass the islands of Hyeres. Not far to Tulon and then our diesel station stop, Marseilles. The lights mentioned yesterday were Pianosa, not Corsica - I kept writing real bloomers. On the right, the island we sailed past was Elba. It was hard to decide for oneself when there was so much false information doing the rounds on board ship, even claiming to be quoting the captain. We sailed around Corsica at about 22.00.

- 77-

7.55 hours. They're handing back the life belts; the danger of being sunk by a submarine of unknown origin is over.

The French coast is still visible. "The promised land". Here our great deeds, here our hopes.

9.45 hours. Our last hurried meal on board ship. A hive of activity and a lively atmosphere. We're waiting to dock.

The horizon is clouded, the coast's contours barely visible. Shame, it would have been an attractive view.

Winter. One can't survive on deck. A freezing wind - it's cold on the ears. Getting worse.

11.00 hours. Marseilles, the long awaited Marseilles. We sail into port. The town emerges. A beautiful setting - the port in the bay, surrounded by white hills.

The ship has stopped, probably requesting special permission [to enter], because the entrance to the port is mined.

Bitterly cold - one can't stand on deck, even though my coat is reasonably thick. I feel sorry for those withjust thin jackets and no coats.

The town sits on a hill. The church towers shoot up into the sky. One church at the highest point - the highest steeple. The church of Our Lady. A special saint of the French, a sailor tells me.

The chaps shrink from the cold. We'll really get it in the neck here - I hear their moans. The town on the hill looks beautiful, decorated with trees. The town walls blend in with the rocky coast, giving an impression of a fairy-tale city.

And again I am writing about how cold it is. We are all used to warmth, we haven't felt cold for almost a year. Poor chaps, those who gambled their coats away in Beirut.

- 78-


I feel for them, but serves them right.

11.15 hours. We're sailing past the sea wall. In the port all manner of machinery. It needs to be mentioned that the port is surrounded by forts. Oh! difficult to conquer for those who might desire to possess it.

A huge port. A mass of ships of various nationalities. Our ship is pulled by a small tugboat. The port's entrance is narrow and long. In its centre a drawbridge. A lot of motorboat and barge traffic. The drawbridge has opened the way. Its ends have gone up.

Masses of cranes and various materials. The port itself surrounded by a fort. A Polish ship's flag is visible. How pleasant to see our flag.

12.15 hours. We've docked at pier 'E'.

16.15 hours. We sit, certain that tonight we'll be spending the night on board. Such a state of affairs is driving me mad, causing a feverish absent-mindedness. Almost, almost, and then nothing. Curiosity leads to a wealth of various bits of information - from which it's hard to divine the truth. What will be, will be.

Marseilles. 23 January

We sit on board ship in constant expectation that they will disembark us. 9.30 hours. Cold and boredom.

I'm on board a bus taking us to camp. We're driving through Marseilles. A quaint and beautiful town. Tall, old buildings, beautiful streets planted with huge trees, creating beautiful, perfectly straight avenues. 13.35 hours. I like it here, one sees a European lifestyle. Freedom and a grandiose flair. These observations relate mainly to the army.

- 79-


They've put us up in cold barracks. What misery, cold ones - is there anything worse than the cold? Now I feel for the homeless Poles who stayed in Poland.

They've taken us far out beyond Marseilles - into the hills. The journey was beautiful, by bus along a serpentine road winding its way up the white hillsides. Wonderful views, how beautiful it must be here in the summer. White hills, with patches of heather, the lower hillsides and valleys wooded. Mainly Polish pine. Our barracks are in beautiful surroundings. Like a holiday resort. A wooded valley, surrounded by rocky white mountains. Here are the army's camp and barracks. If only it were warm, it would be wonderful.

All day long - roll-calls, sorting and constantly having to stand out in the cold. I saw some Polish officers in uniform. How strange it seemed when during the allocation of barracks they addressed us as if we were soldiers. One has become unfamiliar with these army ways.

It's getting dark. The whole bunch of us warm ourselves by a burning stove.

All day today we were hungry. Yesterday's supper and today's breakfast on board ship did not look like meals, but light snacks. We have in fact had lunch, but there wasn't much to eat - each of us would have happily eaten another two such portions.

21.12 hours. Having allayed our hunger to the full, we're off to bed. Somehow one must press up close to a friend, having covered each other with shared blankets, so as not to beaten by the cold.

24 January

We attended the formal welcome by the station commander. "We have been called to

- 80-

perform a great duty, to return sovereignty to Poland. We must arm ourselves and with mighty will and an unswerving belief in our own victory - said the colonel. The tragedy, we have so few soldiers gathered here in France and we are to raise Poland up again from its total collapse. The spirit soared, fists clenched. We must. My hands have stiffened. I can't write.

We went to the doctor to get medical reports. So far I'm, healthy. An identity check. I gave the rank of sergeant on the basis of the command issued by the Army Ministry, which promoted corporals one step up. Here, on the strength of the orders of the Commander-in-Chief wartime promotions are not being recognised. I don't know, so far I feel uneasy and I have a guilty conscience. But how can one come to terms with the fact that generally everyone has promoted themselves one rank higher, the privates are calling themselves non-commissioned officers.

A strange coincidence. According to astrological forecasts 72 is my lucky number. Disembarking from the ship I had the number 72, which had been allocated to me earlier. So my experiences in France have begun with my lucky number. We'll see how it goes.

All together they're hurling wood hauled from the nearby woods into two iron stoves. The cold has been largely overcome.

18.45 hours. Having eaten well, we're sitting round the fire and chatting. What a shame there's no film cameraman to record our life. What an exceptional image there would have been today of our army, wrapped in blankets because of a shortage of coats.

Before lights-out our barrack commander gave a speech. I have no words of criticism, only a feeling that if we have such officers and trainers like him we will meet with yet another disaster. He annoyed everyone with his performance.

- 81-


Thursday, 25 January

The echoes of yesterday's speech by the lieutenant have not died away. I know it's not worth discussing his words, but nevertheless those words, although so empty, came from an officer's lips.

This man is confused in his ideas. His mind has not yet grasped the new reality, which has taken over so suddenly. He still thinks of us as equipment to be used by officers, and not the same rightful citizens of Poland as they are. He thinks that Poland is his own and that we aren't capable of having her, should we win her back. He said we fought badly, because there was no discipline in the Air Force. It would be interesting to know how this man perceives the concept of discipline, did too few of them fall on their faces, dead, before "his Highness"? I think so, since he has come here - his discipline must be the same, because he understands his duty and will do what is expected of him. I understand that there are exceptions, who came here goodness knows why -let's leaves them out of this. We did everything we could and will continue to do so, but let one thing be understood - may those such as he understand that we are equal as men and that we are fighting for a common Poland. Poland is for everyone and not some privileged segment of society. Can a non-commissioned officer not be a better son of Poland and do more for Her than an officer. Let the officer recognise this.

I've been through the identity parade. No big deal, just my details for the French police. I gave my true rank; I can't go through life in this way.

They paid us 20 francs. I don't know if this is a monthly or weekly wage - I don't think it's daily.

The place where our camp is, is called Camp de Campiagne.

To Page 82