FORWORD


Lance-Corporal Franciszek Ostrowski (on the left) just before leaving Italy

        For Lance-Corporal Franciszek Ostrowski it had been a long war. The German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, had left him and his family largely unscathed as they lived in the east, in the area known as the 'Kresy' - the borderland with the Soviet Union. For the Ostrowski family the threat at that time did not come from Hitler but from Stalin and the Red Army. As they occupied eastern Poland the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, began a campaign of deporting Polish citizens to the Soviet Union. Intellectuals, military and police officers and local officials were executed en masse and other Poles were imprisoned across the breadth of the USSR from Kamchatka on the Russian Pacific shore to the deserts of Soviet Central Asia and to the permafrost of Arctic Siberia. Franciszek Ostrowski was arrested by the NKVD and sent to a Soviet camp near Arkhangelsk where he stayed until 1941. The German invasion of the Soviet Union created a need in Moscow to establish friendly relations with the West so Stalin issued an "amnesty" for the Poles and allowed for the recruitment of a Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders.

        For many of the deportees and their families, Stalin's gesture came too late. Of the nearly two million people sent to the east, about half died. The long railway convoys of prisoners, the cold, the heavy work and the starvation rations all effected a slow and lingering death. Along the way Franciszek Ostrowski buried his two daughters but his two sons were stronger and they, along with their mother, survived the ordeal. After the "amnesty" he and his family made their way south to the Polish Army recruitment centre in Soviet Central Asia. In March, 1942, he was transported across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi in Persia where the newly formed Polish Army was being equipped by the British.

Franciszek Ostrowski (centre)in 1942

In Persia the women and children were removed to a network of War Office dependents' camps world-wide - his family went to Tanganyka - while the men prepared for war.

        The long journeys that many Poles had to undertake to enlist in the Polish Armed Forces earned them the disparaging German title of "General Sikorski's tourists" [1] but when the rearmed Poles met the Germans again in Italy and France the Germans stopped laughing.

         In January, 1943, the No. 5 (Polish) Casualty Clearing Station was formed as part of the 2nd Polish Corps and it was here that Franciszek Ostrowski worked. In October the unit was moved to Palestine and the men went to Syria for mountain warfare training in anticipation of their joining the Italian campaign.

No.5 (Polish)Casualty Clearing Station in Italy

No. 5 (Polish) Casualty Clearing Station served at Cassino, the River Rapido, the advance on the Adriatic Coast, the assault on the "Gothic Line", the River Senio and the liberation of Bologna and finally ending the war in Loreto, near Ancona, after having been upgraded to No. 5 (Polish) Field Hospital.

        The Poles in the hospital followed the war closely as the BBC and their own Polish broadcasts kept them aware of the news from home - news that brought little joy to them as they heard about one national disaster after another. The names of Katyn and Yalta became synonymous with the fears that the Polish Army felt for the future.

        After the hostilities had ended, the Poles were offered the option to return to Poland but only a few availed themselves of the chance immediately. To move things along Franciszek Ostrowski and all the men of the Field Hospital were paraded on the 20th March, 1946, and were handed a note from the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, recommending that they should return to Poland. In fact the note went beyond a recommendation in that Bevin seemed to suggest that it was every soldier's patriotic duty to return to Poland rather that seek help from the British Government.

        After the war many Poles returned to Poland - many did not. The decision "to return or not to return" was a personal one made by every Pole and the factors that affected these decisions are the subject of the work that follows.

        The choices made by men like Franciszek Ostrowski from 1945 to 1949 affected the rest of their lives and the lives of their families. This is their story.