Sunday, 10 April 2011

VLADIMIR ROMAN SKULSKI

He was born on 15th April 1921 at Stryj. In September 1940 he moved to Trochaniv where he took up the post of school teacher, which he held until 15th April 1941, his twentieth birthday, when he was conscripted into the Red Army and sent to Russia.

This involved a two week train journey in primitive and unhygienic conditions until he reached the city of Voroshylovsk (now Stavropol) where he was issued with his uniform and a rifle but no ammunition. He was also trained to drive a T33 tank and to load and fire its gun; this must have been difficult as there was no petrol and no ammunition available.

About three months after the Germans turned on their Russian allies, in the late summer of 1941, he was sent to the city of Novorossyisk where he trained on mortars and spent a lot of time working as a lumberjack and living in a leper village. Here he records many hours watching the German bombers pounding the city by night, with no opposition from Russian fighters.

In November 1941 his group set off to march to Stalingrad (now Volgograd), marching only at night and through severe blizzards. After sixteen nights they were put on a train and sent to Rostov-on-Don, backtracking more than half of their march, to meet the German advance. Here they had to dig huge anti-tank trenches as a barrier to the German panzers; they worked twelve hours a day, digging first through the frozen snow and then sixty centimetres of permafrost before reaching soft earth.

At the end of March 1942, he was sent to Stanica Krymskaya, just North of the Black Sea, where he and his team were put to work building a road and an airfield. One of his jobs involved standing waist deep in a river digging out gravel for the concrete. At the beginning of June of that year his group were de-militarised and became a civilian work group – paid but virtually slave workers, with low pay and increased working hours.

On 19th July 1942 he and three friends made a bid for freedom in the hope of joining the newly forming Polish Army in Exile under General Anders> He was wearing his ‘new’ uniform which had a bullet hole through the left breast , with a dark stain around it. The Russians were so short of uniforms that they were stripping dead soldiers.

Furtively they made their way, via back lanes and woodland, to the railway station and mingled with Russian soldiers before taking a train to Krasnodar. From there they got a train immediately to Groznyy, capital of the Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic; they were heading for Makhachkala which was a port on the Caspian Sea and the capital of Dagestan Soviet Republic. Fron there they caught another train to Baku in Azerbaijan. Here they approached the authorities for help to join the Polish Army, but were arrested by the NKVD (forerunners of the KGB) and were about to be deported back to Russia (?) when they escaped and tagged on to a group of wounded Russian soldiers, eventually boarding a vessel named \Dagestan bound for Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) in Turkmenistan.

In Krasnovodsk they met a Polish Officer who directed them to the Polish Military office there and were then astounded at the attitude of the man in charge, Colonel Bering, who threw them out, called them nothing more than a bunch of deserters and threatened to have them arrested by the NKVD. However, a sympathetic Polish Officer gave them food and cigarettes and suggested they go to Guzar in Uzbekistan to join General Anders’ army.

After three uncomfortable days on a train through the Kara Kum Desert, they arrived at Bukhara in Uzbekistan and narrowly escaped being arrested by border guards. After a very short time they took a train for the three hour journey to Guzar. As the train was pulling in to the station, Roman was caught by a Policeman but managed to escape through a toilet window and lost himself in the crowds on the station platform. With considerable difficulty, the four men were accepted into the Polish Army on 29th July 1942 and they were fed, given clean uniforms and a shower with real soap. He wryly remarked that they were given toilet paper and that was the first he had had in his fifteen months in the Soviet Union.

Through all their adventures, Roman had to take the lead because he was the only one who was fluent in Russian.

On 4th August 1942 he was assigned to a tank battalion and nine days later the Poles left Guzar and returned to Krasnovodsk where, on 19th August 1942 they boarded the Russian vessel Kaganovych bound for Pahlevi in Persia (now Enzeli in Iran). Whilst there he became the victim of a series of nasty illnesses; firstly it was malaria and then a bout of dysentery followed by yellow jaundice and then a serious eye infection which virtually blinded him – this was caused by a sea water parasite picked up whilst bathing. Soon after leaving hospital he volunteered to go to England to join the Polish Air Force in Exile.

After several aptitude tests and spending some time in Iraq, he left for England on 4th February 1943 and boarded the ship Islami at Basra bound for Bombay (now Mumbai) in India. A week after arriving there he boarded the ship Mariposa which travelled to England via Cape Town, South Africa. He finally arrived at the Polish Depot at Blackpool on 30th March 1943 and was transferred to the Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall where he also began to learn English. He then moved to Brighton, Sussex for further training and in May 1943 he began training as a pilot.

Due to serious and persistent bouts of air sickness he gave up the pilot’s course and went to Canada to train as a navigator. The air sickness was too much and he was grounded and returned to England as ground crew with 304 Squadron.

After the war he married an English girl in Brighton on 22nd June 1946 and moved to London and then Portsmouth. In the spring of 1949 he was discharged from the Polish Resettlement Corps and emigrated to Canada. He trained at McGill University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1955, later he moved to British Columbia. He raised a family of four children in Canada and made several holiday trips back to England.

He died in West Vancouver on 30th March 2008.

2 comments:

Gene Quan, West Vancouver, BC Canada said...

I met Roman Skulski as a fellow participant at our local Seniors' Centre fitness classes around 2003. He was always worked to maintain his physical fitness. He shared bits of his life story to me from time to time but I never fully learned his military details.
He was a strong patriot, intelligent and, obviously, an adventurer. I enjoyed knowing him, albeit briefly, in his latter years in West Vancouver where he lived his last days.

Thank you for this post. It is a wonderful tribute to his life and service to his beloved Poland.

ARCHIVE said...

Thank you Gene, I am sure his daughter will appreciate your comment