He came. It was dark – we left the room. Sneaking through the gardens, wading in the mud, we made our way to the Russian’s (Romanian’s) hut. Luckily, no one saw us. The Russian knew why we’d come. I gave him 200 lei, we talked over the plan and sat waiting for a train. I wanted to get into the little cab at the cistern car, but he talked me out of it. The locomotive would be a better bet.
After five hours we arrived in Beirut – Syria. A French colony. Docked in the harbour are French navy ships and an enormous two-chimney ship, full of people – I can tell they are Polish, waving their handkerchiefs and shouting. We pass it and enter a second basin. Chains grind, anchor’s down.
I’m no longer aboard the ship, I had lunch in the barracks of the Foreign Legion and now I’m sitting in the courtyard. We came ashore at 6:45 this morning and were brought in cars into the barracks. They received us very kindly. I can finally boldly say I am a Pole – it is allowed here. This isn’t back-stabbing Romania, this is our true ally – France. We will stay here a few days, the Polish consul told us.
The sea has calmed down, and a cheerful sun rose today. The waves are deep, but without foaming crests. The Patria has not yet settled from her dance and shivers a little. We are approaching the coast of France. Her rocky shores have appeared on the horizon; Toulon looms in a distance, combat ships glide across the sea. Oh! And there is Marseilles. Beautiful: the largest harbour of southern shores. It looks lovely, the railway meanders just by the sea, tunnels, bridges, what a charming place. We have entered the harbour. The anchors are lowered. We have arrived. We are to disembark at 4pm. In a few minutes our passports will be checked and soon we will leave the vessel.
Today is a better day. Kazik Skowroński, Mielczarek and Gumowski are here. Kazik told me how my little hero lay in a trench in the airfield during a raid. And how bravely she did. I was proud of you, my Halutka.
A new page in my journal, a new set on the stage of my life. Only a few days ago, we were among hills, enjoying warm sunshine. Today things are different. The air is frosty, snow, cold I am sitting in the dark mess hall at the Lyon-Bron airfield, 8 kilometres from Lyon. But let me go back a few hours. From Carpiani (Carpiagne) we marched over the mountains to Cassis. At two o’clock after midnight, a steam-shrouded train with frozen windows raced into Lyon station. Here buses waited for us. They took us to the airfield.
Here in the barracks water is hard to come by – even just to brush teeth. Oh, the Frenchies – the Frenchies. No Frenchman holds a candle to a Pole. The weather is nasty, it’s raining incessantly. Terrible muddy. Our sleeping quarters are dirty, messy, filled with smoke. When 80 gobs spew the shag, who can bear it? I will soon be smoker without taking a puff.
And now I will tell you where I am. Not at the airfield any more. Last night, after bath and disinfection, we were transferred to the city of Lyon. Food was better at Bron. Here the French serve raw meat. I cut it into small pieces and swallow like a turkey.
10th May 1940. This is a date to be remembered. This morning we shot out of our beds, awakened by the rumble of cannons. It was dawn, 4 o’clock. Quick as lightning, I dressed and leaped behind the hut. Against the sky, still grey, three Dorniers moved, low – no more than 1000 metres, maybe lower. The artillery boomed, filling the sky with tiny black clouds. Machine guns flashed and we were showered with a storm of bullets. Into the trenches!!! I jumped into a trench 50 metres from the hut. It was filled with water up to our ankles. Splash in – I felt nothing. The boys heaped up on top of each other. We watched. A Bloch came at them – but a far off. Nothing happened. Our artillery kept on firing – nothing still. The shriek of shrapnels and shells, smoke – din. A volley... – and another... we clung to the water. The three were coming our way now. “It’s over” – someone shouted. A volley... at us. God! Jesus! Mother! Bam-bam-bam-bam. A storm of stones, sand fell on our heads and backs. Smoke covered the trenches; silence – long, an eternity. ...Knee!... a quiet groan... I leaped out of the trench, over the fence – and into the fields. Dropping to the ground when the shriek of bullets broke the silence, up and on again. I got out of the airfield and stood against a wall. The artillery was at it still. Zing! Something wheezed at my feet. A shrapnel of an AA round. The raid lasted over an hour. Siren... All clear. The aftermath is sad. Bombs were dropped on trenches and living quarters. About 20 killed, French and Poles fallen together. One bomb hit a pit – 6 men down. A few huts were turned to debris. This is just the beginning. What’s next? God only knows. They probably attacked Belgium and Holland. We are here with no masks and no helmets. Ready – to die. Our pilots have no aircraft, we have no weapons. Some training. 30 pilots to 1 banged-up Potez. The Finnish squadron is ready – but without aircraft.
They’ve begun unloading the train and billeting. A colonel came at 11 and says, “The situation is bad. If we don’t get a train, boys, we’ll have to take to the road.” On that account, Michał talked me into a glass of wine. Five of us went, all from Vilnius, out for a glass of wine. The situation is bad, but the main thing is to keep our sense of humour. We’ve come up with a plan. We are 80km from the sea in a straight line. I have a map. We will be given guns and then it’s up on our feet again. We must stick together. Oh, here comes the colonel. Let me hear what he’s got to say. All right, we’re leaving at 1400 hrs. But he says to pack for a march.
Many thanks to Barbara Poulter for access to her father's documents and photos
Special thanks also to Kresy-Siberia who originally translated the documents