Email from David Gwidon Chelminski, USA
|Date: 18 May 2008|
Czesc, Pan Franek!
I completely appreciate how much effort and time you have already put into your fantastic website, and I don't want to be a bother, but you are clearly the best source on these topics available to me at this point, and I am still hopeful that with a little more detail from me and the photos I can provide, you might actually be at least able to put me on the trail of someone who knew my Dad in the 1940s.... (I am going to write separately to the address you give for the Ministry of Defence Army Records Centre at Hayes to get whatever official files I can).
Even if you had already left Polmont by the time my Dad got there, I'm wondering if you didn't maybe meet him later in London or elsewhere. For instance, I have the distinct impression that my Dad was in London on V-E Day (May 7-8 '45), describing the immense crowds in the victory celebrations there from personal experience.
I regard my finding your website and getting a reply from you as the Hand of God at work, giving me even this much confirmation of his special training in the Polish forces in Scotland. Maybe this will make you smile, or even laugh, but the way I happened to find your marvelous website last Sunday was due to a little article which our Polish-born pastor (of Toledo's now-twinned Polish Roman Catholic parishes of St. Hedwig's and St. Adalbert's) Father Marek Ciesla, of the Society of Christ, wrote for the latest edition of a small neighborhood newspaper (the Lagrange Street News) re-telling the story of Wojtek, the soldier-bear adopted and enlisted by Polish soldiers in Iran who took him with them to Monte Cassino and turned him over to the Edinburgh zoo, referring to "Berwickshire" Scotland which led me to "Google"-search for further details about Wojtek (whom I'm pretty sure my Dad had told me something about) and eventually the keywords "Polish Army" and "Scotland."
My Dad had told me
how most of his comrades had indeed assumed pseudonyms to protect their
loved ones from retaliation by the Nazis or the Soviets, but he said that
he had NOT done this, since his parents and sister had been killed, and
his three brothers (all older than he) back home had already been serving
in the Polish Army at the time of the invasion. As far as I know, "Tito"
was only an informal nickname, and wouldn't appear in any records. The
background story behind my Dad being called "Tytus" (familiarly
in Polish) after the Yugoslav partisan leader Josip Broz (whom he admired
for his independence in accepting aid from both the Western Allies and
the Russians) which I was teasing you to see if you would already know
something about it, was that my Dad objected to the obsessively-political
"sermons" which the Polish priest (maybe you, Pan Rymaszewski,
could suggest who this preacher was, or direct me to a list of Polish
chaplains for the First Army troops in Scotland?) delivered at every Mass
(basically saying in Polish, "W Imie Ojca, i Syna, i Ducha Swietego...
Ale ten Churchill, i Ruzewelt, i Stalin....") so that finally my
Dad, Gwidon Chelminski, refused to attend the services if that priest
was going to preach, and was
As I've already indicated
to you, I have very meager documentation of my Father's military
My Father had an incredible memory, but as an only child I absorbed only so much of his stories. My parents mainly spoke English at home, due to contemporary American reaction to even a foreign accent, so unfortunately despite my very strong Polish cultural upbringing I never learned Polish grammar, although I have some familiarity with a pretty large vocabulary. Even as a small boy, I would beg my Dad to WRITE DOWN the details of his adventures, predicting that I wouldn't be able to remember it all. Sadly, he was extremely reluctant to make almost any kind of personal record because as age 17 he had been severely beaten by the Germans in Gestapo headquarters in Bydgoszcz, over whatever notebooks etc. he had on him, referring to his bicycle excursions in Wielkopolska. By the 1970s I started to scribble surreptitious notes on whatever he started to relate, but by then he would already tend to say he didn't remember particular details.
So regretably I concentrated on my own schoolwork etc. (getting both a B.A. and B.Ed. in '73, my M.A. in history in '78 and Ph.D. in '89, teaching 15 years -- eleven years as chair of the History department -- at a small Catholic college just north of Toledo until 2000) with hope of SOMEDAY sitting my Dad down to dictate his memoirs. In April of 1991 (thanks to US Congress extending the Sister-City program to formerly Communist-controlled countries such as Poland and Hungary) I had the honor of going to Poland to sign the Sister City Agreement in Poznan (where my Father's maternal grandparents were buried) on behalf of Toledo, and "scout out" our plane and other accomodations for my Dad, who was already self conscious about his colostomy from cancer surgery in 1982, and he and I finally made it back to Poland that May for his first reunion with his two surviving brothers and their families in 47 years. Fortunately my Dad was able to make nine more trips to his beloved Fatherland, and bring one of his brothers and the only niece who could get a visa to visit us, before his death in 2000.
Despite my Father's
understandable justified hesitancy to risk having one's own writing used
His litany of the places he was in Scotland definitely included Polmont, Falkirk, Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Kinross, Dunfermline, and Aberdeen, but I am of course not certain how long he was in these places or in what official capacity. I have at least twenty-seven black & white or sepia photographs from this period, and my girlfriend Sheryl has scanned six of them (along with a couple shots of my Dad's Signal Corps badge -- the largest file "IMG_0006.jpg (682.42kb)" you don't need to open--it's of my Dad's Signal Corps badge set on top of the first photo of my Dad -- I can't get it to delete it) into a file which I am attaching to this long letter. Unfortunately, my Dad himself re-arranged these precious surviving originals (some of which had been mailed to family in Poland or later in the US) into the present, third album after the original pages (with his handwritten captions!) had fallen apart after too much handling, and only a scanty few bear any inscription at all, let alone dates, place names or names of the individuals shown. I pray that you can identify some of these people for me, and thus I hereby give you -- but ONLY you -- the right to use these as you see fit (for instance, posting them on your website for other veterans to see) (otherwise, I reserve all rights for reproduction, etc).
The largest photo
is of course a professionally-done portrait of my Dad, Private Gwidon
Stanislaw Chelminski, made in Stirling, Scotland
in February of 1946 (when he was still
twenty-three). I also have a matching, signed portrait of Kazimierz "Kazik"
Falkowski (mentioned above). There are four other photos from this period
which show my Dad alone, of which I am including at this time the one
which shows him posing at a telegraph machine.
From the remaining
twenty-one photos I have chosen to send you three more besides the one
with the "Bokserzy" by the plane: group shots in which I cannot
identify anyone beside my Dad. In the photo of eleven bare-headed soldiers
standing in front of wooden barracks buildings, my Dad is on the far right.
If you want to see some of the rest of my pictures, they include what appears to be a parade, wider views of barracks, some interior shots including ladies typing on one side of the room apart from the men, and one shot showing a battleship (I have no expertise in this area!) in the background. One of the other group photos has the signature of four others besides Kazimierz/Kazik Falkowski: "Damsz," "Ludwik," "Olszewski" and "Zakrzewski." As I already said, I am unsure if these are their original (real) Polish names or the pseudonyms they assumed during the War, and except where Kazik Falkowski inscribed his own picture Helensburgh, I cannot be certain where or when most of these photos from my Father's time in Scotland were made.
My Father was officially transferred to the Polish Resettlement Corps on September 14, 1946, and "relegated to Class `W' Reserve" on June 12, 1947, and "honourably discharged" December 8, 1947.
I apologize if this
long letter is tiring you, but just to summarize my Dad's story, after
My Dad, who became a US citizen in 1954, worked in the local slaughterhouse (for one day), on the railroad with his Uncle, at a local electric power steam plant, in a Toledo textile factory, as advertising manager for the local Polish-language newspaper, eleven years as a clerk in the U.S. Post Office, and in semi-retirement for the state highway department and as a custodian at the University of Toledo.
As for myself, I have
been lucky enough to make a total of nine trips to Poland (including one
So finally, I need to ask your permission if I can please include your photo of the unit at Polmont marching to church to illustrate my Father's story about objecting to the priest's politicized sermons in whatever form I eventually publish his biography.
Before closing, though, I would like to share three very short stories of my Dad's experiences with the Polish Army in Scotland, in hopes that something might still "ring a bell" as something you recognize.
My Father was taught everything there was to know about electricity (he and his comrades "re-wired" an entire "castle" somewhere in Britain (where?), as well as typing and radiotelegraphy (as I mentioned, he HAD a certificate supposedly showing he got the highest scores). He also received a refresher course in basic math (some of his comrades were younger when the War broke out, or hadn't gone on to high school) in which the instructor was a well-educated Pole from humble background (could you possibly identify him for me?), who explained everything exceptionally clearly -- as he put it, "po Macieju rozum" (according to the understanding of the simplest peasant named Maciek), so that the class all asked why don't all teachers explain things so well....
But when it came to English lessons, at one point they had a teacher (male, as usual), perhaps just a temporary substitute, filling in, who clearly had an East-Central European accent, since he reportedly uttered something like "Zees eez a voo-man" at which one of my Dad's classmates raised his hand and very politely said, "Excuse me, Pan Professor, I think it should be `wo-man.'" And the teacher got very angry, demanding "Who is the teacher here?"
All of this, especially
languages, apparently came very naturally to my Father, who had studied
Latin (at least enough to serve at Mass and remember it decades later)
and French in his two years completed at the "Humanistic"
gimnazium or secondary school in Bydgoszcz
before the War broke out, and had picked up enough German during his three
years of forced labor to argue back to them, and had always prided himself
in being at least able to count to ten in so many languages (one of which
was Romany Gypsy), so that he took to "studying" comic books
(as he called them) in his lap under the rim of his desk, while the teacher
was talking. But he would occasionally raise his hand and ask the teacher
to repeat what he had just said, so that the teacher would praise him
as a model to
Maybe I can finally
send this off to you with one last anecdote, which if you copy any of
Thank you for wading
through my tiresome letter, and I hope that you will write to me again,
Sincere prayers for
health and long life and pleasant memories of mostly only good things
that happened, after the sad tragedies that brought you all together in
Scotland. Wszystkiego najlepszego i serdeczne pozdrowienia!
This pop-up window is part of the Rymaszewski genealogical website which can be retrieved by copying the following address into your internet browser. http://www.rymaszewski.iinet.net.au