Ch. 15.64
Email from David Gwidon Chelminski, USA
2
Date: 18 May 2008

Czesc, Pan Franek!
Thank you so very much for your very swift reply to my email, and especially for putting part of my question & my email address on your website in hopes of someone recognizing my Dad's name. I must point out, though, that I am in the USA -- not England (may I say regretfully? ) -- born and raised in Toledo, Ohio where my Dad, Gwidon Stanislaw Chelminski, aka "Tito/Tytus", immigrated in 1949.

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
called before his commanding officer (again, I wish I knew his name!) who acknowledged the
situation, but directed that my Dad had to march with his unit up to the church steps, at which point he was free to turn back and spend the time as he saw fit. So that was how even people who didn't know him would call out "Tytus!" to the stubbornly-defiant Gwidon who would smirk and raise his right fist in a mock Communist salute.

As I've already indicated to you, I have very meager documentation of my Father's military
service. He was already accepted into the Polish forces under British command on October 24, 1944 (rather quickly after his surrender to the Americans at Normandy on August 9th and transfer across the Channel) -- do you think I can hope for there being any file on how his identity as a Pole who had been conscripted into the German army was investigated and authenticated in some way?). He was indeed supposed to be trained for parachuting into Poland, but evidently the relatively-quick end of the war in Europe interrupted that plan. I am attaching one of two surviving photos of a dozen of his comrades lined up beside a plane, which is luckily signed by his friend Kazik/Kazimierz Falkowski (I do not know now whether this was his original name or an adopted pseudonym), dated March 19, 1946, at Nottingham (England, of course) and referring to the men as "Bokserzy armii polskiej" (Polish Army boxers). Maybe you can please help identify these men, or those in my Father's other pictures?

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
against them, when he died on precisely the sixtieth anniversary of his RELEASE FROM GESTAPO PRISON I determined to eventually publish the story of his life, with its dramatic saga of having been miraculously extended a full six decades from circumstances which everyone who heard of it would argue with my Dad, "If you had really been in a Gestapo prison, you wouldn't be alive to tell of it." But clearly I need to find as much documentation or other testimony or factual details to corroborate as much of his stories as possible to counter any such skeptical refutation. In 2005 I received just under six hundred dollars as posthumous "compensation" through the IOM, at least acknowledging that my Dad had indeed been sold as a slave in Gdansk following his encounter with the Gestapo, to an ethnic German farmer in East Prussia from 1940 to 1943, prior to his consription into the German army. When, after a series of potentially-fatal adventures, he finally got to the
front lines at Normandy in August of 1944, he crossed under fire to the Americans, who somehow confirmed his identity as a Pole forced into German uniform, and transferred him into British custody.
My Father was very clear that he worked for the Polish Government-in-Exile, and until democracy was re-established in Poland he could not trust that any plane carrying him might not make an unscheduled stop in Moscow.

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.


In the photo of nineteen soldiers in berets or caps standing in front of a wooden building numbered "83" on which a bit of a sign with the first word ending in "LARIA" can be seen on one of the doors behind them, my Dad is in back of the group right against the other door, behind a fellow wearing eyeglasses.

Finally, in the photo of sixteen men (some in civilian clothes) in a field with two baskets filled with what appear to be potatoes, my Dad is in uniform (and beret) seated in the front row, the second from the 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 working
as a pantryman at the London Ritz Hotel, he finally got a visa to visit his last surviving uncle in America, so in January of 1949 he came via the RMS Aquitania and a train from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Detroit, to Toledo, Ohio. That summer his cousin's unmarried sister-in-law took him on a date to see her best girlfriend, who though likewise born in Ohio knew Polish better, and my Father sought out the latter, Julie (born Bronislawa Julianna) "Winch" (originally Wiech) every day forward until their marriage in 1950. My maternal grandmother (who though born in Buffalo, New York had been raised in the Old Country) nagged my Father about why he kept his certificate showing his highest rating from the Signal Corps -- which he used to line his sock drawer -- until he himself tore it to shreds so that I never even got to see it.

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
visit to Wilno/Vilnius where my Mother's maternal relatives still live) from 1991 to 1998, but
since we didn't have tenure at the college where I taught, in 2000 my contract was not renewed and I have not been able to find full-time employment since. (I blame America's war-mongering Republican administration for the spoiled economy). I got another Master's degree in Library Science in 2002, but have thus far only been employed part-time for the past six years as a Special Collections Librarian in the Ward M. Canaday Center for Archives and Special Collections at the University of Toledo's William S. Carlson Library, commuting (while I can still afford gas!) from the house I bought in Adrian while I taught there. So, despite the calls and letters from my surviving uncle and extensive family, I haven't been able to afford any return to Europe to start putting together the verification of my Father's history (and instead have been working on a much-needed English biography of Poland's King Jan III Sobieski).

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
the others, saying that he didn't mind repeating anyhting, no matter how many times.... (My
Father's biggest -- and eternal -- objection about learning English was the inconsistency of spelling and pronunciation of words, apparently already complaining to his first ESL teachers: "What if I was so `weak' that I could only say one word, how would they know I didn't mean `week'?" to which the teacher supposedly admitted, "Well, then you would have to spell it" (as if pantomime wouldn't be clear enough in such a situation). But if our over 50-year-old huge reel-to-reel tape recorder would still work, I could prove to you that my Dad spoke excellent English (perhaps with the faintest British accent) as late as 1955, only to later on pick up the lazy endings and other slang of his in-laws, people at work, or even the media through subsequent decades among Americans.

Maybe I can finally send this off to you with one last anecdote, which if you copy any of my
writing into your website this time you may want to paraphrase. There was a very important
football (soccer) match between the Polish Army team and the British (I don't know for certain now whether these were locals, or some other regiment of non-Polish British troops, just as I probably heard in my childhood precisely when and where this was, but do not have a clue now if it took place at Polmont or anywhere else in Scotland or even London), and the Polish commander (name? rank?) was seated with other British higher-ups immediately in front of, and naturally below, the row where my Father and his comrades were sitting. At some point the British team made a significant goal, and a British commander exclaimed "Lovely!" -- at which my Dad's Silesian-born friend yelled "Gowno nie `lovely' [Excrement not "lovely"!]" to the great embarrassment of their tight-lipped if sympathetic Polish officer, seated among his superiors, who had to have heard but most likely would not have fully understood the exuberant expletive. For more than half a century, my Father could not hear the word "lovely" without adding "Gowno, nie lovely!" and, of course, if there would be anyone present who didn't know the story, he would have to re-tell it.

Thank you for wading through my tiresome letter, and I hope that you will write to me again,
hopefully with some names to go with my Dad's treasured pictures. But I can be patient, and hope that you will take it easy on yourself, so that we can enjoy more exchanges, after this initial wordy introduction.

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!
Respectfully,

David Chelminski

610 Springbrook Avenue,
ADRIAN, Michigan 49221-1639

Email:
 culmenius@toast.net

 
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