From Poland to Essex. Wally Slugocki and the Second World War.
Written by Pat Slugocki, from notes taken in December 1999
My husband, Wladyslaw (Wally) was born in 1925, in Szwejkow, a small village in what was then Poland, but is now in the Ukraine. His father, Marion, appears to have done a bit of everything. Basically, they were what we would today call peasants. They had strips of land at the rear of their smallholding where they grew all their own vegetables as well as tobacco which they sold to the nearest small town, Monazteryska (not sure about the spelling) which was about 3-4 miles away. They also sold butter in the market of this town. They had a horse and carriage of some sort, some chickens, geese, and a cow.
Wally’s family & his paternal grandparents all lived in the same house. There was no electricity, gas or sewerage. His grandfather’s brother lived next door. Wally’s mother’s parents were by then dead, but she had siblings living in the same village. Wally’s aunt, the much younger sister of his father, lived with her husband & small son only about 100 yards away. Wally remembers at the beginning of each November there would be snow about 6 foot high and it would not melt until early April. Water was obtained from a few pumps.
There were Ukrainians living in Szwejkow at the time, and there were tensions between the two nationalities. Szwejkow had previously been in the Ukraine. Wally’s father had some sort of authority and had to sort out any problems which arose.
In the village there were both an Orthodox church & a Catholic church. There was one school, & the two priests would come in and teach the children of their respective religions. There were also a couple of shops.
When the war came, the Germans invaded Poland from the West & the Russians from the East. On 10 February 1940, the Russians came in the middle of the night and took the Slugockis to the nearest railway station in their own horse & carriage. The family had to leave just as they were, they were not allowed to take anything with them. Their dog was left behind.
The Russians picked the Slugockis because Wally’s father was the Polish equivalent of the Town Clerk. Wally was fourteen, & his sister, Bronia, was seven. This trauma affected her whole life and she suffered terrible depression for a couple of years before she died.
Wally’s aunt was not taken to Russia, she knew nothing about it until the next morning. It must have been a terrible shock to find that all her family had been taken. She believed that the Ukrainians had betrayed the family, and indeed, they removed everything they wanted from the Slugocki home. Aniela, the aunt, was still alive when we visited Szwejkow in about 2005, and the emotion, when she saw Wally, was something I shall never forget.
The family were taken by train to Siberia, the Ural mountains near Sverdlovsk (in 2000, known as Yekatarinburg, home of Yeltsin). Wally remembers the conditions on the train as standing room only, there was just about enough space to sit on the floor. There was a hole in the corner of the carriage, which people had to use as a toilet, two men held a blanket across the corner of the carriage to afford a little privacy. The train journey lasted for 27 days.
They stayed in Sverdlovsk, Siberia for one year. Wally’s paternal grandparents both died in Beresovsk, Siberia. The Camp was called Pervomayskoye- Oblast. Maria, Wally’s mother, had to work on a building site, and Marion (his father) worked in a gold mine, they all lived in one room. Wally remembers that they were paid for their work, and they had sufficient money to buy food. After some time, owing to an agreement between Russia & the Polish authorities, they were given documents enabling them to travel.
In order to get to a warmer place, the family went by train to Uzbekistan, the journey took a week. There was a typhoid epidemic in Uzbekistan, Marion (Wally’s father) and Wally both caught it, and were taken to hospital in Tashkent. There, Marion died, next to Wally. Wally was still in hospital when his father was buried, he was not buried in a proper coffin, just a plank, then a piece of board on top of the body. There was no food in Uzbekistan, so Maria, Wally and Bronia (Wally’s sister) went to Kermine. Here Wally joined the Polish cadets, and was separated from Maria and Bronia. He was trained for the Polish army, under the command of Britain’s General Montgomery, and went to a port called Krasnovodsk, Asia.
The civilians stayed behind. Wally got on a boat on the way to Teheran in Persia, and embarked at the port of Pahalev. Here Wally became very ill with dysentery, was in the sick bay in a field, and nearly died. From Pahalev he travelled by lorry to Teheran, over enormous mountains, the journey took a day. In Teheran there was a large disused factory, and the Army made a camp of it. Maria and Bronia were taken to Teheran as well, and when Maria made enquiries about Wally, she was told that he was dead. There was another Wladyslaw Slugocki who had recently died, and Maria found the grave in the nearby cemetery. However, a little later, she saw Wally in the town, but not to speak to, and she went back to the camp and found him. At that stage he was still convalescing. Maria and Bronia (Wally’s mother and sister) were staying in a civilian camp. They stayed there for three months, and came to see Wally every day during that period.
Then Wally and the army were moved to Baghdad, Persia, and the civilians were later moved to Lebanon. They lost contact again. From Lebanon, the civilians moved to Kol Harpur, Valvade, near Karachi, India. Wally stayed in Baghdad for six months, then he was picked to join the Parachute Brigade in England. He went to Bombay by boat, stayed there 3 days, then went to Cape Town, South Africa. From there he went by train to Durban, where they stayed for 8 months. Here he fell in love with bananas, and ate so many he nearly turned into one!
From Durban he went by boat to Achtertui, near Kirkcaldy, Scotland. By now, the UK did not need any more recruits for the Parachute Regiment, so Wally joined the Army, and was in the 1st Panza Division, 10th Dragoons Brigade. By now it was 1942. He trained in Scotland for 18 months. They prepared for D Day by having huge manoeuvres for two weeks, which was exactly like the real war. He travelled by lorry to Aldershot, got on a large boat at night in London Docks, and went to Normandy. He was part of the second phase. They landed on a beach in Normandy, he remembers most the dust and the thirst. He was in a light reconnaissance tank to spy out the land. He went to the first shooting line in Caen.
The Germans were pushed out of Normandy. At Ypres, Wally was shooting Germans with a machine gun to stop them getting to a huge main gun, and for this he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. They pushed on to Holland, and the Germans retreated, leaving very many mines behind. When Wally was on patrol, his tank blew up. Wally was thrown into a ditch with heavy gear on top of him. His uniform caught fire, the tank driver’s legs were blown off and the other man in the tank suffocated. Wally scrambled out of the ditch, and managed to remove his burning uniform. An Army ambulance picked him up, but he was only grazed, and carried on fighting.
They fought through Holland and stayed there for two months, over the worst of the winter, and had a bit of a rest. The place was Osterhuit, near Breda. Wally became very friendly with a Dutch family, and he went back to see them from Wilhelmshaven after the war had ended. They then pushed on to Germany up to Wilhelmshaven, where they stayed for a year in occupation.
The whole army returned to England in 1947, after the severe winter. Wally went first to Hull, then to a big camp on Salisbury Plain, near Devizes. He was asked to go to Newton Abbott to clear fields of mines for the farmers. Here he met a girl-friend called Jean! After this, he went to Slingford Camp at Horsham, Sussex. He was later demobbed at Horsham. He was sent to Ashford, Kent, where, owing to severe dyslexia, and therefore unable to take the opportunity of further education, he worked on a building site. He lodged at 81 Essala Road, Ashford.
The surname of his landlady was Glibbery. She was a war widow with two children, Shirley, 4, and Tony, 6. She had a boy-friend, and Wally used to babysit for them. He had to pay her 35/- a week, this included all meals, and washing his laundry. He remembers seeing the Golden Arrow engine pulling trains to Dover. By this time, Maria and Bronia (Wally’s mother and sister) were in Pulborough, Sussex, in a refugee camp. Wally heard that they were there, and went to see them. He went to stay with them for a week, he told his landlady, but not the Police. As he was classed as an alien, they had to keep tabs on him! After this, he lost the lighter building job he had had, and was given a heavier job, moving cement in a wheelbarrow. When he tried to tip the wheelbarrow, it went over and smashed some pipes!
Then Maria and Bronia were moved to Rivenhall, Essex, to a camp on the now disused airfield. So Wally moved to Braintree, staying in a hostel. He worked on a building site in Panfield Lane for about three months, and then got a job at Felsted sugar beet factory, where he stayed about two years. He used to go by bus, it took about 20 minutes. Then he worked in a furniture factory in Sible Hedingham, which was a 6 mile bus trip. He then he went back to the sugar beet factory.
He met a man in Braintree who was working at W J Bush & Co, at Witham. This man was moving to the Midlands, so Wally got his job. When he got there, a man was sweeping the yard. Wally asked him where the manager was, and it turned out to be George W Pole, who was the manager! By this time, Bronia had got a job and a flat in London, so Maria was on her own. Therefore Wally moved to Rivenhall. He started working at Bush’s on 21 May 1951. He went to see the Festival of Britain with Erwin Schulz and his wife. Wally and Maria stayed in the camp until 1959, when they were moved to a council house, 14 The Fortunes, Harlow, Essex. While there, he worked in Key Glass Factory.
Then they moved to London, to live with Bronia at 66 Loftus Road, Shepherds Bush, where Wally worked at a factory in North Acton, making instruments for clocks.
He had met me in 1959, as I was working at Bush’s as George Pole’s secretary. When Wally lived in London, he used to come down by train every Saturday, and we used to spend the whole day together in Chelmsford. When we married, we bought 254 Broomfield Rd, Chelmsford, and Wally and I both got jobs in Hoffman’s. Andrew was born while we were at 254 Broomfield Rd. Chelmsford. In November 1961, we moved to 34 Highfields Rd, Witham, where Louise was born.