The Final Days of August 1939

It really wasn’t my intention to have such long gaps between posts, so I hope you haven’t given up on me!

Although I have done a draft translation of a large part of my father’s first book, much of it still requires quite a bit of work to improve it enough for public consumption. So it’s not just a matter of posting what I’ve already translated. Sometimes I spend far too long puzzling over something which I just can’t make sense of and have to admit defeat, so these passages are awaiting help from Polish friends!

Deciding which parts will be most interesting to post on the blog can take a little time too and now if I’m completely honest, since summer arrived my other passion, gardening, has been competing heavily for my time. Unfortunately, back problems in recent months have meant I have had a lot of catching up to do outside. So I’m glad of a rainy day like today as not only is my parched garden getting a treat, but I have a rest and absolutely no excuse to be distracted from this and go outside!

Now the diary continues with the final few days of preparation and even at this point Józef is on the move again


All in all our stay within the confined city walls was unpleasant. The mood here was already worse than in Mikołów or Wyry. I still hadn’t managed to carry out all the Colonel’s orders and they were calling for me again.

“Officer Cadet Czech will go to Giszowiec immediately and register with Major Bronisław Rostowski, Commander of the Cavalry squadron of 23rd Infantry Division…Colonel’s orders!”

Pack your belongings again my good fellow. Oh these confounded boot shapers, it’s impossible to tie them together!! Suitcase, bag, boot shapers and something else and it’s already 6pm – how am I going to get there?

“There is a bus at around 8pm, Officer,” a nun tells me. Good timing. We’re off.

I unload part of my luggage with Walter Brzoda, a colleague at the city hospital, committing to his care two shirts, long trousers and some trivial bits and pieces and then I leave. But my suitcase is still loaded to the brim with clothes, odds and ends, keepsakes, letters, photographs and other things not to mention these wretched boot shapers. But who knows? They may be useful. After all, my boots frequently pinch me, most of all around my corns, so it will be good to stuff them with the boot shapers.

And anyway, who says there will be a war? Who sent you to war? You are going on a normal assignment my good fellow, never mind that it’s already the eighth assignment since graduating from the training school.

Therefore, according to the rules of old Diogenes (but maybe it was someone else, anyway the one who lived in a wine barrel,) “omnia mea mecum porto.”  I gathered everything up and went.

Out of all my belongings, what’s more valuable than everyday things? Anything over and above this is best forgotten, because unfortunately now we’re heading for military service on the threshold of war.

In Giszowiec I dutifully report my arrival for assignment.  Good! Lodgings.

“Tomorrow, draw up an order for medical supplies. Go to the lieutenant colonel for them. Set up the sick quarters. Choose the health carts, look over the stretcher bearers and prepare them. I see that you have your uniform and coat, that’s good, because we don’t have anything here.”

My father demonstrates throughout his diaries his interest in the detail around him and from time to time launches into very detailed descriptions of the people he is with.

At first it seemed quite strange to me that with all the tension in these last days of August 1939 he breaks off from writing about the situation and the ongoing preparations in order to write several pages about the appearance, character traits and professions of members of his squadron. But of course it very importantly brings his colleagues to life and, amongst other things, draws attention to their very varied life experiences.

So, just as in the diaries there will be a pause here from preparations for war and I will post (very shortly this time, I promise!) some of these descriptions before we get to those “dreadful September days”, as Józef describes them.

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