Character Studies at the Brink of War

When Józef writes (retrospectively) about the last tense days of August 1939 he covers just over 5 pages in his exercise book with descriptions of his squadron colleagues. A small selection of these follows. Sometimes he uses full names, sometimes just an initial in place of a surname and at other times he omits the name altogether with or without an explanation.


At the head of the squadron stood Major Rostowski, known to his colleagues as Bronek. He was a fine-figured, personable cavalryman; a little edgy, orders given out in a loud voice, losing his temper now and then with someone or other, but rarely with officers. At the same time he was indecisive and not very strong as a commander. His inseparable comrade was his adjutant and his designated quartermaster was 2nd Lieutenant Zygmunt Żielinski – tall, slim, balding and a good natured fellow.

The squadron had three platoons of mounted riflemen and one platoon of gunners with four heavy machine guns carts, each harnessed to three beautiful, alert and full blooded ponies.

There was a 2nd lieutenant, whose name I can’t remember, he was good looking, tall, slender, somewhat English looking with a pipe in his mouth and inseparable from his cane. He spoke very good French and English and looked splendid on his horse.

Another 2nd lieutenant was Staszek M, a clerk, a good countryman of medium height. Apart from his glasses he had no distinguishing physical features. We had shared a few drinks and he was later to become my horse riding teacher.

There was a machine gun engineer from Katowice with a double barrelled name; pleasant, very intelligent and we shared similar views. He was of stocky build, average height, good looking but with a face scarred by smallpox. He was good for the soldiers; he liked them and they him.

In the cavalry, and later in the commissariat, Sergeant Major Mazański ruled – a short, thick-set, and fairly resourceful man, who roared so much that after a week he could only give orders in a hoarse whisper! He had a good manner but one bad habit: carting an ill-natured, little black dog everywhere, which once almost bit me. However, he considered it to be his mascot.

So there we have it: the view of some of the squadron as it was on the brink of war. This is Józef’s penultimate entry for August 1939. You’ll find more character descriptions later on in the diary as Józef’s journey continues into September and beyond.

2 thoughts on “Character Studies at the Brink of War

  1. Gripping! Perhaps so much more to come? How did your father arrive in England with his diaries presumably escaping across Europe as it was engulfed in war? Your translation reads so well.


  2. Hi Steve, thanks for your interest in the project. It’s great to know people are reading it! Yes there’s plenty more to come. I also often wonder how my father managed to keep his diaries intact and safe as he travelled. I feel very fortunate to have them and so glad that I delved into them despite the language difficulties.


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