Continuing towards Kraków

Over the next day or two, Józef goes into a lot of detail about the continuing journey towards Kraków. He describes the difficulties of potholes and of manoeuvring the carts across ditches, damaged bridges and past roadblocks of various kinds. His long entry for the 4th September includes the following:

We crossed the Kreszowice to Alwernia road which thronged with civilian carts and wagons, and kept south and a bit to the east. Just before Zalas I caught up with an officer on foot who still had a map. I got my bearings and we continued on to Zalas.

The roads were abominable – rural, so the ammunition cart barely held out. Just before Zalas it collapsed in a heap – if only we had reached the village. However the lads found a farm cart from one of the cottages, reloaded the contents and set off behind us. People didn’t know what was happening and unfortunately we weren’t able to offer any information. At least we were able to help ourselves to apples and green plums.

We drove on further. On the way we came across a cart and artillery going in exactly the opposite direction to us. But, led by instinct, we continued to push forward. We were informed by a detachment we encountered that our squadron hadn’t been seen.

The artillery fire was getting closer and closer. Although the terrain was heavily wooded, we could see on the horizon on the right hand side (because the land was flat here), flashes of shells from gun barrels and simultaneous flashes from the exploding shells of our own artillery.

The road rose up and then dropped down to the forest, nearing the village of Brodła. Going along quietly, we noticed every dozen or so metres the ferocious barrels of our gunners who were shrewdly camouflaged in greenery from the trees. Some of the barrels were from time to time, spitting hideously with fire, creating enormous reverberations of whistling shells above our heads.

I had to walk by the cart and hold on well to the horses because at every shot they sprang up abruptly with fright. Meanwhile my driver sat hunched on the cart, glancing round timidly in the direction of the guns without a care for the horses.

At one point, as I continued alongside the cart after passing the first guns, I had to chase after my field-cap which flew off suddenly when the heaviest gun shot was fired. Although there was no particular joy to be found at this time and place, I consoled myself with the thought that as the shell fell, at least the only damage it did was to whip my field-cap from my head!

After about an hour of travelling and as night was falling we reached our squadron, which had set up camp by the road from Chrzanów and Babice to Kraków, about 8- 10 km from Alwernia. I heaved a sigh of relief. There was no time to cook any food, therefore the rest of the light supply column was directed to Kraków and I was told to stay with the unit.

Here I learned that a fierce battle was underway near Alwernia where the main battalion was staying alongside the rest of the division. Part of the squadron was reconnoitring, on the alert to move at any moment.

At around 10 o’clock in the evening I received an order to join the heavy supply column which was at Liski and to move on to Bielany with them. I didn’t make it to the squadron, which at the last moment, could only retreat.

Retreat…retreat…The mood was getting worse and worse. What was happening to us? I couldn’t find an explanation and no-one could give me one. I left but had barely moved away when the first shells flew near to where the squadron was positioned.

A kilometre along the road I told the driver to lie down and sleep. I took the reins myself and drove us on a good asphalt road to Liski. Along the way a couple of wandering soldiers that the commander had lost, latched themselves on to me. Their platoon had scattered, the whole unit had been defeated and the poor wretches were alone.

There were frequent excuses, often far from the truth; those who left the battlefield prematurely feared for their lives. In the end I couldn’t just turn them away and had to give them a lift.

The further I went on, the more wagons I saw and I often had to clear a way through myself. We arrived at Liski after midnight.

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