The Call for a Doctor

The attempts to join up with the squadron continue and Józef and his small group of colleagues again come across chaotic scenes of numerous carts trying to make headway – sadly however, much worse is to come.

The journey along the top of the dyke took about three hours. The horses were losing their strength. We had all five carts but many people were missing including Sgt Major Mazański, the corporal from the kitchen and the Krakowian cyclists.

Around 8 o’clock in the morning we managed to reach Długołęka, opposite Baranów which was on the other side of the Vistula. We had a short stop during which I sent some dispatch riders to look for our colleagues, however all attempts proved unsuccessful.

I heard that the 23rd Division had crossed here to the other side of the river. So we drove up closer and saw that one long span (about ten or eleven metres) of a new wooden bridge had been dismantled. According to the information we received, this was on the orders of our group’s commander, General Sadowski. How would all of our group cross?

All along the dyke, carts were pushing their way towards the Vistula because someone had said that a pontoon bridge would be built. Carts were crowding together and creating blockages where they tried to overtake. I started struggling over the dyke with our five carts but word soon came that there would be no bridge after all. Everyone rushed back, crowding towards the dyke once more to form ranks.

As our group of carts reached the top of the dyke, two bombers appeared. Since our anti-aircraft artillery was already in position, a volley of cross-fire held them back. (Here I met our gunners from Wołnowiec – Captain Blechinger and Officer Cadet Zmijewski – and we greeted each other heartily.) But a moment later, a black bomber appeared from the other side – Baranów – striking like a thunderbolt. It nose-dived above the bridge and released one, two, three bombs almost simultaneously. There was a dreadful explosion and then a hush… and before the artillery men had turned the guns around it had gone.

The airman missed the bridge, but right where our carts had been standing just a short while ago, he left the corpses of two, maybe three people on the path over the dyke. About seven soldiers were injured to varying degrees – and five horses were dead. It was an appalling sight.

I was summoned by the call for a doctor and approached the position of the catastrophe. One man was lying in a pool of blood – he was groaning, barely alive. His buttocks and thighs were lacerated and lumps of flesh were coming away – he had probably already lost more than half of his blood. What’s more, his whole body was riddled with smaller shrapnel. I gave him a shot of morphine whilst colleagues pulled off his trousers but despite repeated attempts to bind his remaining limbs with the dressings available, I was unable to do so completely. All the signs indicated that he would die within minutes.

Twice I turned back because it preyed on my conscience… maybe he would survive for an operation. Two casualties had dressed their wounds themselves. A third had had part of his leg torn from him… An orderly dressed his wounds while I assessed another two soldiers – they weren’t bleeding, having only been bruised by small fragments.

The first casualty then signalled to a friend and I returned – he gave me the address of his family and, groaning in a barely audible voice, he sent his final greeting to his elderly, solitary mother and his sister. It was a poignant scene and one of very many I have seen since.

I caught sight of a soldier’s body under one of the shattered carts. I took his pulse… nothing. His body was cold… but there wasn’t a trace of blood or injury. After a quick search I noticed a small cut on his left temple and in it some shrapnel. I found out later from eye witnesses that this man had been sitting quietly at the top of the dyke when the explosions of the bombs, one after another, had blown him into the air and flung him down violently. Here he had met his death.

2 thoughts on “The Call for a Doctor

  1. It’s heartbreaking sometimes, reading the unfolding of events. I hesitated over posting all the detail in this extract – initially I edited it out.

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