In the aftermath of the devastating attack on the procession of carts, work continues to provide a safe crossing over the Vistula.
A cart was passing by so I requisitioned it in order to transport the casualties.
More and more aircraft were appearing over the crossing point to try to prevent us from using the bridge. Our engineers had been working since sometime after 8 o’clock in the morning, repairing it just sufficiently to allow pedestrians, horses and small bits of equipment to cross. They were also starting to build a pontoon next to the bridge for the artillery and heavier loads.
I didn’t know where to put my cart in order to get across. In the end I positioned it on the road, because everyone else was so crowded together it seemed likely they would all race across the bridge at once. (At this point I hadn’t yet seen what condition the bridge was in – in actual fact none of the carts was light enough to pass the point where it was damaged.)
While I was waiting, the corporal appeared with the equipment carts. He was pleased to see us but had no idea where the rest of our unit was. I approached the bridge to see what I could find out. Here I met Major Doctor Kunachowicz and Major Doctor Różalski who belonged to the 23rd Division as the heads of the ‘health unit’ and ‘health headquarters’ respectively – by the end of the war I had confused their faces, and today I couldn’t tell you which of them was which.
Major Kunachowicz ordered that I be commandeered to set up a battlefield first-aid station in front of the crossing, as the surgeon was already in Baranów beyond the Vistula. No explanations were forthcoming… no recognition that I was attached to the cavalry squadron, that I was leading and responsible for its light supply train – nothing – just:
“As head of health for 23rd Infantry Division I’m giving you an order,” he said in a sufficiently sharp tone.
Major Różalski tried to diminish the severity of this, offering his agreement with a good natured: “Please hand over the supply column to the most senior officer and let’s go.” Then, “That’s an order!”
So, about turn! Returning to our position on the road, I gave instructions and handed over the supply column to the equipment corporal who as it turned out had appeared in the nick of time.
I entrusted my things (i.e. my suitcase and my boot shapers – ha!) to the safekeeping of my driver and orderly then ran back to the major for further orders. This was the last time I saw my belongings. I didn’t look for them since news was later circulated which suggested that they had either sunk in the Vistula, been left abandoned by the river or simply jumbled up in the carts, ripe for looting.
As well as the new orders, this is also where the first chapter of the squadron’s story begins. The squadron which, from the moment of our separation in Pacanów (i.e. on the night of 9th September), I didn’t see again until 16th September. For these six days I worked alongside the health company and shared their fate. I had no knowledge of the squadron’s story during those days and later on I only heard fragments.
I returned to the majors. Major Kunachowicz gave me his medical officer’s bag and escorted me to some barns which stood nearby the embankment where the attack had taken place. He handed me some modest instruments and told me to deal with the casualties. In particular I was to evacuate the injured on stretchers, taking them across the bridge to a school in Baranów where the surgeon was based.
What happened around us during the day, what the crossing looked like and what the fate was of those who were the last to cross, I will explain in the next separate chapter.
This is where we’ll leave the first part of Józef’s memoirs.
I plan to take a break from posting extracts for the time being whilst completing the translation, and carrying out some further research. I’d like to try and find out more about some of the colleagues and companions Józef mentions as well as the places where he spent time later in the war and the roles he undertook.
Thank you for your interest so far – do use the ‘follow’ button to subscribe to email alerts about new updates on the project and in time, extracts from the second, longer book.