Today I translated the final page in the second of Józef’s two exercise books. I feel elated to have finished and can’t quite believe I’ve reached this point after such a long process! As I explained in my last post a few months ago, there are still some daily notes to translate which cover a further year of his travels, but they should be a lot more straightforward to complete and hopefully won’t take me very long.
As I finished this second book, I was reflecting on the experience of translating the immense amount of detail my father recorded. Not only have I read his account of some of the appalling situations faced by the army and the people of Poland, but I have learnt a lot about his thoughts and beliefs, his character and even – despite the circumstances – his sense of humour.
As such, I feel as though I have gone from knowing very little of his life and obviously having no memory of him at all, to understanding so much more about him and the type of person he was. When I wrote the subheading to the blog, “getting to know my father through his wartime diaries” I don’t think I realised quite how true this would be.
I am so pleased that I persevered rather than finding a translator. I don’t think it would have unfolded in the same way for me if I had just been handed the translated version. Much of the time, as I unravelled the Polish, I really felt as if he was telling me his story personally.
Content of the Second Book.
The last time I posted on the blog I introduced this book with some brief details from the 11th and 12th September 1939. Józef’s account of these and the following eight days takes up approximately one third of the second book as the unit travelled across the River San and due east while the remainder of the book takes us to mid December 1939.
In the first section he writes about the people and places they encountered as they marched through villages – often abandoned – and skirted around already occupied towns. The unit faced frequent bombardments and there were many casualties. They heard rumours and counter-rumours about action elsewhere in Poland. However on the 20th September the army was disbanded and, in Józef’s words, “here the narrative of the squadron ends.”
A difficult and dangerous solo journey then begins. The remainder of the book describes his attempt to return to Kraków without being captured and to reach France in order to join the army in exile.
Thank you for your continued interest in this project. Watch this space for further updates.