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In memory of Michal

A few weeks ago an e.mail in my mailbox attracted my attention. Came from Canada and was sent by Chris Wroblewski, cousin of the granddaughter of a polish soldier in the II Corps in Italy during World War two. Some days later, Barbara Krzywoszanski, the granddaughter, sent to me a lot of pictures of this soldier. Michal Krzywoszanski, this is his name, after the fighting took part in the construction of the monument of Albaneta, consisting in the famous Sherman tank of Lieutenant Białecki. Those you can see in this article (I believe is one of the most beautiful ever to appear on my website), are the photos and the story of this soldier.

 

 

 

 

 

 VISIT FOTOGALLERY BELOW

Photos of Cassino

Photos of the Abbey

Photos of Albaneta

Photos of polish cemetery

Hill 593 / 575

Photos after Cassino

Miscellanea

4th Regiment Organizzation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Details of Michal Krzywoszanski's early life are vague; what is known is that he was born on November 22, 1910 near the village of Zborów in central Poland. Michal was rambunctious and mischievous child who was always in trouble with his father. At age fourteen he lied about his age and joined the Polish army somewhere between 1924-25. As a recruit Michal recalled being often yelled at and bullied by drill instructors, on one occasion being punched in the face several times while standing to attention for an infraction. After completing his basic training Michal was trained to drive trucks, he was taught theory and given practical instruction. Later He was given instruction in the service and repair of various types of heavy trucks and vehicles. During Poland’s invasion in 1939 Michal endured aerial bombings, strafings and the indignity of German capture. He was part of a large group of Polish soldiers who escaped German captivity and tried to make their way to either Czechoslovakia or Romania. There were several deaths among their group as they moved through the Polish countryside pursued by elements of the Russian army. Michal related how at a farm they were befriended by a young Polish girl who gave the exhausted soldiers food and water. Unfortunately Michal and the rest the escapees were captured by soviet troops and sent to Russian labour camps in Siberia.

In 1942 Michal was part of the mass evacuation of Polish civilians and soldiers from Russia to Iraq and Iran. Michal in later years would tell his nephew Stanley Michaleski that during his time in the Siberian labour camp Polish communist overseers would attach food to a vicious dog and set it loose among the hungry prisoners. When beef was delivered to the camp so much would have been cut away by Russian guards that there was little left for the prisoners. Michal in later years would say that if he had stayed in Russia six more months he would have died of starvation or illness. It was in the Middle East that the Polish 2nd Corps was organised as part of the British 8th Army. In the Regiment 4th Armoured “Skorpion”, Michal received extensive training in the repair of British and American armour and became part of the regiment’s LAD “C” (Light Assistance Detachment type C). These armoured types were the American Sherman and Canadian/British built Valentine Tanks, others included the British Matilda, Cromwell, Crusader and MK VI Light Tank. Michal was very impressed with American technology, so much that in Italy he traded his British BSA motorbike with an American soldier for his Indian motorbike. For a period he and other Polish mechanics were lent to a South African Air Force squadron or repair depot where they overhauled landing gear on Spitfires, Wellingtons and B24 Liberators. Polish soldiers often fell prey to thieves in the Middle East; even their blankets were not safe. Michal related how thieves would sneak into tents at night and quietly whistle in a sleeping soldier’s ear to make him turn over so as to take his blanket. On a stop in Jerusalem, Michal purchased a small gold necklace medallion in the pattern of a Maltese cross which in 1947 he gave as a gift to his fourteen year old niece Diana Michaleski in Montreal. In trying to get the necklace blessed Michal narrowly missed catching a ride out of Jerusalem with his platoon as the regiment made its way to Egypt.   

In April 1944 Michal arrived in Italy and quickly grew to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the Italian people, he and other Polish soldiers thought the Italians were very much like themselves. Italian families would often share what little they had by offering food and place to rest when his platoon of mechanics stopped in a town or near a home. Through these interactions Michal learned to speak Italian, a talent he retained in his later years. In May 1944 at the battle of Monte Cassino, Michal’s skills as a tank mechanic were put to trial. As part of the LAD he was never far behind the 4th Armoured Regiment’s assaults on the monastery, often times in midst of the fighting being called forward to move destroyed or damaged Sherman tanks off steep roads. Sometimes Michal had no choice but to drive a damaged but operable tank off the road and over the side. He would jump off at the last moment before the tank tumbled down the hill, in one instance the wreck falling among advancing Polish troops. Often times these tanks contained dead crewmen or were burning; Michal suffering burned hands from climbing on the hull of one of these tanks. These images among many others haunted Michal for the rest of his life.

Months later after the capture of the monastery Michal took part in the construction of the tank memorial at Albaneta farm, one of his tasks being the assembly of a cross made of tank treads which he welded together and erected within its wrecked hulk. He later took part in its dedication ceremony and took photographs of the monument during the unveiling. In another incident either during the Monte Cassino campaign, or after as the 2nd Corps advanced north on German strongholds, Michal and the mechanics of his platoon were captured by a German patrol while recovering a damaged armoured vehicle. An attempt was made to shoot the prisoners but Michal escaped. Among his other duties Michal spent time as a motorcycle dispatch rider and also acted as interpreter during questioning of German prisoners.

In 1947 Michal came to Canada where he was reunited with his sister Mary in Montreal, it was an emotional reunion as he had not seen his sister since her immigration to Canada in the early 1930’s. In 1948 his wife Stacha and son Mietek were located in Poland; because of the war he had lost touch with them. They soon immigrated to Canada and were reunited. Michal settled in Montreal and worked for a transport company fixing heavy transport trucks where specialized in air brake systems until his retirement. Throughout his life in Montreal Michal was an active member of the Polish Veterans Association SPK branch # 7 Montreal, the Polish Society for Mutual Aid and spent many years on the board of administration of a Polish retirement home. In addition Michal also severed as Vice President of the branch of the local Polish Credit Union (SPK) for ex Polish soldiers.

Even in his later years Michal could still happily relate in detail the finer points of changing the engine on a Sherman tank and how to adjust its transmission and clutch. While visiting family in Brampton Ontario in 1982, Michal met their Italian neighbour Tony who as a young boy grew up near the town of Cassino. Tony recalled to Michal the violent shaking of the ground beneath his feet as he watched the monastery’s destruction from aerial bombing. Michal also recalled the extensive destruction of the abbey and to everyone’s amazement continued his discussion in fluid Italian with Tony. With a smile rarely seen on Michal, he walked with Tony to his home and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking cappuccino and talking, they later switched to red wine and talked into the early morning. In April 1987 Michal passed away from a stroke and was buried wearing his military dress tunic. He was laid to rest next to his wife Stacha in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.

 

This short biography was drawn from the family recollections, pictures and memoirs of Michal’s granddaughter Barbara Krzywoszanski and her cousin Chris Wroblewski.

 

 

 

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