The Family Reunited After WWII


Taken some time in 1948, at the Polish military camp in Duncombe Park, near Helmsley, Yorkshire, this photograph represents the entire Dudziński and Staszewski families as then existed – with the only exception of Zdisław Staszewski (Uncle Zdzich), brother of Halina Dudzińska, who had already settled in Newcastle.

Back row: L to R: Zbigniew Dudziński , Elżbieta Dudzińska, Zbigniew Dudziński (Tom), Mieczysław Staszewski.

Middle row: Eugenia Staszewska, Halina Dudzińska.

Front row: Andrzej Dudziński, Jerzy Dudziński, Boy (the dog).


Zbigniew Dudziński (Lt.-Col in the Polish Army)

At the outbreak of World War II, on 1 September 1939, when German forces invaded Poland, he was on manoeuvres with his regiment in south-eastern Poland. It always something of a puzzle – something so very un-Polish – that his regiment did not seek out and engage with the German invaders, but instead crossed the border into Romania. However, according to a book covering this period, under some treaty arrangement between the pre-war Polish and Romanian governments, in the event of war breaking out Romania would facilitate the formation of a Polish government-in-exile in their country and would at the same time welcome Polish troops on their land, where they would be able to re-group and return to battle. In the event, Germany put pressure on Romania – by threatening to invade unless she complied – to go back on the treaty arrangement.

So, instead of being welcomed on Romanian soil, Polish soldiers were placed in internment camps. Fortunately, however, the camps were not heavily guarded and the guards open to bribes, and in due course Zbigniew escaped and made his way to Greece. Eventually, together with a number of other Poles, he caught a Polish coal boat from Piraeus to Marseilles. (For more details about how he reached the UK (see Tom’s Story). Apparently it was an extremely rough crossing, but Zbigniew and three companions were just about the only passengers who were not seasick, and instead played Bridge for the entire voyage!

After docking in Glasgow, Zbigniew reported for duty. At that time, there were almost 340,000 Polish soldiers in Scotland under British command in WWII, not counting Polish airmen and naval personnel. It is not known precisely where Zbigniew was initially stationed; however, at the time of his son George’s birth (December 1940), according to the birth certificate, he was at Moncrieffe House in Bridge of Earn.

He was appointed deputy head of Division III of the Third Staff of the First Corps in Scotland. In 1941-1942 he was deputy commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron of I Corps, which was later transformed into the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division. From 13 July 1942, he was commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division, and after its dissolution, commander of the weapons battalion supporting the 3rd Rifle Brigade of the 1st Armoured Division. On 1 March 1944, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. At the end of March 1944 he became available to the Chief of Staff of the Commander-in-Chief. From 12 August 1944 he was commander of the 4th Armoured Regiment, and from 21 September 1945 he served as Chief of Staff of the 1st Armoured Division, spending some time at Meppen in Germany, helping in the allied post-war clearing-up operations. By the time the photograph was taken, he had arrived at Duncombe Park and made arrangements for first his mother and later his wife and three sons to join him there.

Halina Dudzińska

She said once, that just before the outbreak of war she had some kind of a job in the Polish Parliament building, one of her functions being to listen out for a phone call from someone stationed at the German border. (Apparently, it was a very boring job and she helped mitigate the boredom by learning to smoke!) At all events, she was one of the first in the country to know that Poland had been invaded by Germany.

The only record we have at the moment of what happened next is the memoir that Tom started to dictate to his daughter Christina after he’d had his stroke (see Tom’s Story). We do have evidence, however, that Halina and her son spent an anxious few months in a hotel at 153 rue Legendre, waiting to be joined by her husband Zbigniew.

After landing in Plymouth around 24/25 July 1940, Halina and Tom made their way to Scotland. As far as we know, they initially lived in Perth, a short distance from Bridge of Earn, where Zbigniew was by then stationed. At some point they moved to Glenfarg, a small village (as it was then, though it’s grown somewhat since) a dozen miles south of Perth.

Some time later the family moved to Edinburgh, living initially in a house in Willowbrae Road (now part of the A1) and later moving to a top (3rd) floor flat at 23 Eyre Crescent. Certainly the family was there by October 1944. Then in March 1945, Andrew was born.

For reasons not well understood, Halina and the three children moved back to Glenfarg for a while prior to the move to Yorkshire. We spent the last night in Scotland at the hotel opposite Glenfarg railway station, and on the day of departure by train via Edinburgh and York, Glenfarg was enjoying relatively warm and sunny weather – in sharp contrast to the heavy snow and freezing cold conditions that greeted the family on arrival at Helmsley station in Yorkshire. Transport to Duncombe Park was in an army canvas-covered 3-ton truck – and there were no such things as heaters in vehicles in those days!

Elżbieta Dudzińska

According to a document issued by the 1st Polish Armoured Division, Special Branch, Elżbieta (Babcia Dudzińska as she was generally known in the family) was issued with what looks like some kind of an Identity Document or Laisser passer on 12 April 1946, expiring 1 July 1946. It is not clear what purpose it served, but the fact is that Elżbieta was already at Duncombe Park when Halina and the boys arrived there in 1947, and was still there when the family photo was taken, probably a couple of years after the above expiry date. So it is possible – and in fact more likely – that the document referred to was issued by the British authorities in Germany during the time that Zbigniew was stationed in Meppen. It would have been much easier for her to join him there than to try to make it to Yorkshire under her own steam. In retrospect, the fact that she managed to leave Poland is itself surprising, as travel to and from the country immediately after the war was strictly controlled, not to say prohibited, by the newly installed Soviet-backed government in Warsaw.

There is no record of when and how it happened, but at some point she decided that living in England was not for her and returned to Warsaw, where her daughter Irena (CiociaRenia) were still living with her daughters, Barbara (Basia) and Danuta (Dana); given that she was about 75 years old by this time, her decision was not too surprising.

Mieczysław Staszewski (Lt.-Col in the Polish Army)

At the outbreak of WWII, the Germans invaded Poland from the West – quickly making their way to Warsaw – while, shortly afterwards, the Soviets invaded the country from the East and came to a stop within sight of Warsaw, where they waited for the Germans to complete the destruction of the city and thus save the Soviets the trouble of doing it themselves.

As they went along, the Soviet soldiers gathered up and put into railway trucks all members of the officer class and the “intelligentsia” and hauled them off to Siberia. Mieczysław and his wife Eugenia were then living in Lwów (the present-day Ukrainian city of Lviv), and when eastern Poland was overrun by the Russians, they were both initially taken to Lwów prison, but later transported to a labour camp near the northern Siberian city of Archangelsk. Mieczysław was fortunate not to have fallen victim of the infamous Katyń Massacre but, as it happens, given his strong background in accountancy, the camp authorities found him a useful asset for keeping the camp accounts in order. Therefore, he had an easier time of it than he might otherwise have done.

Then, on 12 August 1941, after Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union and the latter had switched allegiance to the Allied Powers, all Polish prisoners in the Soviet Union were granted amnesty and found themselves free to go wherever they wished. The options were fairly limited: no-one wanted to go east or north, deeper into Siberia, and in the west the world was at war. So most people chose to go south, either through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and eventually to Persia, or through Azerbaijan, Turkey to Iraq. Many then made their way to Palestine or Egypt.

Among the first prisoners the Soviets released (he had been imprisoned and tortured in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow) was General Władysław Anders, whom they encouraged to form a Polish Army to fight alongside the Red Army. He duly formed the 2nd Polish Corps, but continuous friction with the Soviets over shortages of weapons, food and clothing led to the Army’s exodus, together with a sizable number of civilians, down to the Middle East. All told, this exodus involved over 756,000 men, women and children! That’s a lot of people. Needless to say, the Soviets didn’t offer any transport facilities, nor provide released prisoners with money for transport, so people simply had to walk.

Mieczysław signed up with General Anders’s army and was assigned to assist with the resettlement of Polish refugees from Soviet Russia. From documents he left behind it is possible to trace his eventual journey to the UK. First, he made his way to Jangi-Jul in Uzbekistan, where he arrived in February 1942. From there he was posted in March to Krasnovodsk in Turkmenistan, where he was appointed head of the Paymaster’s Office. From there he was transferred in September to Tehran, and in October – still in 1942 – he was appointed Delegate to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare for the Polish Government-in-Exile in London.

In February 1944, he was again transferred, this time to Nairobi, travelling there in a British aircraft via Egypt and Sudan. He was at this time working with EARA (East African Refugee Administration), but by September of the same year he’d had enough and resigned his post, his letter to the Polish authorities in London referring to “…impossible conditions of cooperation with the very consulate agencies from whom we have the right to expect assistance and cooperation”. In March of the following year he is back as Head of the Nairobi Delegation of the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

In March 1947 he writes asking to be transferred to Qassasin in Egypt to join his wife. His appointment to the Resettlement Corps is confirmed. How this came about is unclear, but the next we hear of Dziadzio is when he passes his Certificate in English from the Polish Resettlement Corps at Duncombe Park…

Eugenia Staszewska

Her journey from Poland to Yorkshire broadly mirrors Mieczysław’s, though at times they are separated by their work. Eugenia was a founder member – and a committed and active member – of the (Polish) Military Families Association, whose mission was “Education, Entertainment, and Assistance”. It was founded between the two World Wars, in 1925, and had representatives in every regiment of the Polish Army. Eugenia seems to have spent most time in this role in Tehran, before joining her husband in Nairobi.

In March 1947 she was posted to Qassasin in Egypt.

On 2 September, Eugenia landed at Southampton aboard the MS Alcantara, from where she travelled up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to stay with her son Zdzisław and his young wife Joan, whom Eugenia was meeting for the first time. Later, she and Mieczysław travelled down to Duncombe Park, where the rest of the family were then living, and where they were able to meet their grandsons George and Andrew for the very first time.

In due course she, together with Mieczysław and her sister Helena Grzeszczyńska (Ciocia Hela) settled in Penrhos, near Pwllheli in Wales. This was originally established on an old air base as a demobilisation camp for Polish servicemen after the war. In those days it consisted of rather basic wooden barracks and communal dining and leisure facilities.

Zbigniew Dudziński – “Tom”

From “Tom’s Story”, we know when and how he arrived in Scotland.

It seems that fairly soon after arriving in Scotland he found himself in a Polish secondary school run by the émigré community until some time in 1943. After that he was sent to Worth Preparatory School, a Benedictine monastery located during the war years (having been moved for safety from Crawley) at the parent house of Downside Abbey, near Bath in Somerset.

Next he turns up at Edinburgh Academy, where he was a pupil from October 1945 until July 1947. Certainly he was with his mother and brothers George and Andrew in Glenfarg until their departure for Yorkshire. However, he did not immediately join the others in Duncombe Park. That could be because he had by then started at Ampleforth College, being by then approaching the age of 16 years. Certainly that is where he would have been by the time of the group photo in Duncombe Park, Ampleforth being located less than five miles away. 

George Dudziński

He came on the scene roughly five months after the family arrived in the UK from Poland via France. For the first seven years or so, the family lived mostly in Edinburgh (first in Willowbray Road and later in Eyre Crescent), and mostly it was just George and his mother living on their own. During that time, Zbigniew was away – initially fighting in Italy and, after the War in Germany, helping with tidying-up the post-War mess; in fact, he was rarely around over that period, though he must have visited at least once for Andrew to be born in 1945! Tom, meanwhile, was mostly away at boarding-school, visiting only during the holidays, so he was not much in evidence either.

Eventually the time came for the family to leave Scotland and join Zbigniew in Yorkshire, where he and his regiment had established themselves in a camp in the middle of Duncombe Park, on the outskirts of Helmsley. I seem to remember leaving Glenfarg (by train on a relatively warm day), and arriving in Duncombe Park after a freezing journey from York (or maybe Helmsley) station in the back of a three-ton army lorry. The following morning, we had to be dug out of our Nissen hut, which a heavy snowfall had buried overnight with drifting snow.

This was the infamous winter of ‘47. Still, the following summer turned out, fortunately, to be hot and sunny…

Andrew Dudziński

After he was born on 11 March 1945 – in Edinburgh – the Germans evidently decided further resistance was useless and duly signed the surrender document less than two months later.

For many years, people would ask Mamusia “How’s your daughter doing?” And you can sort of see what they meant… 


And the final member of the group

Essentially a mongrel, with elements of Old English Sheepdog slightly dominant, he was a real character. When we first got to know him, his diet consisted almost exclusively of the war-time sausages that hardly any of the Polish soldiers at Duncombe Park camp would touch (virtually 100% refusal rate). After his ‘carer’ emigrated to the USA, he somehow became a member of the Dudziński household and was eventually living with them and their cats in Ampleforth village.

Unfortunately, in addition to worrying any cloven-hoofed animals he came across, he also developed a taste for the ankles of postmen, milkmen, paperboys/girls, etc., ultimately leading to his being shot by the police (a fact that only became generally known many years later).

A sad end…