Translation from the book
Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Wspomnienia z Osad Wojskowych 1921-1940
(From: The Eastern Borderlands of Poland, Memories of Military Settlements 1921-1940)
Pub: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych (OROK) (Association of the Families of the Borderland Settlers)
London, UK. 1992 and 1998
ISBN 1 872286 33 X
After regaining independence and after the battle of Warsaw ("Miracle on the Vistula") in 1920 my father Leon Lachowski received a dozen or so hectares of land on the Topule settlement. The beginnings were difficult and hard, for there was no money to purchase grain for sowing. During the first year he dug by hand and lived in a dug-out (a hole dug out in the ground). He met up with some army friends in Łuck, in Wołyń where my mother's brother introduced him to his sister. They got married shortly afterwards. He received a dowry from her father of grain, a horse and a cow. The soil was very fertile - humus. And so, after a few years their life improved. Where we lived the distance between one settler and the next was in some cases a kilometre. The farmsteads were rich with many fruit trees, close to woods and meadows. We belonged to the Boy Scouts, and the older boys belonged to "Krakus" (a Military Organization) and also to the Fire Brigade. The fire fighting equipment was very primitive - a wagon with barrels and hand pumps, hitched to four white Dutch horses, decorated with ribbons woven into their tails, and on their necks were leather straps with bells.
Our school was located on the Estate of the Radziwill princes, by the River Styr, amidst orchards. Prince Radziwill had three huge properties and employed many local people.
The summer’s attraction was the River Styr where we used to swim and fish and on nearby meadows we used to play volleyball, baseball or soccer with a ball made out of rags.
Each year the school children used to commemorate the 3rd May with shows where they would sing songs, dance national dances and recite poems. We would build boats, rafts and kayaks. We used to organise races for which there were awards. In the evening by moonlight and by the big bonfires we would float wreaths made out of flowers on the river. The older generation would dance till midnight. There was a lot of fun because the summers were beautiful and warm.
In time father expanded his farmstead: a new house made out of bricks, a new barn, a pig sty and even a new well. The yard in the front was fenced off with picket fence panels and even a lightning-rod was installed.
I completed the fourth grade of the primary school and graduated to the fifth grade in the parish town of Targowica. I was happy that I had aspirations and plans for the future: to learn a trade and thereby to improve our own life and that of the young generation serving a reborn Poland. In September of 1938 I could not sleep and spent almost all night thinking about this new school and how I was going to cope with the subjects. I had spent the entire previous evening packing my new books and exercise books into my rucksack. The week before I had made a catapult, secretly borrowing from my father half a handful of rifle pellets, since the double-barrelled shotgun was hidden away in one of the rooms. The catapult was to defend myself against the dogs that the farmers used to unchain for the night to guard their properties. As I set off on my way I met Staszek Wreskaj (who later died in the USSR) and we both walked taking the path along the river, avoiding the villages and built-up areas. Sometimes we had to defend ourselves against the dogs because the farmers did not chain them up again until 7 in the morning. I remember our walk because the night was warm and the air was scented with the aroma of flowers and cut grass and the fields were covered with a sheet of morning dew. From the east a dark cloud descended, through which the dawn began to break. Behind the mountain the sky was turning red from the glare of the rising sun. Nature was waking up to a new life. You could hear the crowing of roosters, the barking of dogs, the neighing of horses, the lowing of cows and the cooing of pigeons. Before the town, we had to cross a bridge over the River Styr. On the left was Góra Zamkowa (Castle Mountain) where Poles had defended themselves against the Tatars.
School was so very different from our school on the settlement! It had wide hallways, new desks and benches. All around the building were vast playgrounds where we used to play volleyball and basketball and where we did gymnastics. In my class were about 30 students. I made a lot of new friends. During the lunch break we would go into the town. There were many shops, mostly owned by Jews.
Targowica was my parish town. I was baptized there, I attended church there and feast days too, and I attended my First Holy Communion classes there. Near the church there was a river along which lilacs used to blossom and there were paths where processions of the Stations of the Cross took place.
On our settlement there were only 12 settlers but all around us there were Ukrainian villages. I went to school with Ukrainian children and many of them were very good class-mates and friends of mine.
To the south our settlement was separated from neighbouring villages by a meadow around which grew willows, birch trees and osier which was used to make baskets for potatoes. By our settlement were man-made ponds in which carp were bred. In the winter, water would flood the local meadows creating an ice field. The river widened to a width of one kilometre. For us youngsters it was a lot of fun because we could skate or sledge. Out of wheels from carts we made something like a merry-go-round on ice. We would play happily by the moonlight till late in the night. A few months before Christmas, with friends, we would create a stable with a manger on two wheels - with the Lord Jesus on some hay, with animals, an angel with wings, a king with a crown, a devil with a pitchfork and a skeleton with a scythe. We would go carol-singing from house to house, dressed in our nightshirts. On Christmas Eve we would wait for the first star in the sky before sitting down to the Christmas Eve meal.
Before leaving for school I used to help my father feed the cows. We had brick cellars underground where potatoes and beetroot were stored for the winter. Father would always mix a few sacks of late apples and pears with the potatoes. Whenever we needed some potatoes at home I would always volunteer to go and fetch them, only to get some apples to take to school. Even today I can smell the aroma of the apples, after so many years. In the winter we would have such deep snowfalls that we had to dig a path to get to the barn and the pigsty in the morning. When spring arrived the snow would slowly begin to disappear. The ice on the river would melt. Buds would appear on the trees. Green periwinkle would appear in the forest and - still from under the snow – wildflowers would emerge. Come Easter, the house would be decorated in green; we would prepare "rabbit" nests. Father would take out our carriage from the barn and wipe it clean from the winter’s layer of dust.
The fields, forests and meadows would acquire a coat of green. The larks and the storks would return, and the frogs would croak in the meadows.
Towards the end of the school year in 1939, the atmosphere started to change, the tension began to build up. Life was coming to an end. Black clouds appeared over Poland. Germans marched in on us from the west and the Soviets from the east. After 21 years our enemies once again invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun.
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