On 5 January 1943, we arrived in Rehovoth, Palestine for a three-month Heavy Vehicle Course. First we had to learn mechanics; we had old 3-ton trucks to practise on. We took the engines apart and had to learn to put everything back in place. We had to be prepared if anything broke down in the desert. Then we learnt to drive. I am not so tall, so I had to sit on folded blankets to see through the windscreen!
I finished the course on 13 March and, a few days later, my platoon (about 160 girls) took the train to Cairo, Egypt to collect vehicles for the men’s transport company. We drove the trucks back to Palestine, stopping at a transit camp which had luxuries like showers! What a change from washing our hair in a bowl!
I left Tehran for Iraq in October 1942 with the Transport Company. We underwent basic military training, drills, learning to shoot etc. We marched and we sang a lot.
On Christmas Eve, we found some dry branches, which we decorated with cotton wool as our Christmas tree.
On New Year’s Eve we were driven in trucks, via Baghdad. Sleeping in tents, we were woken up by noise, shouting. I thought I saw a man in a skirt running past!..... Was I delirious again? No, it turned out to be a Scotsman celebrating New Year! He had come into the girls’ tent by mistake, was drunk and tried to lie down to sleep. So the girls started screaming. (There was a Scottish camp nearby.) This was the first time I had seen a man in a skirt!!
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Kresy Family group
On 1 April 1942 we came under British command and arrived in Tehran. A few days later, my parents arrived with Tadzio and Father put him into hospital where they promised to operate on his leg. He was now in a lot of pain, but we hoped he would walk again. Father, feeling his family was now safe, joined the army and departed almost at once for South Africa, Canada and Scotland (escorting German PoWs).
We celebrated Easter most joyfully; Mass was held, it was very warm and pleasant. I thanked God for our salvation – thanks to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, headed by General Sikorski and to General Anders for the formation of the Polish Army in the Soviet Union, for leading us from the USSR to freedom.
I remember feeling someone making the sign of the cross on my forehead while I had the fever and maybe this helped me to survive. I was told later that it was a male nurse called Patrick who expected me to die every day after he finished his shift. He called me Baby because I was so thin.
On our second trip to Cairo, I visited my cadet cousins at the mechanical school. This time, we drove brand new trucks, so we had to drive very slowly. I got very sleepy. These were 3-ton Dodges, a bit lighter for the girls to use.
I served in 318 Transport Company PWSK (234 girls total) delivering supplies and food to units of both men and women.
In August, in Gedera, it became the 316 Transport Corps. We had new commanders, both male and female (later on we just had women in command).
In February 1944, we left Palestine for Egypt. We girls took very good care of our trucks. When it was time to turn them over to the British, we spent a lot of time cleaning them. But this was all for nothing - as the English soldiers just drove them into the sea at Alexandria (so that the enemy couldn’t use them). We watched with tears in our eyes, disappointed and sad.
At the end of April we boarded the M/S Stefan Batory on our way to Italy…..
10. Post-war life
While I and some friends were taking a nursing course held by the Polish Red Cross, I became ill with typhoid fever. From 18 May - 1 August I was in the 34 CGH (Indian Army Hospital), where the doctors and nurses were mostly Indian. I was lucky that there was both medicine and care available.
I don’t remember much from that time as I was unconscious or delirious for weeks. They really didn’t expect me to survive, being just skin and bones after Siberia. I don’t know what kind of medicine they gave me but I remember being given syrup from canned peaches at the beginning and later having to drink a glass of Guinness (a thick, dark beer) every day - which I thought tasted horrible, but the nurses made sure I drank it up. I was in very bad shape, my hair fell out, I was blind for a while, and I had to learn to walk again.