Two nurses minister to a wounded patient. General Hospital No.5 Casamassinma, Italy, 1944
POMOCNICZA SŁUŻBA KOBIET (WOMEN'S AUXILIARY SERVICES) (Pestki)
w Polskich Siłach Zbrojnych na Zachodzie 1939-1945
copyright: © Koło Kobiet Żołnierzy PSZ na Zachodzie
ISBN: 1 872286 23 2
The PWSK in Italy – the 2nd Polish Corps
To gain at last a glimpse of the overall picture of the contribution of the PWSK 2nd Corps during the Italian Campaign, it may help to provide individual short “reports” for all its branches:
In accordance with British war establishments, the Medical services of the 2nd Corps had 368 sisters of the WKSSłZ and 516 volunteers, including 21 PWSK officers (eight doctors, six pharmacists, seven c.o. medical companies and their deputies).
From January 1944, the Corps field hospitals which had been organised in Iran were transferred to Italy and prepared for action.
The 3rd General Hospital was stationed in Palagiano near Taranto and the 5th Field Hospital at Casamassima near Bari. Their task was to tend to the sick and wounded for a period of up to three months. If longer hospitalisation was necessary, transports were prepared and sent to the 8th General Hospital in Egypt or to the UK. If artificial limbs were necessary, patients were usually sent to the UK.
The first doses of penicillin were made available during the Battle of Monte Cassino. It worked wonders in healing infected wounds.
The General Hospitals were frequently overloaded during the major battles. In the early stages of the Italian Campaign, hospitals Nos. 2/6 (200 beds) and 2/7 (600 beds) were earmarked as Casualty Clearing Stations. The reasons for the overloading was the larger number of wounded than beds available in the field hospitals. All doctors and surgeons worked 24 hours at a stretch, whilst the sisters and nursing staff in both field hospitals and casualty clearing stations worked non-stop with little rest. The entire hospital staff was on call when large transports of wounded (200-400) were due to arrive. The intensity of the workload was maintained throughout the period of the Italian Campaign, which ended in May 1944 with the capture of Bologna.
Only after hostilities ceased did a normal routine return to the management of the hospitals. Regular shifts and leave were reintroduced. Additional personnel was made available following the liberation of the German POW camps.
During the height of military operations, Nos 3 and 5 Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) were taking 200 wounded daily, preparing them for transportation to the 3rd and 5th General Hospitals.
General Hospital No. 2/6 became a Casualty Clearing Station on arrival in Italy. There, it awaited orders in Barletta and was moved to Ancona after its capture and made fully operational from August 1944. Though it could cater for 600 beds, at its peak it had 1,026 wounded. It then became a General Hospital and remained in Ancona until its evacuation to the UK after the war.
Twenty sisters from the WKSSłZ and PWSK were sent to St Didier sur Sorgues in France, as a nucleus for the 9th Field Hospital for Polish soldiers who had been forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. This hospital returned to Italy in July 1945 and was reorganised in Trani for the needs of the Polish civilian population.
The last institution of the Army Medical Service in Italy was the Convalescent Home in Marina di Taranto which was moved in April 1945 to Noci near Bari. Eight sisters worked the sickbay and two PWSK personnel as welfare staff.
Following the end of the war, the General Hospitals carried on working in Italy until the autumn of 1946 when they were transferred to the UK. There, the 3rd General Hospital in Penley near Wrexham and the 5th General Hospital in East Everleigh near Salisbury continued their work throughout the period of the Polish Resettlement Corps, finally being disbanded in 1948.
Army Service Corps (Transport)
To service the supply columns of the 2nd Corps, women drivers were trained in Palestine and were organised into two companies, numbers 316 and 317.
In August 1943, both companies were organised modelled on the British Army Service Corps (Transport), with one difference, namely the company and platoon commanders were men (officers) with PWSK commandants as their deputies. Each company consisted of a command platoon, four transport platoons, two reserve driver platoons and one workshop platoon (composed of men).
In August 1944, the 316th PWSK Transport Company became an all-female unit.
316th PWSK Transport Company
The Company (324 total strength) landed in Italy on 4 April 1944. During the campaign along the Adriatic coast, the Company had its station in turn at Ortona, Monte Marciano and Senighalia, supplying ammunition, provisions, fuel, equipment to the 2nd Corps second and third supply lines. It also ferried troops when necessary.
When the Company was stationed at Forli, it supplied not only the 2nd Polish Corps but also British Units CRASC 8th Army and CRASC 10th Corps.
Billets were often in field conditions and food provisions consisted of dry rations for weeks on end. The Company’s vehicles often found themselves within range of enemy fire.
During the 365 days in Italy (5 May 1944 - 3 May 1945), 316th Company undertook 31,129 supply operations, covering 1,978,108 miles and using 202,857 gallons of fuel. In that time, it supplied 6,626 tons of ammunition; 77,902 tons of provisions; 30,410 tons of fuel; and 23,320 tons of equipment. The Company suffered 57 accidents, one of which was fatal.
317th PWSK Transport Company
This unit remained in Egypt until November 1944 when it was moved to Palagianello near Mottola in southern Italy to serve 2nd Corps Base. Its strength consisted of 305 PWSK personnel. Though its primary task was to supply the 2nd Corps Base from the ports, it was used to bring in ammunition and stores to the 2nd Corps' second supply line. Journey times varied from five to eight days. From its landing in Italy to the end of the war, the 317th PWSK Transport Company organised 203 transport columns carrying out 12,210 missions across 1,622,500 miles, consuming 139,513 gallons of fuel and bringing 113,355 tons of supply.
Canteens and Mobile Libraries
Within the 2nd Corps, there were the following canteen services:
The main task of the 318th Company was to supply troops with provisions and services not encompassed by the norms of the field kitchen units.
When the Company was formed in June 1943 in Kirkuk (Iraq), it had 269 PWSK organised into five platoons. All had completed elementary universal military courses; 140 of them had completed driving courses and 146 welfare courses. Not only were they to supply additional provisions for the troops, but also to organise mobile clubs and libraries for all frontline units. However, before it was transferred to Italy, the Company’s war establishments were drastically reduced to 56 PWSK personnel. This was done at the insistence of the British Authorities.
As a result of this, only eight of the 50 mobile canteens remained, with one 15-cwt vehicle and twelve 3-ton trucks. On arrival in Italy in February 1944, besides the eight canteen units, the Company had the command platoon and distribution section. Prior to the battle of Monte Cassino, the Company was given orders to help aid the wounded at the points of transfer. Four canteen units were used for this with the remainder carrying out their normal duties. A further unit was made up of the reserve drivers. During the battle of Monte Cassino, four canteen units provided 17,000 food portions for the troops. In early 1945, the 318th Canteen Company received a gift of six fully-equipped modern canteen vehicles from the Polish Community in the USA. During the battle of Bologna, these canteens were used near the frontline within range of German artillery. At the end of the war, the Company establishment was 99 PWSK in four canteen platoons and the command platoon.
The selection of PWSK personnel for the Signals Service was especially rigorous, due to the high standards of accuracy required in their work.
In Italy, the now well-trained PWSK Signal personnel were integrated into two mixed companies, organised on the basis of the independent signal platoons and under the direct orders of the OC Signals 2nd Corps.
385th Signals Company consisted of:
The PWSK volunteers (establishment numbered 65) in the 385th Signals Company served all points of electrical communication: telephone exchanges, radio-telegraphs, tele-printers as well as cipher offices and post offices.
Radiostations serviced by PWSK were used for communications between Corps and Corps Base Field Supply Depot, Field Hospitals and all signals centres in the Corps’ lines of communication. Simultaneously, coders worked from advance field posts and Cipher Bureaux of the I and II echelons of the 2nd Corps HQ.
390th Signals Company was attached to the 2nd Corps Base, it was not directly involved in fighting. Fifty percent of its establishment (ie 40 in number) were PWSK volunteers. It was stationed in Mottola HQ 2nd Corps Base. Working conditions were made difficult due to the lack of heating and lighting. Every combat operation of the 2nd Corps intensified the work of the PWSK, whose radiostation and cipher bureau were working day and night.
From the outset, PWSK volunteers served in various military offices. Although ineffective within the overall organisational unit, the PWSK administrative service played an important role in the offices of the Polish Army in the East and the 2nd Corps in Italy. The daily monotonous work of the typists, office workers and translators played a crucial role in the smooth running of the army offices, in the same way as they did in the field of hospital kitchens, dining rooms, soldiers’ shops and uniform-issuing stores. Gradually, the PWSK volunteers arriving at the 2nd Corps Base were organised into the following:
Due to the character and special tasks required of the Information Service, an extremely rigorous selection programme was instituted for the assigned PSK personnel.
From the inception of the Polish Army in the USSR, a certain number were assigned to the Intelligence Service Units at the Polish Army HQ in Jangi-Jul, the Army Organisation Centre in Guzar and other military units. They were employed as typists, office staff, interpreters, translators, cryptographers, censors, etc., under the direct command of the Chief of the Military Intelligence, though they were at all times registered with the PWSK Inspectorate.
In the Middle East, the PWSK personnel assigned to the Military Intelligence Service were posted at Tehran, Baghdad, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Cairo and Qassassin. They also serviced Cipher Bureau and Censor Offices at the Army Field Post Offices.
During the Italian Campaign, their assignments included the HQ 2nd Polish Corps and the Military Intelligence Branch “W” in Ancona, and smaller units in Rome, Bari, Naples, etc., (in total approx. 100 PWSK personnel).
After the war, they shared the fate of all PWSK members and mostly arrived with units of the Polish Army in Great Britain.
From the beginnings of the PSK, their ambition was to publish their own paper. This was not possible in the USSR, Iran or Iraq. It was only when the PWSK was in Palestine, that the GOC-in-C Polish Army in the Middle East gave permission for publishing of “Ochotniczka” (The Woman Volunteer). The first issue appeared in October 1943. Its editor was a well-known novelist and a soldier of the PWSK, dr. Herminia Naglerowa. The publisher was the Inspectorate General of the PWSK.
In July 1944, the editorial office of “Ochotniczka” was moved to Italy and attached to the Cultural and Press Bureau of the 2nd Corps in Rome. “Ochotniczka” officially joined the ranks of military publications as the official organ of the PWSK. Its print runs reached 5,500 copies.
The Cultural and Press Bureau of the 2nd Corps which arrived in Italy in March 1944 included:
Together, the three theatres had 16 PWSK working for them. Initially stationed in Campobasso, the theatres were soon entertaining the troops at the front.
The busiest period was during the battle of Monte Cassino when two performances were given each night from vehicles in camouflaged ravines. At times, the German artillery pounded away a few hundred metres from the stage. However, no performances were interrupted.
The conditions in which the theatres worked were difficult. Despite this, the actors gave their maximum effort and good will. Apart from stage work, the PWSK actors played in reviews for the troops, eg concerts in hospitals and convalescent homes, also in shows organised to commemorate national days. Special performances for allied troops were organised, as were gala performances.
In all, during the campaign in Italy the theatres gave 419 performances of which 145 were given by the Drama Theatre; 139 by the Revue Theatre; and 137 by the Field Theatre.
The Grammar School – Porto San Giorgio
Even before the end of the war, by order of the Headquarters of the 2nd Corps, from 3 January 1945, the PSWK Inspectorate, together with the Department of Education, brought into being a matriculation course for those PWSK volunteers for whom wartime had interrupted schooling.
The length of the course was expected to be five months and was to take place in Porto San Giorgio in a rest house for PWSK personnel, seconded to military duties with the 2nd Corps. The course encompassed two groups: secondary and 6th form. It was made up of young women who had been deported to the USSR or sent to Soviet prison and labour camps. In the 2nd Corps, they worked primarily in hospitals, transport companies, communications and administration.
Studies commenced on 5 March 1945 and ended on 30 August 1945. Most of the pupils received a ‘certificate of completion of studies’ and lower matriculation (equivalent to GCSE or O Level), having completed four classes of secondary school.
Instead of the projected second phase of the Matriculation Course, due to general changes in the political situation and the influx of new recruits from Germany, it was decided to create a Secondary School, including 6th form, for PWSK personnel, 2nd Corps.
Two hundred and twenty nine candidates enrolled into the new school.
The opening of the school was delayed from September to December 1945 as this amount of time was required to implement the necessary changes.
Lessons began in January 1946 and continued until the end of July 1946. The students were made up from:
110 - who had come through USSR;
11 - from the AK (Armia Krajowa – Home Army);
14 - from labour camps in Germany;
10 - from German Concentration Camps;
10 - from Poland; and
14 - from other countries.
Out of the 229 pupils, 20 received a ‘certificate of completion of studies’; 31 a lower matriculation having completed secondary education; and 156 were promoted to the 6th form.
In September 1946, the school was evacuated to Great Britain, to the PKPR camp in Foxley near Hereford.
In completely changed circumstances, the school became subject to a new authority in Great Britain, the Interim Treasury Committee.
The academic year began in September 1947 and lasted until March of the following year.
Throughout the whole of its existence, the school recruited solely from the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Service (PSK) both for students as well as teaching and administrative personnel.
In total, 73 students passed their final exams, and 115 matriculated.
The above organisational resumé of the PWSK in Italy is based on the PWSK Inspector’s report which is held in the Archives of the Polish Institute and General Sikorski Museum in London. The PWSK Inspector, Col. Bronisława Wysłouchowa wrote in conclusion that:
“The common experience gained from the desperate struggle against epidemics, starvation and poverty in Russia, from the burning heat of the Iraqi and Egyptian deserts, and the intensive effort to fight for the lives of the wounded soldiers and supplying provisions for the able-bodied moulded the character of the PWSK volunteers. It ensured that the high opinion which they gained – opinions questioned in the early days of their existence – became irrefutable. This high opinion, often achieved against much adversity, is the PWSK volunteers’ reward and confirmation of the correct reasoning by General Anders, the creator of the Polish Army in the USSR when he called into existence the Polish Women’s Army Service.”
Continued on Page 6: Polish Women's Auxiliary Service - Polish Forces in the Middle East / Polish Women's Auxiliary Air Force - PLSK / Polish Women's Auxiliary Naval Service - PMSK
Back to Introduction Page
The PWSK Canteen Company personnel at work. Italy, 1944
Field Canteen No.10 'in action' Italy 1944
PWSK Signals Training Course,1943
The 3-ton dodge had to be clean
US General Mac W Clark visits the 318th PWSK Canteen Company, Italy 1944
Nursing personnel - 1944
PWSK Office Personnel.
General W D Morgan, General W Anders and other British visitors at the 316th PWSK Transport Company, Italy 1945
Military Intelligence Unit, Tel-Aviv 1943
The canteen at work
Skriv ditt stycke här.
The new canteen-vehicles. A gift from the Poles living in the USA. 1944
General W Anders visits the 317th PWSK Transport Company. Palagianello, Italy,
9 July 1945
Checking the vehicle.
The truck's equipment and tools being checked by a PWSK NCO Italy, 1944
Organisational chart of 318
(click to enlarge)
Nurse on duty Italy 1944
Range of operations of 317 Transport Company in Italy
(click to enlarge)
Polish soldier served at the canteen. 1944
Members of the Drama Theatre on tour in Egypt 1943
Canteen No.3 , Haifa, 5 October 1943
'Wojtek' the bear and the Canteen PWSK personnel, "Beidzirdzi", 1943
The 317th PWSK Transport Company on duty. Palestine, 1943
Quantities of materials (food, fuel, materiel, ammunition) transported by 317th PWSK Transport Company
(Polish HQ 2nd Polish Corps - Base)
from 22 October 1944 to 3 May 1945.
The 2nd Polish Corps Drama Theatre's 4-year itinerary
General W Anders visits the 7th Auxiliary PWSK Company, March 1945
A PWSK typist
Oral Matriculation Examinations, Great Britain, Foxley 1947
The PWSK Publishing Section, Middle East 1943
Cipher Bureau PWSK personnel
385th PWSK Signals Company,
San Giorgio, Italy, 1945
General Z Szyszko-Bohusz decorates the 318th PWSK Canteen Company personnel. Italy, 1945
Quantities of materials (food, fuel, materiel, ammunition) transported by 316th PWSK Transport Company from 5 May 1944 to 3 May 1945
Nurse with a patient and an orderly - 5th Polish General Hospital, Casamassima, Italy, 1944
The PWSK Publishing Section, Middle East 1943
Military Intelligence Unit, Ancona 1944
Range of operations of 316 Transport Company in Italy
(click to enlarge)
General W D Morgan standing between General W Anders and Generzl Z Szyszko-Bohusz during his visit to the 316th PWSK Transport Company, Italy 1945
Matriculation Examinations, Porto San Giorgio 1947
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