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
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ
Municipality (Gmina) Skobełka
District (Powiat) Horochów
My mother, Norberta Więckowska neé Dowgiałło, was born in Latvia of Polish parents. She lived there for 16 years. At that age, she left for Odessa on the Black Sea to live with her aunt where she very soon met my father and got married in 1913. The First World War broke out a year later. My father, being an officer of the Russian army, went to the front. My sister, Janina, was born on 27 January 1915. I was born two years later, in 1917. That was the fourth year of the war. With the dawn of the Bolshevik Revolution, my parents fled to Bobrujska. [Ed.note: Now in Belarus]. My father joined the Polish Army under the command of General Dowbor-Muśnicki. Shortly after, my mother found herself with her children in Piotrków Trybunalski, where my brother Norbert was born. Piotrków Trybunalski was my father’s family town. It was from that home town in 1922 that my parents left for Wołyn to take up the 32-acre plot of land. On this plot, which belonged to the Janina Settlement there were no buildings, so as it was autumn we lived for the time being in the district town of Horochów This was 3 km away from our plot which at one end started from the road dividing the plots into two, and at the other end ran diagonally along the large Włodzimierski road.
Winter had somehow passed, I don’t remember much, but when it was getting warmer, my parents, especially my father, would constantly be going down to our plot. My brother, Witold, was born at the end of June 1923 and a few weeks later we moved to the plot. There, we set up home in a half log cabin. Our house already had a roof on it but it still wasn’t ready for us to live in. I think it was as late as Christmas that we moved in because I remember that Christmas Eve was very festive and there was quite a lot of guests.
Winter must have been very severe that year because I remember that we didn’t go to school for some time and we had to stay snuggled up under the duvet at home. It was this winter when Father together with another settler went to collect firewood, caught a cold and was ill for several months. Because he had been wounded seven times during the war and once seriously injured many wounds re-opened during this illness. My father died on 24 May 1924 in the district hospital.
My mother’s situation became desperate. She was left with four children, and expecting her fifth in the autumn. Thankfully, everything had already been sown so I think Mother was left with only the sowing of buckwheat and potatoes on her own. I was already seven years old.
A few weeks after my father died, the police came to find out what firearms he had left. My mother showed them a rifle, a double-barrelled shotgun, three sabres, and said that she also has a seven-shooter but she refused to hand it over to the police because she lived alone with her children, out in the middle of nowhere. She needed to have something with which to defend herself and demanded “You must give me a firearms license” but the police took the rifle. My mother said she has a buyer for the double-barrelled shogun because she didn't have any money. As for the firearms license, they refused and warned her of the consequences of using the seven-shooter.
Once the fields were cleaned up of crops, my mother rented a very simple threshing machine that is, without a shaker, after which all the crops had to be put through a dust and chaff extractor. The threshing took three days but our work was interrupted by rain in the middle of the third day. Because of this Mother instructed us to cover everything up, fed the workers and sent them home. These were young people - girls and boys - and they were meant to come back the next day or the day after. Mother, despite being extremely tired, went back to check if everything had been covered properly because it was raining more heavily. Evening was fast-approaching, there was still the cow to milk, the pigs to feed and see to the horses because they had been working hard on the treadmill. After all, she still had four children to feed and put to bed. It was fortunate that my sister who was two years older than me was already helping Mother out. I, as a member of landlord's family, prepared the feed for the horses. That was how a hard day’s work ended. We, the children, quickly fell into a deep sleep. My mother had an uneasy feeling that something bad was going to happen so she decided to keep watch. She went to the wardrobe, put on Father’s army coat and a headscarf, took the revolver out from somewhere in the wardrobe, and cautiously went outside. She went around checking everything and found a dry corner where, half sitting, half standing so as not to fall asleep, she waited. God only knows what that poor Dolores was thinking.
It was long past midnight. Mother had gone round the yard a few times; it was raining incessantly. As she was soaked through in several places she decided to go back to the house. She thought that no-one would come now since none come so far and she lay down out of tiredness. No one knows exactly how long Mother was lying there; in any case she woke up because she thought that she had heard the wheel hubs knocking against the cart’s axles. She got up, half-conscious and listened. She couldn’t hear anything - she thought to herself that maybe it was a dream and slumped back into bed. A few minutes went by and she heard the same thing. This time Mother realised that it wasn’t a dream but reality. When she heard the same knocking again for the third time Mother quickly got up. At first, she wanted to go to the window to see but she stopped herself. She was afraid that somebody might be there on the other side of the window to attack her. She said to herself: “No, I’ll go from the inside to the attic”.
Our house was quite big, with four rooms, a kitchen, pantry and two porches. The entrance to the house was from the south; from the north porch one could enter the house to go to the stable and the cowshed, because this one large room on the north was used for livestock. Mother, with a revolver in her hand, quiet in her handmade slippers, went to the other side of the house and climbed the stairs to the attic. There was only one point from where one could see the threshed crop. Having walked up to the small window, mother saw two large carts laden with hay and another two similar carts that were being loaded by several people. At first, she didn’t know what to do; should she shoot at these thieves? She decided to think and consider for a moment. Most importantly, she had forgotten how to use the revolver. Once, a long time ago, Father showed Mother how to shoot but that was quite a few years ago. Slowly, she remembered that one had to cock the revolver and then pull the trigger. Now Mother knew what to do and she decided to shoot up in the air. After all, she had no intention of killing anybody and so that’s exactly what she did. She took the revolver in both hands, held the barrel outside, pointing it upwards, and fired. The revolver almost dropped out of her hands.
The effect was electrifying. The peasants dropped to their knees and begged: “Madame, don’t shoot”. Mother ordered them, in Russian, to empty the carts and to get out of her sight. She told them that she’d recognised them. The peasants unloaded the hay in a jiffy and with a crack of a whip quickly drove away. Mother stood in one spot shaking for a long time, after that she slumped down onto the clover. She was exhausted. Once she came to herself she slowly went downstairs to her children. She was afraid to go outside and no longer had the strength; hence, she went to bed.
It was a beautiful day but still quite early, we - exhausted by yesterday’s work - were asleep when mother went out of the house to see what had happened outside. The first thing that mother saw was the uncovered wheat and rye and that half of each were taken. It was such a great injustice for us. Our harvest had not been good that year. The soil, although first-rate, hadn’t been cultivated for a few years. When I woke up, Mother was sitting on a chair next to us in tears. We quickly woke up and surrounding mother, asked her why she was crying. Mother started crying again and told us what had happened during the night. We also burst into tears and then embracing Mother sat quietly for a long while. After breakfast, we went with Mother to uncover the barley and oats and the rest of the threshed cereal so that it could dry by the next day.
So as not to end so tragically, I will describe yet another adventure, which had quite a happy ending.
I think it must have been two and a half years after Father’s death when I was in the third form of comprehensive school. It was late autumn. We ended school about 1 o’clock but by the time I got home, it was around three. Mummy said to me: “Son, go and bring our cows back”. “But where would they be right now?”, I asked. “I’m sure they’re on Mrs Dąbrowska’s plot”. We had this custom where after the first frost, the cows would be let out on to all the fields with winter crops. So, I took a piece of stick, whistled at the dog, and off we went.
I had just climbed the small hill towards the settlement and saw our cows grazing next to Mrs Dąbrowska’s barn. A moment later, I saw the married son of our close neighbour coming out from behind the barn, taking our cows. His father probably leased this plot. I think he must have seen me. I quickly went home to tell Mother what I had seen. She was sitting by the bed and doing some embroidery. After a while, I ran outside and saw the neighbour’s son coming towards us with a whip in his hand. I had just run back into the house to inform her when he came straight in after me slamming the door loudly behind him. “ I am now going to graze your cows!”, he shouted loudly. Mother taken aback by such a rude intrusion was at first at a loss for words but after a moment said, “You rascal”. “I’ll teach you some manners” and she reached for something under her pillow. I thought our house would fall down from the racket of our neighbour fleeing. When I immediately ran out after him, he was just at the top of the hill, passing our cows which had been herded back onto our plot and were calmly their way home.
A few days passed after this event. One day, Mother went to town to meet some people and do some shopping. As she reached thee main street, she heard someone calling her from behind, so she stopped to see who it was. She did not recognise the voice but before she could reply, this person caught up and with a breathless voice asked "Is it true you shot X's son ?". At first Mother did not understand what this referred to. After a moment she realised and broke out in laughter. "Not yet" she answered "but next time I certainly will " and started to relate what had happened.
MIECZYSŁAW PRUS WIĘCKOWSKI
Grandson and great-grandson of the Insurgents of the January Uprising, son of a Defender of Lvov, “Sybirak”, soldier of the 5th Borderlands HMG Battalion, participant in the battle of Monte Cassino and the Italian Campaign within the Polish 2nd Corps. Decorated with Polish and British medals, great Polish patriot. The best Father of the family and Brother. Born on 19th May 1917 in the Easter Borderlands of the Republic. Having received the Holy Sacrament, he passed away in London on 16th May 1991. He left his family in England, sister in Poland, and brothers in Poland and in England in deep mourning
JANINA, WITOLD AND ELIGIUSZ WITH THEIR FAMILIES
Copyright© Kresy Family