The Diaries of Stan Brzeski

When I set out to write a brief series of blogs about the military history of my family, I never considered myself as a ‘historian’ but very much as an amateur. I totally respect and understand the efforts of those who record history for a living, and the efforts they go to to obtain primary sources and to cross refer with the research of peers in their field. I’ve never set out to do that; my writings are generally family anecdotes and facts, extrapolated by wider history, and glued together to make sense of the mostly missing record of what my ancestors went through.

Which is why my hand trembled slightly when a large brown envelope slipped through my letterbox on an October Saturday morning.

Sometimes, a door to the past opens, and you know you’ve been given a privileged opportunity to view history as it was made; from the perspective of the person who made it. The primary source. The personal account.

If you’ve read my previous blog about Polish fighter pilot Stanislaw Brzeski, Love Through Fire you’ll know how my interest came about through a combination of a chance conversation with Cate Moore about a long-passed relative, and his illustrious service in the second world war. Anecdotes turned to facts, facts uncovered his dispersed history, and interest led to local contacts. Finally, and not by design, those contacts led me by chance to Christine Stean. Christine is one of Stan’s daughters, and it was she that posted that brown envelope containing the very personal, and previously unseen, story of Stan Brzeski’s experience as a prisoner of war. Christine describes her father as a modest man, and a continuing inspiration to her. What lay before me on my kitchen table was the most personal account of a young man separated from his family; the depth and breadth of his innermost thoughts and fears – expressed with such clarity; such that I could not help but be inspired by him too.

The first blog about Stan covered in a broad brush approach his journey from Poland to the Royal Air Force, and subsequent service. I’d covered his operations as a Hurricane & Spitfire pilot, and the fact that he was shot down over Abbeville, France. What follows is an almost verbatim account of his experiences on that day in May 1944, until his release the following year. I’ve previously tried to provide a narrative in my blogs, but such is the strength of Stan’s words, the story tells itself.

Above is the pilots logbook of Stan Brzeski for May 1944. Stan, as can be seen, was often found using his favourite Spitfire Mk Vb EP461 RF-Q, named ‘Sheila’ after his wife. Stan had flown ‘Q’ suffix aircraft previously during his time with 317 Squadron, and continued the tradition after December 1943 on his return to 303 (Polish) Squadron. Nominally based at that time at Horne advanced landing ground in Surrey, on the fateful day, as Officer Commanding ‘B’ flight with 10 aircraft under callsign Ramrod 905, he had left RAF Manston in Kent at 9.50am on anti-radar/communication sweeps over France. Horne ALG was constructed in early 1944 in preparation for D-Day, and was in use for only seven weeks during May and June. In my blog about Jack Pearce I’ve described the disaster of being shot down behind enemy lines, but Jack was lucky to evade capture. So many of ‘The Few’ went down unseen, to be lost forever in the sea; or to to be blown out of the sky. Others survived horribly burned. Some would be captured and endure imprisonment for the duration of the war. Stans logbook simply records ‘Missing on operational flight – Ramrod 905 on 21st May 1944’, but as with Jack, Stan did survive, and so began an equally remarkable journey.

In England, news would be broken to his young wife Sheila in the standard form of a telegram, then followed by a supporting letter. At the time she was seven months pregnant with their first child.

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‘Regret to inform you that…your husband is missing’ © Christine Stean
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© Christine Stean

I’ve mused before about the overwhelming panic that must have greeted untold wives and loved-ones as those telegrams were delivered. Married only fourteen months, and pregnant with their first child. I can only imagine her reaction.

Meanwhile, in France, unbeknown to all, Stan was alive. What follows is his account of those events, which he wrote in later life describing the dramatic action of Sunday 21st May 1944.

Downed and Captured

“My Spitfire came to rest in a field close to the edge of a small wood. A few hundred yards away I could see a small French village from which about 20 or 30 Germans with rifles were moving in my direction. Like a shot, I was out of the cockpit and within a few seconds I was in the woods taking off my yellow Mae West, which had already attracted one or two badly aimed bullets. After extracting the escape kit, I hid the Mae West in a hole, covered it with dead leaves, and ran into the wood, looking for a likely place to hide. I looked up at some trees, but they were too small to hide a man and I headed for the thickest bushes I could see. I realised I had come to a straight main road. The ditches on both sides were overgrown with very thick undergrowth and blackberry bushes. I stopped to get my breath and decide what to do next.

Suddenly I realised there was blood on my battledress, coming from a few cuts on my face. A few moments later I could hear shouts and, looking at the road through the thick leafy branches I could see a few German soldiers cycling like mad along the road in my direction (This is the second time Stan had evaded Germans after being downed – see the previous blog). A moment or two later I could hear more men behind me in the wood, shouting and arguing in German. I now went down on my stomach, keeping quiet and offering a short prayer to God…

The shouting moved further away, and I knew they had missed me this time. After a short inspection of my face with the fingers (I had no mirror with me) I found I had three cuts, a small one on my nose and lip, and about a two inch wound across my forehead and right eyebrow. My right eye was swelling and closing, but I could still see see well enough through it, so I wasn’t worried. Having no first aid dressings on me, I used my handkerchief to press against the largest cut to stop it bleeding. By this time, the search party moved away and it was all quiet. I crawled to the edge of the road and looked both ways to assess the situation. The small wood was cut by the main road into two parts, and I was hiding in the smaller part, which the Germans were searching. Two German soldiers were standing about 200 yards away in the centre of the road. There and then I decided I must get across the road into the bigger part of the wood, which offered better cover. I took off my flying boots and while the two men were looking the other way I dashed across the road in my white flying socks. I wasn’t seen, and after a moment or two I half crawled and half walked through thick undergrowth to the edge of the wood, facing the village.

To my left, barely 100 yards away, I could see a couple of farm houses on the edge of the wood, with some sheds and a barn or two, but no-one in sight. My first reaction was to make a dash for them, and to hide inside some barn, or ask for help in hiding me, if there were any French people about. However, I knew what would happen to the occupants if I was captured there, so decided to look for a hiding place in the wood. The surrounding fields were flat and the corn in May was too short to offer me protection from prying eyes. Within a few minutes I found what looked to me a perfect and inconspicuous hiding place, a little hollow in the ground, with a fair amount of undergrowth. To find me, a man would have to come within a yard or two and look closely. It wasn’t long before I could hear voices and the noises of feet trampling through the undergrowth. I froze in my hiding place and watched and listened. I could make out a line of men wearing the familiar German helmets and carrying rifles in their hands, spaced about 20 yards apart, coming nearer and nearer. When they were quite near I moved my face slowly downwards and kept very still. Now I could hear them talking and was able to pick out odd German words. The seconds seemed awfully long , as I was lying there motionless, listening to the heavy boots breaking the dry twigs underfoot. I could feel them getting very close – 5 or 10 yards away perhaps, and then the voices and trampling of feet moved gradually away towards the edge of the wood. Saved again….if only I could last like this till night time, I thought, they’ll never find me. But it was only 10.30am, and there were many hours of daylight yet. After 20 minutes or maybe more, the same familiar voices could be heard again, and the line of searchers approached my hiding place…but I was missed again.

I stayed where I was for quite some time, praying and thinking of my wife, who was expecting our first child in a few weeks…and, unpacking my escape kit, I hid a small file, compass, money and and a silk map of Europe in various places on my battledress. I squeezed the blood from my handkerchief several times and turned over onto my back and stayed still for some time. The bleeding stopped and I could feel then a bit of pain over my right eye, where I knocked my head on the side of the cockpit. I reflected on how lucky I was with my forced landing, which I had to do unstrapped. I remembered seeing badly injured faces of pilots who had crash landed fully strapped-in, in similar circumstances. The search continued for the next hour or so and I heard the voices getting nearer, then fading away as the line of searching soldiers moved away again. By midday, all was quiet around me, and then I heard in the direction of the road, a loud command or two, and the feet of troops marching towards the village. The German soldiers had gone for lunch, so I decided to do the same and ate a couple of the ‘Horlicks’ type tablets from my escape kit.

After my break I carefully crawled towards the road, only to discover than one German soldier had been left on guard close to me, and then I could see the whole wood was surrounded by guards. I was trapped, and decided to look for a better hiding place. Soon I realised I was better off staying where I was , and improving my on my camouflage. I was expecting the troops to return pretty soon and to resume their search. My foreboding were correct, and at about 2.30pm I could hear the familiar noises – marching feet, shouts of command to halt, briefing and and then the sound of talking soldiers, and heavy boots breaking the dry twigs again, getting nearer and nearer. My heart was pounding as they came closer again, but once more they missed me. I could see that this time the line of searching soldiers was much tighter and that they took their time to inspect every bush and and likely place to hide me. My prayers became quite intense, but I decided to accept whatever was coming to me and I remembered one of my favourite sayings that ‘suffering beautifies the soul’, so I was in a better mood, waiting, hoping and praying again.

After some twenty to thirty minutes the noises of the line of searchers could be heard again and I saw, peering out from my hiding place, some 100 yards away, the smiling face of a boy soldier (he was 18 years old or less), who carried his rifle with both hands, as he moved the undergrowth with the bayonet. He was talking to a companion, whom I could not see. As they got closer to me I turned my face away to hide the white skin, and I waited, listening intensely, as the noises got louder and closer. Suddenly there was a scream as one of the soldiers bayonets uncovered my hiding place. So that was it, I thought, and I turned and sat on the ground looking at my captor. He was a little man, about 30 years old, and he looked more like a Tartar than a typical German soldier, as he had a dark complexion and bandy legs. His hands trembled as he pointed his gun at me and I thought ‘Please God, don’t let him pull the trigger!’ He looked so nervous. His scream brought many of his companions to my hiding place, all pointing their rifles at me. After a minute or so, my captor said in German ‘Auf stehen’ (get up) and ‘Hande hoch’ (hands up). Then a sergeant went round behind me to see if I had a gun, and they marched me to the main road, where and officer was waiting to interrogate me.

His first question was in German, and I replied ‘Ich verstehe nicht Deutsch’ (I don’t understand German). He turned to one of the young soldiers who asked me in French if I spoke French. When I replied ‘a little’, the officer told the young soldier to ask me where my revolver was. Here I must inform the reader that most fighter pilots carried revolvers, usually pushed into my flying boots, as there was no proper or safe place to keep one in the cockpit of a Spitfire, but on that particular flight, I didn’t carry one. I had come to the conclusion, after discussing the pros and cons of carrying a revolver, that it wasn’t a good idea and that, if was cornered on being shot down, I would not try to shoot my way out.”

Stan drafted his memoir of being shot down and captured, on his retirement from the RAF. He left no first hand written record of his treatment and subsequent transfer to the Prisoner of War system, but we know he was initially interrogated, probably at Dulag Luft, Oberursel, near Frankfurt, then imprisoned at Stalag Luft III at Sagan (Belaria), south east of Berlin. In the earlier blog we had a copy of his intelligence debrief containing a brief summary of his treatment. I’ve produced it again below.

Those three brief pages give only a glimpse of the year in enemy hands that befell Stan.

Luckily, though, what we now have is his diary of his life as a prisoner. It contains this sketch depicting his aircraft being shot down, but touchingly, on closer inspection at the top, there is an image of his beloved Sheila watching over a cradle.

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© Christine Stean

The second sketch again shows him being shot down near Abbeville on May 21st; then his route to Amiens by May 24th, Paris on May 25th, Frankfurt on 26th, Vezlar by June 10th, Sagan by June 16th, and finally the compound named Belaria by June 17th, with a sketch of the camp itself.

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© Christine Stean

The sketch is annotated with the Polish phrase ‘Niepotrzebne podroz’ which translates as ‘unnecessary journey’ which perhaps is something of an understatement! It also contains the quote ‘He who will conquer must fight.’ It reads like a quote of Sun Tzu from The Art of War, but I’m uncertain if this is the case.

The Prison Diary

Having read about his capture in France, what follows is transcribed verbatim from the diary written by Stan. It commences in September 1944, some three months after his arrival in the camp at Stalag Luft III (and six months after The Great Escape!).

I’m unaware of any notes about the intervening period. What it describes are the day to day occurrences of camp life, but also his thoughts of home and his young family. During his time in the camp system he talks of the hardships of daily life and the men he formed relationships with, and the tensions between them. He describes a thankfully short ‘death march’ as the allies approached – he was moved to Stalag Luft IIIa at Luckenwalde. So many perished in these forced retreats as the German forces were compressed tighter and tighter between the advancing allied and Soviet armies. He talks also of teaching English to Hungarian and other prisoners; and finally of hope as freedom becomes a reality

© Christine Stean

Above is a list of fellow airmen incarcerated with Stan in Room 14, Block I. Their names are:

F Lt Donald M McRae RCAF

PO Gordon Lindsay RCAF

PO Roy Horsburgh RAF

PO Victor A Shaw AFM RCAF

PO J A F Ferguson RCAF

PO Frederick Scythes RAF

PO Wheatley AFM RCAF

PO Robert Buckles RCAF

F Lt Sydney Mills RCAF

E Green RAAF

PO W Hyde RCAF

F Lt S Brzeski RAF

Imagine those men, held together in a common captivity, but each struggling to find the privacy of their thoughts, or the opportunity to share or record them. There are large gaps in the diary, which perhaps conveys something about conditions in the camp; but there are love letters too, which makes this such a personal story, without the need for any narrative or context from me…
23rd September 1944 It’s impossible to express how much I miss you, Darling. Whatever I do, you are my constant thought; I’m longing to hear from you and to know that you are well and happy. The thought that it might be otherwise worries me terribly. Sometimes it seems to me that you need someone, who would understand you, someone to share your troubles with, to help or advise you.‘ It is a consolation to know that your mother is such a dear one, and that in her you find a good and true friend. I’m dying to hear about our baby, Darling. In my imagination I form so many pictures of you and the baby. I see you feeding it, then when it sleeps in a cot, with lovely pink cheeks, when it smiles, or has a bath. It’s funny but very seldom I can see it crying, though all babies cry a lot as a rule.
It is often that I think of our past life Darling, and I like to revive it in my memory. (One has so much time here to think over the life, and get a better view of it). I think, we were happy together, but I realise now that I was able to make it better still. From the distance of time I see better now sweet, patient and considerate you have been, Darling, and I love you so much more. I guess that when I come back to you, my Treasure, it will be a better version of your husband.
There is something else that I think a lot of, and that is our future. There are a lot of difficulties and obstacles ahead of us, Darling, before we shall have a home of our own and life secured from fear of tomorrow. With the help of Providence I’ll do all to make it. Often I try to plan and give a shape to our future in my mind, but there are so many things which are beyond my control and difficult to foresee. This is where I worry a lot my Sweet, and hope also that Fate will be as kind to me, as it has been in the past.
Returning to the “present”, I see, I must tell you good night and God bless you, Darling. I love you very, very much Stanley.
1st October 1944 Sunday night. Every day now, whether I wake up, or go to sleep at night, I think and think….of you, Darling. Today at the Mass I prayed to God to keep you and the baby in good health. I also prayed Saint Mary for her blessings and help in our troubles. I would be so much happier if I only knew how you and the baby are.
The days without news from you my Sweet are just dragging on. Things that used to capture my interest till now, things like basket ball, which I like to play, a football game, or a good book, became substitutes only for real amusements.
I don’t know what I’ll do, if I don’t hear from you, Darling, in a fortnight or so.
9th October 1944 Sunday, 9am, in bed. Everybody is still asleep. The air is fresh and cold, as both windows are wide open. I woke up about five minutes ago, and I lit a cigarette using about five matches to do it. (German matches bought in the canteen).
I like to lie in bed at this time of the day and have a few moments to myself. This is the only hour when one can be lonely, and feel the quietness and peace.
I said in my last letter to you, Darling, that it is good I am here with a lot of people in a comparatively small space and don’t get lonely to worry too much. But there are days when I’m longing to be alone. I’d give much to get away from the noise and the disarray of this crowded place. To make the life bearable in here, one has to put up with a lot of things, which otherwise would be intolerable, stupid and uncivilised. (Here I mean quite a few things concerning my life, but I won’t go into details).
Everything would be so much nicer here if I only had a letter from you, Darling. In the last week there was a lot of letters from England, some dated as early as September 12th, but none for me. I have been very disappointed, though I’m aware that very few people, who were brought down in May have had any news yet. I’ll have to close now my Baby, as my friends are waking up slowly and talking. My quiet “5 minutes” have gone. “The Stooge” is already up, spreading jam on twelve slices of bread…and preparing a brew. (He probably hasn’t washed himself to do that some people think it rather unnecessary to wash their hands…) I’ll write to you Darling today another letter which I hope will reach you soon.
12th October 1944 Tuesday night. Main topic of our conversation and excitement are about volunteering to move to a new camp. Information supplied is only a rumour with no foundation at all and no details. I refused to volunteer until I’ll know what the conditions will be there, when and how we are to be accommodated. Volunteering just in case doesn’t appeal to me.
Wednesday night. F. arguing on “the army and all that” problems… He maintains (being himself from Toronto) that “town types” make much better soldiers in a highly mechanised army of today; the majority of the “bods” seem to be of different opinion. They maintain that the country life helps create healthier physical and more disciplined type, easier to tackle in the army. To Freddie’s contradiction, I said that even in the most mechanised service in air force, a fool can be a pilot. Being embarrassed by lack of immediate answer, Freddie proposed closing of the discussion, which produced a bust of laughter in the room. Freddie was beaten this time. As a rule he thinks that he convinces others, simply because people don’t bother to question all his statements, which are told in a very brave and positive manner. Freddie likes to hear himself talking, and I for one don’t like to engage him in a friendly conversation. His desire to impress the people with himself is too “ordinaire” and I don’t like it. Very often he takes the opportunity to bitch, especially when the scapegoat happens to be Bill, on whom he spills a lot of sarcasm and hatred. Lately it occurs seldom, but there are times when poor Bill, an absent minded, but nicely mature fellow, had to put up with a lot of malicious remarks from Freddie. I have been on very friendly terms with W. since I took his part in a “family” quarrel we had with 6., who being more sarcastic and aggressive, had a big advantage over W., though the truth was with the latter. W. said of F .“ He, according to his own opinion, knows everybody who is anybody, or rather, they know him.

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© Christine Stean

There are no entries from mid-October until Christmas Day 1944. The only glimpse we have of that period is the above entry, which describes a ‘Special Mess Dinner’ held on October 21st for Stan, to honour the birth of his baby daughter Wanda Maria Brzeska. Canadians F/Lt McCrae & F/Lt Ferguson prepared a dinner of soup with noodles, steak & onions, potatoes carotts turnips, apple pie, coffee, nuts and cigarettes.
25th December 1944 0.30 (after midnight) I have intended to write to you my dearest one a longer “letter”, but somehow I couldn’t find time. Practically all day (that‘s X-mas Eve Sunday) I was very busy making cookies for our room. In the evening I visited all my Polish friends (12) in this camp to wish them a happy X-mas, then we had our supper, at which we “bashed” one of our X-mas cakes. Till midnight I played bridge, then we had another cup of brew and talked. I am all the time, while all this is happening, somewhere else, and that is with you, Darling, and my Mother in Poland. How unhappy I am knowing that while I have a lot of good things to eat here, they starve, and what for? 0! What a life! This is sixth’s X-mas, Darling, sixth greatest anniversary I’m not there where I’d like to be. How much I love my Mother, you know Darling; I’d give a fortune to see her happy yet and to spend a few hours with her. I do hope my Beloved that you’ll spend a pleasant X-mas and that you’re of good cheer. I have to close now Sweet the lights will be soon out. I love you very, very much. Good night and God bless you, Darling xxx for you and Wanda (How I miss your letters…) Stan.
26th December 1944 Letter to Sheila sent on 27th. I have been rather disappointed as X-mas present, that is Wanda’s photos I mean, haven’t reached me in time, though I hope that the near future will bring me some of your letters, Darling. I do hope that you both are well and that you spent a nice X-mas. I guess that Gillian was the happiest person in the family, as in her age, such things as X-mas tree and candles mean most. But our little treasure, being five and a half months old, is too young yet to appreciate these things; to her, probably your protecting arms, where she finds all she needs, make her most content and happy. Our X-mas dinner, thanks to A.R.C. (American Red Cross) was very good. We had a fair amount of turkey and a lot of nice things to eat. My thoughts have been all the time Darling with you and my Mother. How they get along there God only knows. I have Faith in Him, and that is my consolation. I am very anxious to hear from you Darling, all about Wanda and Judith. I hope they both thrive well and make the families happy with their smiles.
28th December 1944 Still no letters from Sheila. Weather very nice indeed, though a bit cold. The day passed fairly quickly. In the afternoon I read a little second volume of ”Pendennis”, increasing my vocabulary. After dark, a wash in warm water in the pail was very enjoyable…Just now I’ve finished a game of bridge with Mac. We had a very successful evening. Four and a half lumps up.. .Candies were very good indeed…
29th December 1944 Last night I wrote another (and a last one this year) letter to Sheila. Tonight again there was no letter for me; I accept it with a quiet resignation, though it’s painful, as I’m the only one in our room that is behind so much with the news. Another Pole, who is married in England also has had many letters this month dated last November. Tonight I spent a few moments chatting with one of my Polish friends (Peter), whom I saw in another block in order to borrow a Polish-English dictionary. I like his company very much; his quiet ways, thoughtfulness of his talk, his sound judgment of other people etc agrees with my way of thinking. While speaking of his friends from NC, he said “Wielu szczyci sie I movi osobie zduma, seija ‘naukowcem’ nie jestem; Niestety my Polacy mamy naprawde duzo wad. Czasem zastanawiam sie, czy zwazyany naszej zaley charaktem, ktore bardzo szanije, l nasie slabe stgony, to moze okasalaby sie, ze zaczesto prieceniany sie. Bye mose 2e jsest to somosbrona (psychoologiczime usprawicilliwiona) przed zarmtami, ktora robi znas ‘wielkich krytykow’.
Nowy Rok (New Year) 1945 Noodles & Salmon first course, noodles, cheese, spam & potatoes; second one, pudding and coffee completed our dinner in better edition on account of the New Year. Last night we were up till about 2 am. New Year we met bashing delicious chocolate-pie, made for that purpose. This afternoon I want for the first time in here (and in the last six years) to skate on our ice. I spent there about an hour and came home with rosy cheeks. Today it is the first day I spent without smoking.
2nd January 1945 “As the days go on”, says W. (Canadian), “I am less sentimental. It’s not practical to be ‘sentimental’etc” . I think he meant to day religion, honesty, is out of fashion now (it’s not practical); money, business, profit, everything that brings money, by all means…even for your very soul, for that guilty conscience you feel. 0, what a miserable and crooked product of human nature this 20th century made? I wonder if this war will teach us much. To many people like the war, because it brings that glittering, greasy and treacherous money. I wonder if Justice, so much spoken of, at the outbreak of this struggle will be set on the throne in the last act?
4th January 1945 Well, well, your hubby has been a very busy person today. I was up an hour earlier than usually, because I intended to do my washing this morning. But the water was off, so it didn’t work. Then after usual appel (at 10am) I peeled potatoes , which has been my duty this week. After lunch I worked on “New Art of Writing and Speaking” and about 3pm I went to skate for nearly an hour. It’s a very pleasant change in our monotonous life. After second appel of the day (4pm) we had our big meal potatoes with sauerkraut and “meat”, then pudding and a cup of coffee. I didn’t have a pleasure of enjoying a smoke afterwards as since the New Year I abandoned smoking. The most difficult time I had during the X-mas week, when I tried to smoke less, but since I made my mind up somehow I don’t miss cigarettes. I can feel a great difference in myself and I’m glad I have decided to do it. I do hope I’ll succeed to give it up for good. (What a ‘hero’ your hubby is, isn’t he, Sweet?) Well, after our meal I joined three of my friends, Mac (my partner), Vic and Sid, in a game of bridge. After three hours of playing I won half of the small lump of sugar…)At 8pm we had another cup of tea and then I spent an hour washing up my handkerchiefs and towels. Drying them seems to be a problem nowadays. Just now the time is 11pm. I spend about one hour studying English grammar and shortly I’ll go to bed. I hoped, Darling, I would have a letter from you today and again I was disappointed. In November I had one letter from you, Sweet, and the same in December. One of my friends, when told that, said (I think he was a fool for saying that) “Maybe ‘they’ don’t write you many letters”. I couldn’t naturally try and convince him that I don’t think for a second that my wife cares more than that for me, since he doesn’t know you and I didn’t want to look ridiculous. I miss you Darling very much. Last night I was dreaming of you, Baby. Good night and God bless you both.

5th January 1945 I am a very happy man today. I had it letters from you, my Darlingest. And what lovely letters they are. I also received the photos of you and Wanda. They aren’t very good, but they mean so much to me. You look very well on one of them (you fatty). Wanda looks quite a big “lump” in your arms. I have also received Mum’s letter and Dorothy’s. All the news makes me so very happy. I was really laughing at your description of Wanda’s screaming…and at your saying I’ll be crazy about “Stasska”. I like her pet-name very much.
6th January 1945 Yesterday I want to see a German dentist, who made two fillings for me. He is quite a nice chap. This morning I was kept busy around the kitchen. After lunch I spent about an hour and a half on “New Art of Writing and Speaking”, then I was on the ice, skating for an hour. For the first time in months, I had a nap in the afternoon. In the evening I spent some time with “Alec” (Por. Alexandrowicz) na… obmawiamin maszych znajonych i dosc ciekawoje pogowgdzePoraz pierwszy od kilku dni nikt nie gra w bridgea dzis wieczorem. Mac, Jas and Vic are engaged in a lively conversation about economics. These lads differ so much from the young Polish emigrants in B. When I recall my memories of that crowd and their points of interest and their discussions I cannot help thinking that however lazy these A/S may seem, they take life much more practically than we do. Our sentiment is an asset to one’s personality, but it doesn’t pay if used badly, which I must say happens too often.
14th January 1945 (Letter to Sheila) My dearest Sheila, It is a lovely Sunday afternoon; if I were with you, we would probably be going for a walk towards Newbiggin with our Wanda in her pram. As I’m writing this I look through the window, in front of me, on the calm and peaceful countryside. Fields are covered with snow and further, on the horizon, dark and motionless edge of the forest. The wind has died down and the sun is bright and quite warm. If it wasn’t for the barbed wire, which cuts that picture into many small squares, one would hardly believe there is a war on. I think of you both always , Darling, and I miss you very much. Six letters received at the beginning of the month were of very great value to my morale, which is quite good. I do hope to hear from you soon again. My health, except for occasional cold, has been quite good. Since the New Year I have abandoned smoking entirely and I think it does me good; since cigarettes are so plentiful here, one smokes more than necessary. I intended to write you before, my Sweet, that I wish you to spend as much money on the house as you can afford. With you staying at home, we save a lot Darling, but I don’t want us to take advantage of it. Next week, I’ll be a cook in my room lots of work and worries (this happens once in 12 weeks) to make the “bods” (my room mates) happy as far as circumstances allow. Then I’ll have six weeks “holiday” time to read and study. I hope my darling doesn’t forget her book too. All my love to you Baby, to Wanda and Family. Stanley.
18th January 1945 Thursday night. I intended to confide in my good friend diary or should I say to have a chat with him, but the duties of the cook I’m performing this week and partly “Oliver Twist” prevented it. I should also add that the cold I’ve had, took away my good humour and high spirits in which I was in the past week. I spent at least 5 hours on cooking this week every day which , in connection with my mentioned above cold doesn’t make me a very happy man. I had to abandon the only exercises walking and skating as I didn’t feel strong enough for these. In the evenings I sit and read. Tonight I have nearly finished “Oliver Twist”. I like the book very much; some of the characters in it are painted so strongly that it seems to me I can hear them still talking loudly and acting.
My New Year’s resolution…(smoking) doesn’t seem to be as difficult as it seemed to me in the last week of the old year, when I was trying to reduce it to about 10 cigarettes a day. Since I’ve made my mind up “not to smoke”, I am surprised now that cigarettes don’t mean anything to me. Whether it’ll be a morning or after meal time, I never have any desire for a smoke.
22nd January 1945 My dearest Sheila, It is my habit now, that from time to time I wish to talk to you here; this sort of a chat with my quiet diary~friend seems to satisfy partly my desire of a talk to a good friend, my Darling. I wish to tell you here in my bad English about the events of today. Undoubtedly, the life in a prison camp is dull and monotonous with little comforts; many people, including myself, before I came here, think it even to be much worse. But, on many occasions and also today I have found the life here can be also interesting and amusing. I have spent a pleasant day today. The weather has been really nice: lots of sunshine and mild frost, and I felt fit in spite of half-parcels. If it wasn’t for the worries about my family and their hard fate, which always dwells in the back of all my thoughts, I might say, I have been well quite happy. I woke up about 9 am and for another half an hour yet I remained in bed, being nice and warm. (Besides my pyjamas I had a big, white pullover and warm underwear on…) I was lying there half-conscious of the reality and of the breakfast “stooge” who was already up busying himself around the stove and “the cupboards”; my thoughts were many and short, like the pictures one would see through the keyhole on the street they come and go. I thought of you, of Wanda, then of my dear old Mother, of my early childhood just a picture or two, and I would come back here and think of the cup of coffee I was going to get in a few minutes. It was like looking on some pictures without trying to {ind out what they mean. Suddenly I heard “Stanley coffee up” and in a moment I was wide awake and having my breakfast (one very thick slice of black bread with jam).
24th January 1945 Yesterday I received another letter from Sheila dated 14th of November and containing Christmas greetings. I have been very happy to hear again about Wanda and I’m looking forward to receive her and Sheila’s photos.
The last two days brought a lot of excitement rumours, hopes and fears with them. On the by-passing road all along the camp for two days, from morning to dusk we can see refugees going west; sometimes as far as one can see there are carts, carts and carts. It is quite an exhibition of horses (some of them look very tired), bundles and peasants, or rather women and children. The advances of the Russians seem to be very fast and it’s difficult to guess where and when they will stop. Today there was also a lot of armoured cars, army lorries, trucks, staff cars etc. moving west, what seemed very puzzling as, according to all the communiqués and rumours, the front is about 100km away. We began to receive full parcels from yesterday, what is enjoyed by all, as we were becoming more and more hungry.
26th January 1945 Refugees still on the move all day long; Groups of soldiers looking old and tired also move westwards; some are on horseback, some on carts. They seem to be Croatians or Russians, belonging to General Blasow’s “army”. Near by aerodrome has been very busy these last few days. Flying seems to be almost continuous. There are all types of the Luftwaffe, I think, to be seen. Night before last I watched excitedly landing of a little “Storcl” just outside the wires. It was pretty dark at the time and the falling snow made visibility very poor. Seeing the lights of the camp he landed to ask where he was, I guess, and after a few minutes took off and flew towards the drome. While he was coming to land, we (Kpt. Kustrzynski and Pr. Wiszkowski were with me) thought he was trying to land on our sports field.
Whole morning today I spent “manufacturing” a pack sack and braces, extra pair of gloves (mitts, I guess) etc. in case we have to move. We have been advised to prepare everything, so as to be able to move at no time if ordered. A few POWs who arrived here yesterday are the NCOs (flying crews) from different camps which were around Krakow and Czestochowa. They had a lot to say of their adventures, since they set to move west. About one third was left behind in hospitals or in villages on account of bad physical state. Lack of food and clothes as they say was very bad. Many of them had frozen toes and fingers. Civilians and German guards treated them quite well…A lot of food (soups, or some bread) they obtained from civilian population. There was no sign of hostility towards them. They were on the move about a fortnight.
I’m fed up with the atmosphere in my room. Some of the guys are impossible. One comes to know the people and their real characters in times like these…Everybody for himself seems to be the motto of the day (though I have discovered long ago that the types with whom I live put the “I” always first and “you” take care of yourself. I do approve of the policy to a certain extent, only (being of different breed) I have more consideration for others, though I learned already it doesn’t pay.
1st February Birkenstedt (1’) 50 km west from Sagan. Thursday afternoon. Last Saturday night (27th January) whilst I was writing my impression of the book I read (Hudson’s “Far Away & Long Ago”) “Blondy” came in a hurry to our room saying : “Chaps, in half an hour. we’re leaving”. Everybody and everything seemed thunderstruck: everybody rushed to pack most necessary things like food, some cigarettes, spare socks, two blankets and lots of necessary and silly thing also. What a place it became in a second. Thousands of cigarettes being left behind, also pyjamas, slippers, books, blankets and other things that were good here to make our lives more comfortable, all useless now. In an hour we were all on the appel field, eleven hundred of us waiting to leave the camp. Eventually we were told to get back to our barracks and wait. We waited no less than seven hours from 12 at night to seven in the morning. Then after an hour’s standing on the frost and trying to keep our feet warm, the G’s counted us and we set on our march to the west…in front of Russian advance. German guards with dogs on both sides of the long column one from another a few yards; lots of shouting, exclamations in German and barking of the vicious dogs could be heard all over. During the first day I kept company with “Willie”. We stopped after 20km march at a big farm. The time was about 4pm. We were placed in a few barns for the night. Polish woman got us some warm water and we made some coffee that was our first warm meal. I also bought for my two shirts some bread. Next morning we left at dawn and made another 19km, I think. Night was spent also in similar circumstances. Following day, that is Tuesday, we had a rest all day. Lots of Polish, French and Russian forced labour people everywhere. I feel very grateful for the food and help, like warm water, drying our wet boots, socks etc, what they do very willingly. Yesterday we were on the move again. Here we stopped last night after about 13km march. This morning I had a shave and a good wash for the first time. The thaw upsets our “transport”. Everybody made some kind of sleigh and it was comparatively easy to carry our loads, but it looks that tomorrow we’ll have to carry everything. Germans issued today for the first time since Saturday a loaf of bread for five men. Barley (a cupful of it) was issued also from our kitchen once today. I hope this will pack up soon, otherwise we will be in a poor shape shortly. Morale very good. One or two chaps “made off” already.
6th February 1945 Wednesday in Lukenwalde , Stalag 111a (50km south from Berlin). Next day after the last entry in here we left the farm in Birkenstedt on our march westwards, carying all our belongings on the shoulder, as the snow completely disappeared. One or two men still pull their sledges behind them, wiping off the perspiration from their red faces. One of them is my friend Por. Adler. I parted with Willie and I’m going along with For M and For A. Small towns we passed on the way were Muskan and Falkenberg. Towards evening we arrived to some small village. About a kilometer from it we stopped to be divided into groups of a hundred and we marched to different farms I found myself with Por. Adler in a barn belonging to some German, shouting and closing all places around except the barn I was dead tired and hungry. My shoulders were aching like h. Bread, which the goons said would be issued, never came. Some German NCO from that village took a few thousand cigarettes, promising to bring lots of bread, and never came back. Eventually we ate our reserves and I pinched some turnips for our next course. Next morning we had to walk only 7 km to Spemberg. There we got some hot soup and I bought from a goon a loaf of bread and some honey for one chocolate bar. In the evening we were put on the train, 45 men to a cattle wagon. Night was pretty grim I had hardly place to sit comfortably. Next day we arrived here at about 6pm We waited about two hours in rain then till 4 am we waited for a bath Everybody is dead tired. Then we were sent to the “barracks”. Two hundred people in them Three potatoes in their skins per day, cup of .“soup” and some warm water are our daily food. Bread in very limited quantities: one loaf for live men. The place is terribly dirty. I slept in my clothes all last week. This camp is a “great” place indeed. Five to six thousand people in it: French, Russians, Hungarians, Italians and all nationalities from the Balkans, Poles, internees from Hungary (400 of them), Poles captured in Warszawa during the last insurrection, and 1,500 of us from Sagan

11th February 1945, Sunday. Luckenwalde. All day spent in bed with “flu”. I feel very weak. Doctor, who gave me three aspirins this morning said: “Three good meals would do you much better than these”. (For dinner today I had a cup of hot, watery soup and two potatoes. There is little hope to get any Red Cross parcels in the near future, and the goons say that we may not get bread some day at all…Present ration of . bread amounts to four very thin slices a day. Morale isn’t too good, but everybody hopes the war will not last long. I think a lot of my two Darlings in England.

13th February 1945. Tuesday. Yesterday I stayed again in bed being very weak. This morning I was up and I had a lesson of English with Poles from Hungary. There are about 400 officers, who were interned there, then taken by the goons and brought here. Most of them are elderly men. I feel a little better. There is no improvement in food situation. (Today I had four small potatoes and some “soup”) Everything is very miserable. My back is sore with lying on the bedboards…
14th February 1945. Little improvement in my food problem. I got a third of a loaf bread for 20 cigarettes. At 10 am I went to the Polish Barracks to a mass, as today is ash Wednesday. Their choir sang very nicely during the service. My young friend Mlotkowski (who gave me “Zarys Literatury Polskij” to read) gave me a picture of Saint Many from Czestochowa. After soup at 12 o’clock I stayed in bed reading in Polish, then I had at 14.00 a lesson of English for beginners. As a rule I have two lessons a day, one in each barrack. I am a little bit stronger today than in the last few days. It is 4 pm now and mint-tea is up our last meal of the day.

15th February 1945, Thursday. 7.30pm A few minutes ago I have returned from a little walk I had with Kpt Stoma, between the barracks. I’m so glad I feel better and can enjoy a walk in the open. Kpt Stoma, who has a very charming personality, is in spite of his advanced age, full of life and interest. He went this morning to a funeral of one of their officers, who died in hospital of TB. This is a third officer who died as a result of the last “transport”.
News from the fighting fronts is very good and it looks that the war should end in two or three months, or sooner. Just a few moments ago I had a look again at my “Two Darlings” in England. I miss them very much.
Polish political question worries me not a little, but I’m trying not to think too much about it, hoping that the responsible people will choose the best way for our benefit. (Our benefit I mean the benefit of Polish people as a whole). I’m looking forward to a free, just and democratic P.
Food situation still grim: all faces become thinner and paler every day, not mentioning the feeling of hunger one has all day. Thinking of Wanda’s picture, I intend to open her a savings book, as her education account, when I get back. Since I abandoned smoking from the first of January, I intend to put all the money I would spend on smoking on her back which should amount to about £3 per month.

17th February 1945 Saturday. Last night we were alarmed by serious rumours that we might be sent on the march again this morning. Everybody had everything ready, but fortunately nothing happened till now. Most of the Russians’ POWS were marched from this camp somewhere to the west early this morning. Yesterday we had a visit in the camp by the representative of the IRC. Our CO made a lot of strong complaints and protests to him about the past march and the conditions we were in, as well as condition we are in now. Information we received from him is of no value to us (nothing on food situation), except the consolation that life in Berlin and many other places is grim also. I still feel weak but I was quite active all day. The lectures, one in the morning and second in the afternoon, keep me fairly busy during the day. Last night I spent with Kpt S. and Polish CO, who told me about the visit they had by a “Pole” yesterday, who wanted them to go to Poland now… (very, very funny). Hurray. We have a picture tonight. Installation is just being built.
18th February 1945 Sunday (in bed). It is a bright and sunny day. In the morning, after appel I went to a mass in a Polish barrack. Throughout the service their choir sang beautifully many songs. Polish padre, after reading aloud today’s scripture, commented on it in a few nice words.
After our usual meal at 12, soup and potatoes, I went to bed to keep myself warm. My friend Movski came up to see me and we spent about an hour talking. He told me about his difficulties living with his friend A., then we spoke about the good time I’m going to have with my little daughter when I come back; how I’ll teach her to walk and how we will play and laugh, sitting on the floor. In the last hour I have been gazing at the three photographs Sheila sent me, thinking about them. How familiar everything on them is. Even Wanda, whom I haven’t seen yet, seems so familiar, as if I knew her well before. I read Sheila’s last letter again and I then learned by heart a little X-mas greeting inside the card received from Wanda: “Christmas tide has come again, the best time of the year. May it bring you peace, joy, good health and Christmas cheer”. Indeed, last Christmas, though spent in a prison camp, had been a very happy one to me: the fact that both my wife and daughter are in good health and the hope of soon reunion makes all the rest seem unimportant. Secondly, I know too well how grateful I have to be to our Saviour for all I possess, alter so many opportunities to lose my I“ a life or my health. When I think of all my friends from these few squadrons I know, and how many of them paid the highest price during the war, and how many of them were made unhappy for the rest of their lives, I realise that I have every reason to be happy and that in future I have to show myself worthy of the life which has been spared to me yet.

20th February 1945 I’m not in a very good mood at the moment (6.30pm in bed, which has one good thing: it keeps me warm) but I felt very well this morning. At night I was kept awake for some time by the screaming siren and I heard AA and bombs some distance away. I woke up in the morning quite cheerful. Some more straw I managed to get made my bed much warmer. As a rule I sleep in socks, warm underwear and pyjamas, and two pullovers to keep me warm. The day passed very quickly. Two lectures which I have, two appels and queuing for soup and potatoes at noon, and afternoon mint-tea don’t leave much spare time. I washed, in cold water of course, my handkerchiefs today. I must also wash shortly one of my shirts and socks. All I have now is two shirts, two pairs of warm underwear, 4 pairs of stocks and live handkerchiefs. We hoped we would obtain some Dutch Red Cross parcels which were given to us by the Norwegian officers, but it seems we will not get any as the British NCOs from one of the camps in Poland marched for 21 days and are in very bad condition, and our CO being asked for help, decides to give them these parcels. I am hungry of course all day, but the goon rations we get should keep me alive for quite some time yet. I am now used to this amount of food. I am so glad I recovered from my cold I had last week. I am not very strong, but I feel well.
25th February 1945. Sunday in bed, at 9.55 pm. Lights will go out at 10 pm. Tomorrow I’ll try to put down the events of the last few days. I’m glad the pain in my stomach I had yesterday has gone. (They call it “squitters” or diarrhoea, the doctor said) I’m glad I had these pains only one night and day. I hope to sleep well tonight and to dream of my Two Darlings. Last night I dreamt of Sheila, my Mother and Aunt Tola. I’m very hungry of course at the moment, but knowing I cannot have anything now I must take it easy. My neighbour consoled me by saying that he heard about a Norwegian prophet who said (before the war according to the saying) that the second great war would start on 3rd September 1939 and finish on 3rd March 1945, but of course… Goodnight, Darling xxx
26th February 1945 Monday at 9 pm in bed. A few minutes ago lights went on again after the “Mosquito service” to Berlin. As a rule lights go out about 8 pm every night for nearly an hour. If there is no air raid, which happens of course my seldom, we have so called “spare stunde”, which means also seating in dark for an hour or so. Our SBO (Senior British Officer), after making thorough investigation about the health of the NCOs, to whom he was asked to give the parcels we received, decided that we should get them. NCOs have had more bread than we and they also received some cigarettes, while we had nothing of the kind since 28th January that is, since we left Sagan.
The event was of course the highlight of our existence here. We received one parcel for five men; though it was very little, we were glad to have it. (The contents were: some sausage, enough for one sandwich; 10 small biscuits; a little of cheese; butter and oats). I’m trying to ration myself to one biscuit a day, as a dessert after our “dinner” that is soup at noon. Usually we get 4-5 potatoes, of which two I leave for my evening slice of bread. In the last two days I made myself some soup: two potatoes, two spoonsful of oats, a spot of margarine and salt, boiled in a “Klim” tin on one of the little fires made of tins, as we get no wood for a big tire. Today I hardly cooked it, having no wood.
This morning at man) and at 2pm I had my usual English lessons; I came to my barrack very tired after standing, speaking and writing on the blackboard for an hour. I’ve decided to have these classes every second day now.
News that reaches us is quite good and I guess the war should pack up in two months, or in May at the latest. I don’t get these bloody goons. Why they still light. I don’t think they are capable of getting any conditions now when they are not capable to check any of our advances. Their complete defeat seems to be a matter of some few weeks.
I wrote another letter to my Darling tonight on a form they issued us, but I somehow feel it will not be sent very far” Of course I cannot write of how I feel or live here, as it would probably never be sent from this camp.
28th February 1945 Wednesday. The date today reminds me that it is a month already since we left our camp in Sagan, and that tomorrow it will be 1st March. How fast the time goes on… it really makes me think… It looks like I could write a book on the events of this past month, a book full of events, of hopes and fears, of hunger and cold and sweating on the march; of people I met on our way here, and the people who were with me all the time men exposed to the same hardships as I was, and of how they reacted to it; of stories heard h’om Poles on forced labour, of men who, seemingly strong in character, lose their dignity as human beings with hunger and hardships… But when I think of all that, it seems so unimportant, so little and small to my other thoughts and hopes to things which make me happy. I’ll never forget in my life the two letters I received from my Mother and from my wife. How happy I was to read that they are still alive there and love me, and wait for me, and that my wife has a nice baby and that both are well. The Providence has been good to me. I wonder if I have been good enough towards it and the people to the same degree? I know I have not.
2nd March 1945 Friday. What a windy day we had all day long.
3rd March 1945 As I began to write last night the air raid siren went off and our light went out for the rest of the evening. It is a real nuisance as the goons don’t switch the light on after “all clear” for the last two nights.
4th March 1945 Sunday. To our surprise this morning it began to snow after a whole month of very mild weather with occasional rain. The snow didn’t last long, as by the evening it was gone again. After morning appel I went to a mass at half past nine. I made a confession and had a holy communion. It is difficult to describe the benefit I get from it, but it certainly makes me feel so much happier and better. Without realising it I act as if I was a new man: hatred to some people that did me wrong disappears; my resolutions are firmer and life is easier to take and not as tragical as it often looks. I have experienced already on some occasions that in difficult situations, when the life became a hard burden to carry, when I seemed deserted by friends, by hopes and courage to face the life, when all was seemingly black and cold, some strange force would come upon me with the little thought of God or a little prayer, that would ease my mind so much that it startles me to see the metaphor so great. Sometimes it comes alone and all difficult things and problems are so simple and bright. This is a great comfort to me, or has been rather, since the last six years my life have been full of events in which only God could be asked for help. And I’m happy that after all the trials of life a Pole and young man like myself has undergone lately, I am still myself I am able to love, to forgive, to understand better my place in this world.
Returning to reality of our life her, there is little to write about. Food the same, no hot water or soap for washing our clothes, more cases of lice and bags of rumours. A prison camp is a good place for rumours indeed, especially when “kriegies” are a “little” hungry. We are comforted that BBC has talked of our food situation and that the people know it thought it is immaterial as people are told many things every day, just to forget them the next.
I have a good book to read now, also I must go and visit Cpt Stona tonight, Last night I read again all Sheila’s letters and others, looked at the photos of my Two Darlings and I thought a lot of them also.
Having a “day off” yesterday from my lectures, I washed my shirt, towel and three handkerchiefs. It took me about on hour and a half with the cold water and no soap practically. I felt very tired afterwards as one has not too much energy here. Enough to keep alive and as some people say “too much to die”.
It is funny, but when two friends are talking quietly on their beds in the evening, it will be in seven cases out of ten that it’ll be about food; what they had to eat in the old good times, what they’d like to have and the meals they’re going to have when we get home. I am also hoping that shortly one will be able to stop thinking only of food as only soup and potatoes, but of things like good cakes, puddings etc etc.
5th March 1945 I’ll remember for a long time today’s “delousing”. After we went to the washhouse through several checks (countings) and gave all our clothes away to be put in the hot air – air raid was on and power off, which ended with us standing in one room with nothing to sit on for nearly two hours. All business took us four bloody hours of waiting. These goons! After we were ready to go for our soup there were no guards to take us and we waited another half hour, being hungry like h

7th March 1945 Wednesday. Great wave of optimism and joy was caused by the announcement of the arrival of Red Cross parcels. Some American officers already were issued with full parcels today. We hope to get them tomorrow. On that account I had a piece (for the first time in 4 weeks) of my “D” Bar (American chocolate) which I kept with a tin of stew as my emergency ration for the last month. It really tasted good! The people are really happy knowing that tomorrow we’ll get these parcels, which should keep us satisfied (I mean not hungry) for at least a week. News on war situation is also encouraging. We hope to see the end in April. For a while today I thought I lost two of the last photos Sheila sent me and I was really upset about that. I do hope they are well and happy.
9th March 1945 Friday morning. It looks like Christmas… Yesterday afternoon we have received parcels. I thought the biscuits with jam were the best I ever etc. It is really good to be not hungry. 18.00 hrs. My tea; as there is no coal in the camp kitchen we have only one hot soup at noon and water from our brews we boil ourselves; in small tins, on little fires arranged most economically we do that quite easily. Well, I had a lovely cup of coffee with a lot of “klim” and sugar; my portion of bread, which usually I had as one slice on account of lack of spread,-I cut into three small slices; one of them was with pate, one with good American cheese and the third with grape jam; then I made myself some lovely cream, consisting of “klim”, sugar, coffee and jam. It was really delicious. The biscuit with jam finished my tea beautifully. At the moment I’m lying on my “pit”, reading a good Polish book. The miserable life of the last month left no trace on our humour, with the arrival of the parcels. War news is great today. This room is inhabited by no less than 200 people and how different they are today from the ones one saw just two days ago. Everybody became smiling, friendly to his neighbours, eager to help, to talk and sing. From the other end of the room some music reaches my car: it’s a trumpet, a violin and a guitar. It is good to hear the people applauding the little orchestra for their nice effort to make things look brighter yet.
I hope I’ll sleep better tonight, as last night I was awake from 3am till the morning, like so many other people. Few could sleep well, as a result of a sudden change in our food. It’s nearly 7pm, so I must go for a little walk outside. Fresh air will do me good. We have so much smoke in this room. I’ll try and get Kpt Stoma for a walk with me.

10th March 1945 Saturday 12am I’m glad I found out why the last two nights I spent mostly wide awake; it is the coffee. The night before I was awake at about 2.30 and didn’t sleep till seven, and last night I didn’t sleep from 3.30am. While lying awake in bed about 7am this morning I had such an attack of nostalgia as I haven’t experienced in the last two to three years. I had such a vivid picture of my dear old Mother. I talked to her in my imagination. I could see her with all the grey hair, the wrinkles around her big and pale eyes everything was so real. The scene of my return and the talk I’m going to have with her or the confession (as I thought) I’ll have of all my troubles, hopes, joys and griefs, brought tears to my eyes. I turned my face to the wall, so that people wouldn’t see them. I hope so much that that scene becomes true in the near future and that we’ll be so happy seeing each other again. She’ll be happy so much knowing I am a happy husband and a daddy.
(It would be another twenty years before Stan was able to be reunited with his mother).
12th March 1945 Monday night. The first excitement of the “full parcels” has died down.We find that we could eat much more now. We had a pleasant surprise when Norwegians made us a gift of their Swedish parcels. There was one parcel to be shared between seven men. Everybody got some biscuits, some sugar, milk etc. These parcels weren’t as good as the Dutch ones. There was no cheese nor butter;
Last night I slept much longer; but I was awake already by about 5.30am I hope to sleep better tonight. I restrict myself to only one cup of coffee in the morning and the second drink I make with “klim” only.
Yesterday I wrote another card to Sheila. I wonder if my Darling gets any of these letters from here. I miss her letters so much these days.
Otherwise nothing “to report”. Life simply drags on Rooms are terribly smokey, dirty etc. At night, when the windows are open I have some night draught on my top bunk; Out beds are the new, super-German efforts. One bed is made of boards for twelve people and when one person gets up or down the structure swings and shakes. I’m fortunate sleeping on top: the men sleeping on the bottom beds are very uncomfortable.
It’s surprising that the lights didn’t go out yet tonight (it’s about 8.15pm) All past three weeks without a day’s interval we had air raids on and “spare” hours. Some of the raids on Berlin were quite heavy. We could see the “hack”; planes caught in searchlights, explosions and all sorts of lights. Some of the explosions were shaking our beds and the doors, which are loose, make quite a noise.

14th March 1945 Wednesday. Wanda is eight months old today. This morning I was thinking of my Two Darlings for at least two hours, lying in bed between 5 and 7am.
Yesterday’s washing; which took me three hours, made me really tired, but I think I’ve done a good job of it.
After appel this morning we were kept by the goods more than two hours out of the barracks in order to check up our nominal roll: the unpleasant thing was that we were without breakfast, which I had at about 12am. At the moment (9.15pm) we are quite happy, as we had another parcel issued in the afternoon. I have been using my first parcel economically and I still could manage another day, but some guys were out of milk and margarine for a day or two already.
15th March 1945 Thursday. In the past three days Germans didn’t give us any potatoes, just soup once a day. Bread ration this afternoon was decreased again to 250 grams.
I have a touch of cold and don’t feel too well. This morning there were over a thousand American planes flying over.
17 19 March 1945 Entries written in Polish.
24th March 1945 Saturday. Events of the day: night spent badly as a result of drinking coffee late in the evening. It took me about two hours to get asleep, and I was awake at 5.30am. After morning appel – breakfast, and then I took my Canadian pal “Mac” to the Polish artist, who finished his portrait this morning. He (Mac) was delighted with it and with the enlargement of his sister’s photograph After lunch, lying on my bed, I was so tired that I fell asleep for about an hour. Then we had an air raid on and I watched formation after formation of “heavies” flying overhead for Berlin. They were very high and looked lovely, glittering in the sun with the long, white vapour trails behind them In the afternoon, I was posing for Lt. Zysakowski, who finished my drawing in this log book, and later on I had my usual English lesson, during which I dictated for my pupils some of the morals I remember from “Pendennis”. Before appel I took a long walk with the newly met painter, treating him with lumps of sugar. The weather has been simply glorious these last three days Last night it was so warm that one could hardly believe it is March and not June or July. People were sunbathing all over the place I saw some guys in the nude. Last night I thought of Sheila, Wanda and all at home for a very long time. I must write a letter today as Sunday is the day for outgoing mail. I must tell my Darling about her little portrait. I simply love it. The picture seems to vivid and real that my admiration is beyond description.
Food situation is not too bad: German rations still remain very small, but we get one parcel per week We hope to receive one on Monday, maybe tomorrow. On the whole we don’t starve now, but the quantity of our food is very small, as bread and potatoes are so scarce. Tomorrow I’m invited by the Polish C0 and Kpt Stoma for tea.

27th March 1945 Tuesday evening. Yesterday afternoon I went to see the Doctor with a blister on my foot, which is septic. I had a small operation on it, and today I was twice at the Sick Quarters for dressings I’m off appels and I was told to rest in bed.
(Some lines in Polish) I began to write in Polish unconsciously…in the afternoon I went to see Lt Zysakowski, the Polish artist, who began drawing my portrait in my log book. I sat for over an hour, talking with him and I was anxious to see the drawing, but he said he’ll show it to me when it will be finished. I have an appointment made again for tomorrow. After tea I took “Mac ” to him, as he wishes to have an enlargement to be made of ‘his sister. Already a few people asked me to introduce to him, in order to have their portraits done.
I have finished reading “Bog W Historii” and I’ve begun to read it again I’d like to make some notes, but lack of paper and space (I read, eat and keep all my belongings on the bed or one little shelf I made) makes it rather difficult.
Early this morning about 4am I was awake for a while, but I went to sleep again; I feel a great difference in my strength, since I sleep better. Last night it was for the first time in a month that we had the lights on till 10 o’clock at night. Air raids were of course, as usual, but a little later on at night.

28th March 1945 Wednesday. The above mentioned “tea party” was very nice; for the first time since Christmas I sat at the table with the table cloth, which they somehow had, and the paper serviettes looked nice. Sandwiches looked very pretty and tea, which I drank for the first time since we left Belaria, tasted delicious. We plan to have them here for tea some time next week. Today I had a lesson of English for myself with an actor, who taught elocution in the East Camp. I have benefited by it more than by twenty lessons of similar kind I used to have in Belaria.
Morale in the camp is very high, as the news of our advances on the east bank of the Rhine is really good.
My debt with F/O Morski I “squared”, at his request, paying him in cigarettes and one “D” bar, and both of us are satisfied.
In the last few days, since the news is so good, I think, I am restless and cannot sleep too well.
29th March 1945 Thursday night. News from the west has caused a great enthusiasm in the camp. We hope for an end in the next few days, and I personally hope to see Sheila for my 27th birthday, that is, I think it possible to be in England by 21st April. I’m not as happy as I should be at this moment, as I know nothing of how my dear ones get along in Poland. I’m so anxious to learn about it soon, and to be able to help them. We heard nothing of how the Polish political situation is now standing.
4th April 1945 Wednesday evening. Easter passed unnoticed; nothing has happened here in the last week worth mentioning. Yesterday I invited, with my new English friends, the Polish CO Kpt Metelslci and Kpt Stoma for a cup of coffee and a game of bridge. Cakes, manufactured by S/L Ingram were “not a success”, though I enjoyed them, as one is capable of eating anything edible here. Two cakes that I baked for Easter with George (my pal from Grangemouth) were much better, though I was fed up with all the work. (All my fingers are burned as a result of baking and cooking).
Today, our bread ration being already very small, was cut by 50 per cent again. Instead of one fifth of a loaf each, we get one tenth. It looks like a joke, but it doesn’t bother us too much now as our tanks are about 130 miles away and in a week or two they should be here, we hope.
I was asked to give a lecture on the Polish fighter pilot in England, for the officers from Hungary on Saturday, and I have a headache with it that is, I’m trying to prepare it and the more I prepare the less I know what I should leave out, what to say, how to begin etc. etc.
Weather is typical for April: showers every half hour and a strong wind.
This morning I woke up in the middle of a very bad dream. Sheila had an accident, which led to a very serious operation, though as I remember, at the beginning of the dream it was somebody else. Otherwise nothing important. This crowded, dirty and noisy place makes me very tired of it. I’m longing to be able to sit on a decent chair, have a wash in hot water, and sleep in bed, not on boards, and also to eat better.
9th April 1945 Monday night. It is a few days already since I wrote my last impressions from here. Yesterday I had a lazy day: no lectures or baking… Jasper has made a lovely stove inside and I’m very grateful to him, as it simplified my cooking. Before, it was an unpleasant business indeed, with the use of our blowers, which make so much smoke that I had abandoned cooking. I used to eat my potatoes cold, but now I can fry them nicely in no time practically, and they taste good, too.
Weather has been nice and warm for the last two days. I spent some time outside yesterday, watching a football match and then I walked for a long time with Roy and Errol. This afternoon, after my lecture of English, I went also for an hour to our appel ground where I sat in a ditch reading some essays by J . B. Priestley. My talk to the Polish officers on Saturday came off quite well, I think. They seemed to like it (but what a headache I had preparing it). Tonight we heard a rumour about possible moving from here to the Munich area. It doesn’t appeal to us at all, having to experience again all the “comforts” of such a journey, plus highly possible attacks of our fighters on the way. Somehow I feel assured we will not move.
I think more now every day of my Sheila and Wanda and of my near reunion with them. Wanduczka is a big girl by now I suppose. I wonder if she can walk yet. She .. must have a lot of teeth by now. How I wish to be with them soon. Every day seems so long, now that my return is near at sight I hope. Latest news from the west looks like
10th April 1945 Last night I stopped writing as the light went out.
Today I was busy washing my underwear, making it ready for our eventual move. This afternoon, we were informed that we leave tomorrow morning. I do not understand why they move us from here. I must do my packing now. What a life …….. 13th April 1945 Fn’day. Yesterday morning we were up at 5.30am to make ready for our journey. I made a hot brew, packed my belongings and at 6.30am we had an identity check, many countings, a search (for which I didn’t take my sack at all), and by 9am I was at the station with the first group.
All day yesterday we spent boiling water for our meals, walking about our trucks etc.
The weather has been very nice and I enjoyed a day Spent in different surroundings. Nobody seems to know when we will leave, even the goons. Our guards are all men of fifty or so and very mild. There has been very little shouting and when they want us to do something they say often “Meine Kameraden”, “meine Herren”, “bitte” etc. At about 9pm we were locked in the trucks and I spent comparatively good night. There are forty of us in one truck. We have some straw on the floor, on which it was possible to lie on our sides. My old companion Adler did complain of his neighbour a little, but I believe he acquired a habit of complaining at any time. This morning we were allowed to get out and l boiled twice some water for two cups of coffee for our breakfast. I managed to fix a trade with one of the guards: some bread for some cigarettes. We have a lot of spreads, but little bread, and it was very difficult to buy any. I was trying a few times yesterday, but no luck. At the moment we are moving back and forth on the station. I wonder if they intend to move us. News of our advances in the west is terrific. They are said to be be 50km from B. Just now we are on the move southwards it looks as if we may go somewhere after all.

21st April 1945 Saturday. My birthday. I’m twenty seven today. I’m disappointed being still here, and that both my birthday and “Imierimy” (Saint’s name day, 8th May) I’ll not spend with Sheila and Wanda. The last few days in here have passed in a very nervous atmosphere.
On Friday night at about 1am we were woken up to be informed that the Russians are nearing the camp and that Germans intend to set us walking westwards. As a result, many people didn’t go to sleep at all that night. Eventually, nothing happened all day yesterday. The Yanks were giving a good pounding from the air all over the district all yesterday morning. Formation after formation was dropping tremendous amount of bombs a few miles away. It was very pleasant to watch them. Last night, artillery firing Was heard quite near to the west, east and south There were many fires to be seen in the vicinity. We are told that the goons intend to leave us here if “something happens”. People are very restless and excited. I’m hoping that there will be little tiring in the district when Russians or our boys come. We are here in a rather hot spot as this became a centre of the narrow belt between the fronts. From yesterday’s news I gather that Sheila is worried about me reading all the stories about the different… concentration and prison camps in Germany and all the atrocities that were discovered there. The Germans here seem to be very mild now; they are all ready to fly if the Russians come first here. I wish they would hurry up, these Yanks from the west of us, as in a day or two we’ll be pretty hungry and crowded. There are no more parcels and German rations amount to nearly nothing.
9am Just now there were terrific explosions very near. The whole barracks shakes; people are rushing outside to look out. Everybody is afraid of a few shells landing in the camp. A few FW190’s just passed at the deck overhead.
21st April 1945 I’m no more a P.O.W. Germans have left the place. Fighting goes all round many goons were taken prisoner and brought here. I’m on duty as a Russian interpreter. Some plane, flying low overhead, fired on the camp in moonlight rather unpleasant.
22nd April 1945 About 7am first visit by a Russian armoured car cheers and shouts greet it. Luckenwalde has been taken
9am-First Russian planes (seen by me for the first time in this war)flew overhead, Stormoviks, I believe.
11am-We have a visit of a fast Russian column of a few tanks,armoured cars and lorries. Cheers and shouts on both sides. Tanks smashed many gates and barbed wires.

24th April Tuesday, 12pm. I’m at the moment on duty as the Russian interpreter till 2am. A little room where I sit at the table is very smoky, as many people (interpreters and our “police”) are smoking a lot of cigarettes. In the last two days I have seen and spoken to many Russian officers on different matters, and I have been fairly busy. My knowledge of Russian language isn’t very good, but I can manage and even some of the Russians flatter me, saying “you speak very good Russian”, though I know it’s a courtesy. I went to town yesterday with Major P. to the bakery where I was surprised to find that there were already Russians working in full swing. The supply of food to the camp, where we have now about 13-15 thousand people is very good. We had a lot of butter yesterday and today, plenty of sugar etc etc.
Today we had some “gen” on our repatriation; we’ll not go, it is said, through Odessa, but we’ll wait for the link up and go the shorter way. Tonight we had the BBC details on how they organised things in England for our return Six weeks holiday sounds very nice, with double rations, too…

24th April 1945 No news of the link up yet; disappointment in the camp.
5th May 1945 l was woken up at 7.20am to go to the supply depot. Some Russian wanted a check for the food they delivered to this camp since 22nd. I was fed up, as were the people in the store, to be troubled so early.
75 lorries (American) are arriving this morning and the hrst party hoped to leave today. More transport we were told, will be here in 48 hours: –I’m hoping to leave here in 2-3 days, and I may see my Darling Sheila and Wanda in a week I certainly hope to be be home before the first anniversary of my captivity (21.5.44) I miss Sheila terribly. I wish I knew how she is and the baby. Yesterday I went to Luckenwalde with some old Norwegian commander, as an interpreter and what a day I had I was dead tired when I came home. I returned back to this camp from “A. H. Lager” on 2nd May.

9th May 1945 Nothing indicates we’ll leave here today or tomorrow. A few conferences between 8.30. and a Russian colonel didn’t bring any news on our return home. 105 lorries have arrived here, but nothing is known whom they’ll take and where. I’ve been working all day long, trip to “Zina” store and to the bakery as an interpreter were unusually long. I have got a cold, which makes life more miserable. I live now with the supply people and do not need to cook for myself. Food here is very good. In the last fortnight I put on weight of nearly 15-20lbs.
10th May 1945 Last night I came back from bakery at about 11pm all Norwegian officers were called to be ready to leave. They finished embarking about 4am , I’m told by Bagus. They are taking 18 cows and some pigs with them They expect to be taken via Murmansk. Where they went, nobody knows. This morning I woke up with a sore throat still no news on our repatriation I’m really fed up with the existing situation.
Later-12pm, on my bed in “supply’ I had a very long day today. After lunch I went to A H. Lager, which I was supplying till dusk. Our Russian CO, Kpt Medvediev, and St Lt Zacharov, invited me for a drink In their quarters. We drunk wine, which wasn’t very strong. When I came back here supper was ready and afterwards I went for a walk with Bagus, with whom I’m very friendly. It is a lovely May evening. I spoke about you, Darling, and our romance since 1941.
How I miss you, my Sweetest. I long terribly to be with you again, to take you in my arms and kiss you Darling , a million times. You are all I think about, my Baby. I feel very miserable here without you, but I pray that we may be together again. I must go to sleep now, so God bless you, Darling, and our little daughter. Daj buzi xxxx
13th May 1945 Saturday, very late in bed. Latest rumours are that we may leave tomorrow. Gosh, how nice it would be to see my Darling and Wanda so soon. All day today I was out of our camp supplying French with food. I had dinner with the French officers in their mess. I came “home”eventually about 9.30pm. On the way back our tractor broke down and we had to wait for help for quite a long time.
I’m as homesick as could be. The last days of my captivity are as difficult, it seems to me, as the first weeks. I became very fat in the last few days, and my tummy is very big…
17th May 1945 Still no definite news on our return. All Frenchmen were transferred in the last few days to A.H . Camp. In their place a lot of Dutch, Belgian and other civilians came into this camp. It’s like a town here; many women, girls, children etc. Quite a few young girls are with children. Two British officers were married. One of the New Zealanders married a Belgian girl who doesn’t speak English, and he only speaks English..
Yesterday I went to the AH. Camp for the cows. I said, when I came back, that it was the last time I went on a similar mission. A party of five young men, who were with the W.O. didn’t see the cow closely, and of course they had no idea of handling them. Being an interpreter, I had to handle all the cows with a Russian soldier, and what a job we had.
I had a nap this afternoon, and when I woke I felt very miserable for the rest of the day. Uncertainty, and the whole atmosphere here makes me “sick”, if I may use such an expression. I think of Sheila all the time.
21st May 1945 Halle with the Yanks. Everybody is so relieved that at last we are on this side of the Elbe, away from the “care” of the Red Army. We left Luckenwalde yesterday about 2pm. All morning has been a very busy time for me; I haven’t done so much walking and running for months. The Russian lorries (American vehicles, driven by Russians) took us from Luckenwalde across the Elbe where we were so happy to see American transport already waiting for us. Big autobahn to the Elbe was blocked in a few places, and many bridges were blown up, so it took us a long time to go round them. In many places it was very adventurous, taking some steep hills in the woods. Big bridge on the Elbe has been blown up and we walked over the pontoon bridge built by the Russians. ‘When we embarked on American lorries we had a long and fast drive on a terribly wide autobahn to Halle. What a great difference between the two occupied zones.

23rd May 1945 We are hoping to leave today, but it’s possible we’ll be here another day or two. We are looked after very well here; living quarters are good and so is the food. I’m terribly anxious to get home and see Sheila and Wanda. The day before yesterday when I went to bed, it took me age to go to sleep on account .of the excitement, I guess. I was thinking of how I’ll get to England, take the familiar tram from Kings Cross, arrive at Newcastle, then Ashington, door at 75 Newbiggin Road, etc. I was thinking whom I’ll meet first, what Wanda will look like, Mother and all at home. It will be so nice to be with them again.

May 23rd was the last diary entry. It is thought it took another 3 months for Stan to reach England. Another page contains his favourite poem:

TO ANTHEA

Bid me to live, and I will live

Thy Protestant to be:

Or bid me love, and I will give

A loving heart to thee.

A heart as soft, a heart as kind!

A heartas sound and free,

As in the whole world thou can stand,

That heart I’ll give to thee.

Bid that heart stay, and it will stay,

To honour they decree:

Or bid it languish quite away,

And ‘t shall do so for thee.

Bid me to weep, and I will weep,

Whilst I have eyes to see: And having none, yet I will keep

A heart to weep for thee.

Bid me despair, and I’ll despair,

Under the cypress tree:

Or bid me die, and I will dare

E’en Death, to die for thee.

Thou art my life my love, my heart,

The very eyes of me:

And hast command of every part,

To live and die for thee

Robert Herrick

Christine tells me that he dedicated the poem to Sheila, but in later life, the dashing Stan would also be seen at cocktail parties, holding a pretty woman’s hand and reciting the poem to the surprised recipient!

So there we have it. An insight to the life of a great man.

When I stumbled across his name a few months ago, I soon realised that he was a remarkable airman with an illustrious service, which in itself was enough. However, beyond all that, I came to understand more about him as a man. A dedicated servant of Poland, a decorated hero, and brave beyond imagination. A man with faith, and a doting love to a young woman he met through circumstances neither could have imagined. A man of education and intellect, obvious through his reflected thoughts in the accounts he left us; but also in the use of that intelligence to teach and educate fellow prisoners, in what were dreadful circumstances within the prison camps.

I know that there were thousands like Stan, and that over the intervening eighty years much has been written and revealed about ‘the greatest generation.’ But having said that, each time an opportunity such as this arises to tell another story, to tell Stan’s story, it must be told. Christine can open the drawer where she keeps the diary, and draw from the inspiration it gives her and her family, any time she chooses. By sharing their contents now, we can all draw inspiration from them too, and I am eternally grateful for Christine and her family for allowing me to share it with you.

To the memory of Stanislaw Jozef Brzeski

1918-1972

cropped-brzeski_www3885880410635229568.jpg

The images and diary entries contained within this blog remain the copyright of Christine Stean and family, and are reproduced with her kind permission.

5 thoughts on “The Diaries of Stan Brzeski

  1. I called my nan today and all she talked about was this website that they had found and this incredible story about ‘Stanley’. My nan is ‘Gillian’, mentioned in the letter from 26 December 1944, and ‘Dorothy’ was my great-grandma who died when I was around 5 years old. This post brought back so many memories for her which she couldn’t stop telling me about, as well as for my uncle whose father was Sheila’s brother. His father moved to Canada from Northumberland before he was born and he visited the UK a few years ago to discover his background. During his trip he even visited 75 Newbiggin Road, so reading these letters has been especially emotional for my family and I wanted to thank you so much for writing these posts. It is incredible to read a first hand account from a POW in any capacity, but one with such a close connection is that little bit more special. I hope this was as moving for you as it has been for us, thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Francesca, its been a wonderful opportunity to share the history of Stan. One of the side effects is it’s reunited Christine with some of the family she’d not heard from in years, so it’s been worthwhile for her too. Cate Moore was the person who started it all by having fond memories of him. I can put you in touch with her if you like, but Christine now has her details too

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