Less We Forget Poppy


The Life and Times of Hubert Brooks M.C. C.D.
A Canadian Hero

Less We Forget Poppy


Chapter 3: ESCAPE TO DANGER – EVASION –
                  Fighting with the POLISH UNDERGROUND ARMY – The A.K.

Section 3.1 : BROOKS and DUNCAN Make CONTACT with the Polish Underground Army

As the farmer slowly approached it seemed as if once again I was to be recaptured.

The farmer sensing our unease quickly re–assured us.
"I am a good Pole. I saw you when I went off to the fields early this morning and I said to myself let them sleep,"
he explained in Polish and broken German. We showed him our small Union Jacks but he'd already sized us up.
"Now Im going in to the village to fetch the schoolteacher and some food."

That night we were hidden in his farmhouse. Two days later we were introduced to a pair of Polish smugglers who would take us across the border. Their contraband this trip was a couple of German milk cows who mooed alarmingly most of the way. Our smuggler friends, however, were totally unconcerned and soon we crossed over from Germany into German-occupied Poland.

As soon as we crossed the border one of the smugglers who was a watchmaker by trade took us to his home. The small house was no more than 300 yards inside Poland and our host remarked that the German frontier guards often dropped in to have their watches mended.
"Don't worry,"; he added, "you will be all right here until arrangements can be made to send you to Częstochowa."

It was a fine distinction and in many ways we were no safer one side of the border than the other. What cheered us was the knowledge that we were no longer alone. I refused to think of the possibility of recapture; now that I had come so far. Although nothing had been admitted openly we knew we had at last contacted some friendly Poles and probably the Polish Underground Movement - the AK, the Armia Krajowa.

See the YOU TUBE Video SOLDIERS OF FREEDOM - Home Army - Armia Krajowa for a very brief over view of the AK.

Per: LegionyArmiiKrajowej -- The Armia Krajowa (abbreviated AK), or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland.
It was formed from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej (Union for Armed Struggle).

Following 1939 the AK absorbed most other Polish underground forces. It was loyal to the Polish government in exile and constituted the armed wing of what became known as the "Polish Underground State".

Estimates of its membership in 1944 range from 200,000 to 600,000, with the most common number being 380,000 - 400,000 soldiers.

The AK was the largest underground resistance movement in Europe during World War II, who fought against the Nazis and Communists.

A year had now passed since I bailed out of the burning Wellington and became a prisoner of war; a year in which I had exchanged identities with Private Frederick Cole of the New Zealand Army; a year of sweating in the coal mine and the sawmill and on the railroad gang when alternatively I might have been sitting quietly in the Air Force Compound at Stalag VIII B taking a correspondence course in something or other.

Three times I had escaped and twice I'd fallen into German hands again.
Not this time, if I could help it
.
My companion, Sgt. John Duncan of the 51st Gordon Highlanders, felt the same way.

Wed travelled from Lungendorf, to Lubliniec, to Herby and from there to Częstochowa Poland.

In Częstochowa I contacted a member of the Polish Underground on about 15th May 1943 at an address given me by a Polish airman in Lamsdorf.

My chances of escaping to England and rejoining my squadron were as remote as ever, but from here I could fight.

For a year now I had masqueraded as a New Zealand soldier; the time had arrived to act like one.

Probationary Period with the Armia Krajowa "Terenowka" (Reserve Unit)

AK Kotwica Flag

Unofficial flag of the Armia Krajowa emblazoned with the Kotwica.
The flag was created in 1942 by members of the AK Wawer "Small Sabotage" unit as an easily–usable emblem for the Polish struggle to regain independence.
The initial meaning of the initials "PW" was "Pomścimy Wawer" ("We will avenge Wawer"). The Wawer massacre was considered to be one of the first large scale massacres of Polish civilians by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.

Once they were sure of our identity the Polish Underground contacted London to find out what they wanted done with us. Back came a reply from London instructing us to remain in Poland until further notice. Eventually the Underground proposed the following alternatives:

  1. we could lie low for the rest of the war depending on the generosity of some Polish family;
  2. we could join the civilian underground in the city or;
  3. we could go up into the hills and join the Polish partisans fighting with the Armia Krajowa.

We chose to fight in the hills.

For the next 21 months or so, I was to be engaged in active guerilla warfare against the German army of occupation in southern Poland.

When the German frontier guards did come to the watchmaker's house we were in the kitchen bending down to put a pair of cycle clips on our newly-acquired civilian pants. The two guards caught me by surprise as I straightened up. I looked them in the eyes, said good morning as cheerfully as possible in German, tipped my hat and sauntered out into the garden. (A custom in Poland is that everyone tips their hat and says "Dzien dobry" (good day).) The nonchalant smuggler of contraband cows and escaped POW's was quite right. There was nothing to worry about!

Two weeks later our guide tucked a folded newspaper under his left arm and took us from the Polish textile centre of Częstochowa to Olschytn (Allenstein). There we were wordlessly handed over to another partisan carrying a similarly folded newspaper.

POLISH LANGUAGE TRAINING While Hiding Out in House Attic

For the next three months we lived in the attic of a house occupied by two old maids. They had lived for some years in Paris and had taught school there, but both were long since retired. The elder and spryer sister was 80 and the younger 78. Each morning throughout the summer the elder sister would climb the stairs to our attic with our breakfast and then with the aid of a child's blackboard give us our Polish lessons. She taught me in French, a language I knew well from my childhood in Montreal, and I in turn translated everything into English for John Duncan. It was laborious business but we had plenty of time on our hands.

The house next door was occupied by a family of Volksdeutche, the term Poles used scornfully to describe Quislings and collaborators. We therefore had to be extra careful never to show ourselves in daylight. At night we would slip downstairs and take a few minutes exercise in the old maids' garden.

A short distance from their home was a Jewish concentration camp and as we sat on our cots in the attic listening to the courageous old lady quietly declining Polish verbs we would hear the chatter or machine guns at the daily execution hour.

 graphic of German guards checking credentials at train station

On the Move to Czerwony Groń Hideout in the Western Beskids - 1st Contact with "WILK"

By August 1943 we were ready to move south and to join a unit of the Armia Krajowa (the Polish Underground Army) in the hills and forests. It was these vast hilly/ mountainous forests of southern Poland that faciltated an ideal environment to withdraW to and regroup after any direct confrontation with the Nazis.

Our papers were all in order. There was no longer any need for me to masquerade as a New Zealand private and I had become an R.C.A.F. flight sergeant once more - at least to our Polish hosts.

Now I found I was a Polish laborer born in Cracow and presently working in a jam factory. That at least was the information on my new identity card.

It must have been a plausible occupation for when we boarded the train to Cracow the German railroad police checked me through without hesitation. We spent a nerve–wracking day dodging street patrols in Cracow, doubling back and forth across the city until it seemed as if we must have visited every underground hideout there was.

Editor's Note: It is not clear how Brooks and Duncan moved from the streets of Cracow to make contact with the Polish partisans in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. One account, from what is represented to be the diary (Biografie zagórzańskie" Kpt. Jan Stachura ps. "Adam") of the then Terenowka group Wilk commander ppor. Jan Stachura "Adam" states:

"It happened one autumn day in 1943 .......... Branch "ADAM" had stopped for a period near Mount Kobylice, west of MOGIELICY, in Łętowe. The commander had set patrols around the berth ..... ..and the entire unit was placed in a state of vigilance and patrols were put on all the access routes such that no stranger could penetrate the perimeter and perform sabotage against the branch or against any partisans member.... ...one such security patrol on the road in the direction from Kamienicy and Szczawa to Lubomierza met two vagrants who were walking on the mountain dirt lane to Łętowe in the direction of branch "ADAM"'s partisan camp .. ... the two vagrants were stopped and searched and found to have nothing of note and "worse" the patrol could not communicate with the vagrants ..... they spoke a foreign language ... the patrol understood only the words: "Kanadian and Britisz" .... the patrol then made the mistake of bringing the two vagrants directly to the partisan camp violating the stated rule of first getting the security commander on scene to determine what to do next...... the vagrants spoke English and German......One was an officer in the Canadian airforce named Hubert and the other a Scottish sargeant in the British Army named John....... .. The presence of two British got the whole camp talking because they did not know what and why they'd come.... for these two British to remarkably reach this particular partisan camp hideout was an opportunity to produce an explosion of joy, and perhaps even to shoot guns into the air ....
.... as it turned out that afternoon the partisans set about cleaning their weapons ... When the two British saw the different types of firearms they immediately recognized the various brands, types and calibers of the weapons.... the British began to touch the rifles, revolvers, cartridges and showing off to the guerrillas, not only their military training in handling personal firearms but the various drills that the British used with these guns..... Everything that happened next, is already known to everyone... Both the British were admitted to the ward partisan group and took part in almost all guerrilla actions that the branch undertook..... During the entire time the area population was not aware of the presence of the British ..... Only when the certain members of the group sojourned on Christmas Eve 1943 to a small manor house in Sieniawie, near Nowy Targ, and Hubert and John showed up in the company of partisans.... that the informal Podhale grapevine news buzzed that Allied troops had landed by parachute in this area and were now taking part in the fighting against the Germans...... This was of the utmost importance to raise the spirits of the resistance of the local population, because at that time in 1943 the Nazi occupation was becoming unbearable ... "

However the first meeting occured, a few days later, in the foothills of the Carpathians, Brooks and Duncan met Captain Borowy, then commanding officer of the Terenowka (reserve units) in this area. "Borowy" was not his real name. Like all the partisans, the Captain used an undercover name. (The real name of "Lt. Colonel Borowy" was Adam Stabrawa who I got to know quite well and helped immigrate to Canada after the war.)

John and I were to spend a month or so at "Borowy's" Command center.

Photo Hubert Brooks and John Duncan in Field with AK Terenowka unit

PHOTO: Hubert Brooks (on left under red H) and John Duncan (2nd on right under red J - with curly hair) rest with Polish partisan group between operations. Emergency subunits remained in reserve on the mountain glades. Autumn 1943.
Photo Courtesy of: IPN (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej) Archive
The Institute of National Remembrance Archive in Cracow, Poland – IPN (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej) Oddział w Krakowie.
English website: http://ipn.gov.pl/en/



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