Trip from the French Front Home, Part I - From the Memoirs of Franek Gwiozdzik

Read the first part of memoirs On the Wrong Site of the Frontline and the second part: the Beginnings of the War .

This is the next part, very adventurous, of the memoirs of Franciszek Gwiozdzik, who served, as all Silesians had to serve, in the Wehrmacht during the World War II.

I had good luck again! Something happened that I would remember for the rest of my life. It was Friday, June 30, 1944. A telephone message came to our commander that "Kanionier (bombardier) Franz Gwiozdzik is to be ready to go at 8 A.M., in full uniform, to report to the regiment command post." I tried to learn what this was about, but I learned only that a supply car would take me to the regiment headquarters.

I packed in the evening and shaved as best as I could in the morning. I said good-bye to my colleagues and got into the truck. At headquarters, I received orders to go to Pocking-Fliegerhorst. I had never heard of this town so I asked where it was, but the only answer I got was that it was certainly somewhere in Germany and I did not need to worry about it. First I would have to pass through half of France (we were stationed in France at that time) and then through Belgium, so it was not certain whether I would even be able to get there at all. I was sent to another noncommissioned officer but hecould not even find it on the map. He said only that once I was in Germany, any military information post should know about this town.

Then I thought, if nobody knows where this place is, I can be lost and try to look for it in Silesia where my family is! I can use this chance to go visit my family there! I thought about it obsessively for the next few hours and plotted the easiest way that I could get home. I started rushing. I knew I had to go the city of Lille first, as fast as possible, maybe even that day. I found a truck that was going to Boulogne—this was not exactly the direction I wanted, but I had nothing else. I had to get to the road that leads to Lille. We left headquarters at 10 A.M. After 2 or 3 hours, the driver left me beside the road, which he assured me led to the south and to Lille. I stopped a military truck, which gave me a lift, but then I was again left on the road about 100 km (62 miles) away from Lille. But I was in such a hurry!

The driver who took me there advised me to get to a different road, which allegedly had more traffic between Calais and Lille and I found another military truck that took me there. There I waited quite a long time. Indeed there were many more cars there, but none were military, just civilian, and they did not respond when I tried to stop them. It was already afternoon and I was stuck far away from Lille, waiting on this road. The thought that this time is just wasted, that every hour of waiting is one hour less to spend with my family at home, was just hard for me to bear. I did not ever think about the potential consequences of my illegal planned vacation, and that was good, because if I did, I would probably never continue. This reflection came much later when I was already home. In the meantime, I was standing on a road somewhere between Calais and Lille, and trying without success to stop any civilian car passing by. Any time a car passed me, I imagined that I had lost the chance to catch the train going in the direction of home from Lille, and that the next one would not be for another 24 hours.

I was so desperate to go home that I decided to stop a car at all costs. Now, I have my chance: I see a sedan with an open rooftop and only one person inside, the driver. I hope he is not a German officer. I take my rifle from my shoulder and I turn it towards the moving car. The car stops. I say to the driver: "Lille" but he answers: "non". He is explaining something to me in French, which I do not understand, although I believe that he is trying to say that he is just 12 or 20 km from his final destination. His explanation does not put me off. I put my backpack on the back seat and I sit next to it, since I am a bit afraid to sit next to this Frenchman who looks big and strong. He starts to drive.

During the ride, I realized that this Frenchman knew some German, not as much as I, but enough to communicate. It was already late afternoon and I knew that I had to hurry because there might be a train from Lille to the east before nighttime. I tried to justifymyself to the Frenchman, telling him that I had 12 days of vacation and I was very much in a hurry because my home was far away. I mentioned Krakow, since I believed that this town was better known than Katowice where my family lived. The first day of my vacation was almost over and I was still in France, which left me fewer days to spend at home. The Frenchman convinced me that he would take me to Lille but he had to go home first, so we needed to drive off the main road. I was afraid of a trick. I had heard something about the French resistance, but the possibility to go to Lille later was too tempting, so I agreed. The Frenchman stopped in a yard from which I had a good view. He invited me into his home but I preferred to stay in the car.

After a couple of minutes he came back out of the house in the company of a lady, probably his wife, who I assumed wanted to see the enemy who had terrorized her husband. She looked at me, even smiled, and said something in French, which of course I could not understand. We left and drive to Lille. When I left the car at the entrance to railway station, the clock showed 6 P.M. I thanked my driver and ran to the station. It was hard to run through the crowd of prostitutes at the entrance of the station. They were advertising their services to all the men, especially the soldiers, who were the majority there at the station. I ran to the main hall and checked the timetable.

Read the finish of Franek Gwiozdzik's adventure trip from France home in Trip from the French Front Home, Part II.

Permission granted by Franek Gwiozdzik
copyrights Baba Jaga Corner - February 2006

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here


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