Jan Tomasik, A Soldier for Poland

Jan Tomasik supervising work on a Polish building site in Spring 1939

It’s Spring 1939 in Poland and the sun is back. It’s warm enough for Jan Tomasik (left) to remove his coat as he supervises work on a building site in the district of Nova Huta on the eastern outskirts of Krakow. The sky is blue but soon the dark clouds of war will presage the gathering storm.

Jan Tomasik photographed in Polish army uniform in Krakow, August 1939

Krakow, August 1939. Jan has answered the call to arms. His country will soon be at war but unable to withstand the combined might of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. The future looks uncertain.

Jan Tomasik in a group of Polish riflemen photographed in France in 1940

But the fight goes on. France 1940 – “Poland has not yet perished”. Jan stands in the centre of the group, his face sideways, looking down. No-one foresees the events of May and France’s rapid defeat.

Polish soldiers listening to a Swing Band at Crawford, Lanarkshire in September 1940

The Fall of France sees Polish soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk and rescued by the Polish Navy from the ports of western France. Many make their way to Britain whichever way they can. These ones have set up temporary camp at Crawford, Lanarkshire in September 1940, and are enjoying a Royal Army Ordnance Corps band in full ‘Swing’ at a camp concert.

Jan Tomasik with a group of Polish soldiers in Douglas, Lanarkshire in October 1940

It’s October 1940. The place, Douglas, Lanarkshire. Jan (3rd from left) and his comrades are settling in to a new life they hadn’t planned for. They’re on their way to hear a lecture given at the local coalmine.

Polish soldiers including Jan Tomasik photographed at Barry Buddon camp near Carnoustie in October 1940

On the move again, this time to Barry Buddon camp near Carnoustie in Angus. It’s October 1940 and the Poles have been deployed to strengthen the defences of this part of Scotland’s North Sea coast. New barracks have to be erected to accommodate the sudden influx of men. Jan lies on his stomach looking at the camera during a short meal break. The British Army like the camp so much, they call it “Barry Butlins”. But it isn’t home.

Jan Tomasik and another soldier photographed beside an Army truck at Carnoustie in December 1940

It’s December 1940 and the Poles’ first winter in Scotland. The cold isn’t a problem, but the wind…! It may be a long time before combat equipment arrives, but Jan already has a vehicle, perhaps to carry out the kind of duties that will lead to him becoming a quartermaster later in the war.

Wedding photograph of Jan Tomasik and Catherine Kimlin, Galashiels 1942

It’s the biggest day in anyone’s life, and a time to put the war to one side for a brief moment. Jan Tomasik of Krakow, Poland is marrying Catherine Kimlin of Edinburgh, Scotland in Galashiels in September 1942. Note the ‘Poland’ patch and ‘Winged Hussar’ insignia of the 1st Armoured Division on the shoulder of Jan’s tunic. The three stripes on his epaulette show he is a lance-sergeant.

Newly-weds Jan Tomasik and Catherine Kimlin taking a walk along the Tweed in October 1942.

Romance blossomed for Jan and Catherine in 1942, but the autumn leaves on the banks of the Tweed in October are a reminder of impermanence. What lies ahead is unknown. Sooner or later the Allies will open up a Second Front in the West and Jan will go. Whether he will return only God knows or Fate will decide.

March past of men of the 1st Armoured Division in Newmarket Suffolk. Jan Tomasik can be seen.

Newmarket, Suffolk, July 1943. The Division has moved south for training. After a few months the men will return to Scotland and await the order to liberate Europe – “For Our Freedom And Yours”. Jan marches proudly with his comrades-in-arms (3rd rank from the front, in the centre and instantly recognisable by his moustache). He will be one of the lucky ones. He will return. Others in the photograph will not. Many lie today in cemeteries like the Polish-Canadian Military Cemetery in Breda in the Netherlands. Jan will hear his commander, General Maczek, say “The Polish soldier fights for the freedom of other nations, but dies only for Poland”, and he will know the truth of it.

View the same pictures as a slide sequence:

Our thanks go to the Tomasik family for supplying these photographs.