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When he was my age my grandpa was fighting in the Warsaw Uprising … and other stories.


Zoe and Z.A.P : Granddaughter and professor, veteran, leader, OBE, British citizen, Polish hero … 

From the introduction to the Polish documentary on Zbigniew Alexandri Pelcyznski. (see below for computer translation)

Bohaterem filmu jest prof. Zbigniew A. Pełczyński, w młodości żołnierz powstania warszawskiego, dziś filozof polityczny, emerytowany naukowiec i działacz społeczny lub – jak to sam określa – “przedsiębiorca społeczny”. Dwukrotnie ranny w walkach w stolicy w 1944 r., na krótko przed upadkiem powstania dostał się do niewoli i trafił do obozu jenieckiego koło Bremy. Siedem miesięcy później, pod koniec kwietnia 1945 r., obóz został wyzwolony przez Amerykanów. Młody Pełczyński wstąpił do brytyjskiej armii, by dalej walczyć. Pragnął też studiować. Miał szczęście: wraz z kilkoma innymi kolegami z AK trafił na uniwersytet St. Andrews w Szkocji. Specjalizował się w filozofii politycznej, w 1951 r. przyjął brytyjskie obywatelstwo i otrzymał etat naukowy na uniwersytecie w Oksfordzie. Dobrze czuł się w Wielkiej Brytanii, cenił i lubił tamtejsze obyczaje, kulturę, ludzi. Wrósł w swoją drugą ojczyznę. Jak powiada, “zrepolonizowała” go dopiero “Solidarność”. W początkach III Rzeczpospolitej był doradcą Sejmu i URM, ale nie odniósł na tym polu wielkich sukcesów. W 1994 r. zakończyła się więc jego kariera doradcy, lecz po kilku latach intensywnej działalności w Polsce nie chciał wracać do spokojnego życia emerytowanego wykładowcy i swego domu na angielskiej wsi. Zainicjował współpracę między uczelnią w Oksfordzie i Uniwersytetem Warszawskim, stworzył system stypendialny dla studentów z Polski. W 1994 r. założył też Szkołę Liderów, która w ciągu 10 lat funkcjonowania przekroczyła granice Polski: w jej zajęciach coraz liczniej uczestniczą bowiem także młodzi ludzie z Ukrainy czy Gruzji. Celem szkoły jest kształtowanie postaw i stanu świadomości charakterystycznych dla otwartego społeczeństwa obywatelskiego, przygotowywanie młodych kadr zdolnych rządzić krajem, lokalnymi społecznościami, dużymi firmami – ludzi otwartych, kreatywnych, elastycznych, umiejących korzystać z cudzych doświadczeń. Opowieść o prof. Zbigniewie Pełczyńskim nie jest typowym filmem biograficznym, choć wiele w niej szczegółów z życiorysu bohatera, wyjaśniających, jakie wydarzenia i czynniki kształtowały jego postawę życiową, wpływały na jego wybory, skłoniły go do podjęcia określonych działań. To raczej filmowy esej, w którym losy tytułowego “lidera” stanowią punkt wyjścia do refleksji zarówno historycznych nad postawami powstańczego pokolenia, jak i tych całkowicie współczesnych, dotyczących reformy oświaty, a zwłaszcza szkolnictwa wyższego, możliwości kształtowania liderów społecznych i intelektualnych. Licznym stypendystom z Polski uniwersytet oksfordzki stworzył warunki, jakich nie był w stanie zapewnić im rodzimy uniwersytet. Losy i działalność prof. Zbigniewa Pełczyńskiego poznajemy z jego relacji, a także z wypowiedzi ludzi, którzy go znają prywatnie lub współpracują z nim: prof. Leszka Kołakowskiego, prof. Jerzego Kłoczowskiego, Bolesława Taborskiego, Timothy’ego Gartona Asha, Elizabeth Frazer, Johna Adaira, prof. Jana Krzysztofa Bieleckiego. Z kolei polscy stypendyści Oksordu i zatrudnieni na tej prestiżowej uczelni młodzi naukowcy z Polski, m.in. dr Marcin Walecki, dr Grzegorz Plebanek, dr Wiktor Maciejewski, Piotr Drag, Agnieszka Grodzińska czy Witold Czartoryski mówią o pozytywnych stronach systemu stypendialnego stworzonego przez prof. Pełczyńskiego, i ogromnych możliwościach, jakie otworzyły się przed nimi wraz z przyjazdem do Oksfordu. Absolwenci Szkoły Liderów, tacy jak Adam Krzanowski z Krosna, swoją pracą na rzecz miasta i jego mieszkańców, dowodzą natomiast praktycznej przydatności takich kursów. [TVP]

Courtesy of Google Translate:

The protagonist is prof. Zbigniew A. Pełczyński, in his youth a soldier of the Warsaw Uprising, today, political philosopher, a retired scientist and social activist or – as he describes – “social entrepreneur.” Twice wounded in the fighting in the capital in 1944., Shortly before the fall of the uprising he was captured and was sent to a POW camp near Bremen. Seven months later, in late April 1945., The camp was liberated by the Americans. Young Pełczyński joined the British army to continue fighting. Also he wanted to study. He was lucky: along with several other colleagues from AK went to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He specialized in political philosophy in 1951. Adopted British citizenship, and received time researcher at the University of Oxford. Well felt in the UK, valued and liked rustic customs, culture and people. He has grown into his second motherland. As he says, “zrepolonizowała” it with “Solidarity”. At the beginning of the Third Republic was an advisor to the Sejm and the URM, but did not comment on this area of great success. In 1994. So he ended his career counselors, but after several years of intense activity in Poland does not want to return to the quiet life of a retired teacher and his home in the English countryside. Initiated the cooperation between the university at Oxford and the University of Warsaw, he created a system of scholarships for students from Polish. In 1994. He founded the School of Leaders, who during 10 years of operation exceeded the limits Polish: in her classes growing numbers participate because the young people of Ukraine or Georgia. The aim of the school is to shape attitudes and awareness characteristic of an open civil society, preparation of young talent able to govern the country, local communities, large companies – open-minded, creative, flexible, able to benefit from other people’s experiences. The story of a professor. Zbigniew Pełczyński is not a typical biopic, although many of the details from the biography of the hero, explaining what events and factors shaped his attitude in life, influenced his choices led him to take certain actions. It is rather a film essay, in which the fate of the title “leader” constitute a starting point for reflection on the attitudes of both the historical insurgent generation, as well as those completely contemporary, for the reform of education, especially higher education opportunities to shape social and intellectual leaders.

Numerous Polish fellows of Oxford University has created the conditions under which he was not able to provide them with native university. Fate and activity prof. Zbigniew Pełczyński know of his relationship, as well as the statements of people who know him privately or cooperate with it: prof. Leszek Kolakowski, prof. George Kłoczowski, Boleslaw Taborski, Timothy Garton Ash, Elizabeth Fraser, John Adair, prof. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. On the other hand, Polish scholars Oksordu and employed in this prestigious university, young scientists from Polish, among others Dr. Marcin Walecki, Dr. Gregory Plebanek, Dr. Victor Maciejewski, Piotr Drag, Agnieszka Grodzińska whether Witold Czartoryski talk about the positive sides of the scholarship system developed by prof. Pełczyńskiego, and huge possibilities opened up before them, with the arrival to Oxford. Graduates of the School of Leaders, such as Adam Krzanowski from Krosno, his work for the city and its inhabitants, demonstrate while the practical usefulness of such courses. [TVP]

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Each November: grieving the dead and our unchanged world

From First World War

Fig.1 Grieving the dead and our unchanged world a century on – despair at the unending violence

We are still grieving, we grandchildren and great-children. The world notices this.

What is this loss that the British and Commonwealth countries of the former British Empire feel so tangibly and personally? I see a different commemoration in France. I wonder how the First World War is remembered in Serbia? And Russia? And the US?

Ours was a pyrrhic victory in 1919. And the job wasn’t finished. How else could there have been a second world war after the first?

Britain ceased to be the pre-eminent world power it had come to be and has been leaking influence in fits and starts ever since.

Cameron to Putin is not Churchill to Stalin, which is why this country needs Europe – better united than alone.

And how does this play out in grief and art then, since and now? The distribution of wealth began – a bit. Domestic service as a career or layer of society very quickly washed away – people didn’t want to do it while the landed gentry were feeling increasingly vulnerable and broke. When we grieve every November do we grieve for a golden age, as well as for those whose life chances were destroyed?

Listening to Metallica ‘One’ inspired by the anti-war movie ‘Johnny Get Your Gun’ transcends 90+ years of this sickening grief we feel concerning the First World War

Moments that define Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE

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Fig 1. Chapter Three: A Life Remembered

For all the technology – I am writing on an iPad – the book I am reading (‘A Life Remembered’ is only available in print) is on a rather rusty, heavy-duty iron book stand. Out of shot I have a lamp on an upturned waste-paper bin – an eBook would be the light, the stand and the content. It allows me to take notes, picking out moments and ideas from mini PostIts.

In some respects I feel like a Talk Show Host preparing for an interview, though many of these stories and their significance to Zbigniew Pelczynski I have heard before – I’ll be in his company this weekend so can ask questions, record the interview highlights and post the results here.

What defines him as an academic, inspirational educator and Polish patriot? How might others have behaved given the extraordinary life choices he had to make as the Second World War came to a close?

What is it about Oxford University that held him in its spell and kept him from the opportunities and temptations of other universities in the UK and abroad?

How can the oath he made to God that defines his life come from someone with no faith in religion?

Is it not ironic that despite being alive and well and mentally alert and agile in his 86th year that publication of his life story isn’t the end at all, but another mile stone as he drives on to yet more commitments and projects later this year and next including a two-day conference on Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, the book launch at the Polish Embassy then Meetings at his School fo Leaders in Warsaw.

With Zbszyek it isn’t even a case of ‘what next?’ rather it is a case of what he plans to do still beyond that.

My Notes So far :

Learning in extremis

Three Reformers Jacques Maritain
– an exegesis of the works of Luther, Calvin and Rousseau.

Zbig studied while part of the Polish Resistance in Warsaw, developing early ideas and an interest in:

  • man
  • society
  • state

McAvoy (2012:19)

KEY MOMENTS: Events that make the person

Saying good-bye to his mother Irena in August 1944 age 18 and lying about what he was up to as he went off to join his company B1 of the Basta Regiment. He saw his mother again in December 1956. (p 24)

PERSONALITIES

Jerzy Kloczowski, known as Piotrus

HORROR

The German campaign of mass murder in Warsaw in response to the foolhardy uprising killing, between 5th and 7th August 1944 more than 50,000 men, women and children. Perhaps 200,000 killed over the next two months.

KEY MOMENT

The life defining oath Zbigniew made when rubble pinned the 19-year-old in a cellar after an attack by a Stuka.

He made a pack with God: if he got out alive, then somehow, someday, he would do something for Poland in return. McAvoy (2012:27)

DEFINING MOMENT – Traumatised

Appearance of political prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp who fought over every scrap of food. McAvoy (2012:36)

HORROR – POLISH FARMHAND – what people will do to survive and for love.

Condemned for a ‘race crime’ with a German girl and put in a forced labour camp on starvation rations he joined the Offen Kommando whose job it was to collect and burn the bodies of dead inmates. McAvoy (2012:39) There they had witnessed systematic cannibalism.

(Though I suspect hours of cooking rather than 15 minutes would have been required).

DEFINING MOMENT

Two lessons: the story itself and from the way it was told. Cured of social snobbery for life. McAvoy (2012:39)

A very different war defined a quite different man – my grandfather, working class and a machine-gunner in the First War, humble, conscientious and hardworking, dedicated his life to his wife and child.

What is of greater significance?

Our genetic make-up or the events in our life? People respond very differently to events and circumstances, yet the decisions they take define them. We cannot all be the same.

What am I coming to understand about education and the motivation to learn?

What bearing does this have on the struggles and wars that continue around the world and the politics that are both the cause and cure of the mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond to Korea and elsewhere?

REFERENCE

McAvoy, D (2012) Zbigwniew Pelczynski: A life remembered. Grosvenor House Publishing.

Turning thoughts into action – the life of Z A Pelczynski remembered

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Read cover to cover yesterday, into the evening and small hours. I’m now onto the second read, with various notes to add, references to pursue and further research to undertake.

Yet to be published, I’ll give detials in due course of how to get your hands on a copy.

Why read ‘A Life Remembered’ ?

It’s a fascinating life story from surving the Warsaw Uprising as a teenager to achieving as an Academic and educator in England, Scotland then at various leading universities around the world while pursing various interests and causes with passion and dogged determination. A life lesson? I think so.

George Wannop was killed the next time he went in

Ypres Sept 1917 Plank Track

Fig. 1. Passchendale was a quagmire

Not like trenches. There was no communication. And you could only walk about in the dark.

(Ypres is at sea level. As the landscape is flat farming is only possible with extensive drainage. The Belgians let it flood when the Germans invaded, then with all the shelling, the place was just a morass of mud. The surrounding ridges are nearly all under 50ft high – but it was dry and gave a view of the area. That was what all the fighting was about).

“You had to watch the gun that it didn’t freeze; it was water cooled”.

We’d cover the barrel with bits of sandbag and an oil sheet – anything you could find.

You couldn’t help but get a bit of dirt on it. The conditions were absolutely serious, almost unbearable. We used to wrap out legs with sandbags right up to the knees. There were no rubber boots or anything then; it was boots and puttees.

This Lance-Corporal George Wannop was in charge of the gun.

He was only 19, another one who’d joined up under age.

It would appear that during the night when they’d given the gun a try, given it a few bursts to see that it wasn’t frozen; it jammed.

You had to do that intermittently, just to give it a burst to reassure yourself that it would work.

Wannop couldn’t get it going; it wasn’t frozen.

So in the dark he changed the lock.

You wouldn’t dare show the slightest light.

We’d been trained to change parts wearing a blindfold in Grantham.

There’s a spare lock in the case. It’s a square piece of metal with a striking pin in it and its worked by a crank inside. You lift the cover on the gun, ease it back, pull the crankshaft back, the leaver is here, ease the gun out and lift the lock out.

(75 years on Jack goes through the precise actions with his hands. His thumbs are like spoon, pressed flat from being pressed against the dual firing buttons of a Vickers Machine-gun)

Wannop did that, all in the dark, and put in a new lock. He tried the gun.

“DakDakDakDak DakDakDakDakDakDak DakDakDakDakDakDak DakDak”

OK and covered it up.

There’s a heavy fog the next morning when it starts to break daylight.

This officer, he could have only weighed nine stone and one or two officers came prowling around. He was a little worm of a man, not more than nine stone, with a great heavy coat on. You’d never get officers coming round on a clear day; this one was a complete stranger to us. They had a chat with the corporal.

“Let me have a look at your spares,” asked the skinny one.

Wannop got the case out which held the spares and low and behold there’s mud and dirt on the lock they’d been fiddling on with in the middle of the night.

He was reprimanded for a dirty lock.

Not only was he reprimanded, but so was I because I was responsible for the two guns. I had my papers going through for transfer so the last thing I wanted was this kind of bother.

“When it broke daylight we were going to examine the gun,” I said to the man. “To see what the fault was, fix it and clean it.”

He’d hear nothing of it. Another “B” that wouldn’t listen … and it was him alright, Montgomery.

He was just a weed of a man … skinny legs there, but no doubt it he was clever with the Eighth Army.

Captain Williams was damn well annoyed about it.

We all resented these men coming to the Front Line. They hadn’t the first idea what it was like. They’d be seven or eight miles back billeted in some French châteaux while our lads were being knocked to pieces. We didn’t lose any pay. Williams reassured me that my papers would still go through.

This Lance Corporal says.

“Jack, they can keep the dog’s leg and put it where the monkey puts its nuts!”

Wannop was a great tall lanky lad. He was disgusted. And I had my papers going through. I was worried it would be on my record and effect my application. Wannop was a quarter mile away from me.

George Wannop was killed the next time he went in. He was killed on the 29th of October.

It was a spot in Houthulst Forest.

He said to me he was a farmer’s son, actually his father was a dock labourer from Silloth, Cumbria – but never mind that. You didn’t get many saying their father or mother were in domestic service either.

(George had six brothers and sisters: Isabelle, Thomas, twins Margaret & Joseph, Dinah J who was my age and a younger sister Sarah).

Years after the Second World War, Norman Taylor, my brother-in-law, who lived at Ryton, bought an autobiography of Montgomery

There was a picture of this skinny little fellow.

Fig. 2 Montgomery on the right here.

Montgomery was in Ypres at the same time as me. He was a serving staff officer in the 2nd Army under Sir Herbert Plumer. (47th (2nd London Division)  Montgomery had been moved from Boesinghe on the 7th June after the mines blew under Messines Ridge. He then went on towards Pilckem Ridge, Langemark, Poelcapelle and Houthulst Forrest in October 1917.

I’m sure Montgomery was our brigade machine gun officer or director of guns.

GSO2 in Plumer’s IX Corps from June 1917 onwards. (Powell, 1990)

Fig.3. Lieutenant-Major Montgomery – Front Row. Sitting. Five from the left.

 

RIP Lance Corporal George Wannop.

Service No. 13210, 104 Company.

Died 29th October 1917. Born 1897.

From Bletterlees, Cumberland

Parents: Robert and Dinah Wannop, of Clement House, Blitterlees, Silloth, Cumberland.

 

Burial:
Poelcapelle British Cemetery
Langemark-Poelkapelle
West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), Belgium
Plot: VIII. D. 6.

 

 

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