World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                          Jan Naploca 

A Survivor of Many Roads - from Poland to Chesterfield via Siberia and the Middle East.

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Jan Naplocha
Location of story: Poland; Russia; Siberia; Uzbekistan; Persia; Basra, Iraq; Jordan; Palestine; Egypt; Cassino, Italy; Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
Unit name: 7th Division, Polish Army; British 8th Army.
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mr Jan Naploca.

I was born in an area of eastern Poland which is now called Belarus. I was 16 in 1939 when war broke out. I lived in a farmhouse with my family.

On 10 February 1940, on a very cold morning, the Russians arrived. They told us to pack up and we were going – but they wouldn’t tell us where to. Everybody in the area was moved. They took us by train to the Russian border at a place called Mikoszowice where we changed on to a Russian train which took us to Minsk and Bransk, then on to Moscow. They looked after us and fed us alright.

We stood at Moscow for three days and then travelled on to Angel on the White Sea. My brother was taken ill at this time, but doctors and nurses attended him. We had three weeks at Angel and then we travelled 800 miles into the Arctic Circle by horse and sledge. We ended up in Siberia.

On 2nd October 1941, after General Sikorski had convinced Stalin that the Polish Army would support Russia, my brother and I were told to go and join the Polish Army. My family had to stay behind in Siberia because there were children to care for. We didn’t find the Polish Army until six months later (we had a long way to go and didn’t know where to find it); when we did find it, we joined up. This was in Uzbekistan. It felt good to get dry and warm and have clean clothes at last. I was suffering a fever by this time but with medical treatment for about ten days, I soon recovered.

I joined the 7th Division Polish Army and we moved out to a training area, but then I suffered dysentery and was in hospital again, I almost died and had a white sheet placed over me at one time, but a doctor luckily realised I was still alive and I was saved. I got well again and about the end of June sailed to Persia through the Caspian Sea. We had a rough voyage but got there and were taken to Iraq and to Basra.

I was there for about 18 months, attached to the British Eighth Army. My job was as a heavy equipment driver. We then went to Jordan and to Palestine, and on to Egypt, where we spent six months; that was around Christmas 1943. From Egypt we moved to Italy in 1944. I was doing mainly tank recovery duties at Cassino. My brother was killed at Cassino. I was in Italy nearly two years, and ended up in 1945 at Bologna, when the war ended.

At the end of the war, all Polish troops had to decide where they wanted to go. This was a problem for me; I had heard nothing of my family all through the war, and knew that I could not return to Poland as I had nowhere to go, and the last I had heard of my family they were in Siberia, and I had no wish to end up anywhere in Russia.

I decided to come to the U.K. and in July 1946, I came to Catterick Camp in Yorkshire – I was still in the Army. I was demobbed in 1947 from Hardwick Camp near Chesterfield. I found work at the Coalite plant at Bolsover – a temporary job – but I stayed there for 41 years! I met my future wife in 1947 at a dance at the Co-operative Hall in Chesterfield and we were married in 1949.

I first heard from my family in 1948. This was a letter from my brother, and the letter had been all over the world to find me. From then on we had regular contact with my family, and went to Poland to see them for the first time in over 30 years in 1973. We have been to Poland several times since then. In the early days, when it was still part of the USSR, it was a very difficult journey – the Soviet authorities and their officials made sure it was – but it is very easy and pleasant to go back now.