Jerzy Pajaczkowski

COLONEL JERZY PAJACZKOWSKI First World War Polish soldier

Born: 19 July, 1894, in Lwow, Poland. Died: 7 December, 2005, in Cumbria, aged 111.

THE death of Colonel Pajaczkowski, perhaps Britain's oldest-surviving First World War veteran, albeit on the "opposite side", punctuates a close and historic wartime Polish-Scots relationship.

The present "invasion" of Scotland by young Poles was preceded by another, 65 years ago.

In late July 1940, some 20,000 Polish soldiers arrived in Glasgow marching through its streets to temporary camps. These were the remnants of a Polish army reformed in France, under General Sikorski, after Poland's partition between Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. After the capitulation of France on 17 June, 1940, General Sikorski, assured by Churchill that Britain would fight on, gave the order that Polish troops were to make for Britain.

The Poles were given a warm welcome by Scots. They were invited into people's homes and the City Corporation arranged for free travel on the city's trams. One of their most supportive friends was Glasgow's socialist Lord Provost Patrick Dollan who was to take a close interest in Polish affairs throughout the war and who the Poles affectionately called "Dollanski".

One of the Poles picked up by the Merchant Navy in St Jean de Luz on 24 June was Jerzy Pajaczkowski.

Pajaczkowski was born in Lwow (now Lviv) in 1894 in what was then a Polish city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Pajaczkowski, intent on becoming a lawyer, commenced studies in Lwow University in 1912 and continued in Vienna. In 1915, he was conscripted into the Austrian army and saw action in the Balkans against the Italians, by whom he was captured. He was then an infantry second lieutenant.

In many ways the Great War was a tragedy for the Poles. During four years of bitter fighting, great swathes of Poland were destroyed. Worse was the fact that Poles conscripted into the Russian army would be forced to fight their compatriots in the Russian or German armies.

At the end of the war, Pajaczkowski joined the re-formed Polish army under General Haller in France.

Within a short time, Pajaczkowski, now a lieutenant in this army, was to see action against Russia's Bolsheviks. Transported by rail across Germany, it was a valuable addition to the forces of a fledgling state regaining independence after 123 years of partition. Final victory for the Poles at the Battle of Warsaw in August 1920 ensured Polish independence. All Poles, its peasants and its urban working class, had surprised Lenin by putting the interest of their nation first.

Pajaczkowski decided to become a regular officer. After attending staff college in Warsaw, he rose through the ranks and in 1935 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. When Germany invaded on 1 September, 1939, he was a staff officer in its High Command.

After a gallant and isolated campaign, Poland fell first to Germany and then to the Soviet Union. Pajaczkowski was fortunate in being able to escape to Romania. Had he been captured by the Germans, he would have spent six years in an offlag but had he been captured by the Russians his fate as an officer would most probably have been a bullet in the head at Katyn.

Escaping from internment in Romania, he made his way via the Balkans and Italy to France where a Polish army government-in-exile was being formed. Here once more his was a staff posting.

After disembarking at Plymouth and heading north, Pajaczkowski's first months in Scotland were with Polish units, re-forming once more, in Peebles and in Douglas before, in October 1940, being made garrison commander of Polish forces in Perth. The Polish forces were given the task of defending the Fife. They also manned armoured trains based as far north as Aberdeen.

Close friendships were made with the local population. This meant much to men far from an occupied homeland knowing nothing of what had befallen their families. Scottish-Polish Societies in their dozens sprang up.

Most importantly, the Poles trained for the next stage in the war and the liberation of their country. Leven and its surrounding area was where the Polish parachute brigade which fought at Arnhem was formed. The Polish First Armoured Division which was to distinguish itself in August 1944 in the closing of the Falaise Gap and in the battles for the liberation of Belgium and Holland trained in the Borders. (Its commander, Major-General Stanislaw Maczek, died in Edinburgh in 1994 aged 101).

Pajaczkowski was now too old for frontline duties and from 1943-45, he was stationed in Edinburgh dealing with the co-ordination of Polish and British military regulations. Though the Polish government-in-exile was based in London, Edinburgh was very much the capital of this exiled community. It housed a Polish medical school and hospital. It also had Polish bookshops and hostels.

When, in June 1941, Hitler turned on Stalin, some 100,000 Poles in Soviet captivity were allowed out of the Soviet Union. Many soldiers and civilians, including orphans, would make their way to Scotland.

Pajaczkowski's last posting until the end of 1946 was as a lecturer to the Polish Staff College in Musselburgh.

The end of the war was not to see a triumphant return to a liberated Poland. As a result of agreements made at Tehran in 1943 and at Yalta in 1945, Poland was to find itself under Soviet domination until 1989 and bodily move westwards. Lwow, Pajaczkowski's home town, was to be absorbed into the Soviet Union.

Pajaczkowski, like the majority of the 200,000-strong Polish forces, chose to remain in exile. Sadly, in Scotland, many no longer welcomed the Poles. Many saw Stalin as good old "Uncle Joe" and could not understand the Poles' unwillingness to return home. There were many cases of Poles being abused in the streets.

Pajaczkowski decided to remain in Edinburgh. His wife, Maria Lewandowska, whom he married in 1924 and with whom he had a son, Andrzej, died in 1945. However, he found happiness again by marrying a Scots woman, Dorothy Catterall, in May the following year.

In 1964, the Polish government-in-exile symbolically promoted Pajaczkowski to full colonel. This government, so often derided by the communists in Poland and by many in the West, remained steadfast and true and in 1989 was able to return the insignias of office to a legitimate democratically elected government in Warsaw.

During his time in Edinburgh, much of which saw him proudly making a living as a gardener, he was an active, well-liked and respected member of the Polish community and a stalwart of the Polish Ex-combatants Association, on Drummond Place.

In 1993, Dorothy died, so after 52 years in Scotland he moved to Sedbergh, in Cumbria to live with their daughter, Dorcas, and grandchildren. He would remain in this English county for the remainder of his days.

In 2001, on the occasion of Pajaczkowski's 107th birthday, the Polish Consul General invested him with one of Poland's highest awards, the Officers Cross of Polonia Restituta.