Poland to Tasmania via WWII

My step grandfather or Uncle Mike as we called him, was indeed a long way from home.

We know very little about his life prior to World War Two.

He was born in Luzski in what was Poland around 1914 to parents Basil and Fdokaj. He had two sisters; Olga who was already married at his birth and Elizabeth who was two years older than him. The main town near where he was born was on a large island in the middle of the Minuta River and had 4 different bridges leading off the island. I eventually found this was in present day Belarus.

During the war

He began his Polish war service in 1939 but was one of the unlucky soldiers captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp. I am not sure where it was as I don’t have uncle Mike’s war records. But on 17 August 1941 after 18 months in the camp, the Russians released all their Polish POWs under an ‘Amnesty’. It was after this that Anders Army was formed and they were under the control of the Polish Government in exile based in England. First Anders Army had to get back towards Britain somehow.

Uncle Mike was one of 115,000  people including women and children who began a long march through Russia, to Guzar in Uzbekistan, cross country to the Caspian Sea and on to Iran. For the members of Anders Army, on to the Middle East to Palestine.  Many died in the process due to cold weather, hunger, disease and exhaustion. The families of the soldiers stayed in Iran and, within the next few months, went to various refugee camps around the world.

The army trained in Iraq and Palestine where Uncle Mike met his cousin Wiktor, who was still alive and serving in the 2nd Polish Corps. While in hospital Uncle Mike had to decide to travel on with Anders Army to fight in Italy or head to another hospital in England to get over the malarial disease he had. He headed to Scotland where the Polish Army was then based.

After surviving malaria, he became part of the 1st Polish Armoured Division in the 8th Battalion Rifle Infantry known as “The Bloody Shirts”.

I began researching some of the fighting of this group and when talking to Uncle Mike about it, he was very proud of the following events:

  • In August 1944 the Polish 1st Armored Division with General Stanislaw Maczek in charge was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Corps
  • August 19 at Falaise Pocket where the division helped close the German escape route via their strategic position on Hill 262
  • 12 April  1945 when they liberated Oberlangen Stalag which held 1728 Polish Home Army women and children
  • on 6 May 1945 when the Division raised the flag over Willhelmshaven which was the main U Boat base in Germany.

After 1945

After the war, the British didn’t know what to do with all the Polish soldiers as many were too afraid to head back to their homeland which was now under Communist rule. So the British government formed the Polish Resettlement Corps where they trained soldiers for life as farmers and workers in their new country. They also organized for many to emigrate. Uncle Mike’s last known address was at Rougham Camp in Surrey in England.

Heading to a new life in Australia

He embarked on 2 July 1948 heading for Australia on board the liner Strathnaver and was settled at Brighton Camp, Tasmania by 9 August. On his incoming passenger card for the Commonwealth of Australia records held at National Archives Australia, he had written single for conjugal condition but this had been crossed out to married. He would never tell us if this was correct or not but this was found in the local newspaper.

 

Uncle Mike spent many years working for the Hydro Electric Commission at Bronte in the Tasmanian highlands.  He and dad returned there often but especially when there were reunions held. I can remember some of them but not when this was taken.

Uncle Mike, Sue, Bob

 

When talking to Uncle Mike he had a very strong Polish accent but spoke very precise English.

He was awarded many medals as can be seen in the top photo. My father and I have tried to work out what they were for. So far we have identified the 1939/45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Cross of volunteer combatants(French) plus at least two Polish medals. Uncle Mike travelled to London in 1982 to be presented with medals. Much of his paperwork is in Polish but we have been able to translate some of it.

Readers: Did you have someone in your family who was a long way from their original homeland?

Final essay for diploma of family history

After 3 years of online study, I have now completed the 8 units required for the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania. Here is my final essay as part of the Families at War unit.

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My feedback included that I had not used enough scholarly secondary sources, that a thesis statement was not mentioned and there were some errors with the footnotes. I agree with most of the feedback. I received a score of 30/50 giving me an overall score of 74/100 for the whole unit including the quizzes.

I would like to thank all those students who have been on this journey with me over the last three years and hopefully I will meet you in person at the August or December graduation in Hobart.

Private Roy Graham COLGRAVE

Roy Graham Colgrave was born 12 April 1896 at Pipers River in the area known as the East Tamar, Tasmania, Australia. His parents were Samuel and Jane Colgrave (nee Duncanson). He was the eldest of 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls. Keith, his youngest brother was only 14 months old when Roy enlisted for World War 1.

Roy was 5 feet 6.25 inches tall and weighed 136 pounds. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. He was a Methodist. One way to identify Roy was by the mole on his left shoulder.

On the 27 March 1916 he was considered fit for service but there may have been something wrong with his teeth as this is mentioned on the form.

When Roy enlisted on 1 May 1916 he was just 20 years old and was a labourer. He had never been in the military before but mentioned on his attestation papers is the following as an extra added to question 11.

Attestation paper Roy Graham Colgrave

Does this mean he was a regular in the 92nd Infantry?

On 7 August 1916, he is appointed to 19th reinforcements in the 12th Battalion.

Regimental number 5996, departed Hobart on 8 August 1916 on the OC Troopship “Ballarat” and disembarked over a month later at Plymouth, England on 30 September 1916.

HMAT A70 Ballarat

Image Source: Courtesy State Library of Victoria and Flotilla Australia  Thanks John.

On 19 November 1916 he proceeded to France via Folkestone on the SS Onward. He had been with 3rd Training Battalion prior to this departure. The 19th reinforcements then marched to 1st Australian Division Base Depot at Etaples, France. This was the largest of the training camps in France and had British, Canadian and Australian soldiers training there. It also had many hospitals and cemeteries at Etaples.

Below is an image of the 18th Battalion practicing in the ‘Bull Ring‘ at Etaples.

Image copyright: Copyright expired – public domain

Trying to read his service record and casualty record, the dates are quite confusing as to when he was taken on strength or struck off strength. In other words when he moved from reinforcements to battalion to hospital and back to battalion.

On 5 December he was taken on strength with the 12th Battalion AIF but was in hospital sick on the 11th December. In this period, 94 of the reinforcements under the leadership of Captain LE Burt were on duty and could have been employed in carrying equipment to the front lines and in improving the lines of communication. Trenches were also being improved and A frames and hurdles were taken to the front line.

According to the war diaries for the 12th Battalion, on December 11, a fatigue party of 13 men were taking hot tea to the front lines but lost direction and ended up at a German trench. They immediately withdrew but were fired upon. One soldier killed, two wounded, two missing and one arrived back 2 nights later. The rest got back safely to their lines. On the 12 December they were relieved by the 9th Battalion and 18 reinforcements were reported as casualties, 1 killed and 6 wounded. Here is a link to the trenches map of the area they were in.

On 14 December Roy  was admitted to the 25 Stationary Hospital at Rouen with mumps. He was then moved to 5th Field Ambulance and the 39th Casualty and Clearing Station still at Rouen. By 3 January 1917 back at the Stationary Hospital and then transferred to the No 2 Convalescent Depot. Back to base at Etaples on 6 January.

Rejoined his unit with the 12 Battalion on 17 January and headed into camp at Bresle where a heavy snow had fallen the previous night. On 24 January headed to Fricourt A Camp for more training. As they were going through Albert, there was a casualty from a bomb dropped by a hostile plane. On 28 January they moved on to Bazentin le Petit making improvements to camp lines, latrines and doing more training.

According to the syllabus of training, it included physical training, rifle exercises, bayonet fighting and route marches. Often a Commanding Officer would arrive for  company or battalion in attack drills. Here is two weeks training. If a member of the intelligence platoon, this was your typical training. If in the Lewis Machine Gun Reserves, your training looked like this. Bombers trained differently including throwing grenades.

Here is a set of operation orders from 21 January 1917, including a map of the trench area involved. Note the typist always get K and L mixed up.

On February 11, the 12th Battalion relieved the 4th Battalion at Eaucourt l’Abbaye sector. The thaw then set in rapidly and men were working in muddy conditions improving Pioneer Alley and Pioneer Support. The enemy began firing ‘Pineapple bombs’ and the front line had to be moved out into No Mans Land by 50 yards to avoid the fire. This caused the death of one officer and 4 other ranks O/R and the wounding of one officer and 6 O/Rs.

On 24 February the enemy began retiring from their front line, so the ANZAC Battalions moved in and cleared up trenches and villages. The main opposition was a strong post on the junction of Misty Way and Warlencourt Road. Three of the enemy were killed and 8 more shot by Lewis Machine Gun fire while retreating.

On 1 March 1917, the battalion moved to Dernancourt for more training sessions. On 23 March, 39 officers and 958 O/R moved to Baizieux, where they adopted summer time on the 24th. Report for the month from Lt Col H Elliott:

The whole of the month has been spent in training: the first half in attacking under barrage fire and the second half in open warfare and tactical schemes. The results obtained have been very satisfactory and most encouraging.

The health of the battalion has been good and their morale excellent.

The reinforcements obtained have been of good physique, intelligent and well trained.

On 1 April, the divisional commander attended the church parade at Baizieux. On 4 April at 0900 they left Baizieux and marched to Montauban then onto Fremicourt the next day. They relieved the 9th Battalion in the lines and on Sunday 8 April they attacked and bombed a windmill at Boursies. The Germans open fired with machine guns but the Aussies advanced, and the Bosche retreated, two of them had been bayonetted then six surrendered but threw a percussion bomb so were immediately killed. For the remainder of that day under cover of a blizzard, the Germans tried to gain back the mill but were driven off. There was an intense bombardment of pineapple trench mortar bombs and smoke bombs but by Wednesday evening the remainder of 12th Battalion were back at Morchies after having taken two machine guns and many trenches from the enemies. Here is a quick report of the casualties and end of the fight.

On 14/15 April, the 12th Battalion relieved 9th Battalion at Lagnicourt. The companies were increasing and consolidating extra picquets and posts; enemy guns were silent and flares absent, when at 0400 they were attacked by the Germans. D Company were attacked from front, left and rear; A Company forced back by numbers 10 to 1 in the front and sniping from the rear. Begin reading the account of this fighting on this page and continue for many more.

On 15 April 1917, Roy was one of 37 reported as missing in action since the fighting at Lagnicourt.

By 2 June this has been changed to POW (Prisoner of War) captured at Lagnicourt and interned at Limburg in the state of Hesse in western Germany. From what I have read, Limburg was a registration camp. Conditions there were terrible and many died of shellfire, disease or starvation.

Looking at Roy’s Red Cross file at the Australian War Memorial website, he was transferred to Friedrichsfeld on 16 November 1917.

On 18 December 1917, his next of kin Samuel and Jane Colgrave were notified he was now a prisoner of war. Sometime between June 1917 and January 1918, he is moved to the Kriegsgefangenen Lazarett at Fuhlsbuttel in Hamburg, Germany. A Lazarett is a military hospital for POWs.

On 19 January 1918 he dies from tuberculosis and meningitis.   During the last part of his life, he was unconscious. Roy was buried with military honours at Ohlsdorfer Cemetery in Hamburg on 22 January.

By 6 March 1918 the War Office in London had been notified of his death.

On 10 April 1919, Jane Colgrave signed for a package being the effects of Roy sent from Germany via the War Office. It included: post cards, photos, a canvas bag, 8 coinsand a paybook handed to Estates Branch at AIF Headquarters London. It also included a will written by Roy on 5 March 1917 where, upon his death, he gives all his effects and property to his mother.

On 17 April, 1920 a photograph was sent to Sam and Jane of Roy’s grave.

On 16 April, 1921 his father received Roy’s British War Service Medal.

On 28 July, 1921 Samuel signed a receipt for a memorial scroll and King’s message.

On 24 October  1922, Samuel again signed a receipt for a memorial plaque for Roy’s grave.

On March 28, 1923 his Victory Medal was given to his father.

In a letter dated 4 December 1924, Samuel Colgrave was told his son’s body had been exhumed and re-interred at Plot 1, Row C, Grave 4 still in the Hamburg Cemetery section now under the control of the Imperial War Graves Commission.

Readers: All information in this post is found in the service records of Private Roy Graham Colgrave and held at the National Archives of Australia. They can be found at the website Discovering ANZACs which also includes soldiers from New Zealand. I also included some research of particular places mentioned and read the war diaries for the 12th Battalion which can be found in the Australian War Memorial website.

Readers: What do you know about any of your relatives who served in World War 1?