Father Bardel's Memoir

Father Marcin Bardel

From the memoirs of Father Marcin Bardel: “From Krasnobród through Foreign Lands to my Hometown”.  Translated from the original "Z Krasnobrodu przez obozy i obczyznę do rodzinnych stron" by Tony Gabis.

Marsworth Hostel


Marsworth Hostel near Tring, Herts, was about 40 kilometers north of London.  During the war there was a large military camp there with an airfield nearby. American pilots and ground crew lived in the camp.   The camp, like all of this kind, was spread out so that it was difficult to bomb. It consisted of twelve so-called “sites”.  The priest lived on site 12 in a hut specially built for the Air Force Colonel (Group Captain).  I lived together with Cieński, the prelate, and we spent almost three pleasant months together. The prelate immediately passed everything on to me, and so I became a "parish priest" in a place where I again spent almost seven years.


Prelate Cieński came from an old noble family. When he became a priest, his father gave him two thousand hectares of forest to have a place to hunt.  He had two brothers, also priests.  After the war, one of them found an injured NKVD colonel in a potato field.  He carried him to the hospital on his back.  When he recovered, he came to him and asked what he wanted for saving his life?  He replied, "In return, I want to stay in this parish where I am and continue to work."  "You will be here until the end of your life."  He is one of the three priests in Lviv, at least until 1974 (Translator's note: presumably when this memoir was written).  Father Cieński was deported to Russia, but was released after Sikorski-Stalin accord.  He developed his pastoral work and wanted to stay in Russia, but Bishop Gawlin appointed him Chief of Chaplains of the Second Corps.  Together with the Second Corps he came to England.  He was a very intelligent man and he was pleasant to talk to on various topics. He had his own views on everything.   In his 68th year he joined the Trappists.  He never gave a reason and I thought it improper to ask why.  I guess it didn’t matter.  I visited him three times in this monastery in Brickqubeck near Cherbourg.  I was there when he took his eternal vows, as was General Anders and four generals from the Second Corps.  In 1974 he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his priesthood.  He was a wonderful, good man who will remain in my memory. If he were to see what I have written, he would, as usual, shout at me, "Why are you writing this?!"  To your memory, Father.


Returning to Marsworth, after the war there were over 700 Poles here.  Families were drawn from all around the world, most from Africa.  The population was mostly from the eastern side of Poland, who went all through Russia and Siberia, and who came out of the Second Corps of General Anders as family members.  The first chaplain, albeit briefly, was Father Leon Frankowski, an enthusiastic friar.  The second was Father Ludwik Żmikowski from the diocese of Lutsk, who had been a prisoner in Dachau.  He was a very brave priest, a great organizer.  He developed a great religious and social life here, as evidenced by ten different organizations that collaborated together, which is not so simple among Poles (Translator's note: an old Polish saying is “Two Poles, three opinions!), and all under the direction of this priest Żmikowski.  He kept his hand on everything.  Nothing happened here without it.  Even the fun that took place every two weeks (because there was a theatre hall) was mainly a source of income for each organizations in turn, and he attended regularly. Unfortunately, he died tragically in a car accident, when he was going to Tring for medicine for a sick woman from the camp.  After him came Father Cieński, and then me.  To build a picture of life in the camp, I will tell you more about these organizations.  Each had its own board and president.  Every now and again, usually every month, the presidents, the educators and the priest gathered and set a schedule of games, parties, academies and other celebrations. The organisations were:

  1. Church Committee (Komitet Kościelny or KK).  Everyone in the camp belonged to it.  Its task was to collect the money for keeping a priest, which was determined at  a general meeting.  The treasurer paid the priest a salary. The committee looked after the church etc.
  2. The Camp Committee. As representatives of the Polish community, they looked after the outside of the camp and any requests that the English people might have.
  3. Polish Veterans Association (SPK). The former members of the military belonged to this organization.  It was up to them to organize state anniversaries such as May 3rd (Constitution Day), August 15th Soldiers’ Day, the miracle on the Vistula, November 11th Independence Day, and taking care of Polish graves.
  4. Parents’ Committee.  They were concerned with running the Saturday school.
  5. Women’s Circle. Their charitable aims were: preparing parcels for sick Poles in hospitals at Christmas and Easter, shipping parcels to Poland for the floods of Poles “repatriated” from Russia after 1956, etc.  The president was the very pleasant Mrs. Zeregiewicz, a former heiress somewhere from Lviv.
  6. The Rosary Circle.
  7. Marian Women's Sodality.
  8. Youth Circle.
  9. Altar Boys Circle.
  10. Sports Club.  Our own "Gdynia Star” football team, volleyball and ping-pong.


Everything ran with the priest’s involvement everywhere.  He always took part in the General Assembly, Epiphany, having fun.  In this way religious and social life was very developed.   Everyone was involved.  I was full of admiration for the social life that our people created.   The big advantage and the main reason for this was that everyone was there.  It was all ready when I arrived and continued with its own momentum until the camp finally closed down.


In addition to the Marsworth camp, there was another small camp at Wing, which did not have a priest.  I recall an amusing incident.  Father Żmikowski arrived as usual with the altar wine for the mass.  Before the Mass, he went to confession.  While he was doing this, the organist - an old drunk - went to the sacristy and drank the wine from the flagon.  You can imagine the row that ensued, and Father Żmikowski did not hold back, but he had to return twelve kilometres for more wine. 


In Marsworth there was also an infant school run by the English, and a Saturday school.  The children went to the English school, but on Saturday there were no lessons, so the children were free.  So we established a so-called school where we taught Polish and the history of Polish religion.  It had three teachers.  The head was Mr. Sobkiewicz.


That is what my parish in Marsworth looked like. I was there until the camp was shut down in 1960.  And it happened like this:  people were slowly leaving the camp.  The more enterprising ones were buying houses in the towns, usually where they worked or were going to work.   In 1958, the British gathered all the people together and said that it was necessary to get rid of the remnants of the war, and therefore the camps.


Let whoever is able buy a house and settle like everyone in England.  Let older people and those who have no money say where they want to live and the government will find them accommodation in so-called council houses.  By 1960, the camp will be dissolved and the land will be given back to the owner.  Calmly and with no hurry, but that’s how it happened.   We also had to think about where to move and create a new parish from scratch after the camp was shut down.  These were the conditions.  The church authorities were notified.   Most moved to the towns of Luton and Dunstable, so I knew that my parish would be there and I would organize and administer it.  Polish priests organized parishes themselves.  People met, their addresses were collected, and a file was created to know who was who and where.   At the first Holy Mass in Luton I had 18 people.   After the mass, I held a meeting and we chose the Church Committee.  People also knew that there would be a Polish priest moving there later, so more and more people tried to move there. So the parish grew there, and in Marsworth decreased.  And so it was up to 1960 before the camp closed.


At Marsworth Hostel, I experienced two pleasant events: visits from Poland.  First, in the winter of 1959, my brother Franek visited me.  It was a big experience after all those years.   We had something to talk about.  He was here for about a month because he was worried about his cottage.  I provided him with various things, because they would be useful in his cottage.  He returned home happily, glad that he saw me alive, and I too, because I learned what it was like in his cottage.   The best was when in London on Oxford Street (the main street of London) we bought material for a coat for his wife. We entered the huge store and heard the bell signalling that the shop would close in 15 minutes.  We are looked quickly for material for coats.  We found some.   There were 20 rolls and colours to choose from.  I said not this one, nor that one.   Choose one from these three.   He thought and thought and finally decided and bought all in 15 minutes. I think we broke the record.  No woman would decide within 15 minutes, because such a choice was not easy. But we guys from Kobielnik, we did it.


Later Marysia Krzyżak visited. This Marysia, a second year student at the polytechnic, had fallen under a tram and broken her leg. It developed gangrene and the leg had to be amputated. Her prosthesis was made, but it was heavy, weighing six and a half kilos.  She knew that in England they did lightweight and comfortable prostheses weighing only two and a half kilograms, so a big difference.  Her aunt, a teacher, worked in Bytom together with my friend from Krasnobród, Mrs. Świerzowska, also a teacher, and when she talked about her sister's misfortune and asked who could bring Marysia to England. Świerzowska gave her my address to write to me.  And so it began.  After long efforts, Marysia came.  Her prosthesis was made and I covered the costs.  She was in England for three months.   Three years later she returned.  The prosthesis was made to match the healthy leg so accurately, that when she stood, you could not tell which leg was the artificial one.  Later she got married, has a son and lives in Opole.  Marysia was interesting.  She was intelligent but also a keen communist.  She participated in some conventions in Moscow.  She said that when someone was in disagreement in a meeting, a motion was proposed to remove them.  "Who is against?"  Of course, nobody wanted to be seen to disagree, so the guy was ejected unanimously.  Later Marysia lost a lot of her brashness.  May God go with her!


I also became ill in Marsworth.  Going into the chair of the Church Committee in the evening, I hit my leg on a boot scraper and a clot formed again.  I lay six months in Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury.  A beautiful hospital, wonderfully decorated, but a hospital is a hospital.  The following year, I lay for six weeks again, also for a clot.  I would have given anything for life not to be boring!   After 1956, the situation in Poland changed.  You could visit Poland, but we were political migrants, and we had the so-called Travel Document, in other words a different substitute passport.   You could go anywhere with it except for Poland.  If you wanted to go to Poland, you had to get an English passport.  To get an English passport, you had to accept English citizenship.  I wondered about this for a long time, there were internal barriers to overcome (that's how it was at that time), but the willingness to see my family and Kobielnik overcame everything.  In 1960 I went to Poland.  A big new experience that defies description.  Praise the Lord!



Father Leon Frankowski was born 8.06.1915 in Prokowo in the Chełm diocese.    He was ordained a priest on June 16, 1940 in Rome.  Amongst other roles, he was the chaplain of the Retired Pensioners of St. Józef at Highgate Hill in London. Source: Informer of the Polish Pastoral Office in Great Britain 1982, London 1982, p. 23.


Father Ludwik Żmikowski was born 5.04.1901 in the town of Koszowata in Ukraine. He was ordained a priest in 1926, taken prisoner as a chaplain of Polish troops on 13.09.1939, and imprisoned successively in Kleinexen, Linz, Rottenburg, Buchenwald, and from 7.07.1940. in Dachau camp number 31243.  Source: Martyrology of the Polish Clergy, p, 288


Aylesbury is a market town in Buckinghamshire, England; centre of the crop processing and printing industry; it has 40,569 inhabitants.  Source: The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. I, 1975, p. 692.

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