15 Minutes… Pieces of History
It is a story with echoes today.
A war in Eastern Europe and the toll that takes on families across generations, and of refugees being sent to central Africa.
Bożena’s mother Halina Turkowska was born in Poland and was a young adult when her father Waclaw Turkowski, a high-ranking police officer who she adored, was rounded up after the 1939 Russian invasion. Waclaw was detained in Ostashkov in Russia and later in 1940 was taken to Katyn Forest outside of Smolensk and massacred with 22,000 other Polish military officers.
For three days after Waclaw was detained the young Halina said nothing, then she disappeared, returning now and again to the family home, but never explaining what she was up to. She had joined the Polish underground and was involved in getting civilian clothes to British Airmen who came down in Poland and needed to escape.
Halina was captured, interrogated and tortured and later interned with her mother Ewa in a labour camp in Kazakhstan. She never spoke of her involvement in the underground, or of her time in captivity and all that Bożena knows of this time, was told to her by her grandmother.
In a deal struck by the Polish government in exile, Halina and her mother, and others, were released in the Spring of 1942 on condition they never returned to Poland.
Uganda in central Africa was a British Protectorate and supported by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) over 7,000 Polish refugees including Halina and her mother were settled in basic camps in two remote parts of the country, Nyabyeya and Koja.
Halina had been engaged in Poland, but without papers and effectively stateless she married a man in the camp. On the day she got married her previous fiancé found her via the Red Cross. It was too late.
Bożena’s father stayed in Uganda for a few years, sending the two daughters Bożena and Irena to a convent in Eldoret in Kenya. When Kenya gained independence, the family moved to Plymouth.
The smaller of the two badges Bożena found, a Polish Eagle Cap Badge WZ23, was used in the Polish Army in the years 1923 – 1929.
The larger of the two badges belonged to her mother – it is a WWII Polish WZ19 badge of the resistance movement. It is finely made and professionally minted.
Both were made by the same Polish factory which by this time had been taken over by the Germans to produce armaments for their war effort. Unknown to the German occupiers, there were workers in the Polish factory who secreted out punches, dies and zinc to continue producing cap badges for those in the resistance.
In their provenance is a story of immense bravery, loss and survival.
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This manageable there and back route offers easy walking and wheeling along the eastern side of the reservoir and to the dams, plus additional access to the wildlife trail in the Burrator Arboretum