The Roots of War
My mother and father met during the late 1930s in Paris when they were both in college. My father's family (Krupski) was well-to-do, upper-class and Roman Catholic. They lived in Lwow, Poland (now Lvov, part of the Ukraine). Most of them were killed by the Russians and at least one was buried in the infamous forest of Katyn. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre).
My mother's family was Jewish and although many had converted to Catholicism, their religion made no difference to the Nazis who tracked racial origins. All the members of my mother’s immediate family in Poland during the war disappeared.
After the Nazis overtook Poland in 1939, my mother and father managed to escape to England and years later, my mother documented the trek in her book Child of Privilege (http://www.amazon.com/Child-Of-Privilege-Jadwiga-Krupski/dp/1440430152).
After my mother and father they arrived in England, my father joined the Polish division of the Royal Air Force and, in 1942, I was born in Oxford. My parents believed that when the war was over they would go home ̶ but as people in England cheered the victorious end to World War II, my parents realized they would never see their families in Poland again.
Life by the Moors
My earliest memories are from Dartmoor near where my father was stationed. I remember walking on the moors with my parents and playing on a hobby horse my mother made from cardboard and a broom handle. We had a small garden and grew Brussels sprouts. My mother and I picked blackberries and in the winter, smashed ice on puddles.
My mother wrote about our days in Cornwall in far more detail than I can remember. I do recall a small cottage near the moors in Crapstone, near Devon with a garden the moor cattle raided. We grew Brussels sprouts and to this day, I love that vegetable.
I remember being awakened in my crib and taken downstairs because of loud noises. I think we went to an air-raid shelter because even now, I hate being underground anywhere. I don’t even like basements. I think I had a Mickey Mouse gas mask that was supposed to make it less frightening.
We spent some time on a farm in the country where a Polish friend of the family kept telling me to “Eat, Misia eat!” because the food was unfamiliar to me. They called me “Misia” because my middle name, in Polish, was “Marisia” for Mary. The daughter of the house took me to feed the pigs and I remember being terrified of the snorting beasts.
A Polperro Piskie
I also remember a trip to a beach below the tiny town of Polperro, Cornwall, where they gave me a little ceramic piskie (pixie) which stayed with me for many years. He came to Canada with me, sleeping in a little box that once held strawberries, until I outgrew him and he disappeared.
After the war, once the British, soldiers came home, there was little work for Polish airmen so my parents emigrated to Québec, Canada, because they were both fluent in French. A friend of my father’s arranged for the passage to Canada aboard the RMS Aquitania. As we dashed to catch the ship, I dropped my Kanga and Roo. Because there was no time to pick them up, my
Historical note: RMS Aquitania
RMS Aquitania was a Cunard Line ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland. She was launched on 21 April 1913 and sailed on her maiden voyage to New York on 30 May 1914. Aquitania was the third in Cunard Line's "grand trio" of express liners, preceded by the RMS Mauretania and RMS Lusitania, and was the last surviving four- funnelled ocean liner. Widely considered one of the most attractive ships of her time, Aquitania earned the nickname "Ship Beautiful".
In her 36 years of service, Aquitania survived military duty in both world wars and was returned to passenger service after each war. Aquitania's record for the longest service career of any 20th century express liner stood until 2004, when the Queen Elizabeth 2 (ultimate career service of 40 years) became the longest-serving liner.
After completing troopship service, she was handed back to Cunard in 1946, who used her to transport war brides and their children to Canada under charter from the Canadian government. This final service created a special fondness for Aquitania in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the port of disembarkation for these immigration voyages. On completion of that task in December 1949, she was taken out of service when her Board of Trade certificate was not renewed as the condition of the ship had reached a stage where she was too old to be economical and brought in to
line with safety standards of the day.
RMS Aquitania in 1946
Next: In Canada
father bought me a Kewpie doll from a store on the dock to console me. I don’t know what happened to her.
On board, we shared a room with two other families on the lower deck, and everyone in our room but me seemed to be sick. My English was heavily salted with Polish but I was able to made friends with an English girl a little older than I was. We ran away upstairs and found a wonderful nursery filled with toys for the children of first-class passengers. Everybody shouted at us when we were returned to our level by someone large. The girl told them I tore her kilt and they turned their attention to me. Fortunately, they yelled in English and I didn’t understand them.
Once we went to gymkhana where young girls rode horses and back home, my imaginative mother made a hobby horse for me with a cardboard head and a broomstick body. On walks around the neighborhood, my mother and picked blackberries and in the winter, smashed ice on puddles.
Later we moved to an apartment where I first met my mother’s cousin who we called “Uncle Stefan” and who remained a dear friend of mine until his passing in
2010. I remember, in addition to the Piskie, my toys included a stuffed Kanga and her baby Roo, based on the book, Winnie the Pooh, that my mother read to me.
Sometimes I had bad dreams. In one, I was on a train that exploded as my mother’s
voice cried, “Hitler did it!”. In another, I was walking across the moor and pits below
my feet opened up wherever I stepped. The pits were filled with snakes. I found out
later that once, while I was crossing a stile on the moor, my father scooped me up before I stepped into a nest of black adders.
By 1949, as mentioned in Cunard commodores Harry Grattidge's autobiography "Captains of the Queens", the ship had deteriorated considerably with age. Her decks leaked in foul weather and a piano had fallen through the roof of one of the dining rooms from the deck above during a corporate luncheon being held on the ship. This signaled the end of Aquitania's operational life. The vessel was retired and scrapped in 1950 in Scotland, thus ending an illustrious career which included steaming 3 million miles in 450 voyages. Aquitania carried 1.2 million passengers over a career that spanned nearly 36 years, making her the longest serving express Liner of the 20th Century. She was the only major liner to serve in both World Wars, and she was scrapped as the last four funnelled passenger ship. Her wheel and a detailed scale model of Aquitania may be seen in the Cunard exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
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My mother, Jadwiga Krupski, died at the age of 100 on May 7, 2015. She had lived a long and full life and she went quietly in her sleep. After retiring from a long career as an English teacher, she wrote Child of Privilege about her life in Poland and about she and my father escaped to England during World War II. The book captures the legacy of faith, strength and courage which continues to guide me.
My story is not nearly as noble but might be of interest to my children and grandson. It begins in 1942, in Oxford, England, where I was born and is about my passage through interesting times across Canada and down the West Coast of the United States.