Veteran Stories:
Kazimir Stepkowski

Army

  • Troopers with a Sherman tank of The Ontario Regiment on a railway flatcar March 24, 1945. As a veteran of the 14th Polish (Wielkopolska) Armoured Brigade in the same Italian theatre, both the Sherman tank and the alternative means of transporting it would have been very familiar to Lance Corporal Stepkowski.
    Credit: Lieut. Dan Guravich / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-183667.

    Credit: Lieut. Dan Guravich / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-183667
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"We had no gears and we were going downhill with the 40 ton Sherman in the back. And I thought: We’re going to die."

Transcript

I served with the Polish II Corps, 14th [Wielkopolska] Armoured Brigade. See, I was born 1927, 7th of July in Poland, in the little village Dąbrówka. And then we moved to other village and that’s where we were, my parents were farming. In [September 1,] 1939 war started, [by] 1940, Poland was divided by Russians and by Germans, halfway. And we were on the Russian side. On the 1940 in February, it was I believe 8th, the doors busted open 4:00 in the morning, Russian troops with their rifles, bayonet fixed, were in the house, yelling at us, get up, dress up. Asked dad if he’s got any weapon, he says no, then they told us we have 15 minutes to pack our things and we are moving to the Soviet Union. We were lucky we survived and then when war was coming close when the Germans declared war on Russia [June 22, 1941] and when Germans were knocking on Moscow, [Soviet Premier Joseph] Stalin decided that he’s going to go give us freedom. So because there was a million Poles in the [Siberian] slave camps and there was like 50,000 soldiers in the prison camps. And then in meantime, there was a Polish government [in-exile] in England, in London. So we said, yeah, we will fight, we will go to war, our men will go to war but we will not fight along your side, we don’t trust you. If you let us go to the British side. And then we went through Jordan, to Palestine. There was no Israel then yet, there was just Palestine. And in Palestine, in the camp, we found out that we were going to Egypt and, after schooling there, there was mechanical school, it was kept at Tel al-Kabir, British 8th Army, second base in Egypt. It was huge base and we were training in the shop, there were factories there and some shops and I was trained to be a mechanical fitter, that’s army mechanic. When they organized that 14th Armoured Brigade, we were sent to Italy. And, in Italy, I think I was the youngest man promoted to Lance Corporal, I think I was 18. The most memorable thing was when they found me and another man, we were moving Sherman Tank on the back of a trailer and we drove through the mountains and was big down, like downhill, on one side straight wall, mountains on the other side, about 200 feet down. And what happened, a fellow on top of the hill tried to shift the gears and he got it out of gear, he couldn’t put the gears on. We had no gears and we were going downhill with the 40 ton Sherman in the back. And I thought: We’re going to die. So I have to climb up, good thing that those trailers, they had like emergency brakes on top, something. So I had to climb and use those brakes to get us down. They’re the most important thing is to have friends, to be, respect others if you wanted to be respected. And you know, you have to understand that war, it was war, you seen the other people dying and you managed to live.
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