It has been 75 years since Allied troops on the western front liberated Europe from the evil of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
One of those troops fighting alongside Canadian Troops was Polish veteran and current Rimbey resident Michael Jarmoluk, whose Second World War journey started early on when Germany and Russia invaded and separated Poland in 1939.
“I was taken to Siberia and then released. I went to the Middle East and joined the Polish Army under British command,” 96-year-old Jarmoluk said.
Jarmoluk enlisted in Iran on Jan. 29, 1942 and he was one of the over 170,000 Poles who fought alongside the allies during the Second World War. He would train in Iran and Palestine, before crossing the Sinai Peninsula into Egypt and north Africa.
From there, Jarmoluk would continue his journey around the horn of Africa en route to Liverpool — escorting German prisoners of war along the way. After arriving in England in August 1942, he was assigned to Scotland.
“Polish forces were in Scotland and I was assigned to the First Armoured Division. I was under the Second British Army Command,” he said.
Jarmoluk would spend the better part of two years in Scotland before receiving the word that the Allied invasion of Europe was coming soon. Known by history, but unknown to Allied troops at the time, D-Day came on June 6, 1944. Jarmoluk would land in Normandy in early July 1944.
“We landed in Normandy on July. 5 amongst thousands of ships landing troops. There was planes overheard when we landed on the beaches. The beaches were more or less safe but the landing had constant shelling. You never knew where it was coming from,” he said.
Once organized, his corps fight alongside British and Canadian troops at Falais in France.
“Our division took big losses and that battle was a real massacre. You could see the dead lying all over and you could smell the stink. That battle finally ended on August 23 in Normandy,” he said.
Jarmoluk said they were proud of their achievement, successfully landing and pushing the Nazis back. His corps paused to rebuild their strength before going on to liberate France, Belgium and Holland.
“We went on and passed Ypres, where the famous First World War battle, to liberate Belgium. We then went to Ghent and Antwerp. We eventually went into Holland and liberated the south parts of Holland. One of the cities we liberated was Breda,” he said
Jarmoluk remembers the celebration Breda had after the liberation in Oct. 1944, with the city awarding citizenship to his entire division. From their, they travelled to river Mass where his unit patrolled the front lines until Feb. 1945.
“That is when we pushed with the Canadian Army into Northern Holland. As part of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, we went to the eastern part of Holland and into Germany itself,” he said.
During his time in Europe, Jarmoluk would remember all the Canadians receiving parcels on the road.
“I had nobody. I was a single 20-year-old and I didn’t know where my family was. I was so lucky to have Rimbey accept me as one of their own. I am very proud to be here,” he said.
His unit would push towards the North Sea until they finally heard the word.
“That is where we heard that Germany had surrendered on May 7, 1945,” he said.
Jarmoluk said that while Canadians and Brits celebrated, Poles were disapointed they weren’t able to go further into Germany and on to Poland.
“We all wanted to go to Berlin and Warsaw to make up for what Germany to did to Poland, occupying our country. That never happened,” he said.
After the war, Allied troops began returning home but the end was bittersweet for Poles due to the U.S.S.R. now occupying their country.
“We didn’t celebrate much because we didn’t have a country to go home too. Russia occupied Poland and very few went back. We tried to find freedom in other countries and we scattered all over,” he said.
Jarmoluk would spend two years in West Germany with the Allied occupying force. It was this time when he saw the true horrors of Hitler’s Nazi regime at the concentration camps littered throughout the country.
“It is important to remember the sacrifice that Canadians, British and Poles made to liberate Europe from the horror of Hitler. I have seen so much misery and distress. In Germany, I’ve seen the concentration camps and the massacre they did,” he said.
Once Allied forces were reduced in West Germany, Jarmoluk was sent back to London where he took some photography courses.
“They tried to help us establish ourselves or immigrate to other countries. I went to London for a year and half,” he said.
In London. he was able to track down his family — who were split up in 1939. His mother died during the war and he father was in middle east. He had two sisters in South Africa and one brother, who fought with Canadians in Italy, who had immigrated to a small town in Canada — Rimbey.
“I told my brother I want to come to Rimbey too and in November 1949 I arrived. I started a photographic shop and I later built a store. I stayed in business for 42 years and joined the Legion. I am now a 70-year Legion member,” he said.
Jarmoluk said the Legion was a great group to join and veterans have been able to share their stories.
Jarmoluk during his time in Rimbey got married, had three kids and is grateful to end up in Canada.
“I am happy to be here and I have never forgot the history of the war. It was a long way from Poland to Rimbey. There is a lot more stories to tell,” he said.