(Note: This reviewer’s father-in-law was a Polish officer who served with the II Polish Corps. He died before I met and married his daughter. I wish I’d known him.The dark green footlocker that carried his personal gear into war is in our garage still.)
“Trusting in the Justice of Divine Providence we go forward with the sacred slogan in our hearts: God, Honour, Country.” ‒ Wladyslaw Anders, Lt.-General, Commander, II Polish Army Corps, from his Order of the Day prior to his troops’ attack on Monte Cassino
The II Polish Corps did not, apparently, have an organizational motto. It should well have been “Endure to Victory.”
The story of Anders, as well as that of the II Polish Corps, as told by the general in AN ARMY IN EXILE, begins on September 1, 1939, when Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany. The Polish Army was ultimately crushed between the Germans advancing from the west and the Soviet Army from the east. The author was captured and placed under arrest by Stalin’s N.K.V.D. (People’s Commissariat of the Interior). After being imprisoned, interrogated, and maltreated for twenty months, Anders was suddenly released and placed in command of the Polish Army to be formed in the U.S.S.R.
The general recounts the incredible difficulties surrounding the army’s formation, not the least due to the hurdles Stalin and his minions placed in his path. But the army ultimately exited the Soviet Union through Persia to eventually come under the command of the British Eighth Army as the II Polish Corps. The Corps would go on to fight up the Adriatic side of Italy, its greatest victory being the capture of Monte Cassino, which had previously repulsed several assaults by Allied troops from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, New Zealand, and India. (Read The Battle of Cassino by Fred Majdalany.)
Although a military commander, the precarious position of the Polish government in exile in London forced Anders into the political arena. On a wider perspective, AN ARMY IN EXILE is the Lt.-General’s account of Poland’s (and his army’s) tragic and shameful sacrifice on the altar of political expediency by their erstwhile “allies”, Great Britain and the United States - betrayal, actually - to Stalin’s goal of post-war domination of Eastern Europe. The reader cannot but share the author’s disgust.
The general’s narrative is eruditely and lucidly presented throughout. It would also appear to be comprehensive. The book is generously peppered with the texts of documents and messages that passed between Anders and other Allied commanders in the field, as well as between the general and U.S. and British leaders at the highest level and with the Polish government in London. There are seven pages of illustrations and eight of maps.
As might be expected, Lt.-General Anders acquits himself well within his chronicle. Few are recorded as thinking less of the man, though Stalin was reported to think him “wicked” for his constant and strenuous opposition to the Soviet Union’s post-war plan for Poland even as it was finally endorsed by the U.S. and Great Britain. On that basis alone, I would suggest that to the Lt.-General honor is due.
On the memorial at the Polish War Cemetery at Monte Cassino, in which Wladyslaw Anders was buried with his men after his death in 1970, is inscribed:
“We Polish soldiers
For our freedom and yours
Have given our souls to God
Our bodies to the soil of Italy
And our hearts to Poland”
- Hardcover: 319 pages
- Publisher: Battery Press (30 May 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0898390435
- ISBN-13: 978-0898390438
- Package Dimensions: 23 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 680 g
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