A TRIP TO POLAND TO VISIT RUSSELL BELL’S GRAVE
& THE MYSTERY LETTER
In September 1945, Russell Bell’s father received a letter from Poland. It was not translated until 2011.
I want to inform you that I am safe and sound, which I hope is also the case with you. Dear Russell, you’ll surely remember me, I am the one who, during the time of the Germans, used to drive the two grey horses (probably short for ..to drive the cart pulled by two grey horses) when the two of us worked together in the barracks, I used to transport certain bricks and gravel and later to the shooting practice ground near the railway, I used to provide you with food, can you remember? Now we have got our Reich Polska (Poland), now we needn’t be afraid anymore, if the guards had caught me in that, I wouldn’t have been alive anymore but things always went well. Please be so kind as to inform me, you were taken from Tuchola to Thorn and from then on I don’t know anything about you, when you left Tuchola, I gave you my address, please be so kind as to inform me about everything. Hopefully, you survived all the time of your captivity well and you are quite well at home, with your parents? Please give my regards to your parents as well as all the comrades you were with in the camp at our place, Tuchola, now I’m quite fine. We have got our freedom and our fatherland, the devil shall take the Teutons, we have suffered enough. Dear comrade, don’t be cross with me for writing in German, I wanted to write in Polish, but I thought you wouldn’t be able to read it in Polish. For the time being, everything stands as it was, best wishes from your friend and comrade. Please write back soon. My address is Jan Glowacki, Tuchola, Pom.
WHO WAS JAN GLOWACKI?
Jan Glowacki (1903-1963) served in the Polish Army and was captured by the Germans. As a POW, he worked in the brickworks at Tuchola where he met Corporal Russell Bell. His wife Anna and their young son, Lucjan were sent “to the west”. When they heard that Jan was a POW in Tuchola they travelled there but were not allowed to see him. It was impossible for Anna to make contact with Jan. Polish civilians suffered atrocities at the hands of the occupying German forces and this was a very difficult time for the Polish people.
Jan and Anna Glowacki with their children Maria and Lucjan
Sam Kydd (1915 – 1982) born in Belfast, Northern Ireland was a well-known actor who was held as a POW at Thorn. In 1973, he wrote a book about his experiences, “For You the War is Over” and he described the incredible kindness offered by Polish men and women in trying to help British POWs, particularly with providing additional food parcels – had they been caught punishment from the Germans would have been extremely severe. The following is an extract:
“Why, why should a woman with so little to give take a chance like this with a prisoner? She herself was practically a prisoner – all Poles were in the hated hands of their conquerors. And all over Poland from the beginning to the end of the war Polish men and women took their lives in their hands by helping and making life more bearable – by their courage and kindness – for British prisoners of war. No prisoner can refute this. At great risk to themselves at all times what little they had they freely shared with POWs.
I have seen them beaten to the ground with rifle butts for daring to give a prisoner some tobacco.
I have seen them thrown into the icy River Vistula for consorting with prisoners and still they continued to come back for more.
For guts, courage and unselfishness and a great love for anything British the Poles stand alone. They believed to the bitter end that the British would come and rescue them from the German yoke and then later the Russian yoke but it all turned out to be a great let down.”
After the war, in 1945 Jan tried to contact Russell and a letter was received by Russell’s family. It was not translated until 2011
Tuchola Volunteer Fire Brigade: Jan Glowacki, seated centre (arm raised)
& his son Lucjan middle row far left
Hilda Cox married Jacky Bell, Russell’s brother. Had he survived the war, she would have been his sister in law. In April 2011, Hilda Bell with her 4 daughters, Glenys, Cath, Trisha, Shirley and son Alan visited Malbork Cemetery to pay respects to Corporal Russell Bell.
Their visit took them to Torun and Stalag XXA. It was not possible to enter the Polish Military Base, the site of Fort XIII which is believed to be the location of Camp 3A where Russell Bell spent most of his time.
The Bell family visited Tuchola and 16 April 2011 they met Jan Glowacki’s son, Lucjan, [pictured above], his grand-daughter Maria Szmelter and his great-grandson Lucasz Szmelter.
16 April 2011: Tuchola, Poland: The Bell and Glowacki families
The Bell and Glowacki families met 70 years after Russell Bell and Jan Glowacki befriended each other in Tuchola POW work camp then under the tyrannical rule of the Third Reich. The monument behind commemorates the Polish civilian victims killed in 1939 at the beginning of the Nazi occupation.
Time passes, those terrible events are now 75+ years behind us and thankfully, the act of reconciliation between nations has taken place. The German War Graves Commission pamphlet “Work for Peace” states:
“More than 60 million lives were lost in the two World Wars during the past century. Many families in Europe and on all continents lost loved ones. Everybody has heard the stories of a grandfather, a father, of men and women who witnessed the suffering of war, death and senseless dying. However, too many people are no longer able to tell us their story, to remind us of the fact how precious and fragile peace is. It is the most challenging task of our time to remind the world of keeping peace.”