This is part two of a two part series about Michael Jarmoluk, a longtime Rimbey resident, who was born in Poland, spent almost two years in a Siberian work camp and later served in the Second World War.
After arriving in England in 1942 Jarmoluk was placed in the ranks of the Second British Army under General Montgomery and assigned the First Polish Armored Division under Commanding General Maczek.
The language barrier proved to be a problem for Poles who could speak no English, but one that could be overcome and people were friendly and helpful.
Training continued in Scotland until 1943 when the armory division Jarmoluk was with moved to southeast England.
Although physically Jarmoluk was far from his homeland, his thoughts and those of his comrades remained in Poland.
“We knew the German-Russian war was continuing and we hoped things would happen soon so we could go into action to help liberate our country.’
In 1943 Polish corps of about 100,00 troops, along with Allied forces, distinguished themselves by fighting and capturing strategic Monte Casino, a religious cloister and the main obstacle to Rome.
During this time frame, Jarmoluk who had lost connection with his entire family was thrilled to receive a tiny censored postcard from the Red Cross which had been sent to them by his father.
He later was informed by his dad that his brother Leon was fighting with the forces in Italy. His mother and two sisters had left Russia through the Caspian Sea to Iran, Sadly his mom had died in a camp close to Tehran.
His younger sisters were taken care of by the Red Cross and the British Government, ending up in South Africa, in the town of Oudtshoorn.
“I was very sorry to have lost my mom in a faraway country. But I was happy to still have most of my family and hear all the news about them. Now I knew I was not alone. From that point I kept some connection, not always very possible during the war, with the family.”
Meanwhile, word had been received that D-day, the day of the invasion of Europe was to happen on June 6, 1944.
The Allies managed to establish a front after heavy fighting, and hold the beaches of Normandy as more troops came in to assist.
Jarmoluk and his company crossed the English Channel, after loading equipment at the port of Tilbury on the river Thames.
“All you could see was ships as far as the eye could see, all heading to Normandy,” recalled Jarmoluk.
Troops were everywhere and the relentless shelling continued through a long, hot summer.
Jarmoluk’s company became part of the Second Canadian Corps, which included Canadians, British and Polish service men.
“There were lots of casualties (but) a person didn’t particularly think about it. It was war.”
Jarmoluk recalled his company being bombed by friendly fire, when the Americans fighter planes went slightly off course. Tragically, the bombing resulted in 60 men dead and 200 injured.
The battle of Normandy raged fiercely until August with Jarmoluk and his company encountered the heaviest fighting at Chambois. The battle of the gap was a massacre ending with the beaches littered with dead soldiers, burning tanks and a horrible stench coming from the swollen carcasses of horses.
Germany surrendered in Normandy and thousands of prisoners were taken.
The battle resulted in the loss of thousands of men and at a Polish cemetery at Langannerie 1,374 soldiers were buried.
But the war was far from being over.
Allies continued to advance to liberate the rest of France.
Jarmoluk, who was now a Corporal and his division headed north towards Belgium, liberating towns along the way.
The divisions encountered heavy fighting and losses across the Dutch border into Hulst, Axel and Terneuzen.
Youthful German soldiers continued to fight desperately, even as they lost ground.
“They were so young,” recalled Jarmoluk. “It was pitiful to see them. We used to take prisoners, some still yelling, “Heil Hitler!”
Finally the large Dutch city of Breda was liberated and eventually the Allies claimed the well-fortified Moerdijk Bridge, the last fortified place in southern Holland.
Jarmoluk noted that his division always remembered the day of liberation of Breda as their own special remembrance day.
“The Poles that fought in Breda always remembered,” he said.
On May 7, 1945 a cease-fire was called as word was received that Germany had surrendered; on the ground, in the air and on the sea.
The war, with all its horror, its killing and its brutality, was over and the soldiers were free to return home to loved ones.
However, Poles did not have a home to go to as, ironically, although they had fought for the freedom of all nations, their country was still occupied by the Russians.
Jarmoluk, who had received extra ranks and special recognition with the Battle Cross, stayed in Germany’s British zone with occupation forces for over two years, eventually joining the military police.
The occupation forces were gradually reduced and Jarmoluk moved to London, where he enlisted in a photographic course.
“I found it quite interesting and I stuck with it, hoping that it would sometime come useful in life.”
While living in London, he heard from his brother Leon who had come to Canada as part of a Canadian government program.
A prominent Rimbey businessman, O. B. Moore had applied for a soldier through the program.
“That soldier happened by my brother Leon,” he said.
Leon encouraged Michael to join him in Canada and before long he decided to follow up on the offer.
He arrived in Lacombe on Nov. 5, 1949. It was a warm day and there was no snow.
“It was short sleeve weather,” he said.
When they arrived in Rimbey, Jarmoluk wanted to notify the police of his arrival but was assured it wasn’t necessary.
“I was here, I was free,” he said. “I was very happy.”
For Jarmoluk, the move to Rimbey was a happy ending to a long and turbulent journey. He married, raised three children and successfully operated Michael’s Studio for 42 years.
It’s been a good life, he said.
“I lost my home and country and was separated from my family. But here I have found wonderful people who accepted me as one of their own.
“Rimbey has been good to me through my years in business and raising a family, and I continue to enjoy friendships with many wonderful people. I am very proud of my Polish heritage, and I am also proud to be in Rimbey and to be Canadian. It’s a great country. I always will be thankful to be here.”
Pictures and quotes taken from Michael Jarmoluk’s book, ‘Home at Last’.