Below we present a report of the members of the “Odwach” (Guardroom, Hauptwache) Association from Poznań from the trail of the Polish Dragoons in Belgium and the Netherlands which took place on 20-24 September 2018. We are very grateful for the author, Mr. Michał Różyński, for this relation.
Historical and military journeys along the route of the 1st Polish Armored Division, and especially our beloved 10th Regiment of Dragons, are an important element of our activity. In recent years the “Odwach” Association was in Normandy, England, Scotland, northern France, the Netherlands and the Polish Beskidy Mountains. Between 20 and 24 September 2018, once again, we decided to visit the Netherlands, enriching it with Belgium. This time, when it comes to the Netherlands, we had not visited the well-known Breda, and decided to take a closer look at the battlefield on the Axel-Hulst Canal.
The province of Zeeland greeted us with stormy weather, which, however, during the day was dispersed by white clouds moving in the blue sky. Our invaluable guide to the area, Mr. Jaap Geensen, joked that he had reserved the good weather especially for the visit of the “Odwach”.
We had the opportunity to see the area of heavy and bloody fights at the southern approaches to Scheldt River, such as Fort St Ferdinandus, the Du Bosch farm, the Zoutepand intersection. There our 10th Dragon Regiment fought, there, in the harsh conditions of flat, swampy terrain, Polish soldiers died. Thanks to Jaap we could put on the map or see with our own eyes places known to us from the literature and the archives. Such a history lesson in the battle field gives a much better view of events from years ago than even the best books.
Axel itself impresses with a multitude of Polish accents: the square named after Colonel Szydłowski, his monument, the well-run path of historical information boards, the well-kept cemetery on which our soldiers lie…
You should add to this an endearing action involving children from local schools, which were transported by original military trucks from the epoch to the place of the ceremony under the Dragons’ Cross! A great idea for combining fun for the little ones together with a history lesson about their liberators. At this point, special thanks and obeisances are due to Mario Maas, the founder of the Oorlogsmuseum Gdynia on the outskirts of Axel, who is doing a fantastic job to commemorate the struggles of Polish soldiers for the liberation of southern Zeeland.
The next day we went to Hulst, which fortunately had not experienced any war damages, so amazes with the historical architecture and remnants of modern fortifications. It impresses with a basilica with a high tower from which the Polish national anthem is played on the anniversary of the liberation.
We hailed from Hulst south to Belgium. There we got to Sint-Gillis-Waas, visiting the grave of Captain Sylwester Bardziński, then the graves of Polish soldiers buried in the cemetery in Stekene, Aalter and the Ghent Channel, Ruiselede, to reach Tielt, full Polish reminders.
Hosted there by Dirk Verbeke, a historian devoted to history of the 1st Polish Armored Division, we saw a tank-monument, stained glass, plaques, and finally: eight graves of General Maczek soldiers who died fighting for this Flemish city.
In the last days we watched the battlefields of the First World War in the Ypres-Zonnebeke-Passendaele region. Thousands tombstones of the killed soldiers, tens of thousands of names of missing British, Germans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Belgians, and French make a very depressing impression. It is difficult to pass it by indifferently, it is difficult not to think about the tragic history of Europe, the nonsense of human self-destruction. A visit to the bloody fields of Flanders allows us to understand better the nightmare of events from 1914-18, as well as its impact on the next decades of the past century. And in this Flanders, however, there were Polish accents! After all, Ipres and Passendaele were also liberated by the Polish division, and we eagerly sought out all those places of remembrance and visited them.
During the long way back on 24 September 24th we had a stop in the Belgian Lommel, where 257 Polish soldiers are buried in the quiet cemetery, as well as in the Dutch Driel, in which our 1st Independent Parachute Brigade landed 74 years ago.
Travel educates! It is hard to deny this saying, when after driving on a distance nearly 2,800 kilometers, you have seen so many historical places, you met so many interesting people. It is impossible to omit the simply tourist values like beautiful lands, architecture, tasty food, excellent beers. The most important for us was however the direct look at the next stage of the route of the 1st Polish Armored Division. The memory of the Dutch and Belgians about the liberators from 1944-45 is fantastic, very touching. We met numerous, spontaneous evidence of kindness and gratitude from the people watching us dressed in historical uniforms. Sentences “for our freedom and yours” and “we will never forget” are probably the most up-to-date.
Michał Różyński, Stowarzyszenie “Odwach”
Photo: Association “Odwach”, Jaap Geensen
The “Odwach” Association, based in Poznań, has been operating continuously since 2004. “Odwach” deals with historical reconstruction of the 10th Regiment of Dragons from the 1st Polish Armored Division from 1940-47. In addition to participating in stagings, picnics and historical shows it conducts research, organizes military-historical trips, cooperates with military units, veterans, scientists and similar organizations from Poland and abroad. He has the privilege to cultivate the colors and traditions of the 10th Dragon Regiment given by the Association of Confederate Cavalry Regiments of the Second Polish Republic in London.