My Parents  

By Charles Duczakowski

My mother was born in 1928 in the British military hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany. Her father was in the British Army in the Army of the Occupation of the Rhine. The family was there for two years, and then he was transferred to Singapore. There he was the “governor” of an island that was somewhere in the Singapore harbor. That’s where she grew up.

My mother had fond memories of Singapore. They had to take a boat to get to school. It was a little ferry almost like the “African Queen.” They loved it there because they could swim and canoe. One of her memories was about taking a shortcut through a little cemetery on the way to school. The Chinese used to put food out there for the spirits. My mother and her younger brother were a little hungry, so they started eating the food.

Before long, their father heard that the Chinese were very happy. They felt that since the food was gone, the spirits had come to eat it. He had a good idea of who had been eating the food, so that ended their Chinese food treats.

Because of my grandfather’s position, they had servants. My mother would often talk about her amah. The amah would take care of them, including checking the beds for tarantulas and scorpions or whatever the bugs were there before they got in. After they got into bed, the amah would put mosquito netting over them.

My mother just loved telling stories about her childhood in Singapore. They had a canoe. Another kid also had a canoe also. Somehow, he had annoyed them, so they filled his canoe with cement. Things like that went on. Kid stuff.

My grandfather began to see that there was going to be a war with Japan, and he expected that they would try to take Singapore. He didn’t want his family to be there when that happened. My mother’s oldest brother, George, was a draftsman, and he worked on the plans for the defense of Singapore. He showed me once the bridge where the Japanese entered. There were no defenses there, because the Japanese would have to go through the jungle to use it, and they didn’t expect that. It was just a tiny bridge, but the Japanese used it to invade Singapore.

The family left Singapore before the Japanese attack, and went to England. By then, the war with Germany was underway. My mother was excited about the idea of moving to England, mainly because she had never seen snow. When she got there, she found out that it was cold, and hated it.

They lived in a place called Woolwich Arsenal, which was, as the name suggests, an arsenal. Woolwich was on the Thames, and the German bombers would follow the river to go to London and drop bombs. My grandfather didn’t get home one night. It was three days later when he did. He told the family never to go to a bomb shelter again. When the bombers came, get under the dining room table. They were safer there. He had spent two and a half days taking bodies out of a bomb shelter that had taken a direct hit.

Eventually, the children were moved to Hereford to get them out of the areas that were being bombed. The kids at that time started having shrapnel collections, and traded shrapnel like kids here would trade baseball cards. If a piece had some blood on it, it was worth a lot more than those that didn’t.

One of my mother’s stories was about going home from somewhere and seeing an unexploded bomb by the road. As they had been told, they all lay down, but nothing happened. The bomb didn’t go off. Being kids, they went for a closer look. “Dad said, ‘Don’t touch it,’ so don’t touch it.” They went home and told their father. He notified the UXB Squad (unexploded bomb squad), and they went to get it. They took it apart, and found that it was filled with sand and an old boot. Somebody, forced labor making the bombs, put the sand in there to give it the weight of a bomb. That person, being in a forced labor camp, probably didn’t survive the war, but saved those kids from being killed.

Another story was about being attacked by a German fighter plane. The kids were in the street watching a dogfight overhead. They were cheering on the Spitfires. “Get those lousy Krauts!” Then the German plane came down over the street. One of the kids yelled, “Run like hell!” She could still remember decades later the plane coming down over the street and the cobblestones getting chipped as he fired to the right and left.

Around the time when the Blitz had first started, my mother had gone to a movie theater with her older sister. Sometime during the show, the movie stopped, and there was an announcement saying, “Everybody get under the seats!” There had been an air raid warning. They all got under the seats, or tried to. They heard the bombs going off, but nothing happened to the theater. Eventually “All clear” was announced and they left the theater. They saw that everything around the theater had been destroyed. They didn’t know how to get home, because there wasn’t a landmark left to show them.

Eventually the family ended up living on a farm in Hereford. I don’t know what my grandfather was doing at that time. He’d come home with his gun over his shoulder, carrying rabbits, because that was going to be what they’d have for dinner.

My father had been in a Soviet gulag. Churchill had negotiated with Stalin to get the Poles out of Russia, to form the Free Polish Army. Stalin wanted them fighting for the Soviet Union. The decision was that they wouldn’t fight on the Eastern Front or the Western Front, they’d go to Africa. My father was selected to go. He was in the Free Polish Army, which was attached to the British Eighth Army. There were two Polish divisions attached to the British forces, and they went to North Africa, and then to Italy.

After the war, my father eventually arrived as a displaced person at Foxley Camp in Hereford. He met my grandfather there, and told him that he wanted to learn English. My grandfather volunteered his daughter to do that. She could not stand him. He was enamored, and asked her to marry him. She said, “No.” He asked two more times, and each time her answer was no. He went off to London for a while, and my mother missed him like crazy. When he got back, she said, “Yes, I’ll marry you.” They got married in Foxley Camp in 1947. There was quite an age difference. He was born in 1909, and she was born in 1928.

My father asked a Polish priest that he knew very well to marry them. The priest said that he would, but then he found out that my mother wasn’t Catholic. The priest then said that he was going to get my father excommunicated. My father, being my father, told the priest to go to Hell. They were married by a justice of the peace in January 1947, and my brother was born that October.

My brother soon spoke fluent English and Polish. At three years of age, he became the camp interpreter.

My mother wanted to go to Australia, but my father decided that they’d go to the United States. He knew there was no going back to Poland. If he had, he would have been shot and killed. My father’s application to come to the U. S., as a displaced person, was approved. My brother, a British citizen, was approved. My mother was told that she couldn’t come here. She was born in Germany. That didn’t go over well with her, having gone through the Blitz, and her whole family fighting in the war. She wrote a letter to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. He replied and said it was a sin that they called her German, a good British person having gone through all that she had. He fixed the paperwork, and she was approved. In December 1950 they came to the U.S.

My uncle was living in West Roxbury, working for Sears Roebuck. My parents over a few years lived in several apartments in that area. My brother’s best friend at that time was Black. That was okay until they reached a certain age. Women in the neighborhood went to my mother and told her that her son couldn’t play with the Black boy anymore. My mother told them to go to Hell. She didn’t care what color he was.

During the evenings in Hereford, my mother would see military convoys going by. They were all ambulances. Hereford was the site of a big American hospital. She said the ambulances would go in a string stretching out miles, bringing the wounded from Europe to the hospital. She had never seen the inside of an ambulance, and always wondered what they looked like. I took her to a museum in New Hampshire so she got to take a look inside. The had four stretchers; one above and one below on each side.

My father’s first job when he got here was in a leather factory. At one point the owner went to him and praised him as a hard worker. Then he invited him to go to his temple.

My father replied, “That’s very nice of you, but I can’t go to your temple.

“What do you mean, you can’t go to my temple. You’re Jewish.”

“No, I’m a Catholic.” He was fired.

After that, my father got a job with a company named Charles Connick. They were a famous stained-glass studio. That’s what he did the whole time when I was a kid. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. I remember going there when I was a kid. My father had long dreamed of owning a house, so he had been saving his money. In 1969 he bought a house in West Roxbury.

When I was in seventh grade, my mother asked if it would be okay with me to go to Boston Latin School. I did. I’d be up at 6:60 and out the door, taking a bus and the trolley to school, and doing the trip in reverse at the end of the school day. Then my mother asked, “Do you mind if I go to work, part time for the Christmas season.?” I said, “Fine by me. Go ahead.” So she worked for Sears Roebuck.

At the end of the season, she said, They want me to stay on. Would that be okay with you?”

Again, I said, “Fine by me.” She eventually became a supervisor at Sears. She was on the fifth floor in the mail-order building. At one time or another, my father, my brother and I all worked for Sears Roebuck. My mother worked there until Dad got dementia and reached the point where he couldn’t be left alone. That was probably around 1986.She took care of him until he passed.

She was “down in the dumps,” after he died. She was going to the cemetery every day. I told her that she had to get a life. You can miss someone, but don’t get obsessive about it. That went in one ear and out the other. She’d go to church every morning. She met a guy there. He’s lost his wife, and the next thing they’re dating, and then there gonna’ get married.

They got married and moved to Florida. My brother had a place in Naples and he let them stay there.They loved it and decided to buy a home of their own there. They bought it and were gone in a couple of weeks. They were in Florida for a few years, and my mother lived it. I think it brought back memories of Singapore. She’d been a good swimmer in her younger years. She’d won races in school and at meets. She’d hoped to get to the Olympics, but World War II prevented that.

I went down and visited my mother and her new husband in Florida. He was a nice guy. He had been the postmaster in Milford. When we were in the car, he kept asking my mother if that street, and then the next and the next was their street. She though he was kidding, but I knew he wasn’t. He went to a doctor and it was determined that he had dementia. They moved back here, to my mother’s house in Franklin. In 1997 they bought a condo in Laurelwood. She volunteered at Milford Hospital and enjoyed that. They’d go to church together all the time. His dementia progressed to a point where his doctor told my mother that he was beyond the point of her being able to care for him, so he went to Blair House. She visited him every day, until he passed away in 2001.

My mother had a stroke in 2004. It looked like she couldn’t be by herself, so I moved in with her. It took just six weeks of my cooking for her to decide that she could cook on her own. She bounced back in six or seven weeks. The doctors couldn’t believe it. She had a 99% recovery.


Tadeusz Duczakowski

By Charles Duzakowski

My father was born in 1909, in a town called Stanislow. His obituary says Stanislow, Poland, but in 1909, Poland didn’t exist. It had been divided between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany and Russia. He was born in the Austro-Hungarian section. Now it’s in Ukraine.

When I asked my father about childhood memories, he told me of a visit from an uncle when the was five. At that time, World War I was underway, and his uncle was in the famous Austrian cavalry. They wore big plumed hats. He remembered a beautiful horse, and uniform. His uncle picked him up and put him on the saddle with him.

I said, “What happened to your uncle?”

“They charged in battle,” he said, “and cavalry doesn’t survive against machine guns.”

They were all wiped out.

My grandfather was a schoolteacher, and may have been a principal later. He was a big believer in education, as was my father. The line from my father was, “I can’t give you much, but I can give you an opportunity to get an education. What you do with it, is up to you, but that’s all you need in life to get ahead.

My father became a Polish policeman, which would be our equivalent of the state police. He did very well, and ended up owning quite a few pieces of property. Things were good, he was happy in his dashing uniform. Then World War II began. Everyone was mobilized. His brother was in the Army, and was sent to the German front. That was on the first of September.

The Russians said they’d come and help the Poles fight the Germans. However, they had secretly signed an agreement to divide up the country. The Soviets invaded on September 17, and Poland didn’t stand a chance.

My father’s police unit was told that the Soviets were going to come and arm them, so that they could fight the Germans. All the police were put on a train, and told that they were going to be rearmed. While on the train, a friend of my father asked, “When did we ever believe a word a Russian told us?”

My father looked at him and said, “Never. The Communists lie about everything.”

“So why are we believing them now?” his friend asked.

“What do you suggest?”

“I say we get up when the train is slowing down, coming into a station. We go between the train cars and rip all the insignias off of our uniforms.”

There was a civil service uniform that trolley drivers, etc., would wear that was similar to the police uniform, but without the badges, so that’s what they did.

At the next station, they got off of the train. “What if we get stopped?” my father asked.

“We just tell them they told us to go over here. They’re stupid, they’ll never question anything. Orders are orders.” So that’s what they did. Then got on another train headed in the opposite direction. Three days later they were arrested for not having papers. My father was lucky because the train they had first been on was going to Katyn Forest. The Soviets took anyone of the sort of people who could run the country to Katyn Forest and machine gunned them.

The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of nearly 21,857 Polish military officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war carried out by the Soviet Union, specifically the NKVD in April and May 1940. Wikipedia

They ended up in a holding pen type of prison. My father said it was a large fenced-in field. There was just one barracks type of building there. The only food for them was when the Russians would drive around the outside of the fence in the morning and throw loaves of bread into them. My father went into the barracks, and a guy said, “I know you.” He was another police officer.

My father said, “What are we going to do with the bread they’re throwing over. There are people who are sick and need food, but it’s just kind of a free-for-all.”

The guy said, “We don’t give it to the sick. They’re going to die. We’ll eat the bread.”

My father said the guy was a Polish police officer. He was supposed to protect everyone. He couldn’t believe how people had started to turn against each other so quickly.

They didn’t believe my father’s story that he was a trolley driver, and he was sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. Lubyanka was known as the place where you went in and never came out. My father told of being dragged out of his cell at around two in the morning and thrown into a dark room. They’d go back to him sometime later and say, “Police Officer Duczakowski!”

He’d say, “I’m not a police officer. I’m a trolley driver.”

“When you’re half asleep,” my father said, “you respond the way your trained to respond, so every night before going to sleep I’d say, ‘I’m a trolley driver. I’m only a trolley driver.’ That way when they kicked me and woke me up, those were the first words that would come out of my mouth.”

My father said that conditions in the cell were very bad. They had basically boards for a bed. There were 23 men in a cell that could fit 12 lying down. They had 13 on the floor, and 12 on the boards. When someone had to go to the bathroom, they’d all roll until the person got over to the side where the pot they’d use was. They couldn’t get up and walk over people, so they’d just rotate around.

They never believed my father’s story about being a trolley driver, but eventually he was sent to Siberia. He said Siberia is very cold, as most people think of it, but it’s also very warm. One type of work there was in the salt mines. If you worked there, you weren’t going to live. You’d be dead in no time. You had to find a reason why you couldn’t work in the salt mines. The other type of work there was road construction.

One day in camp, my father came across the very guy who he had gotten off the train with. The guy was still wearing a watch that his grandfather had given him. When they were lined up for morning roll call, the commandant came down, and noticed the watch. “That’s a very nice watch you have,” he said.

“Thank you. It was handed down to me by my grandfather.”

“Do you want to sell it?”

“No, I wouldn’t sell it.”

The commandant moves along, and my father says, “Give it to him.”

“What do you mean, ‘Give it to him?’”

“You’re powerless. Give it to him. You don’t know what you’ll get, but you could get some favors.”

“I’m not giving it to him. That was my grandfather’s watch.”

At the next roll call, he wasn’t there. The commandant was wearing the watch. When you’re powerless, make the most out of whatever you have. Make a deal. He was going to lose that watch anyway. Give it to him. Maybe get some extra food or something.

Another story my father told was about summer in Siberia. He said that he didn’t like Communists, but there were some good Russians. They were building a road. He was sweating and exhausted, so he decided to take a break, and sit on a rock. Along came a Russian guard on his horse. He asked why the job was going so slowly. The two guys my father had been working with pointed over at him and said it was because he was just sitting there, doing nothing.

The Russian rode over to my father and said, “What are you doing, just sitting here?”

My father said, “I’m taking a break.”

“What do you mean, you’re taking a break?”

“I was working hard and I need a break.”

“They said you’re not working.”

“If I’m not working, and they are, how come I’m the only one sweating?”

The guard looked at my father, and the other two guys. He told my father to sit there. He took out his whip, went over and beat the other two with it. My father said, “That was a good Russian.” He told me that when you’re doing something like he was, don’t jump up and get back to work. You’d look guilty. You’re not guilty. You’re just sitting there taking a break. Don’t lie about it.

While my father was in Siberia, he had TB, malaria, and a heart attack. I asked how anyone would get malaria in Siberia. Heat, water, mosquitos. He found out about the TB when he came to the US. He had a heart attack when I was a teenager. He went to a specialist in Boston, who examined him, and asked, “When did you have the first heart attack?”

“Two weeks ago.”

“No, no. The first one. You had one a long time ago. I can tell by the condition of your heart. I’d guess probably back around 1941.”

My father replied, “Oh, maybe I did.” He was in Siberia in 1941.

He also told me about how cold it would get in Siberia. They were in a barracks with a pot-belly stove. It had a kettle of water on it. They’d have the stove going full blast, and there would be ice in the kettle.

The most common way to die was the freeze to death at night. In bed, a person could end up with their head against the wall. Condensation would freeze. Guys were found in the morning, dead, with their head frozen to the wall. My father had a bald patch at the back of his head. He had fallen asleep with his head against the wall. A guy woke up during the night and noticed that. He got some others and they grabbed his arms and legs and yanked. A bit of scalp was left behind on the wall, but he lived.

My father told me about the hunger in Siberia. One story was about fish being found frozen in a mine shaft. They defrosted it, ate it, and all got deathly ill. He talked about always being hungry, and in bad shape, and how ill everyone would get.

In 1943, Churchill negotiated with Stalin to get the Poles released from Siberia. He wanted to form a Polish army. Stalin agreed. A good idea. We’ll send it to the front. He meant the eastern front of course, where the Soviets were fighting the Germans. That’s not what Churchill wanted. Stalin pointed out that they couldn’t be sent to the western front, because there was no western front in 1943. Churchill said the Polish army would be sent to North Africa, and Stalin agreed to that.

When the selection process began, to decide who would be sent to form the Polish Army, they were picking the men who appeared to be in the best shape. My father was among those who were chosen, and they were sent down near the Black Sea. From there they’d be transported to Tehran. At that time, my father had a very bad case of dysentery. They had a big ditch with a board over it for that purpose. You’d go out on the board and do your business. He knew that he was so weak that if he went out on the board, he’d fall and die in the pit. A guy who everyone was saying was a traitor and a collaborator was the only one who helped him. He went out on the board with him and held him. My father would say, don’t believe everything people say. Make up your own mind.

At that point, they were being transferred to a British ship. My father was down to 80 pounds. He looked fine from the shoulders up, but like death from the shoulders down. A guy came to him and asked if he could hold his head up straight. My father said he could.

“Good, because that’s the only way you’ll be allowed to get on that ship. This is what we’ll do. We’ll put you in the middle with three in front of you, three behind, one on each side holding your arms. As nine people we’re going to march up the gangplank onto the British ship, past the Russians. The Russians were taking guys out of line, taking them away and shooting them in the back of the head if they looked to be in very bad shape. The reason for that is that they didn’t want the British to see how badly they had mistreated the Poles. The nine walked past the Russians, up the gangplank, and onto the British ship.

On the ship, a British nurse went up to my father, picked him up, and put him in a pup tent. He said, “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting you here to die.”

My father was never one to use an expletive, but he said, “Lady, I haven’t come all this fuckin’ way to die!”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Don’t leave me here.”

“I can put you on a bus to take you to a hospital in Tehran, but you won’t survive.”

“Put me on the fuckin’ bus.”

From there he went to the hospital, and after a while there, into the Polish Free Army. There were two divisions of it, and they were attached to the British Eighth Army. They were in North Africa, and he was made an MP, because he had been a policeman. He was a motorcycle MP, and directed traffic, etc.

After North Africa, they went to Italy, and the Battle of Monte Casino. He said the monastery there had been turned into a very strong fortification. The Allies leveled it.

When the war ended, the Polish Free Army wasn’t going back to Poland, because the Soviets were there, so they went to England. They were snubbed by the British who wouldn’t allow them to march in the victory parade. It was a big insult. There had been a Polish contingent in the RAF, and they helped to turn the tide in the Battle of Britain.

My father was sent to a place called Foxley Camp in Hereford. There was a big American military hospital there. My father was termed a Displaced Person. He had two choices. He could take the status of Displaced Person, or he could go back to Poland. If he went back, he’d be taken out and shot. Some did go back, and he never heard from them again.

Why did he want to come to the U.S.? He said that decision was because he was in England, but would never be considered English. In the United States, he could be an American. It was the only country where he could have the best of both worlds. He could be Polish and American. He could be a Polish-American. “I made the right choice,” he said.

So my father came to the U.S. as a Displaced Person, my mother came as German because she had been born in Germany, and my brother came as English. They landed in New York City, and from there they came to Boston where my uncle picked them up.

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Stanislow, Poland is now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine.

Barbara Sheila (Humphreys, Duczakowski) Dewing, 93, of Hopedale formerly of Franklin passed peacefully August 24 at the Hulitar Hospice in Providence with her family at her bedside.

Born October 1, 1928, in Wiesbaden, Germany at the British Military Hospital to George Frederick Humphreys and Florence Mabel (Cook, Sturdy) Humphreys.

Her father was transferred in 1930 to Singapore where she enjoyed an extremely happy childhood. The family returned home to London England in 1940 just in time for the Blitz.

Barbara met Polish Army Sgt. Tadeusz Duczakowski in Hereford, England and they were married in January 1947. In 1950 they, with their young son, emigrated to Massachusetts.

In 1965 she began working for the Sears Roebuck Catalog Division in Brookline, MA until she retired to look after her first husband Tadeusz Duczakowski, who died in 1988.

She met Charles Dewing while attending Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Franklin. The couple married in 1990. They lived in Naples, FL and returned to MA where they settled in Hopedale in 1997. In 2001 her husband Charles passed away.

She was one of six children and leaves behind her older brother Lt. Col John Humphreys OBE, DL of London, England.

She is also survived by her sons, George Duczakowski and his wife Manh of Plainville, and Charles Duczakowski of Hopedale.

Barbara is also survived by 6 grandchildren: Van, Thuy, John, Arlo, Angelica and Christina, as well as great and great, great grandchildren.

Barbara was an avid reader, especially about the American Civil War. She had a great love of animals and birds. She was a loving and kind person with a good sense of humor. Those that knew her often said she was a “very special lady” and they cherished their time with her.

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to the MSPCA, Humane Society, Best Friends or your animal humane society of choice.

Arrangements are under the care of the Ginley Funeral Home of Franklin (