Adam’s Journey To Freedom

Adam Derring in his early 20's

Adam Derring was a young man of 17 living happily with his mother, father and two sisters in Janow, Poland. When the news flashed all around the world that the German army had invaded Poland the Polish people, especially the young men, were very frightened - they had cause to be.
Adam, along with a group of other young lads, was captured and taken along to a railway yard where they were herded onto a train and transported to Germany to work on the farms.
As the weeks went by, peace talks between Germany and Great Britain failed and the invasion of the rest of Europe began.
The army needed help to build German fortifications in occupied territory. Adam once again found himself on a train, this time bound for northern France.
Things were very hard and Adam would often wonder about the plight of the rest of his family, knowing that they would also be worrying about him. As the days turned into weeks the war in Europe became more intense and allied bombers flew sortie after sortie overhead. Eventually, Adam's group, much to their dismay, were told they would be returned to Germany.
That evening, at great risk to their lives, 21 Poles got together and decided to flee the camp. Adam recalls every detail of that particular night, "It was a most beautiful night, warm and dry with clear skies."
Having no idea whatsoever of where to go or how to make contact with anyone, they began to walk. For seven days and nights they tramped, living on any scraps of food they could find, mostly apples. A few had a container of sorts which they would fill with water at every opportunity. Many a time this would be from a puddle of dirty water but it quenched their thirst and kept them going. Their numbers increased to 41 as other Polish men joined them on their journey.
Finally, their luck ran out as they rested beside the River Seine. The 'FFI', part of the 'underground' French Resistance Movement, captured them all and once again they became prisoners. The FFI didn't know what to do with them. They didn't know who they were or where they had come from, so in their ignorance they handed them over to the American troops. They were transported by lorry to Paris and left, by now frightened and bereft, in an internment camp run by the French authorities.
Adam remebers looking around and thinking, "What am I doing here? For how long? Where to next?" All daunting thoughts for such an innocent young man.
Adam and the other 40 Polish men stood in the internment camp looking around and talking to each other, wondering what was going to happen next. The one thought that kept them going was knowing that they weren’t in the hands of the enemy, Hitler’s German Army.
Eventually, an officer came and took the 41 men and placed them all together in an army hut. Each had a straw mattress and they had to queue up in a line every day for food. All in all though, the conditions weren’t too bad.
For three days they waited there for the Polish Embassy to make contact with them – when they did, Adam and his colleagues found themselves on the move once again, this time to a disused factory that was cold and dank and their ‘bed’ was a stone floor covered with straw. One consolation was the fact that here, they met up with even more of their fellow countrymen. They could at last talk to one another, swap stories and voice fears about their families.
After 24 hours, an Army Major from the Polish Embassy arrived at the factory and wrote down all their particulars. He told them that they would all be transported by lorry to the Polish Embassy just outside Paris where they would be billeted.
The embassy was rather sparse because it was just in the process of being set up with the help of the English. However, it wasn’t too bad and so for the next four weeks they helped construct the buildings alongside the embassy. Adam, at this time, would lie awake at night worrying about his family, wondering of the whereabouts of his mother, father and two sisters? He had no way of finding out.
Four weeks later they were all put onto a French train and taken to a huge prisoner of war camp in Paris. The Poles who had worked at the embassy were kept together in a separate confine supplied by the embassy until the day they were taken and put into the larger compound - their number had now grown to about 2,000 but at least they were safe.
One day, when a large convoy of lorries arrived, each man was supplied with his own tent, a luxury indeed after what they had been through. The men were crowded into the wagons and transported to Cherbourg. For the next 48 hours they lived ‘under canvas’ until an order came through telling them to make their way down to the harbour where they were to board what was called a ‘Liberty Ship’.
These ships were used not only to carry the men to England but also vital equipment. Adam remembers his ship transported tracks and other railway equipment. There was no food at all for them aboard the ship and certainly no beds or bunks – they simply laid down on the decks and tried to get some sleep.
When dawn broke, Adam awoke to the sight of land – England! It was a hungry, tired young man that walked down the gang-plank that morning. A feeling of safety, yes, but Adam was in another strange and foreign country that he knew nothing about. Once again they were herded onto a train and this time taken to the racecourse on Epsom Downs. There they were given a good meal but the next few hours were to be a nightmare.
Each man had to strip naked and stay that way until his clothes were ‘de-loused’. Adam wonders how many people watching the horse racing at Epsom these days know that at one time it was a de-lousing centre – not many I bet!
From Epsom it was once more onto a train and the start of a long journey north to St Johnstone in Scotland. It was there that, for the very first time, all their particulars were legally recorded. They then travelled on to Balcometh where they underwent a medical examination – Adam was found to be ‘thin, though quite fit’. He was now ready to join a regiment and chose the Light Artillery and was transferred to Duns where a new regiment was being formed. The men immediately undertook normal army training and soon the regiment was up to full strength.
The Army HQ was at Selkirk and that was where Adam was billeted. His job was cleaning and repairing equipment ready to be taken back to the front line of the British Army.
He now had time to reflect on his long journey, the many camps he’d been in, the travelling in between on foot, by train, lorry and ship. Not once in all this time had he been in contact with any of his family. Were they dead or captured? He just prayed they were still alive. Adam’s prayers weren’t answered until many months later.
Adam and his compatriots spent the rest of the war in Selkirk until the day finally arrived with the long-awaited news that the war was over. Adolf Hitler was defeated, victory was ours. Adam was then shuffled all over the north-east of Scotland, the Shetlands and the Orkneys. This went on for four months – they had the endless task of dismantling barracks and gun mountings. Still in Scotland Adam was then billeted in a repatriation camp at Greenock awaiting demobilisation.
He recalls, “We had to find jobs for ourselves and at that time a Mr Slater, of North Skelton Ironstone Mine was advertising for workers for his ‘underground factory’. I applied and got a job.” Four of Adam’s pals also got work. The daunting task ahead of them now was acquiring accomodation in the area.
They travelled by train down from Scotland to North Skelton. How did they feel? How would you feel? They were coming to a village they had never heard of to live with strangers and to work in the ‘bowels of the earth’. No wonder they were filled with apprehension.
The five men that made the journey that would shape the rest of their lives were Adam, who was taken in by Caleb Bland and was to spend the next seven years living with Caleb and his family; Tony Spychala and Arthur Bliwert, who found lodgings with Polly Pinkney; Johnny Stekla with Dickie Harrison; and Eddie Hoffman with Kath Evans. Eventually, Adam settled down to life in North Skelton and married a local lass, Maureen Marsay.
In all this time, Adam still knew nothing of the fate of his family. They would come into his mind and he would try to put them to the back of it as he tried to build a new life for himself; but all the time he was clinging onto the hope that one day they would find each other. In 1953 he couldn’t let it go on any longer, he needed to know one way or another if they were dead or alive so he wrote, without much hope, to the Red Cross.
The charity had brought many war families back together and after a nail-biting period of time the joyful news arrived – all of his family were alive and well! His father, mother and sisters were in a re-settlement camp in southern Germany. Letters bagan to fly back and forth – one can’t imagine the relief and happiness that Adam felt even though it would be another six years before they saw each other.
In 1956, Paul, Adam’s eldest son, was born. Adam worked hard down the pit and both him and Maureen saved and saved until in 1959 they had enough to set off from North Skelton to Germany to be re-united with his beloved family whom he hadn’t seen for 17 years. They set sail from Dover in a rusty old ferry – Paul was only a child of 3 years.
After arriving safely at Ostend, they took a train to Germany.
The reunion was wonderful and lots of tears were shed. The joy that Adam’s mother and father must have felt at seeing their son for the first time in 17 years is unimaginable. The reunion over, Adam and his family had to return to North Skelton – sadness enveloped them all but Adam’s future life was over here now.
The years passed, daughter Jayne was born and later, youngest son Simon. Adam’s parents passed away several years ago but he has returned to see his remaining family many times since that first reunion, most recently in September 2000 when Paul, Jayne and Simon took him by car for a long and memorable weekend - the visit coincided with his sister and brother-in-law’s 70th birthday celebrations. Later this year, on 25th May, Adam’s sister and brother-in-law, along with their son and his four children, are coming from Germany to North Skelton. It will be the first time they have ever set foot on English soil.

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