Veteran Interviews – Stanley Markut

Stanley Markut was a veteran of both the Polish II Corps under Gen. Anders as well as the 1st Armoured Division with General Maczek. Born in 1920 near Lublin, Stanley and his family moved east towards Bialystok when only nine years old. His mother and step father decided to start a new farm on a piece of land granted by the Polish government for veterans of the 1920 Russo-Polish war. In the years proceeding WWII, Stanley was training to become a woodworker. By 1939 he had completed his apprenticeship and was considering going into business with two other local men to start a furniture production firm. The German invasion of September 1st changed all that. After the fateful campaign and division of Poland, his area was occupied by the Soviets. Stanley planned to escape towards the west and link up with remaining relatives in Lublin but a heavy snow in December of ’39 prevented him from executing the plan. Then on February 10, 1940 at two in the morning his family of five was turned out of their house by the NKVD and began their long journey into exile.

The Markut family was packed into cattle cares without food, water, heat of sanitary facilities and shipped north-east towards Finland near the White Sea. En route Stanley suffered severe frost bite on his foot. By the time he arrived in a forced labor camp he was immediately put into the primitive camp hospital to recuperate. His sister who was less than a year old quickly died due to malnutrition. During this time the camp staff discovered his carpentry skills and therefore assigned him to various woodworking duties. The only source of meat was the fresh fish which the internees provided themselves from the local river. There as no milk or other luxuries. Each working person was provided 80 grams of bread per day (slightly more than 1/4 lb) and only 40 grams when not working. While at forced labor one third of the internees died within the first six months and two thirds had passed by the second half of 1941.

In August of 1941 amnesty was declared by Stalin but word did not reach the camp until much later. When it did, the remaining family and camp members were loaded into seven cattle cars and transported to an area near Tashkent in Khasziksthan. Stanley and his step father joined the army immediately in January of ’42 and were recruited into the 24th regt of the 8th Division. His youngest brother joined the Polish cadet corps. by Easter they had been transported to Persia and then onto Palestine. During this recuperation and training period it was decided that Stanley needed more convalescent time and so was shipped to the Union of South Africa with approximately 2,400 other troops. After three months there, he was reassigned to the I corps in the U.K. while the rest of his family stayed with the II corps.

By October of 1942 Markut was in Kelso, Scotland. After initial training he was sent to a wheeled driver’s school in December of ’42. There he was familiarized with Ford and Chevrolet vehicles. After that he was again reassigned to armour training initially on Churchill and Valentine tanks. During this phase of training each individual was tested on the different positions within the tank. Stanley was a good driver and could load the main gun quickly however his Morse skills required more honing. The loader acted as the radio operator and so this was not to be his primary job. Upon taking the gunner’s position it was found he had natural skill in determining distance and required lead on target. Thanks to this ability he was soon sent to NCO school and attained the rank of “Plutonowy.” After seven months of training he as officially transferred to the 16th tank Battalion just as the Polish 1st Armd Div was bout to go through a reorganization. During their training for the invasion, Stanley’s platoon and tank won several gunnery competitions between the Polish, Canadian and French tankers.

After the reorganization Stanley was assigned to the 1st Tank Regiment and prepared for embarkation to the Normandy beachhead. After coming ashore at Arromanches the 1st Polish Armd Div came under the operational command of the 2nd Canadian army. Within the first days on French soil Stan’s tank had hit a mine en route to Trun. It was replaced overnight and they were back on the march. The 1st Tank Regt. and it’s sister unit eventually found their way to the fate full hill 262 also known as the “Maczuga” in the Falaise pocket. here and at Chambois the 1st Polish acted as a cork in the bottle, so to speak, hold up the escape of hundreds of thousands of German troops westward.

During the fierce fighting on the hill, Stan’s tank had several close calls. By the third day ammunition was running low. their compo rations were gone but the cooks of the unit supplemented their diet with local farm animals lost during the fray. During the late afternoon on that day Markut’s tank was maneuvering from the right flank of the hill when it was struck by two enemy rounds. The tank was set afire almost instantly. Unfortunately the driver and bow gunner were killed. The tank commander and loader scrambled out of their respective hatches. Stanley had been knocked into a semi conscious state and remained in the turret while the tank burned and ammunition exploded within the vehicle. Quickly the loader realized Stanly was not coming out and so turned around, ran back and pulled him out by his equipment braces. Stanley was alive but very badly burned and many pieces of shrapnel were lodged in his skin.

After receiving basic first aid Stanley was forced to stay atop the hill all the night as the battle raged back and forth. he was eventually evacuated via a first aid half track. Due to the fog of battle however, the driver lost his way and ended up in a Canadian field hospital. After surveying Markut’s extensive injuries he was flown out to a British hospital back in Birmingham, U.K. This was a point of worry to his unit as they did not know what happened to him and so he was listed as “missing in action” for several weeks.

Stan’s injuries were so bad that he did not leave the hospital until April of 1945. He was released to the Peeble’s rehabilitation center where he learned to walk again. After his recovery he was assigned as a driver at the center for doctors and other wounded soldiers. During this time an opportunity presented itself. Stanley took a test to qualify as an instructor of English for Polish troops coming from the II Corps to England for demobilization. He continued in this capacity until he himself was discharged from the PRC. After reuniting with his entire family now in the U.K., he worked several jobs around England. After a few years the family was able to obtain a travel visa and immigrated to the United States.

Stanley Markut in 1944