Extraordinary photo collection of Polish Carpathian Lancers up for auction
An extraordinary collection of wartime mementoes from an officer of the legendary Polish Carpathian Lancers who fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino is to go under the hammer in an auction in the United Kingdom.
The lot includes an extensive medal collection, including a Virtuti Militari Silver Cross, the highest Polish military medal, awarded only for outstanding valour in battle.
Also bundled in the sale are albums of photos taken during the regiment’s campaigns in the Middle East, North Africa and Italy, as well as souvenirs taken from defeated German soldiers along with campaign maps and uniforms.
The collection belonged to Captain Wincenty Tomaszewski (1912-85), an officer of the Carpathian Lancers who after the war settled in Grimsby.
After Tomaszewski’s death in 1985, the collection remained in the family and after being handed down a couple of generations is only now being offered for sale.
“The vendors feel that the time has come for the collection to pass into more expert hands for preservation,” said the auctioneer John Taylors in Lincolnshire.
The Polish Carpathian Lancers regiment was formed in Syria in early 1940 from around 500 men who had escaped after Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
It was part of the wider Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade, which was formally part of the Polish Army in France.
Syria was at the time part of the French sphere of influence in the Middle East but when France was defeated by Germany, the Poles quickly left their French bases in the desert and joined up with the British in Palestine taking their weapons and commandeering armoured cars, horses and even a train to reach the British.
The Lancers then joined the Eighth Army in the Western Desert, initially patrolling on horseback.
They were part of the forces that defended Tobruk during the 241-day siege in 1941 and fought in the Battle of El Alamein.
After training on armoured equipment in Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, the regiment landed in Italy in January 1944, where most notably they fought in the four-month-long battle of Monte Cassino.
Captain Tomaszewski commanded a platoon in the final assault. He later recalled: “I went up there with 32 men and came out with only seven – the rest were either wounded or dead.”
The soldiers of the Carpathian Lancers fought all the way to Bologna, where they took part in the liberation of the city from German occupation in April 1945.
At the end of the war, the Carpathian Lancers were brought to Britain and the regiment was finally disbanded in July 1948.
They were billeted in a former Italian prisoner-of-war camp in the fishing port of Grimsby, Lincolnshire.
They were given the choice of staying in the West or returning to a Poland which was then in the grip of Stalin.
Almost to a man they decided to stay in the West, many in England and quite a few in Lincolnshire.
Captain Tomaszewski married Jadwiga with whom he had a daughter Anne and returned to his trade of motor mechanic opening a local garage.
The photo albums contain many compelling images from the history of the Carpathian Lancers, including some which the auctioneers say show soldiers in the hills around Monte Cassino assaulting the abbey.
However, the smiling faces of some of the soldiers suggest that the photos may have been re-enactments, a common practice among troops during the war.
Another photo shows a group of Lancers standing around a captured German armoured vehicle.
A further photo shows a group of German soldiers, which suggests it was a souvenir taken from a German who may have been a prisoner.
The collection will go under the hammer at an auction at John Taylors Auction Rooms in Louth, Lincolnshire on Tuesday, October 11th.