Col Jerzy Pajaczkowski
Veteran of both world wars
Monday 12 December 2005
At the age of 111 Jerzy Pajaczkowski was the oldest man in the United Kingdom. He saw action in both world wars, in the first with the Austrian army against the Italians and in the second with the Polish army fighting a rearguard action against the Germans and Russians. He also saw action against the Red Army in 1920.
This remarkable life began in July 1894, in Lwow, where his father was a general practitioner. When Jerzy Pajaczkowski-Dydynski was eight his father moved to Sanok to head a hospital, and it was there that the boy was educated. He went to an Austrian government school with Polish teachers and studied German, Latin and Greek. In 1912 he started reading Law at the University of Lwow but on the outbreak of the First World War he went to Vienna, expecting to join up immediately. He was not required and spent his time attending concerts and the opera until he was called up to the Austrian army in 1915.
After training in Hungary and Bosnia in 1916 as a sergeant, he went to Montenegro and Albania and saw fierce fighting against the Italians. In the latter part of 1918 his unit was in action in northern Italy and shortly before the Armistice he was captured by the Italian cavalry and made a prisoner of war. He was able to contact the Polish-French military mission in Italy and with their help was freed at Christmas and sent to France. By now he had become commissioned and was made assistant adjutant to a French colonel commanding a Polish regiment.
Back in Poland he became a staff officer under General Jozef Haller and was heavily involved in the desperate defence of his country against the invading Red Army who by August 1920, were at the gates of Warsaw. The Poles counter-attacked and forced the Russians to retreat. After the Armistice in October he was appointed to the staff of the Polish 2nd Army.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he was a lieutenant-colonel in the headquarters of the Polish army in Warsaw. On 1 September 1939 a force of 1.8 million German troops invaded Poland. By 14 September Warsaw was surrounded. The Poles were receiving no help from either France or Britain, yet they defiantly held out against overwhelming odds and continued to put up an aggressive stand even when Russia invaded from the east on 17 September. After intense fighting and some successes, the Poles finally surrendered on 5 October. They had held out for five weeks and inflicted heavy casualties - the Germans lost close on 50,000 men and 697 planes. (In the defence of their country the Poles inflicted more casualties on the Germans than the French and British forces in 1940.)
Fortunately he was able to cross the Romanian border and along with his family he reached Paris, where he worked at the new Polish GHQ. After the fall of Paris in May 1940, he desperately journeyed with his family to a number of French ports before escaping on 25 June from one near the Spanish border. He landed in Plymouth and was eventually sent to Perth, where he took command of the Polish garrison formerly occupied by the Black Watch. In 1943 he moved to Edinburgh, where he worked on translating and adapting British military regulations and manuals for the use of Polish units.
At the end of the war he made Edinburgh his home, until in 1993 he moved to be near his daughter in Sedbergh, Cumbria. When he was 97 he returned to Poland for his first visit since 1940.
Throughout his life "George" Pajaczkowski's abiding passion was music. A skilled viola player, he only gave up playing to conduct many of the classics, in particular Wagner and Mozart, with consummate skill. Like so many Poles who have been trained in their own country or whose education had been halted by the war, he was unable to continue his legal studies in his adopted country and for the rest of his life worked as a gardener. Fluent in French, German and English, he delighted in Scrabble and each day completed the crossword in Polish in the newspaper Dziennik Polski and often wrote to the compiler suggesting tougher clues.
His marriage to his first wife, Maria, was to last for 21 years and his second, to Dorothy, for nearly 50. This deeply proud man attended Mass every Sunday, enjoyed a glass of Guinness with his lunch, a glass of fine red wine with his dinner and the occasional cigar.
On his 107th birthday he was honoured by the President of Poland, who bestowed upon him the Officer Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
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