Col Jerzy Pajaczkowski

Veteran of both world wars

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.

Max Arthur

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms