Joe Carmichael: Soldier and garage proprietor

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The Independent Online

Scottish society has benefited enormously from the vigour and work ethic of a significant number of Polish officers and other ranks, members of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, who were stationed in Fife and the Lothians between 1940 and 1942 and who, after gallantly fighting Nazi Germany in North Africa, Italy and north-west Europe, opted to settle in Scotland rather than return to Stalin-occupied Poland. One such was Joe Carmichael.

In November 1963, the Secretary of the Scottish Labour group of MPs, Tom Oswald, and the Transport and General Workers' Union sponsored invited representatives of the Edinburgh garage owners to meet our group about the vexed question of the then president of the Board of Trades, Edward Heath's plans for resale price maintenance. Taking them down to an evening meal in the Strangers' Dining Room, I found myself sitting next to Joseph Carmichael, who was building up his father-in-law's business into one of the leading garage firms in Scotland.

He told me his story. His name at birth was Jozef Horodyski and his family had land near the Russian border. When the Germans invaded in September 1939, he was arrested by the Gestapo and charged with setting explosives under a building occupied by the Germans. Two alleged accomplices were put before a firing squad and just as he expected to be shot, the German officer relented and barked at him to run away as quickly as he could. Horodyski was then 17 and years later he was to learn that the German officer himself had a 17-year-old son.

Jozef Horodyski and his brother found their way through southern Poland into Hungary and were able by a circuitous route to join the Free Polish Forces in Paris. "Aristocratic material", he was sent to the military academy at Saint Cyr to do an officers course. When the German Army swept through Belgium, Horodyski was part of the rearguard action which made it possible for the BEF to escape from Dunkirk. It was then, he told me, every man for himself. He and a handful of others got hold of a lorry and, somehow, by country roads, reached the port of La Rochelle and scrambled on board one of the last ships leaving for Britain. From Plymouth, he was ordered to go to Glasgow to join the Free Polish Forces.

Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Polish 1st Armoured Division, he was stationed at Gosford House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Wemyss. It was there that he met Marian, daughter of Willie Carmichael, who had a small motor business, and they were married in 1944.

As I had done my National Service in an armoured regiment, Horodyski described in detail his time as a tank commander and in particular the hectic days of the Normandy campaign where the Polish forces played an important part in coping with the panzer divisions in the Falaise Gap. He was very proud that it was his tank which was the first to enter the town of Breda in the Netherlands on 29 October 1944.

In 1947, Horodyski qualified as a motor engineer, joined his father-in-law's business and in 1950 changed his name to that of his wife's family. He told me he did this to avoid any discrimination against his children and to establish that he was now a Scot, regarding Scotland as his home.

Tam Dalyell

Jozef Horodyski (Joseph Carmichael), soldier, motor engineer and garage proprietor: born Synowodzko, Poland 24 February 1922; married 1944 Marian Carmichael (two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 2 April 2008.