Obituary: Lt-Gen Klemens Rudnicki

Klemens Stanislaw Rudnicki, soldier, born Zydaczow 28 March 1897, Virtuti Militari 1939, 1944, DSO 1944, author of The Last of the War-Horses 1974, died London 12 August 1992.

KLEMENS RUDNICKI was not only a distinguished soldier of the Second World War, but also a man of such probity and gentleness that he resembled one of those shining icons of Christian knighthood which used to be peddled as examples to the young. The trials and tragedies he lived through seemed to have no effect beyond strengthening his faith and ennobling his personality.

Born in 1897 in the Austrian partition of Poland, he was a product of the slightly naive, deeply religious and chivalrous outlook of the minor Polish gentry. He was drafted into the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914, and, after being wounded on the Italian front, was promoted to lieutenant. In 1918 he joined the newly founded Polish army, and over the next two years commanded a squadron of the 2nd Light Horse regiment in the fierce mounted battles with Budyonny's Red Cavalry Army.

Rudnicki became a professional soldier, and eventually lectured on strategy at the Warsaw Staff College. In 1938 he was given command of the 9th Lancers, the regiment which he took to war the following year. After three weeks of fighting against German armour, he was caught up in the capitulation of Warsaw. He had to march his regiment into German captivity, but not before hiding the colours in a Warsaw church. He escaped at the first opportunity, helped to organise the first resistance networks, and was nominated chief of staff of the Polish underground movement in the zone occupied by the Soviets. This required him to make frequent trips across the German-Soviet demarcation line, and in February 1940 he was arrested by the Soviets while crossing the river San dressed as a peasant.

He was shunted from prison to prison in the company of petty criminals and minor 'enemies of the people', one of whom, a Jewish Communist from Palestine, taught him English. In one of these prisons, he found himself in the same cell as his erstwhile commanding officer, and in order to avoid detection the two had to ignore each other studiously for the duration.

Rudnicki's assumed identity withstood the endless interrogations, and he was therefore not despatched to a gulag or an officers' camp. Instead, he was sentenced to 15 years' 'rehabilitation' and assigned as a workman to a brick factory in Kirov.

In 1941, after the signature of the Polish-Soviet pact, he identified himself, and was allowed to join General Anders, who was forming a new Polish Army in Tashkent. This army soon left the Soviet Union, marching through Samarkand, Tehran, Baghdad and Jerusalem. In 1943 it reached Cairo, where it met up with other Polish units. The whole force then took part in the invasion of Italy. Rudnicki took over command of the 5th Division and led the victorious attack on Phantom Ridge at Monte Cassino. He fought at Ancona, after which he was awarded the DSO, and then liberated Bologna. Soon after this, in April 1945, he was transferred to take command of the 1st Polish Armoured Division during the advance into Germany.

In spite of the triumph of finally carrying the war back into Germany, these were bitter times for the Polish soldiers. Having once read out an order of surrender to his regiment in Warsaw in 1939, he now had again to address his men, informing them that their efforts had been in vain.

Like so many others, Rudnicki had to face a life of exile, living in penury as a nobody in London, where he was joined by his wife and two daughters (a third had been killed in the Warsaw Uprising). He did a number of jobs, at one stage running a junk-shop, and ended up restoring antiques. However poor he was, he always managed to look impeccably elegant, even dashing, and good humour was seldom absent from his face. He was immensely popular amongst London Poles, both old and young, partly on account of his charm, partly on account of what he stood for. They don't make them like him any more.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain