Branch #23, Hamilton
The city of Hamilton was an attractive destination for many combatants when their two year contracts came to an end. A large city with developing heavy industries, it not only provided a good job market, but also had a large and vibrant Polish community , with three community centres and a Polish church.
The combatants initially joined two existing veterans' organizations: Branch #315 of the Royal Canadian Legion and the local branch of the Association of Polish Army Veterans (SWAP). This delayed the establishment of a PCA branch until 1951.
The first Board of Directors included:
President L. Pruszynski
Secretary M. Bratkowski
Treasurer M. Korycki
Audit Committee Members Gustaw Skodlowski and Mr. Zeranski
The branch became very active immediately. Quite often branch meetings would be followed by dances which were held on the premises of Group #2 of the Polish Alliance of Canada, or at the Polish Hall. Growth came slowly to the branch. The Polish airmen who had joined early on, left a few years later to form the "Krakow" Wing within the Royal Canadian Legion, but by 1962, membership had grown to more than 200 members.
The Women's Auxiliary was formed in 1953 with 20 members who adopted a novel way of sharing responsibilities. For the first few years, a different member of the Auxiliary acted as the president for a month, The President was elected at the monthly meetings, but the Secretary and Treasurer held their positions for a term of one year.
The branch was generous in its aid to Polish refugees in West Germany by sending money, medicine, food and clothing. The Auxiliary helped victims of the political repression after the 1956 events in Poland, the Hungarian Uprising and the December, 1970 events. It also provided help to Poles who were repatriated to Poland from the Soviet Union, to war invalids in Canada and new immigrants.
Aside from aid to the Polish Boy and Girl Scouts and other Polish cultural groups, the branch established a Polish School in Hamilton in 1962. Initially, classes were held at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. The Combatants' Credit Union was established on May 13, 1954.
The branch acquired its colours in 1965 with Mrs. J. Sawulak and Col. Z. Dzwonkowski standing as godparents at the consecration ceremony in January of that year.
The commemoration of Soldier's Day by Branch #23 merits special mention. Following Holy Mass, a delegation of combatants travelled to the cemetery to place Canadian and Polish flags on the graves of branch members who had passed away.
By the late 1960s branch membership began to decline, dropping to 112 members by 1971. Despite that fact, the branch continued to be active and purchased its own building, which was blessed by Association Chaplain, Monsignor Franciszek Pluta, at the opening ceremonies in September, 1973. The building was well used and the large, professional folk song and dance ensemble from Poland "Slask," performed there in 1974.
In 1978, the branch departed from tradition by celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Lwow on November 19th. During the special assembly held that day, Mr. Ludwik Luczak presented the history of the battle and introduced Mr. Edward Bodnar, one of the defenders of Lwow in 1918, who, at the age of 16 joined the Polish Legions. During WW2, Mr. Bodnar served in the 2nd Corps.
At a banquet held on January 17, 1979, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Poland's Independence, the branch bestowed honorary membership upon a number of members who had fought for Poland's independence in 1918-1920. The honorees were:
Col. Jerzy Zaremba
The branch celebrated its 40th anniversary with style. Association National President Mieczyslaw Szczecinski and former national president Janusz Bucko attended the ceremonies. After the Holy Mass, the combatants attended lunch, where they viewed a pictorial display showing the history of the branch. The exhibit was organized by Mr. Ludwik Luczak. It remained as a permanent feature at the Hamilton Museum. Lunch was followed by entertainment. Tersa Klimuszko, Anna Piwowarczyk and sisters Renata and Monika Kasprzak performed for the combatants. To mark the occasion, a memorial plaque was unveiled at St. Stanislaw Kostka Church.
Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Krasuski was decorated with two medals. Branch president Henryk Lekusz presented him with the Warsaw Uprising Medal. Then he was decorated with the Virtuti Militari Cross by Mr. Ludwik Luczak.
By 1992, the membership had declined to 62 members and as of this writing (2010), only 10 members remain. Incredibly, 2010 Branch president Henryk Lekusz has continuously served as Branch #23 president since 1983. In 1995, he was also elected as Chairman of the National Council of the Polish Combatants' Association in Canada, a position he holds to this day.
Member Profile: Edmund Zielinski
Mr. Zielinski served as 2nd lieutenant in the "Podlaska" Cavalry Brigade during the September, 1939 Campaign. He was taken as a prisoner of war to the Murnau POW camp. After the camp was liberated, he joined the 2nd Corps from which he was transferred to the 2nd Warsaw Armoured Division, stationed in England.
Member Profile: Col. Jerzy Zaremba
Col. Zaremba (who passed away in 1980) began his military service in the Czar's Russian Army. Later he served in General Haller's "Blue Army" as an aide de camp to the commander of the French Military Mission, General Henris. In World War Two he was the chief of staff of the Independent Carpathian Brigade, and later in the 3rd Division of the Carpathian Fusiliers.
Member Profile: Antoni Wylup
Mr. Wylup fought in the September Campaign and was a recipient of the Cross of Valour.
Member Profile: Jan Karasek
Mr. Karasek fought in the Light Cavalry Regiment during the September Campaign and later joined the Underground. Arrested by the Gestapo, he was sent to the Stutthof Concentration Camp from which he escaped to Scotland. In Scotland that he attended and graduated from military college.
Names Associated with Branch #23, Hamilton
Henryk Czajkowski (President, 1961-62)
B. Danielkiewicz (Danielewicz)
Col. Zygmunt Dzwonkowski (President, 1958-1960)
Zofia Halina Guzewska
Jan Jablonski (Director, Credit Union)
Jacek Kordian Zomorski
W. Kowalski (shared Presidency in 1956)
Stanislaw Krasuski (1979-82)
T. Kuczborski (President, 1955)
Henryk Lekusz (President 1983-present)
T. Lipecki (President, 1952, 1957)
Ludwik Luczak (President, 1971, 1978, First Chairman of the Polish School Committee)
Dr. Daromil Miarczynski
Mr. Mrozinski (School Committee member, 1962)
P.E. Niedojadlo (President, 1966-70, 1972-75)
Marek Benny Nobel
C. Omielanowicz (shared Presidency in 1956)
L. Pruszynski (President, 1951)
Antoni Pyklak (Pytlak)
Zbigniew Rosinski (President, 1976-77)
Emil Smolinski (School Committee member, 1962)
Wladyslaw Smoszynski (President, 1953-1954, Director, Credit Union)
Jacek Wlodzimierz Staff
Antoni Stawikowski (President, 1963-65)
Dr. Janusz Urban
J. Zralski (Director, Credit Union)