The Polish Carpathian Lancers were some of the most remarkable fighting men of the Second World War, not least because when the war was won, they had nowhere to go.
They stole a train to get into the war, started their campaign against Rommel’s tanks on horseback, got themselves into the thick of some of the most ferocious fighting of the entire War, and in one famous battle, resorted to throwing rocks at the Germans after running out of ammunition.
Brought over to England, they were sent first to Woodhall Spa and then found themselves billeted in a former Italian prisoner of war camp on the edge of Grimsby.
They were eventually given the choice of staying in the West, or returning to a Poland that was then in the grip of Stalin, and the majority of them elected to stay in England, many in Lincolnshire.
Captain Wincenty Tomaszewski married a Grimsby girl, returned to his trade of motor mechanic, became the owner of a large local garage – and cared for a wonderful treasure trove of Carpathian Lancers material and mementos until his death in 1985.
Now, 37 years later, his collection has gone under the hammer at an auction at John Taylors Auction Rooms in Louth on Tuesday (October 11).
The collection includes some remarkable photograph albums packed with shots taken during the Lancer campaigns in the Middle East, North Africa and Italy, with some extraordinary snaps taken during the ferocious battle of Montecassino.
It also includes original campaign maps, various souvenirs taken from defeated Nazi soldiers, German propaganda leaflets and other ephemera, as well as Captain Tomaszewski’s own uniforms and medal awards.
Auctioneer James Laverack said: “It is an extraordinary collection relating to a scarcely believable story.
“Captain Tomaszewski’s wartime collection, including his Virtuti Militari, the highest Polish military medal ,awarded for outstanding valour in battle, has passed down several generations since his death and it is family descendants who have decided that the time is right for it to become part of a more extensive collection.”
The pre-sale estimate was £4,000 to £6,000, but advance bidding reached over £5,000 even before the start of the auction.
The auction became a straight fight between two telephone bidders – one in Scotland and one in America – after they saw off bidders in the room and on the Internet.
The American won the bidding and the hammer went down at £8,200 and the collection is now on its way to the United States.
Incredibly, the whole lot lasted just 140 seconds.