Maria. More than just a number.

Started by Gyppo, September 19, 2018, 07:49:40 AM

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Something on another thread reminded me of this, which some of you will recall from the other website.  I decided to post it again.


        'More than just a number.'

        When I was a kid she was just a funny old lady who walked around our village wearing a flowerpot on her head.  Okay, it was the 1950s and there was a style called the flowerpot, but hers really did look like one.  And of course she wasn't really old, but when you're only eight or ten yourself then anyone beyond thirty seems ancient.

        She had a funny accent and a lot of us thought she was a German.  Later on we found she was Pole, but that soon after the war quite a few Germans found it convenient - and eminently sensible - to be seen as Poles, so we weren't convinced.

        Sometimes she would come out and chase us away if we made too much noise outside her house, and we thought she was a grumpy old biddy, but back then she looked a bit fierce so we never gave her any back-chat.

        She moved away and a few years later we did the same and found her living just down the road. She was delighted to see someone she knew from 'the old days' and now I was a bit older she didn't seem so fierce.  Still a bit alien and eccentric, but no longer fierce.

        Every year for the last forty years at least Maria sold poppies for the British Legion's Poppy Day Appeal.

        Her smiling bespectacled face all pink and glowing up at you from her five feet or so, and her "Let me pin it on for you, Darlink' - eyes twinkling - gradually becoming "You'll have to pin it on for yourself, Darlink, my eyes are too bad now."

        I was her Postman for a few years and her incoming mail spoke eloquently of the Polish diaspora, scattered to the four corners of the earth by the winds of war, and of links maintained by cards and aerograms.  "Darlink, this is from a very old and dear friend who I haff have not seen in forty years."

        A few years ago her next door neighbour and I went into her house - fearing the worst - when we realised her front door had been left unlocked for at least twenty four hours.  She wasn't there, and her house was a glorious collection of 'stuff' which she had collected and never given away.  It turned out she had gone away to Poland for a few weeks and forgotten to lock up.  Not for the first time, according to her neighbour.

        Sometimes when I was going to work in the early hours I'd see her stood at the roadside with her suitcase, patiently waiting for whoever was giving her a ride to the airport.  She needed a lift you see, because even before she decided her eyes were too bad to drive anymore, the local yobs smashed her car up.  She fixed it a couple of times and then decided enough was enough.  It was probably a blessing in disguise because by then I doubt if she would have passed a driver's eye test.  But she was a conscientious little soul and always drove slowly because of her eyes, leaning forward and peering through the wheel as if her closeness to the windscreen would somehow help.

        Forty years of living just down the road from us and always calling anyone she liked 'Darlink'.

        And for at least thirty-five of those years I've known she had the blue tattoo of a concentration camp number hidden under her old clothes. It's not something you talk about much, and it's something which we lucky enough to be born after the war will never really understand.  Maria and millions of others knew what it was like to be treated as cattle, as a disposable commodity.  Every year there's less of them to remember.

        She once spoke - quite quietly and without any obvious bitterness - about having trouble with her hands 'because of the experiments they did on us in the camp'.

        When she died recently - as quietly as she had lived the last sixty years of her life - this gentle little old lady was given full military honours and her wartime medals were laid out on top of the coffin, which was draped with a Polish flag.  Medals marking her time as a member of the Polish Resistance.

        If it is true that 'the best revenge is to live well' then Maria, having worked tirelessly and quietly for her own people - and outlived most of her oppressors - has had her revenge in full.

        Maria - More than just a number.

        Copyright J Craggs 2005. 


Oh wow, what a life. You last sentence rings very true in her case Gyp. Could not begin to imagine what she and the rest in those camps went through but we must never forget.
Don't take life too seriously, none of us get out of it alive


When I was her postman she would often be waiting for me to open a jar for her, jam or coffee, which she would then re-close with a cap of foil rather than the screw on lid.  She preferred to buy stuff in tins with a lever-off press-on lid.

She was in the 'medical research block' at her camp, and a 'doctor' cut the nerves in her hands as part of an experiment into creating 'soldiers who would feel no pain'.

She always wore long sleeves to cover the tattoo on her forearm.


Thank you for sharing this here, Gyppo. These are the kind of stories we need to keep alive.
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
Arthur Ashe


Oh wow, that is horrid mate  :'( :'(
Don't take life too seriously, none of us get out of it alive


Yet another eloquently written tale about another fascinating, and endearing person in your life, Gyppo. Thank you for sharing it with us again. I vaguely remember it from MWC, but I do remember.

If only all of us could be so keenly aware of the people we cross paths with.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark. -Chinese proverb

Blondesplosion! ~Deb


The silent heroes. Like the story of your flowerpot lady, it was only upon the death of one of my neighbours that I found out that he was not the person I thought him to be. He lived with his sister in a terraced house, an ironstone stone miner's cottage, next to my childhood home. He was a big man, a quiet man, and I never heard him raise his voice or saw him lose his temper. He worked in 'The Foundry', although I'm not sure what his job was. He would come home on an evening and his sister would have his evening meal waiting for him after which he would freshen up and change his clothes.

After this, he would walk to the top of the street, light his pipe, and just lean against a wall and watch the world go by. A picture of contentment, just a man smoking his pipe. At some point, he would return home, his routine complete, and wait to repeat the process on the following day.

Admittedly, I was young and naive in my innocence otherwise I would have picked up on the tell-tale signs, like the way other people treated him with respect normally given to people 'above their station'. The only other times I remember seeing was every Remembrance Sunday, then he would be there at the cenotaph, with a row of medals on his chest belonging to the other man inside him.

It was only when he died that I found out that he'd been a Chindit and fought behind enemy lines in Malaysia during the second world war. That man I never knew, I only knew my neighbour, Billy.


Thanks for sharing this.

They're a quiet breed, these old Warriors.  And most of the modern ones who have earned medals tend not to talk about it except amongst themselves.

Quote:  ...he would be there at the cenotaph, with a row of medals on his chest belonging to the other man inside him.

Says it all, the man inside.


Great post Gyp. I know Poland was a big place, but I wonder if your Lady and my Da knew each other? For my Da was in the Polish Resistance too.

He once told me his life story, after I'd pestered him again to tell me. Only this time I recorded it on a little cassette recorder, and later transcribed it. Over a couple of beers and a few games of 'doms' he started.

"I was thirteen and came home from school and saw my Mother being dragged out of our house and she was marched off to Siberia. I never saw her again.
My Fadder was a Polish Cavalry Officer, and they all got shot by the Gestapo.
Neighbours hid me for a while. I never stayed in the same place for more than a few days. People were informing the germans about partisans and 'traitors'. And they disappeared. We heard they were being transported out of the country.

After a few years of this, I joined the resistance, when I was Fifteen. I saw action in a few places and it was here I learned from the other fighters how it was to be a man. The times we lived in made us brutal. I don't wanna talk about that.
I later joined the Polish Army and saw action all over Europe. I was at Monte Casino and other places where things happened.

Eventually we were seconded to the British Army.
When the war was over, I was given a choice. Canada, where I knew I had relatives. Or England, where I'd probably be alone. They gave me a sum of money to either make the trip to Canada or to set myself up in England. I made my choice I was demobbed in Rugby, bought myself a motorbike, where I eventually met your Mother. . . my life went downhill after that."

I nearly fell off my chair at his last statement.
My heart (and the rest of me) belongs to the Northeast of England.