Reunited, angel of Monte Cassino and soldier she tended
Maria Kowalska was a 21-year-old nurse and Waclaw Domagala was a teenage soldier having his leg amputated after fighting in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
The Polish pair were reunited in a UK care home almost 75 years later when Mr Domagala called over to her: ‘Good morning, Sister.’
Mr Domagala, now 94, said he never forgot the ‘angel’ who nursed him after he was wounded in the battle which caused more than 55,000 Allied casualties and 20,000 German.
Almost 50,000 Polish troops took part in the Allied push to reach Rome and many were killed. Many survivors settled in the UK after the war. Mr Domagala and Mrs Kowalska, now 96, live in a care home near Newton Abbot, Devon, for former members of Polish forces who served under British command.
They were reunited in 2017 and live a few rooms from each other.
Mrs Kowalska said: ‘No one had called me Sister for a long time and I thought, “My God! Who is that?” It was only my second day THE last time they met was in a hospital in war-torn Italy in 1944. at the home and I didn’t expect anything like that to happen. I didn’t recognise him at first but then he started talking about Monte Cassino and his operation.
‘It was incredible to see him after all this time. There were so many bad injuries to so many young men and we were working around the clock. I looked after the ward where they recovered but would also help out in theatre when we had casualties coming in.
‘I remember him because it was so sad to see a young man lose a leg. He was only 19. I knew he survived and was sent to Scotland to recover but that was it.’
Mr Domagala said: ‘I knew it was her the moment I saw her. She was one of the nurses who helped me and I am so grateful to all of them. How could I forget her?’ Following the war, Mrs Kowalska settled in Wiltshire and raised a family. She keeps her British Army and Polish hospital identity cards at the home which is known locally as ‘Little Poland’.
Dementia sufferer Mr Domagala signed up to fight after his 16th birthday. He has been at the home for five years after settling in Bristol and working as an orthopaedic machinist. He moved to the Ilford Park home in 2015. Clare Thomas, manager of the Devon home, said: ‘Winston Churchill stood up in Parliament to say the nation owed a debt to the Polish people.
‘Many of our residents endured terrible times in World War II and it is right that we are here to care for them now.’