Henry Kaczmarek (1931-2010)

Henry Frank Kacmarek, who died on Monday 22nd March, was a man who had led an extraordinary life by any standards. He was born on his family's farm in 1931. The farm lay in Poland, close to the border with the Ukraine, in an area dominated by its proximity to Soviet Russia. In 1939, when Germany and Russia divided Poland between themselves, local Communist officials "forced" the Kaczrmarek family from their home and transported them many hundred miles to the north of Russia, to an isolated forest area near Archangel. The journey to the wilds of northern Russia was horrific, with people nearly starving to death and being almost frozen. During the next couple of years the family barely survived the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live, despite being told by their Communist masters that they were 'now free1. Partial salvation came in 1941, when Germany suddenly turned on her erstwhile 'ally’ and invaded Russia. All at once Russia needed all the help it could get to survive the onslaught, and the Poles who had been enslaved by the Russians were appealed to. They demanded that the Poles form a "Polish” army and help fight the invaders, Henry's father agreed to go, on the understanding that his family could follow him to Persia, where (he “Polish” army was located. After he had left there began the worst part of Henry's story. The women and children made forced marches for several hundred miles in atrocious conditions to get to Persia. They were forced to stay in several different countries on the way and stopped well short of their target. Henry lost two little sisters - buried beside the road - and as a ten year old helped to bury many other neighbours and friends on that terrible journey. Eventually the family was spilt up and he was sent to an institution for homeless children. He lost contact with his step-mother, who had shown extreme courage and resilience in looking after Henry and the rest of the family under truly dreadful condition. Eventually, the home was closed and Henry was transported to Persia, where the British army was setting up supply lines to help the hard-pressed Russian army. The British and American servicemen treated Henry and the other refugees quite differently from the Russians, and Henry was taken by the British first to Bombay, on the west coast of India and then to Mombasa, on the east coast of Africa. He was then sent to a boys' home in Tanganyika, where he stayed until the Second World: War ended in 1945. When the British began moves to send Henry back to Poland, he realised the danger, and 'fled to the bush. For three months he used the techniques taught him by the local natives to survive. Eventually, when he came out of the bush, the British realised he would not go back to Poland, and sent him instead to England.

He went first to Dagenham and then to Newquay, where he worked as a kitchen assistant in a hotel. Then, at the suggestion of a friend from East Africa, he went to Pool and obtained a job at South Croft y Mine. This was in 1948. For a few months he did general underground work, as we all did when first going underground, then he went with Leslie Matthews Senior as a 'machinists mate'. Leslie and Henry worked together for some years as the youngster learned his trade. Eventually, Henry decided he wanted to earn more money and have his own contract, and so began a long association with Max Sawiz. They worked together until 1977, when Max gave up mining. Thereafter, Henry had a series of mates, and none of us who worked with him will ever forget the experience of working with one of the finest miners of his generation. He drove crosscuts and lode drives all over the mine on most levels. He stoped narrow lodes and wide lodes and put up raises at record speeds. He was the perfect miner. There was nothing Henry could not do as a hard rock miner, He could be a stern task-master, but he was always fair and he never shirked his responsibility in giving one-hundred percent at all times. After work, no matter how short his temper at work, he was always the first to buy you a drink and have a laugh with you.

Henry Kaczmarek was a 'one off, a man who as a boy had led a life few of us can imagine, but who survived to become one of the best hard-rock miners South Crofty has seen. He will be long remembered for his skill, his humour, his basic humanity and for that dreadful Polish spirit he forced us all to drink. The attendance at his funeral demonstrated the respect and affection felt for him by his fellow miners. We will miss him. JAB