The Life and Times of Jan Pirog,
A Polish Soldier

Page Last Updated, March 26th, 2016

Polish Eagle Jan wartime picture
Polish Shoulder Emblem
Polish 1st Armoured Div Patch
Virtuti Militari

The Polish cavalry in the 16th and 17th century rode into battle with feathered wings on their back. The sound instilled terror in the enemy, and many simply ran from it. Jan's division took those wings as their emblem.

Born October 21st, 1919 in Rohatyn Poland, Jan was serving in the Polish Cavalry when the Nazis attacked Poland.

PODOLSKA Cavalry Brigade - Stanislawow

The following Regiments (Pulk's) made up this Brigade

6 Pulk Ulanów Kaniowskich - Stanislawow

9 Ulanów Malopolskich - Trembowla

14 Ulanów Jazlowieckich - Lwow

6 Dywizjon Artylerii Konnej

6 Szwadron Pionierów

6 Szwadron Lacznósci

Szwadron Kolarzy

62 Dywizjon Pancerny

7 Batalion Strzelców

86 Samodzielna Bateria Motorowa Artylerii Przeciwlotniczej


The pennant below is a Regimental Pennant of the 9th Pulk Ulanow


Did the Cavalry really Charge the German Tanks?

Sept 19th '39 Wolka Weglowa

The most spectacular Charge: 14th Jazlowiecki and a part of 9th Malopolski regiment charged. About 100 cavalrymen were killed but the charge opened the way for encircled "Poznan" army to Warsaw. This charge was described with admiration by an Italian war correspondent

During the 2nd World War he served in the 1st Polish Anti Tank Regiment of the 1st Polish Armored Division and was attached to 10th "pułk strzelcow konnych" (10th Mounted Rifle Regiment).

Lance Pennon of the 10th Mounted Rifle Regiment

WIęcej o Historii Pułku...

ŁAŃCUT zmotoryzowany od 1937

Otok żółty

Pułk w okresie formowania miał duże problemy z zaopatrzeniem:

W jednym łapciu, w jednym bucie,
Chodzi strzelec po Łańcucie.

W jednym łapciu, w drugim bucie,
Chodzi strzelec po Łańcucie.

Dzicy, butni jak remonty,
To jest strzelców pułk dziesiąty.

Pułk został sformowany w 1921r. min. z żołnierzy Dywizjonu Mahometańskiego:

Z dywizjonu mahometan,
Dziewki gwałcił po meczetach.

Ze sławy po mahometach,
Gwałcił dziewki po meczetach.


Ze sławy po mahometach,
Gwałcił dziewki po meczetach.

Pułk miał proporczyk szmaragdowo-żółte (jako żywo kolor jajecznicy) z białą żyłką:

Jajecznica ze szczypiorem,
Jest dla jego barwy wzorem.

Naprzód strzelcy, w górę głowy,
Został jeszcze - koń parowy.

(po zmotoryzowaniu w 10 Brygadzie Kawalerii gen. Maczka)


Click on Picture or words below to visit sites of interest:

Iron Men With Eagles' Wings; Poland's Winged Hussars

1st Polish Armoured Division (by David Ryan and Stuart Groombridge)
(Polish Text by Witold Lawrynowicz, New Brunswick, USA)

The Order of the Virtuti Militari and its Cavaliers
First Polish Armoured Division
1e Poolse Pantserdivisie
(The Polish order of the VIRTUTI MILITARI was established 200 years ago by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski as the highest military decoration for gallantry the Polish nation bestows upon it's soldiers for acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty. The VIRTUTI MILITARI is equivalent to the American MEDAL OF HONOR or the British VICTORIA CROSS.)
Please click on the link below to view confirmation of Jan's receipt of this prestigious award:

Polish Order of the Virtuti Militari Recipients (1792-1992)
Willie Glaser's War Memoirs

His Medals
His Actual Medals
Dad War Portrait

Sitting for a Portrait after the war ended - in full regalia
Jan, Maria and Tony, 2003
Jan, Maria and Tony, 2003
Gen Macziek, Tank destroyer with 17 lb armour piercing gun
Gen Maczek, Tank destroyer with 17 lb armour piercing gun
(Picture taken at Mt. Ormel which was nicknamed "Maczuga" and now it stays there as a monument to the Polish 1st Armoured with the Polish flag at the forefront.)

Click below for more details about:

Maczek Stanislaw, Lieutenant-General (1892 – 1994)
Actual war time photo
Dad AFTER the War?
Jan AFTER the war?

Dad, REAL young
Boy, he was young here! :O)
Dad with his tank crew
Jan is on the left - with his tank crew?
hang from tank gun
Hanging off a disabled enemy tank?
A battle won?
A battle won?
Jan in Scotland
Holland Cemetery

Two of them in the photo were in the action that earned him the "Virtuti", cpl Przybylowski, and lance cpl Szurek who lives in the States.

The graves in front of them are those of men who died when Jan got the "Krysz Walecznych."
tank in action?
This (above) is Jan's tank, a "tank Destroyer Mark 10." It was similar to a Sherman but with British 17 pound Anti tank guns, that could completely pierce the armor of the German Tiger tank.
How would you like to fight in these conditions?
In the early 50's
Elder of the Clan
Jan at 65 years of age
Elder of the Clan
Being decorated in France (2004)
Jan and youngest son, Julian

Dad's Latest Decoration and Diploma - 2006
60th Anniversary Commemoration of the Polish Halifax Crash


Long Ashton Royal British Legion Club
Jan and tank

I was in Russia as a prisoner of war and was in the cavalry prior to that.

I tried to get to Hungary but wanted to visit my parents and was caught by Russian troops in Rohatyn and so was sentenced to 26 months in a Russian prison camp.

We were liberated after Hitler's attack on Russia. I served in ALL the 1st Armoured Division 2nd front campaigns and received the Krzysz Waleczny (with bar) and Virtuti Militari. I hope that in my 83rd year some of our efforts will be, at last, recognised and not remembered as Canadian efforts alone, without the Poles getting so much as a mention.

The Falaise battle was like being in hell!!

Click below to read more about:

Falaise - Operation Tractable

We, as a division, are treated like Kings in Breda, Holland, where we have been back to visit by invitation many times, for gatherings and to visit old comrades who are laid to rest in the cemeteries of the region.

Jan Pirog (V.M.)


  1. 1939-45 STAR

  2. FRANCE & Germany star

  3. Africa star

  4. War medal

  5. Krzyz Walecznych with bar (which means twice). This could also be awarded to towns or villages.

  6. Virtuti militari 5th class, or silver, which could also be awarded to whole towns or villages

The Virtuti Militari that Jan received was given to soldiers up to the rank of Major, the rank of the person determined which cross he got. Only soldiers from the rank of Major upwards could get the gold "virtuti." It was not based on merit but on rank.

Jan says that the Poles were even snobby as to the highest cross that they could give. He is of the opinion that there should have been only one type of cross available as this would have been a lot less complicated and would not have allowed for "back slapping" officers who had done the same type of action but got a "nicer" looking medal or cross.

  1. Bronzowy Krzyz Zaslugi and Krzyz Kombantantow (which are given in a civilian capacity for services AFTER the war).

  2. Zlota Odznaka S.P.K. and Zlota Odznake Pierwszej Dywizji which are also given as awards for services rendered after the war to people who are outStanding in a helpful capacity.

  3. On November 21st, 2004, Jan was awarded the Krzyz Kawalerski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (below):

The town of Breda in Holland specially minted a medal in honour of the Polish forces on the 50th anniverary of the war, with ALL the battles they were in put on it, with the slogan "Dzienkujemy Wam Polacy" or "We thank you Poles," which shows just how much they appreciated how the Poles out-manoeuvered the German war machine with minimal damage to the surrounding towns and villages.

He also has a French medal for the 50th anniversary of the war, on which is written "Utah" and "Omaha."

Virtuti Militari

"Virtuti Militari" is a Latin phrase and translates as "For Courage in War". The Order of Virtuti Militari is the highest Polish military decoration, instituted in 1792 by King Stanislaw II Poniatowski of the Belarussian-Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, and is conferred for exceptional deeds in combat. Awarded in five classes - Crosses: Wielki, Komandorski, Kawalerski, Zloty, Srebrny. It may be conferred on both Poles and foreigners as a reward for outStanding heroic achievement and services in battle.

Krzyz Walecznych

The "Krzyz Walecznych" (Cross of Valour) is a Polish military decoration instituted in 1920; it was conferred up to four times to troops in the active service and, in exceptional cases, to civilians who co-operated with the military. It was awarded for acts of valour and courage in battle.

(Prepared by Antony E. Pirog – Jan’s son.)

Born: October 21st, 1919 – Rohatyn Poland


Robert Pirog: Born: October 23rd, 1880 (Same as my brother, Julian.) Somewhere in the region of Chicago, IL, USA

Died: May 1st, 1920

Cause of death: Wounded in leg and chest defending Poland from Russian invasion. Never recovered.

Robert's Father (Johan) was born and grew up "somewhere in New Jersey," served in the 9th U.S Cavalry, and moved to the Chicago area where Robert was born. When he was 5 years old, the family moved to Poland flush with dollars, where they invested the money in real estate.

At 18, Robert left for America again - to avoid the Polish draft. At that time, Poland was under the rule of Austria. Several years later he returned, only to be forced into the Austrian army for WW I. He survived that war, came home, sired Jan, and then was needed to defend Poland from the Russians - who had decided it was THEIR turn to rule Poland. A 350,000 strong Polish army repelled the one million strong Russian army, but Robert was fatally wounded. Jan never knew his birth father.


Maria Parypa - Born: July 5th, 1891 (Hey! That’s MY birthday)

Status: Unknown

Robert’s and Maria’s Children

Katarzyna Pirog - Born: May 3rd, 1912

Anna Pirog - Born: January 1st, 1914

Jan Pirog - Born: October 21st, 1919

Step Father

Stefan Mahorowski - Born: March 3rd, 1896

Stefan and Maria’s Children

Antoni Mahorowski - Born: December 7th, 1922

Michal Mahorowski - Born: July 5th, 1929 (Same birthday as me too!!! – Cool!)

Jan’s Wife

Maria Dominik - Born: March 22nd, 1928 - Stanislawow, Poland

Jan’s and Maria’s Children and Grandchildren

Richard - Born: March 17th, 1947 – Germany

Richard's Children:

Shelley Ann - Born: August 31st, 1968 - Bristol, England

Shelley's Family:

Husband: Martin Smith

Son #1: Ethan Smith - Born: August 21st, 2002

Son #2: Joel Smith - Born: August 8th, 2004

Robert Jordan - Born: February 18th,1970 - Bristol, England

Robert's Family:

Partner: Lisa Grey

Daughter: Chelsea Louise - Born: January 14th, 1992

Son: Liam Sydney - Born: August 28th, 2000

Henryk (Henry) Boguslaw - Born: October 16th, 1949 – England 

Deceased: March 8th, 2002 - May he rest in peace.

Henry's son:

Mark Henryk - Born: December 15th, 1967 - Bristol, England

Antony (Tony) Edward - Born: July 5th, 1955 – Bristol, England

Tony's Family:

Wife: Zofia Anna (Nee Silezin) - Born: March 15th, 1958 - Lukowa, Poland

Son #1: David (Dave) Alexander - Born: February 2nd, 1983 - La Grange, Illinois - Married March 31st, 2007 to Maria Patricia (Patty) Chuy: Birthday September 27th, 1986

Son #2: Steven (Steve) Jonathan - Born: June 22nd, 1985 - La Grange, Illinois

Son #3: Jonathan (Jon) Matthew - Born: October 17th - 1987, Downers Grove, Illinois

Julian (Jools) Stefan - Born: October 23rd, 1963 – Bristol, England


Seven years of regular school, followed by two years of evening school studying life skills (money management, etc.)

Early Military Experience

Drafted by Polish army on October 19th, 1937.

He was still serving his mandatory military service in Kutno when WW II broke out and the Nazis attacked Poland. Jan was in the cavalry. His horse was a mare called Zoska (Pronounced ZOSHKAH).

Poland had been under foreign rule for 123 years prior to her independence after WW I. Because of this, it had been impossible to build a sizable, state-of-the-art military during the following 21 years (1918 – 1939), and so they were severely outgunned and overpowered by the Nazi war machine. Poland DID have armor (tanks etc.), but it was very minimal compared to that of the Germans. However, she did defend herself for five weeks before surrendering. Jan went from Kutno, to Lodz, to Warsaw, and his final battle took place in Grabina.

He tried to make his way to Hungary to join the expatriate Polish army there. As far as he knew, his whole family was left behind when the Russians arrested him (remember that Russia and Germany were still allies at this time). Jan states that 8,000 Polish Military personnel were taken to the Siberian Gulag along with him, and only 2,000 were still alive when they arrived at their destination. He believes the purpose of this “relocation” exercise was to wipe out as many of these men as possible.

The Fate of his Birth Family

After the war, he met a man he grew up with, who knew a communist “Apparatchik” in their home town. He asked the Soviet comrade to find out what happened to the people in Rohatyn. What he found out was that the Russians “relocated” everyone who was of “high station” from Rohatyn to Siberia. This included the wealthy and the educated, (race was not taken into account - Rohatyn was predominantly Jewish, and Ukrainian. Poles were a minority). The Pirogs, being wealthy, were all taken, and Jan assumes they all died at the hands of the Soviets. It seems their home was taken over by the Soviets and became a NKVD (precursor to KGB) headquarters.

The Siberian Concentration Camp

Name: Indegirka

Location: Kolyma, USSR

Duration of stay: Two years

Released: When Germany attacked Russia. Jan weighed 35 kilos (approximately 77 pounds). He subsisted on a daily diet of 300 grams of bread and a bowl of watery cabbage soup.

Quote from “”

”Conditions in the Kolyma camp were atrocious at best. Prisoners not only had to face the wrath of the guards but also the brutality of their fellow inmates. Some prison gangs were given tacit approval by the guards to terrorize, rape, beat and dehumanize other prisoners.”

(Stanley J. Kowalski is a survivor of the Kolyma camp and has written a moving account about the history of Kolyma and his experiences there in his work "

Click below to visit his web site

Kolyma - Land of Gold and Death

After Siberia

Jan’s physical recovery from his malnourishment was swift. Once he got good food and regular exercize, he regained his vigour very quickly. He notes, however, that he suffered from some amnesia as a result of his experiences in Kolyma, and that he has not regained all his pre wartime memories to this day.

Jan joined the Polish army in Buzuluk, Russia two months after his release. This was November 1941. He was one of the fortunate early ones (84,000) who were released to join the allied forces in the west. On March 29th, 1942 he was relocated to Tehran, Iran. Later, Polish forces in Russia were forced by Stalin to remain to help him defend against Hitler.

After Iran, he spent four weeks in Egypt where he guarded tanks and ammunition for Field Marshal Montgomery’s army.

On September 2nd, 1942, they were moved out on a long, circuitous journey to England, which took 64 days, with a 6 week stop in South Africa (apparently that was FUN!). In order to avoid the German U-boats, they went via Rio de Janeiro (where they stopped for five days of MORE fun), and New York. They arrived eventually in Liverpool, England. They initially were sent to Scotland, where they were organized into their various planned military duties. Jan was assigned to tanks and was sent to Catterick in Yorkshire for training.

Preparation for the Normandy invasion (D Day) took 6 months, and exercizes took them from Chippenham in South West England to Lanark, Scotland. That was followed by 1 month of rest. Jan says they (the Poles?), were used as “special forces” for the very worst battle situations.

World War II – Normandy and Beyond

Jan landed in Arromanches. They fought the 10th German S.S. armoured Division. I quote from Jan:

“The final onslaught on Germany, I was very sad. We were sold out to Stalin by Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt in Yalta. We had no home to go to. We stayed in Germany in the British army for two years after the war ended.”

The Battle on the border - September 30th, 1944

Jan in Belgium
Jan in Belgium

The Battle on the border began in Belgium in a place called Turnhout and was fought through to Barlenassaw in Holland.

"My platoon was attached to the 10th Rifle regiment, (10 P.S.K).

We started to move forwards and my tank went over a land mine, which damaged a caterpillar and disabled us from moving on. I got in touch with my headquarters and they told me to wait. They sent a transport and I sent three men to get a new tank. About twenty minutes later, a German unit of 9 tanks and infantry tried to cut off our regiment. I had to stop them and somehow I managed to do it. My driver was loading the gun and I destroyed four enemy tanks, damaged two more, and killed a lot of Germans soldiers. We did not take any prisoners. There were only two of us, but they turned back from their objective. We saved our regiment!

My friend and I were both awarded the Virtuti Militari cross for this. I already had a cross which is one grade lower (the Krzyz Walecznych), for Normandy, and I had another awarded in a place called Siddeburen in Holland."

J. Pirog - Rotmistrz Pierwszej Dywizji Pancernej V.M. (Platoon Sergeant)

After the War

He met Maria Dominik in Germany in a camp called Dalum. They were guarding the displaced persons camps. They were married on February 9th, 1946.

Jan and Maria were transferred to England on May 2nd, 1947 to the Ullenwood camp near Cheltenham. They stayed there three months. June 30th, 1947 they were transferred to Witley camp, the head office. There they stayed until October 8th, 1948 when he was demobbed.

He worked for a farmer in Bath for a while in his orchard, and then went on to work for an engineering firm. In 1952 he began work in coal mining until the pit was closed down in 1963. His final job after that, which lasted until his retirement (17 years ago) was in a container factory (Dickinson, Robinson Group).

16 tons

In the coal mines with Mr. Padlewski
(Looks nastier than the war to us non-veterans! I KNOW it wasn't easy!)

More Miscellaneous Wartime Pictures

Sherman tanks of the 1st Polish Armoured Division on the way to Falaise
Polish Artillery