On Remembrance Day this year, many Canadians will be reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Among those will be war amputee veteran Bob Gondek, of Toronto, who also carries a physical reminder of that pivotal time in history.
At the age of 96, Bob can still vividly recall serving alongside the Allied Forces with the 2nd Polish Corps during the Italian Campaign.
In 1944, he was based outside Loretto, Italy, when heavy gun fire broke out. “Without any order, I crawled up to them [the enemy] and threw a grenade,” says Bob. “I acted instinctively.” After a short period of silence, the enemy began firing mortars. “I remember an explosion and the smell of gunpowder,” he says. “I then realized that my weapon was gone and, in the place where my hand held the machine gun, there was nothing – I had lost part of my left arm below the elbow. I felt like I was dying because my whole life flashed before my eyes.”
Bob was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross, for his valour in destroying two enemy machine gun nests. He also received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restitua from Poland, the Cross of Valour, Merit Cross, Second Corps Army Medal and Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross.
In 1954, Bob immigrated to Canada where he became a member of The War Amps, an Association originally started by amputee veterans returning from the First World War to help each other adapt to their new reality as amputees.
For the last 50 years on Remembrance Day, he has laid a wreath to honour his comrades.
“I’m grateful that I have been able to take part in these ceremonies. It’s important to me that I pay tribute to my fellow veterans and all those who lost their lives,” says Bob.