ANZAC SPECIAL ---- I Faced a Firing Squad
Bondi Digger Wally Smith has been hailed a true blue hero in Poland, where he fought with the local resistance in WW11. An unsung warrior for 50 years, Wally spent most of his time behind barbed wire scheming up ways to escape.
And whenever he did, it was not without a certain air of adventure.
Once, he was nearly arrested by soldiers after unwittingly taking a large snort of cocaine from a Greek in a bar.
Dressed like a local, he blended in perfectly – until he walked outside with a noseful of marching powder.
“It did nothing to me until I left the bar” he said. “These Germans came towards me as I walked down the street and bloody hell, everything changed because I was walking over them as if they weren’t there. I was swinging punches at them and abusing them.
See I knew nothing about drugs and I didn’t know what I’d taken until a girl told me later. It was amazing.”
Wally was caught when the Germans were tipped off he and a few mates had taken refuge in a convent.
“We were forced to walk down the street with our hands in the air. The bloody Germans paraded us in front of the locals,” he said.
The enemy gave Wally and his cohorts a warm welcome. Hours after their capture they faced a firing squad – and a psychological shakedown.
“The soldiers snarled and jeered at us,” he recalls. “One of them gloated and said, “Today you go to the Devil.” We were lined up against a wall. Suddenly German guards came running out side screaming. Things looked crook. It was an awful feeling facing the firing squad. I’m no hero – I went cold.
Moments later a German Officer came out and said, “Don’t worry, you’re among friends,”
And they put their rifles down. I remember thinking it was a bastard of a way to treat a mate.
Wally and a bunch of Diggers escaped from their compound in Northern Greece but were soon recaptured and shipped to a prison camp in Germany. He escaped again but was caught taking refuge in a church that had been converted into local police headquarters.
Wally’s third escape was a better effort. He and a Welshman took off from a work party in the Polish countryside and met two girls on a railway station.
The girls took the escapees home – to a building where German soldiers lived in the flat above.
“But the worry was the girl’s mother” says Wally
She was a bit unbalanced and used to tell the guards there were two Englishmen living in her apartment. They thought she was crazy, and thankfully never looked.
Furnished with forged documents, the pair soon left for Warsaw to join the Polish Resistance. Once Wally and his Welsh mate made it to Warsaw, they parted company.
The Taffy was captured but Wally fought with the Polish Home Army.
“I don’t like talking about my days with the Polish Home Army” he says. “We lost 260,000 people in two months”.
He surrendered with the PHA toward the end of the war when the Poles were hopelessly outgunned at Cracow. Then in 1986 the poles tracked down Wally Smith and presented him with the polish Home Army Cross.
“It was a nice gesture but I’d just as soon they’d not found me,” he says “It brought back too many painful memories.”