In a presentation made in December, former parishioner of Holy Trinity Polish Church in Wolverhampton, Janina Slawinska has received the Siberian Cross Survivors medal.

97 year old Janina had already received the Defence Medal and War Medal for her war service via the British Legion’s offices in London as did her late husband who had also received the Battle of Britain award and Africa Star. 

In 1940, aged 16, Janina was deported with her family from their home I Eastern Poland to the northern arctic regions of Siberian Russia  where she suffered 18 months of hard labour in the Russian forest in winter temperatures of -40 degrees with only 400mg bread and fish head soup to sustain her.

In a personal account of her struggles, Janina said that on their release: “My family were exhausted, emaciated, malnourished and dressed in rags which were riddled with lice.

“My sister and mother were suffering with typhus, in fact within one year of this harsh treatment, one million of the deportees were already dead.”

It took the family over 6 months to travel towards Persia, sleeping on frozen riverbanks and having to beg for food and shelter. They became separated from her brother Stan, and her father died from exhaustion and malnutrition in 1942.

Having joined Anders Army, the family was able to escape to Persia (now Iran), where her mother and sister Bronia received treatment for typhus, before travelling to Australia. It was the last time Janina ever saw her mother and Janina joined the Polish Army, heading to Iraq, where she met her husband Jozef Slawinski.  They married and moved to the UK in 1948.

Janina was one of 1.7 million people living in Eastern Poland who were forcibly removed from their homes in 1940. The presentation of the Siberian Exile Cross to 97-year-old Janina is part of the Polish government's efforts to commemorate the memory of those who died and celebrate the people who survived and thrived after escaping.

Mateusz Stasiek, consul general of the Embassy of Poland, made the presentation of the Siberian Exile Cross to Janina.

He said: "The award is very important for us to remember those people who suffered and who, through great physical and mental stamina, never gave up, and Janina is a great example of that.

"I'm really proud of everyone who went through that and went on to have productive lives with children of their own, interesting occupations and contributed to the communities they lived in.

"Janina went through very difficult conditions in the north of Russia and survived, then became a member of the Polish army driving lorries and receiving decorations, so her life is an exemplary one for us all."

Janina Salwinska (2nd row, wearing tie) in the Polish Army

In happier times