October 4, 1919 – May 11, 2020
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Walter Pilipiak. He was a remarkable man; a survivor with extraordinary resilience and a gracious heart. Walter was a caring husband, an amazing father, a loving grandfather, and a kind friend. He died peacefully in the care of RUH staff at the age of 100.
Walter was born to Nikolas and Anna (née Sidorowicz) Pilipiak (in the Polish, now Ukrainian, village of Ostrowczyk Polny). He was the fifth child of their family of four boys and one girl. When he was six months old his father died; his mother remarried one year later. They lived on a farm. His mother had two more sons with her second husband.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Western Poland. Two weeks later, Russian troops invaded Eastern Poland. Walter and his family fell under Russian occupation. On April 13, 1940, in the middle of the night, the Russian police came to their house and arrested him, his mother, and his two half-brothers. His stepfather had been arrested two nights previously and was never seen again. They were taken to the train station and loaded in box cars (75 people to a box car). There were old people, young people, and new-born children. There were about 100 box cars with similar people. The train traveled for 12 days. Once a day, the police would provide one pail of very thin soup for 75 people. One person would get one cup of soup every second day. Everything they had on their farm was confiscated by the police. The only clothing they had was what they were dressed in; they had not been allowed to take anything with them. After traveling about 2,000 miles by train, they were put in trucks and traveled another 50 miles. They came to a small settlement (collective farm) called Sovkhoz No. 641. There were about 100 families in the settlement.
Walter and his two half-brothers had to work seven days and the eighth day was off (so no Sunday holiday). They were paid every 15 days (50 rubles) but there was virtually nothing to buy. Bread was sold to workers according to how well they worked. There was one portion of bread for working one day and it had to feed the whole family. There was nothing else besides bread and water.
After a month or so, Walter learned that an old settler couple had an old hand-cranked sewing machine. Walter had been an apprentice tailor before the war. So, with material purchased on the black market, Walter started making clothes for people. He was paid with bread or other food so his family had enough to eat. In June 1941, when Germany attacked Russia, conditions worsened. The Russians accused the workers of being friends with the Germans, and they started to treat them as enemies. Walter was fired from the fire brigade and they were pushed into the worst jobs. It went on until October 1941.
In November 1941, at the age of 22, he joined the Polish Free Army. Walter heroically served within the British 8th Army during WWII, traveling through the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy. Walter was part of the Heavy Machine Gun Battalion during the assault on Monte Cassino. In July 1944, during a battle at Ancona, Italy, Walter was wounded by shrapnel in his left elbow. He returned to his unit four weeks later.
For his service, Walter was awarded the British 1939-45 Star, the Italy Star, the Defence Medal, the Polish Army Medal, the Cross of Monte Cassino, and the Polish Cross for Valour.
After the war ended, Walter was moved to Forli, Italy. There he helped guard the airport for the British Army. His friend Roman had family in Uganda whom he corresponded with. Not being able to write to his family in Russia, Walter asked his friend for a name. Roman’s sister sent him the name of Helen Paciorek who was at Camp Koja, one of two refugee camps in Uganda. Helen and Walter became pen pals.
After being honourably discharged in June 1947 from the army, Walter emigrated to Asquith, SK and worked as a farmhand. He worked for two years milking cows, preparing food for cows, and working in the field. It was a long and boring two years. There was no social life, and no days off. Even on Sunday, he had to milk the cows, feed the cows, and clean the barn. There was work from 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
After the two-year contract was over, Walter settled in Saskatoon. From a letter he received from Helen, he learned that she was working on a farm in Manitoba. Without ever having met her, he hopped on a bus on the Thanksgiving long weekend to meet his pen pal. After seeing the farm (same old story, no life, just work), Walter asked Helen to come to Saskatoon with him. She agreed and they returned to Saskatoon. At the employment office, they learned that if they married, Helen’s contract would be over. So, they married on October 29, 1949; a marriage that lasted over 70 years.
Walter worked in the fur business in Saskatoon until he retired in 1985, but then continued to work two days a week for a few more years. During his career in Saskatoon, he worked at Marvin’s Dry Cleaners, Arthur Rose Cleaners, Trute Furriers, Fur Town (50% owner) and Rose Art Furriers. He was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
Up until early March, Walter was still shovelling snow, driving to get his groceries, visiting Helen daily in the nursing home, and driving to church on Sundays: All at the age of 100! On May 4, 2020, Walter suffered a major stroke that left him with fatal bleeding in the brain. He was given a few days to live, but the resilient man he was, he lived an additional seven days before passing.
Walter will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 70 years, Helen; his two children and four grandchildren; Richard (Carol) and son Steven; Dennis (Annette) and sons Matthew (David), Logan (Jenna) and Dallas; and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. Walter was predeceased by his father and mother, his five brothers, his one sister, and numerous in-laws.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Royal University Hospital Foundation. Arrangements in care of Aimé Laventure – Mourning Glory Funeral Services (306) 978-5200.
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