Friday, 1 November 2019


Born in Warsaw less than five years after Poland had regained its independence at the end of WW1, Bohdan Dembiński was 16 when WW2 broke out. He experienced the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, witnessing street executions carried out by the Germans, the death of his father, the constant hunger and humiliation. He joined the Home Army (AK) along with many young Poles of his generation. Neither of his brothers knew he was in the konspiracja, nor did he know that they were in it, such was the secrecy. And none of them knew that another flat in their building served as the HQ of Colonel Antoni Chruściel, ‘Monter’, commander of the Uprising.

Bohdan Dembiński fought in the Uprising, initially with Battalion ‘Odwet’. After its unsuccessful assault on the SS barracks at Kolonia Staszica, he crossed Pole Mokotowskie fields to join Battalion ‘Golski’ with which he continued fighting in the Politechnika region, on the front line, until the end of the Uprising.

He was taken by the Germans to Stalag X B, a prisoner-of-war camp in Sandbostel, north-west Germany. Liberated in April 1945 by the British Army, Bohdan eventually made it, via Munich and Italy, to London.

After arriving in Britain, Bohdan resumed his studies at the Civil Engineering Department of Polish University College at Battersea Polytechnic. Inspired by the desire to build bridges, he had started a course in civil engineering at Warsaw’s Politechnika. It was cut short by the outbreak of the Uprising.
Bohdan Dembiński married Marysia Bortnik in 1952.

For three years they rented a garret flat on Sinclair Road in West Kensington, saving hard for a deposit for their own home, which they bought in Hanwell in 1955. Marysia had been deported to northern Russia along with her family from their home in eastern Poland in 1940, she had made it out of the USSR with the Polish army of Gen. Anders, via the Middle East.

Having settled in London, Bohdan found his calling in soil mechanics, designing foundations for buildings. Working for over 40 years for one employer, West’s Piling, he was responsible for many projects large and small, the most notable being the Llanwern steelworks in South Wales in the early 1960s, expansion of the Shell Haven refinery in the 1970s, and, towards the end of his career, he designed the foundations under the iconic 1 Canada Square building in Canary Wharf. A Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he was also involved for many years with Stowarzyszenie Techników Polskich w Wlk. Brytanii – the Association of Polish Engineers in Great Britain.

Though a free Poland seemed an improbable dream at the time, Bohdan raised me and my brother in the Polish spirit – Polish Saturday school, Polish cubs then scouts, coming each Sunday to this church throughout the 1960s. In 1970, the family moved to Ealing, but the boys continued going to polska szkoła in Chiswick, remaining in the Błękitna Trójka scout troop that would meet in this church hall each Saturday.

Bohdan had an early interest in computing. Responsible for digitising West’s Piling design processes from the early 1980s onwards, he became irreplaceable to the firm. He retired in his 70th year, in time for the birth of his first grandchild.

As an engineer he disliked waste; even in late life he was always looking to improve things around the house, putting discarded items to new use. A rubber wine cork sliced diagonally to serve as a doorstop.

It was only after the death of Marysia in 2015 that he began returning to Warsaw for the commemorations of the outbreak of the Uprising; he visited in August 2016 and each subsequent year until this August, the 75th anniversary. He loved to see how Warsaw has flourished in recent years – the skyline of new office buildings, the modern public transport, the restaurants and cafes. And yet there was so much he remembered, the streets of Ochota around the Filtry district where he grew up, Pole Mokotowskie fields, where he’d watch hot-air balloon races with his brothers.

Bohdan Dembiński lived a long life spanning ten decades. He was part of a generation displaced by war which sought to build the world anew. Active to the very end of his life, he had been to Mass on the Sunday before his death. The last two years of his life were made easier and livelier thanks to the presence of his wonderful carers, in particular Violetta and Basia, both of whom he adored. Bohdan’s family would also like to thank his close friends, his neighbours and his fellow parishioners who were always so supportive and helpful. Bohdan’s death brought about an amazing show of sympathy of those who knew him – the few survivors from his generation, and many from his sons’ generation who remembered a kindly, gentle, modest man, a loving husband, exemplary father and doting grandfather to his four grandchildren.

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