Wednesday, 4 May 2016

KAZIMIERZ FRANCISZEK WERBOWSKI


He was born on 26th August 1907 at Lwow, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine), one of 4 children of Jozef and Wiktoria Werbowski,  Jozef was a tailor and was comfortably well off.  The family kept dogs and horses and they holidayed and spent time skiing in the mountain resorts in their native Poland.
 
Skiing in Poland before the War

He remembered the hard times of his teens in the 1918-1920) period when he carried ammunition in the streets for the Poles who were fighting the Ukrainians.  He also remembered the fighting and the ultimate defeat of the Bolsheviks in the period immediately after the First World War when Poland established itself as a country once more and looked forward to an independent future.

This was followed by a happy time when Poland had regained its freedom and it was an optimistic place for a few years.  After completing his education he joined the army as an Officer cadet and was commissioned into the mounted artillery in 1928.
 
Pre-war career soldier

He was a career Officer and stayed there until 1935 when he transferred to the air force - which, at this time, was still part of the army.  At the outbreak of war he was a Tactical Officer with 65 Eskadra of the 6th Bomber Division.  He was also trained as an observer (navigator) and as such, he was in the thick of the fighting from 1st to 18th September 1939 when his unit was ordered over the border into Romania, where he was disarmed and interned.

Emblem of 65 Eskadra Bombowa
 
With assistance from the Polish Embassy in Bucarest and after exchanging identities with his brother in law, he obtained false papers and an exemption certificate from military service (which stated he was a teacher and not fit for military service) he set about escaping from Romania.  Early in the war this was not too difficult as the Romanian authorities tended to turn a blind eye - especially when assisted with a suitable bribe.

 
 
Military Exemption Certificate
 

A false passport in his brother in law's name and with visas to cover all eventualities

As with all Polish military staff, he would have been provided with money, travel documents and whatever else was necessary to get him to France in order to rejoin the Polish forces.  His passport shows that they covered all the bases with entry visas for France and Great Britain and a transit visa for Italy.  The latter suggests that he was to take an overland route via Northern Italy into France. 
 
He left for France on 23rd December 1939.  On arrival there he was sent to Lyon-Bron where the conditions were very poor and the men were expected to sleep on straw mattresses on the floor and wash in cold water.  It was not a popular place.

 
French ID Card


There was little for the Poles to do and it must almost have come as a relief when the French capitulated and the Poles could make a run for Great Britain.  They were evacuated to Port Vendres, a small port in the South West of France, near the Spanish border.  It was a time of considerable anxiety as all of the British, Polish, Free French and Czech military personnel were trying desperately to get out of France.

His route is uncertain but he boarded the vessel MV Apapa which is likely to have gone to Britain via Gibraltar.  The vessel left Port Vendres around 17th June 1940 and arrived in Liverpool on 7th July 1914.  From there it was just a short train ride to the Polish Depot at Blackpool.

 
MV Apapa
 
Due to some very serious medical problems, he was not able to take part in the active fighting but maintained his service with the Polish Air Force in exile by acting as the Adjutant  with No 8304 Technical Section of 304 Squadron and later with the main Squadron itself.
 
After the War, on 28th January 1947, he enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps where he was still on the books of the RAF but had all the time and stability to retrain and make the transit to civilian life.  He remained there until 14th April 1948 when he relinquished his commission and moved into civilian life.
 
During his many visits to the Paderewski Polish Military Hospital in Edinburgh, he met Margaret Collie and they were married in 1943, having a daughter in 1947.
 
Kazimierz with two of his nurses from the Paderewski
Hospital.  The one on his right became his wife in
1943.

 
Once he had left the Air Force, they ran a small boarding house in Edinburgh.  After a few years they changed to a small medical nursing home but his eyesight deteriorated to the point where he could no longer help with the work.  Eventually he undertook some specialist training and became a very skilled leather worker with the Scottish National Institute for War Blinded.  He was plagued with problems with his eyes for the last 25 years of his life but he never let it get him down and he never gave up - retraining as a leather worker.  Ten years after the War, he wrote to his old subordinate, John Comper, he talked of old times and of being beset with health problems but he had not given up and he never felt sorry for himself.
 
Both of his parents and one of his sisters died during, or just after, the War but he did manage to make contact with his brother who visited him in Scotland after the War.  He also kept in touch with his former assistant, John Comper, with whom he became good friends.
 
Sadly he developed heart problems and he suffered a coronary and died on 24th January 1966 at the relatively young age of 58.  He is buried in Edinburgh.

As a postscript, a letter has been uncovered which was written to his former aide, John Comper, about 10 years after he had left the forces.  It shows his humility and calm acceptance of the handicap of blindness.  He is not bitter or angry and has accepted his misfortune with good grace.  A lesson to us all.  The letter is reproduced below.





 
With thanks to Barbara van Rooyen for access to her family archives
And to Ben Haslam for the use of the letter from Kazimierz to John Comper
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

JOHN HERBERT COMPER


John Herbert Comper was born on 30th May 1916 in Brixton, London; he was the younger son of Frederick Comper and his wife Minnie Gomersall.  Frederick worked in a munitions factory but, prior to WW1 he had been a commercial traveller selling porcelain, fine china and glassware from Continental Europe. 

John was a bright boy and, from 1928 to 1934, attended Sir Walter St.Johns School, Battersea after winning a county scholarship. He received a small bursary, which would become invaluable in the financial slump of the early 1930s.  This was a hard time for the Comper family - in John's own words: “My father’s health was failing and my brother was out of work, or gone to Ireland.”

John helped the family income by earning money, collecting payment of the weekly bills for a local newsagent and his mother found shop work when she could - but it wasn’t always enough:

“There were times when the weekend approached and the whole family would be at home and there was no sign of being able to find a meal for us all. Sometimes there were arrears in the rent.”  Fortunately they were helped on several occasions by a girlhood friend of John’s mother, and then later by her cousin and his bosses staying intermittently as paying guests.

In 1934, as John approached the end of his schooling, it became clear he would be unable to afford to take up the place he had been offered at University. Out of simple necessity, he sat the entrance exam for four different professions and was offered a position in the Civil Service, working for the Board of Education in the Staff Records Section of the Science Museum.

In 1935 his father died, aged 68, and times became harder. In 1937 John and his mother moved to Wembley to live with her recently widowed brother above his clothier's shop. John’s brother, George, was by now living and working in Malaya.

When war broke out in 1939, he stayed in the Civil Service until joining the RAF in 1940 when his age group was reached in the call-up process: “I had no impulse, patriotic or otherwise, to involve myself in the fighting any sooner than that,” he confided.

He enlisted on 17th June 1940 at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire and was assigned as a Clerk in the General Duties branch. On 22nd August of that year he was posted to RAF Bramcote, Warwickshire for the formation of 304 Polish Bomber Squadron.

Just a week later, on the 29th August, his Service Record shows that he was admitted to RAF Hospital Cosford, about 50 miles away. He was discharged after 20 days and no explanation is given, leaving something of a mystery.  Squadron records show no enemy activity over the base at this time, but there were several bombs dropped on Nuneaton on the night of 28th August 1940, including one high explosive that killed three people and injured nine others, two of them seriously.

Nuneaton is only 4 miles from RAF Bramcote so it is possible that he was in the town that evening and was somehow caught up in this incident, or perhaps he was sent by the base commander as part of an aid party. Whatever the reason, it may relate to a story passed down the family that ‘something bad happened to him, resulting in some injury, and that what he had seen had given him a sort of breakdown and he had lost his faith’.  It could possibly have something to do with the fact that a nine year old girl was killed in that incident

Back at RAF Bramcote, he was one of 25 or so British advisory/liaison staff tasked with assimilating some 350 Polish Officers and airmen into the RAF way of doing things and it’s procedures and King's Regulations, simultaneously developing them into a viable fighting unit.

On the whole he found it “enjoyable for the variety and unpredictability of what came my way. On the other hand there were times of frustration and exasperation arising in the main from the inability to communicate details because of language difficulties”. The squadron achieved combat readiness on 25 April 1941, and by the end of that year John had been promoted to the rank of Corporal.

The nature of his work being administration means that there is a paucity of recorded information about his day-to-day activities and, in common with so many others, he never spoke about the war in later life. However, when asked many years later about any frightening experiences he had had, he recalled the following:

“Another man and I were working in a hut on the edge of Cardiff aerodrome when we saw an aircraft approaching quite low and we suddenly realised it was German. We shot out of the hut in the direction of a nearby underground air-raid shelter (as our standing instructions said we should, not that we needed any encouragement). Before I got there a bomb exploded about 50 yards away. The blast bowled me over on the ground, but I suffered no injury beyond a short nose-bleed. It was only afterwards I realised how frightened I had been.”

“Another, more frightening, but actually less dangerous, occasion was when a Stuka dive-bombed a small group of us outside a hangar on a Midlands airfield. He came out of the sky, seemingly straight for us, with a siren shrieking – designed, of course, to scare us (and succeeding). It dropped no bomb and was gone again in moments, but we all scattered fast. The noise of the siren was awful – worse almost than the thought that he was going to bomb or machine-gun us. (A Corporal among us shot through the hangar door at great speed and knocked a small light aircraft off it’s stands where it was being serviced. He couldn’t really be blamed, but was ever after known as Corporal Panic).

Throughout the war John’s character is recorded as very good and his proficiency as excellent.   In 1942 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and, in 1943, awarded a Good Conduct badge. He was also honoured by the Polish Air Force who awarded him  the Squadron Badge - very rarely given to British Officers and almost unheard of as an award to enlisted men and NCOs. In 1944 he was awarded a Mention In Despatches for his prolonged good service.


His cherished award of the Squadron Badge
 
Mentioned in Despatches
 

By the end of the War, he had served with 304 Squadron at 14 RAF Stations, these being: Bramcote (Warwickshire), Syerston (Nottinghamshire), Lindholme (Yorkshire), Tiree (Inner Hebrides), Dale (Pembrokeshire), Talbenny (Pembrokeshire), Docking (Norfolk), Davidstow Moor (Cornwall), Predannack (Cornwall), Chivenor (Devon), Benbecula (Outer Hebrides), St Eval (Cornwall), North Weald (Essex) and Chedburgh (Suffolk).

He was a kind and even-tempered man, with impeccable manners, quiet but not shy, and loved telling silly jokes and riddles. His genial and straight-forward  approach to his work, coupled with his skill at untangling problems, seems to have been appreciated by the squadron. Eventually he became the assistant Adjutant, “working with a Polish officer who spoke quite good English (better, anyway, than my Polish!).”

In November 1945 he received news that his brother, George, had died in a Japanese POW camp in Borneo, a few days after it was liberated but before he could be moved out. George was a Lance Corporal in the 3rd Battalion of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, which had been over-run by the Japanese during their invasion of Singapore. The news of his death was all the worse because a telegram in September had said that George was alive and on his way home. He had in fact died on 14th June, their mother’s birthday.

John was demobbed on 25 February 1946 and returned to London and his job at the Science Museum. His RAF release book states ‘He possesses initiative, confidence and ability of exceptional standard and has capably performed superior duties.’

Highly thought of by his Polish Commanding Officer
 

Five months after returning to civilian life he received a parcel from 304 Squadron – a monogrammed cigarette case, hand - made by one of the Polish craftsmen. Inside was a list of everywhere they had been stationed, and also engraved was a personal message :- “To Johny Comper From the flying personnel with warm appreciation for your most valuable work with 304 Polish Squadron since its beginning 1940 to 1946”. Accompanying this gift was a letter from Wing Commander Witold Piotrowski thanking John for his long and devoted service and helping them over so many difficulties, not all of which were quite “in the line of duty”.
 

 

 
 
Presentation of engraved cigarette case
in appreciation of his service
 
in July 1946 John met Joyce Hobbs, an employee at the Science Museum,   and by the end of the year they were engaged. On 9th July 1947 they were married, the ceremony took place at All Saints Church, Fulham. They moved to a flat in West Kensington.  In 1950 they moved to a house in Barnes, SW London and had their first child, a daughter. John’s mother moved in to live with them and two years later a second daughter was born.
 

 
Wedding Photos of John and Joyce
 

Over the following years John developed an interest in horticulture and became an accomplished gardener, as well as developing a talent for being able to fix almost anything. If he couldn’t mend something he would soon find out how to do so. In the evenings he enjoyed reading, usually having several books on the go, especially spy stories.

Soon after returning to the Science Museum, John had been moved to the Ministry Of Education, where he served variously in Establishments Branch, Legal Branch and Further Education Branch until he was appointed Superintendent of the Science Museum in 1950. He returned to the main office of the Ministry of Education in 1953 as Chief Establishment Officer and Departmental Security Officer. He stayed in this post until appointed as the Establishment Officer of the Natural Environment Research Council on the formation of that body in 1965.  A year later he was recalled to the Department of Education and Science to become Assistant Accountant General, which post he held until his retirement in 1975.  In recognition of his services to education he was appointed a Companion of the Imperial Service Order (ISO) in the New Year Honours List for 1972 - a fact that was recorded in the Supplement to the London Gazette on 1st January 1972.


The Imperial Service Order
 
Notification of his Imperial Service Order
 
 

Report from The Richmond and Twickenham Times
 

For several years John had been renovating a Norfolk farmhouse at weekends and by 1977 he and Joyce had moved there and begun a happy and active retirement. The large garden was made attractive, and on land to the side they grew masses of fruit and vegetables. They often visited their daughters and grandchildren locally, as well as friends and family in London.

When not absorbed in the gardening John could frequently be found in his workshop making something useful from wood, metal or clay. Later he took up silversmithing, making rings and brooches for his family.

John and Joyce shared a passion for genealogy and often spent a considerable part of each year travelling up and down the country to further their research. On 21 October 1993 they were consulting the archives at Colchester Register Office when John suffered a heart attack and died. He was 77. His funeral was held at St.Faith's Crematorium near Norwich. He is survived today by his two daughters, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

With thanks to his Grandson, Ben Haslam for access to the family archives and permission to use the photographs

Monday, 4 April 2016

KAZIMIERZ PAKULA

 
It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of Kazimierz Pakula at the age of 96 on Thursday 31st March 2016.  He was born in February 1920 at Kamionna near Miedzychod, Poland - just five miles from the German border.
 
He fought in the September Campaign after which he was captured by the Russians but escaped and made his way to France via Hungary, Jugoslavia and Italy.  When France capitulated, he escaped to Britain where he eventually trained as a navigator and flew 50 missions with 304 Squadron.  He was awarded the Cross of Valour four times.
 
After the war, he attended the London School of Economics but then joined the Royal Air Force, serving in Africa, Aden (now Yemen) and Borneo until 1965.
 
He became a lecturer in Law and Economics until he was 70 years old.
 
RIP Kazimierz - you have earned it, along with the respect of all who knew you, served with you or had the privilege of researching your story.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

ARCHERFIELD HOUSE, DIRLETON, NORTH BERWICK

 
This is Archerfield House at Dirleton, North Berwick, East Lothian.  It is now an exclusive hotel but this picture was taken in the late 1950s or early 1960s when it was in a state of dereliction.
 
During WW2 it was taken over by the military but can anybody tell me if that was the Polish Army?  I believe that this, or part of it, was used as an Officer Training School for no more than eight months starting in December 1943.  The school was run by the Polish Army but also catered for the Polish Air Force and I am interested in Course No 6 which ran from May - August 1944.  This was possibly the only Air Force course hosted here as I believe it was only an interim arrangement between the move out of Auchtermuchty, Fife and the move in to Crieff, Perthshire.
 
If anyone has any information please contact me direct on nevillebougourd@gmail.com

Saturday, 13 February 2016

BOHDAN JAN EJBICH


He was a pilot, born on 22nd October 1916 in Saratov, Russia - about 860 kilometres (535 miles) south east of Moscow.  He graduated at the Marian High School at Bielany, spent a year on the faculty of mathematics at Warsaw University.  He enlisted in the Army at Zamosc in 1937 and then graduated from the Cadet School of Aviation as a Technical Officer.  He was posted to the SPL Technical Group in Warsaw.
 
On the outbreak of war, at the start of the September Campaign, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the 1st Aviation Regiment and fought until he was ordered to Romania where he was interned at Corabia on the Danube River.  Eventually he escaped from Romania and made his way to France, via Lebanon, where he rejoined the exiled Polish Air Force and fought there until France capitulated and he escaped to England.

It was whilst he was in the army camp in Gloucester that he volunteered for the Air Force in July 1940. He attended Flying Training Schools at RAF Carlisle and RAF South Cerney in Gloucestershire and was promoted to Flying Officer in September 1941. In April 1942 he joined 18OTU and 3 Air Gunnery School at RAF Castle Kennedy in Northern Ireland also serving as a staff pilot at RAF Mona at Anglesey, North Wales and then in November 1943 he was posted to 304 Squadron where he stayed until the end of the war.

He is known to have attacked a German U-Boat on 20th February 1945 but was unable to confirm the extent of any damage. During his time with the squadron he was seconded to 6OTU at RAF Silloth in Cumberland (now Cumbria) between April and July of 1944. He was demobilised in April 1945, just days before the end of the war and at this time, he had flown 44 operational missions. He had won the Cross of Valour and the Polish Air Force Medal three times each.

He survived the war and immediately afterwards took a degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of London and worked as a design engineer for an Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co. He emigrated to Canada in 1952 and  lived in Toronto, Ontario.  He worked for General Electric, Reliance Electric Co of Canada and Canadian Federal Pioneer

He became a writer and produced several non-fiction books and novels based on his wartime experiences.  He also became very active in Polish affairs in Canada and became a very well respected member of the Polish Community there.

During his military career he was awarded the Cross of Valour (three times), the Silver Cross of Merit,  the Air Medal (three times), the Atlantic Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal.  After the War he was honoured with the Order of Polonia Restituta and medals for his part in the Winter Campaign.

He died on 7th December 2013, aged 97, and was buried in Bloor Street West, Park Lawn Cemetery, Toronto, Canada.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

RUDOLF MARCKZAK (MARSDEN) - FOLLOW UP

 
This was one of the proudest moments of my life.  I was able to get together with the son and grandson of Rudolf Marczak in my own home.  After writing Rudolf's story, it was an honour for me to have them in my home and to hold the framed collection of Rudolf's medals. 
 
Tony, his son, on the left and Gary, his grandson, on the right came to see me earlier this month.  The montage that I am holding consists of Rudolf's medals, his Gapa, his pilot's wings and a photo of  Rudolf, his wife Mona and their son Antoni.
 
Gary and I had to compile the story and the collection of medals in secrecy as a surprise gift for Antoni (Tony)'s 70th birthday.  It took a long time and a lot of effort but it was well worth it.

Friday, 29 January 2016

SQUADRON LEADER STANISLAW JOZEFIAK VM


 
I am sorry to have to report the death of Squadron Leader Stanislaw Jozefiak at the age of 96, in a nursing home in Derby.
 
He was one of two survivors of Wellington Bomber R1392, of 304 Squadron, which was badly shot up on a bombing mission to the docks at Boulogne and crashed in Sussex.  After recovering from his injuries, he continued crewing Wellingtons for a long time before re-training as a Spitfire pilot with 317 Squadron.  He then served with that squadron as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (2TAF) following the D-Day Landings.
 
After the War he spent 3 years in Greece, flying dangerous missions over Communist territory for the American Central Intelligence Agency.  When the British Government stopped its Nationals from flying with the CIA he was offered American citizenship if he would continue.  He opted to remain British and settled down in Derby where he opened a successful furniture and carpet store.
 
In his eighties he returned to Sussex and built a monument to his dead colleagues from R1392.  He also wrote his autobiography "God, Honour and Country".  In 2010, he featured in another book "Bomb on the Red Markers" by aviation historian Pat Cunningham.
 
As a personal tribute, he was very helpful to me when I started writing this blog.  He gave me a lot of information and photographs and a copy of his book.
 
He lived a long and happy life and the world is a poorer place without him.  May he Rest in Peace.