Thursday, 22 January 2015

HENRYK ZURAWINSKI


He was born to Piotr and Maria (nee Czyzewska) at Kacice near Warsaw on 20th July 1919 and, after completion of his education, he joined the XIV promotion of Officer Cadets at the aviation school in Deblin in 1939.  This was the unfinished course, cut short by the German invasion on 1st September 1939.  He was involved in the September Campaign but was ordered to cross the border into Hungary when the Russians attacked from behind and rendered the Polish cause hopeless.

With his fellow students he crossed into Hungary where he was disarmed and interned in the camp at Nagykata from 20th September to 15th October 1939 in line with Hungarian neutrality.  Being one of the first internees, he was not subjected to the later harsh regime and was able to leave for France very quickly.  He made his own way there, almost certainly with help from the Polish Embassy with respect to a false identity and papers, travel tickets and money.  He was taken to the Polish Air Force training camp at Lyon-Bron.

L'Armee de l'Air ID Card
 
When France capitulated, he set out for England, arriving there on 27th June 1940.  This early arrival suggests that he was on the early transports from one of the northern Channel ports before the mass evacuations along the entire northern coast of France.  On arrival in England, he was sent to the holding camp at RAF Kirkham in Lancashire where he stayed from 28th June to 4th September 1939.  He was then moved to the Technical Training centre at RAF Weeton in Lancashire, although the reason is not clear.  From 27th March to 9th May 1940 he was at the Polish Depot and this was probably to learn or improve his English as well as learning the King's Regulation and familiarising himself with British equipment and aircraft.

From there he went to 15 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Carlisle (formerly RAF Kingstown) in Cumberland where he began his flying training on Miles Magisters.  On completion of this course, on 2nd August 1941, he was sent to the Air Crew Reception Centre in London but he was only there for a week before being posted to 8 Service Flying Training Centre at Montrose in Forfarshire (now Angus) where he trained, probably on twin engine Airspeed Oxfords, and gained his pilot's wings on 3rd December 1941 and was promoted to Sergeant.

Eight days later he was posted to 9 Air Observers School at RAF Penrhos near Porthmadog, Wales.  This was a bombing and gunnery school where the crews trained on the basics of their trade.  He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 1st February 1942.  He undertook a three week Officers course at RAF Cosford in August 1942.  After this  he returned to RAF Penrhos, where he joined 9 AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) for further training on twin engined aircraft.

Certified pilot of fighters, bombers and transports
 
Following this he was posted to 18 OTU at RAF Bramcote near Nuneaton in Warwickshire and later at RAF Finningley near Doncaster in South Yorkshire.  The length of time he spent there (about ten months) suggests that he was there in a training role - that is teacher rather than pupil.  His next move was to RAF Squires Gate at Blackpool where he seems to have been attached to 3 School of General Reconnaissance and training facilities at the Blackpool Depot until 10th February 1944 when he moved to 16 SFTS and 12th July 1944 when he moved to 10 Air Gunnery School at RAF Walney Island, Barrow in Furness, Lancashire (now Cumbria) .  During this time he received promotions to Flying Officer (1st October 1942) and Flight Lieutenant (1st February 1944); further reinforcing the idea that he was active as a trainer.  Details of the aircraft he flew and the training hours that he accumulated (996) place his role as a trainer beyond doubt.

After a two month spell at 10 AGS, he was back to the Blackpool Depot; training needs were no longer as great and he was eventually moved to an active role at 304 Squadron on 25th November 1944.  At this time they were based at RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides and it was in climatic conditions that were harsh even by the standards of Polish winters - a bad time to arrive on the island.

Nonetheless, he immersed himself in the Squadron's activities and flew six missions in the crew of F/Lt Bohdan Ejbich and four in the crew of F/Lt Tomaszewski before the war ended,  As with all crews in Coastal Command, he had to endure many boring hours of low level flights over featureless ocean, flying at low altitude which made them an easier target to hit by the Luftwaffe, surfaced U-boats or armed merchantmen.

On his fifth mission, whilst at the controls of Wellington XIV HF303 - E, he was alert enough to spot the wake of a U-boat.  The wake was 50 yards long and 15-20 yards wide and moving at 10 knots and he saw a tubular, pencil like object within it.  This was probably a schnorkel.  He warned the senior pilot who took over the controls and dived to 100 feet before they released six depth charges all of which hit the water on the port side of the wake and all of which exploded.

A round bluish white patch, about 40 yards in diameter, was seen but disappeared quickly and a little while later they saw an oil patch 100 yards by 150 yards in extent.  Making another run around, they illuminated the area with a Leigh Light but could see no more clearly because of a surface haze.

Search procedures were initiated and markers were dropped but nothing further was seen and no more signals were picked up.  Although an experienced pilot, this was Henryk Zurawinski's first live sighting of a U-boat and he was sensible in handing over control to F/Lt Ejbich.

With the exception of a short secondment to 6 (Coastal) OTU, he stayed with 304 Squadron until 9th July 1945.  By this date, the squadron had moved to the milder conditions at RAF St Eval in Cornwall and there was no requirement for the staffing levels that existed and consequently, he found himself surplus to requirements.  Along with more than a hundred other airmen, he was despatched from Newquay station to No 17 Air Crew Holding Unit at RAF Snaith near Goole in East Yorkshire.  Unlike most of them, he was soon to be re-employed and found himself at 109 OTU at Crosby on Eden near Carlisle in Cumberland (now Cumbria) which was a Transport Command  unit for training crews of the Douglas Dakota.  On 11th December 1945 he was posted to the HQ of the Transport Support Training Unit at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire.

On 9th February 1946 he married Ethel Clayton at Holy Trinity Church, South Shore, Blackpool.  They had two children

On 12th March 1946 he was posted back to 304 Squadron where his experience was put to use in their new role as a part of Transport Command.  He stayed with them until they were disbanded in December 1946 and then enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps on 8th January 1947.  Here he had time and help to prepare for civilian life on a two year contract which ended with his final demobilisation on 8th January 1949.  He had flown a total of 99 hours Operational flights and 996 hours training flights on fighters (Hawker Hurricanes), bombers (Vickers Wellingtons) and transports (Douglas Dakotas) plus others during his own training.

He died on 11th August 1982.

He was the recipient of the Polish Cross of Valour and British Campaign Medals.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

FLORIAN STANISLAW BILICKI


304 Squadron was brought into existence at RAF Bramcote in Warwickshire on 22nd August 1940 with a complement of only a few senior British and Polish Officers.   The next day it received its initial allocation of Officers and men, one of whom was Cpl Florian Stanislaw Bilicki (P-782091) a fitter grade II/E, although the original record gives his first name as Feliks.


 
 
Original notebook entry for 304 Squadron manpower

He was born on 4th May 1913 and, on the outbreak of war, he was serving with the Polish Air Force.  When the Russians joined in the attack, the ground crews found themselves in a difficult position and so they destroyed their equipment and burned their remaining aircraft to prevent them from falling into enemy hands and then set out for the Romanian border, as ordered.
 
For two days and nights they drove and marched towards the border, skirmishing with Russian troops on the way.  Finally they crossed the border into Romania where they were disarmed and interned.  Twice he was in a group which escaped and tried to make for France to continue the fight but twice he was captured and returned to the camp.
 
The Polish Embassy staff were working in the background to help their men to escape to France and they provided false documents, travel tickets and money to help them.  These materials were smuggled into the camp by a sympathetic priest.  With papers, he was far less likely to be returned to the camp and so he set about his third attempt.  He and four friends used the same escape route, one a day, meeting up later for the trip to France. 
 
The internment camp was primitive and took its water from a well outside the camp; each day a group of prisoners took a truck with an empty water barrel to the well returning with the water.  He was not in this party but went through the gates inside the barrel and made good his escape whilst the water party distracted the guards.  The route he took is not known but it is known that he served in France because the first intake of men (including Florian) were described as French Poles in the initial squadron ORB.
 
On the French capitulation, he made his way to England and rejoined the Polish Forces via the Blackpool Depot and was then allocated to 304 Squadron and sent to RAF Bramcote.  He remained with the squadron throughout the war and was enlisted into the Polish Resettlement Corps before opting to emigrate to Australia.
He sailed on the SS Asturias from Southampton on 26th October 1948 and arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 22nd November 1948 as part of the group of Polish forces personnel who chose to emigrate to Australia rather than be repatriated to Poland under the yoke of Communism.
 
His only obligation was two years service in  employment nominated by the Australian Government.  Although e was a trained fitter, he was sent to the small town of Miling, just north of Perth, where the only employment of note was relating to grain production, although it is certainly possible that he was able to use his skills working on the huge grain silos and associated equipment there.  He presented as being happy there and was interviewed by the Daily News, a Perth newspaper, about his work there.  This was about halfway through his two year contract and he cheerfully accepted his two years service but told the reporters that he would like to return to the aircraft industry when his time there was over.
 
Report in the Perth Daily News
29th October 1949
He must have travelled there under sponsorship as he is listed on the same ticket number as a considerable number of other ex RAF staff and it is well established that the British Government was anxious to resettle as many of the Poles as possible elsewhere.


 Polish ex-RAF staff on the group ticket manifest of SS Asturias on 26th October 1948

The reason is not clear but he was released early from his two year contract on 29th May 1950 but granted leave to stay in Australia indefinitely so he could not have been dismissed for wrong doing.  He next appears in the records as living in Maribyrnong, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria in 1954 and he also appears on similar Electoral Roll lists for Melbourne suburbs, finally at Doutta Galla in 1977.

Certificate of release from his work contract which doubles as an
Aliens Registration Certificate No W5218 issued in Perth, Western
Australia.
The search continues!

Friday, 9 January 2015


 
JE SUIS CHARLIE
 
 

 
WITH SUPPORT AND SYMPATHY FROM ENGLAND





EUGENIUSZ SIEDLECKI


He was born on 14th April 1919 at Zaborol in the Luck district (now in Ukraine).  From 1935 to 1938 he trained in Bydgoszcz he trained as a radio operator/air gunner and then joined the 1st Air Regiment in Warsaw and went on to serve in the 213 and 217 Bomber Squadrons and fought in the opening campaign of the war until he was evacuated to Czerniowice aerodrome in Romania with the rest of his crew and their aircraft.  He was interned but soon managed to escape from the camp.

He made his way to France via Jugoslavia and Greece, arriving there on 23rd October 1939.  He was posted to a reconnaissance squadron and his crew was eventually ordered to Oran in Algeria.  The aircraft had to make an emergency landing in Spain where he was detained for a month before being handed over to the Vichy French authorities.  This was the same aircraft on which Bernard Poloniecki  made his first attempt to get out of France.  He was demobilised and spent some time in the American Hospital hospital  in Marseilles whilst his escape was arranged.  He escaped from Marseilles in January 1941 and fled to Oran where he was interned for a month before being sent to another Polish detention camp in Algeria.  He attempted to escape but was caught and sent to a punishment camp in the Sahara Desert where he stayed until he was liberated by Allied forces.  He left Algeria at the end of November 1942 and arrived at the Polish Depot at Blackpool on 6th December 1942.

He was posted to RAF Halton where he began training as a wireless operator/air gunner and he moved on to 6OTU on 30th May 1944.  He was then transferred into 304 Squadron on 8th August 1944 at the Coastal Command base at RAF Chivenor in Devon, where he flew 29 missions .  During his career he was decorated with the Cross of Valour three times and the Air Medal and was promoted to Warrant Officer on 31st August 1945.

In England he met and married his wife of 67 years and they emigrated to the USA in 1948.  They settled in Woodstock, Illinois and raised a family of seven children.  The family moved to Grayslake in 1963 and he spent the rest of his life working a five acre smallholding and made a living growing and selling vegetables and flowers.

Subsequently an obituary has been  published revealing that he had died in Grayslake, Illinois, USA on 18th December 2010 and was interred there in the Avon Centre Cemetery.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

MIECZYSLAW PRONASZKO


 
He was born on 22nd October 1902 in Warsaw and in 1918, he joined the 2nd Light Cavalry Regiment.  He fought in the Polish-Bolshevik war.  In July 1924 he was sent to the Officer Cadet School in Warsaw then moved to the 83rd Infantry Regiment until 1926 when he opted to join the Air Force and went to the flying school in Grudziadz, graduating two years later as an observer with the rank of Pilot Officer and posted to the 1st Air Wing in Warsaw and later the 6th Air Wing in Lvov.  By November 1938 he was in command of No 64 Bomber Flight.

He was still there on the outbreak of war and flew mostly anti-personnel missions against the invading German army.  He escaped to Romania and made his way to France and subsequently England.

At first he was posted to 300 Squadron as commander of B Flight.  He moved on to 304 Squadron on 10th August 1942 and remained an operational pilot.  On Christmas Eve 1942, returning to RAF Dale from an anti-submarine patrol, fog made it impossible for him to land he could not make radio contact with RAF Chivenor to divert there.  After 11 hours 56 minutes flying time, the aircraft, HF898, ran out of fuel and the crew all baled out safely near Cannock in Staffordshire.

On 29th January 1943 he took command of the squadron and remained there until 18th November of that year when he moved on to the Polish Air Force Inspectorate.  His next move was to the American 9th Air Force (December 1944 until April 1945).  He then moved to the Polish Air Force Headquarters.
During his service he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari 5th Class, the Cross of Valour (four times) and the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

On 2nd April 1947 he was demobilised and emigrated to Montreal, Canada where he died on 12th September 1968; he is buried in the Veterans Cemetery at Pointe-Claire.

WITOLD JACEK PIOTROWSKI


He was born on 25th November 1906 at Chelmno Lubelskie.  In 1925 he joined the Infantry Cadet Officers School, later moving to the Air Force Officers School at Grudziadz.  In 1928 he qualified as a pilot observer and was then posted to No 4 Air Wing at Torun; by November 1937 he was the Commander of 42 Flight.  On the Russian invasion of Poland he made his way to France via Romania, Jugoslavia and Italy and served at the Polish Depot in Lyon-Bron.  On the capitulation of France he came to England.

By July 194o he had been assigned to 301 Squadron and, almost exactly a year later, he took command of the squadron but remained an operational pilot.  On completion of his 30 mission tour of duty he moved to RAF Bramcote as an instructor.

On 15th February 1943 he changed tack and became Commander of 309 Fighter Squadron – again he remained an operational pilot.  In October 1943 he was sent, as an Air Force liaison officer, to Brigadier General Maczek’s 1st Armoured Division.  He then took over command of 304 Squadron from September 1945 until its disbandment in December 1946.

Later he graduated from the Air Academy and went to the Polish Air Force HQ until his demobilisation.  In 1948 he emigrated to Canada where he worked on the land and later in industry.  He died in Hamilton, Ontario on 3rd December 1973.

He was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross of Valour (four times), the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords and the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

STANISLAW POZIOMEK


He was a navigator, born on 22nd March 1900 at Potoczek.  He trained and worked as a teacher.  From 1928 to 1931 he attended the Infantry Officer Cadet School at Ostrow Mazowiecka after which he was posted to the 36th Infantry Regiment in Warsaw.  In December 1933 he attended a two year Observer training course at the Air Officers training school in Deblin, following which he was seconded to the 5th Air Wing at Lida.

In 1938/39 he was at the Air Academy and was then transferred as permanent Air Force staff.  Like so many others, on the outbreak of war he made his way to England via Romania and France; once here he underwent further training and was posted to 305 Squadron.  In June 1941 he took command of A Flight and in October of that year he transferred to 304 Squadron, becoming Squadron Commander only a few weeks later on 14th November 1941.  He remained there until 27th July 1942.  During this time the squadron suffered very heavy losses and a shortage of replacements enforced its transfer  to Coastal Command.

He was transferred to the Polish Air Force Inspectorate but he became involved in a conspiracy against Air Vice Marshall Stanislaw Ujejski and as a result was sent to the internment camp at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.  The exact nature of this conspiracy is not clear.  He was released after the death of General Sikorski in July 1943.  He returned to the Polish Inspectorate, clearly back in favour, and was promoted to Wing Commander.  His new role was Deputy Chief of Staff to the Inspector General of the Polish Air Force.

On a visit to 304 Squadron, to attend the farewell party of the departing Commander (W/Cdr Czeslaw Korbut), he flew on HF188 on an anti-submarine mission over the Bay of Biscay on the night of 10th/11th April 1944.  He was flying as the guest of Squadron Leader Stanczuk. This aircraft was shot down by German night fighters and the entire crew were lost.  His body was washed ashore in Spain and he was buried in the British Cemetery at Bilbao; his was the only body recovered.

During his career he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari on 21st November 1941, ironically presented to him by AVM Ujejski, and the Cross of Valour (four times).  On 5th September 1942 he won the British Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation for which read:

“On all his operational missions, this officer has displayed a high standard of navigational efficiency, great keenness and bravery. He has carried out attacks on many important targets both in Germany and German occupied territory and his determination is such that he has always made several runs over the target to ensure accuracy of bombing. On one occasion Squadron Leader Poziomek skilfully flew his aircraft back to this country although it had been hit in seven places by splinters from anti-aircraft shells. Throughout, this officer has displayed fine leadership and has contributed largely to the high standard of morale in his flight.”