Wednesday, 10 May 2017

THIS BLOG'S FIRST EVER AWARD

 
After 10 years of research, I was recently invited to take a trip to Poland to be present at a ceremony in honour of 304 Squadron and it's adoption by the 44th Naval Aviation Base at Siemirowice on the Baltic coast.  This is the military group who now perform the anti-submarine warfare and air sea rescue functions previously performed by 304 Squadron and they have painted one of their aircraft in the livery of 304 Squadron - a nice gesture - in memory of those who died..
 
The nominal purpose was the presentation of a drawing of NZ-E to the base by Alastair Graham whose father was the first Senior British Liaison Officer responsible for the running of the Squadron during WWII.  He did not polish a chair with the seat of his pants and was a fighting Officer who was killed in action when his Wellington Bomber was shot down over Germany early in the War.
 
There is still a strong relationship between the 44th Naval Aviation Base, families of Poles from the Squadron who still live in Britain, the Air Cadets in Hastings who also memorialise 304 Squadron and Polish and British military historians.  This was very evident on the day.
 
The big surprise, for me, was being called up to receive an award from the base commander for my work in keeping alive the memory of the Polish Airmen who fought from Britain after Poland and France had been overwhelmed.  The Islands of Last Hope as the Poles affectionately called us.  They had an equally affectionate name for the Wellington Bomber, which they loved, - they called it the Flying Cow.
 
I was deeply touched to receive this award and to be so royally treated by the many Poles who attended the ceremony.  My special thanks go to Alastair Graham who arranged for me to attend in the first place.
 
I would also especially like to thank Jarek Andrychowski (former base commander), Andrzej Szczotka (current base commander), Eugeniusz Boblinski (former Senior Officer) and the military historians Mariusz Konarski, Wojciech Matusiak and Milosz Rusiecki (with whom I have corresponded and co-operated over the years) and finally Jarek's mother who provided hospitality in her home after the event - she too was a pilot in her day!
 
It was an honour and an experience I will never forget.


Saturday, 8 April 2017

OSWALD WALDEMAR KRYDNER - Part 3


I am sitting in a little grove by the Mediterranean Sea. Michał is making breakfast. Our guns are sitting on racks, the troops are resting. An hour ago... We arrived at a tiny station. There the train was unloaded. Our things went to the port by cars. And we are walking. We are very close to the Spanish border. The Pyrenees rise beautifully over our heads, and the sea hums below. Two Italian planes flew overhead.  A string of cars moves along the road. I think the French will be loading. We are 8 km from the harbour, waiting for further orders. I think it’ll get hot when we get there.

 
I made a tent out of my straw mattress and we were to sleep in the woods. All of a sudden, “Get up! We’re off!” We packed up and were at the station by 10 in the evening. We loaded onto cattle cars and at 1 am left again for the unknown. 30 men to a car and loads of luggage.I sat all night, my legs went numb and I couldn’t move. A new day dawned. A great long train, about 1000 men, was tearing west. We are headed for the Atlantic coast. The transport is very slow, the tracks are jammed. One question – can we get there in time?

 
Wine barrels are lined up, the French have allowed our boys a drink. Imagine, a mob of men with canteens, shoving each other by a wine barrel. Food is our worst problem. All we’ve had since yesterday is some spam – one can for two men – and bread. Chrzanowski is a decent fellow. He’s been feeding his platoon with his own money: today he put in 100 francs for food, and he cares for his men.

 
I had a slice of bread with left over spam for breakfast, and that’s to last me for the rest of the day. The fat reserves I collected in Toussieu have run out and hunger is tormenting me. We are 50 km from the sea. We’ve passed the town of Lourdes.  I saw a chapel by the river near the church. Oh, this France is a lovely place, only the French people are a degenerate nation and worthless. They, unlike the Poles, don’t treasure their country.

 
Today I will tell you much. So where am I? On a large English vessel, I lie on a mattress on the floor. It’s a miracle I got this spot. Just a moment ago I was getting soaked on the upper deck. A terrible storm is raging. I tried to go up to the upper deck and was nearly blown off by the gale. We have sailed out of the harbour at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Where to? We do not know. Two large carriers have lifted anchor. We are escorted by 4 English destroyers. Our vessel is overloaded, more than 6000 passengers. Air force and infantry, all ours, many women, English and French.
 
Oh God, how awful the boarding was, not from a pier but from boats, and the waves were dreadful. 20 at a time approached and up the ladder, without our things, as there was no way. We pulled up the stuff by ropes. Our Arandora Star is a true colossus. One can wander about for hours. Thankfully, there is a storm. Had the weather been any better, we’d be boarding under German bombs. Oh! I write and the ship rocks so. The vessel is like a little nutshell tossed by waves.

 
And now let me go back a little.  At 4 in the morning we got off the train. And we waited to board the ship until 12. Truly London-like traffic. I felt sorry for the Polish women who had come to France. Here, the poor souls, rove about with their children, exhausted, emaciated. A heart-breaking sight. I must note that many Poles would not leave and decided to stay. French people joined us in their place. True Frenchmen want to fight, but they are few. I learned much about the front today, about how the French fought, or rather how they fled. They are the worst cowards, ugh, repulsive spawn. Now all I ask of God is to lead us safely, without accidents, as it does not take much to bomb a colossus like this.
 
Good morning, Ha! You would not recognize me now. I am on the upper deck, our company is on duty. With guns. We have an HMG and hand rifles. Two are at the stern. Destroyers on either side.  A carrier and a destroyer in front of us. Though a submarine or aircraft could approach us and do their job.  But I say: it is God’s will, not Hitler’s. France signed peace yesterday and surrendered her fleet to Germany. Oh, she will pay dearly for this.  Ah! I am ashamed to say, I couldn’t take yesterday’s waves and tossed my cookies. I wasn’t alone – there was a queue at the shipside. But the ship did sway – water was up to the third deck, it’s no joke. Today it’s died down a bit. We have loads of food, though they do not cook.  Only we cannot eat.  Cans, coffee, chocolate, fruit. Oh. The English are not like the French. I had a dream that I was in Africa, and where we are going – no-one knows.  We are headed north-west.
 
The convoy is going in a zigzag. The weather has improved. Binoculars are scanning the sky. A magnificent convoy.
 
Everyone sleeps with a life vest for a pillow. It’s good to have friends. I’m in cabin no. 212. It’s crowded, but warm and merry. Plenty of marmalade and jam. One of the chaps nicked 16 one-kilo cans from the French. We have enough to eat. The preserves made me sick.  France had much to offer, but not to us. Many of our boys went hungry on the French soil. It will not be forgotten.
 
 
Good morning, It’s a lovely day, though the ship sways a little. We can see land on the starboard side and three sail boats, it must be Ireland or England – who knows, it’s still a far off. I’ve been sitting on the upper deck all day, to stay out of my cabin.
 
At 4 in the afternoon we had a concert on the upper deck. It was lovely. Sweet violin music drifted through the hum of the wind, the creak of ropes and the rush of waves. “Aircraft overhead!” – and yes, a sea-plane appeared on the horizon. Guns clicked. A moment of anticipation. It’s ours, British. The plane flew low over the chimney, banked and disappeared in the distance.

 
I had a pleasant encounter. I was standing in the crowd, when I heard someone call, “Wal!” – that’s what they called me in Słonim. I turn around, and there they are, two officers. Włodek Jakimowicz and another one, whose name I can’t remember. My classmates and childhood friends. We had a great few hours. So many memories... and of all places – we meet on the ocean. All the time, wherever I go, I run into people. Tadek Hagenbart – he’s shot down a Heinkel.

 
Oh, many, but many more France has buried forever. God, so much Polish blood has been shed – for whom? From the armoured brigade, 200 men came back. Of the tank company of 180 men, only four. I am just writing these numbers to give you an idea. Where the Poles were, there was the hardest fight, there Germans were getting beat, and where the English were. But where the French manned a section, there the Fritzes pushed forward without trouble. They threw down their arms and fled. They have thousands of planes, but they did nothing and would not let our boys fly, either.
 
We are reaching the English coast. We disembark tomorrow, and then?

 
I was up early to see land ahead. England. A great many ships going to and fro. We’ve been told sensational news. We are all dead, for our vessel, the Arandora Star has been sunk on the Atlantic. Only two Poles survived. The announcement from the German staff was greeted with cascades of laughter.

 
The Arandora Star reached the port of Liverpool at 8:00 in the morning on 27th June. It’s a beautiful harbour. We are berthed in England. The ship is unloaded. Our company was the last to disembark, at 1600 hours. We marched out of the port in threes, to the train station, which wasn’t far, 1 km. As we went through the city, we were greeted by cheering crowds. And our troops moved through rows of people who had gathered to see us. The soldiers’ tired faces were beaming with joy. We were so kindly received. Oh, this is not France. When we reached the station, a train was already waiting for our group. After going south-west for an hour, we got off to form ranks of three and march for 10 km. Cheerfully and with song on our lips, we started down a pleasant road.

 
Here I can see the famous English order, here I can see culture, but not in France.  It’s heaven and earth. Clean and pleasant homes, lovely little gardens, flowers.  Kind, smiling faces. We pass by a school for girls. Oh, what enthusiasm!  The song stopped, the company did an “eyes left”. I thought the girls would fall out of the windows.  We have gone on quite a distance, but we can still hear their squeals.  Private buses have come to fetch us.  A little moment more and we get off and enter an old mansion. This place feels like camp, hundreds of tents are lined up, smells from the mess tease the palate. Evening is falling. We will spend this night on English soil, literally – on a blanket under an oak tree.

 
Oh, what a marvellous night, I slept next to Michał. It was warm. I had a good breakfast, and will now look around for a lake or river.  But wait, first we must set up our tent. Oh, and a few words about our vessel.  It has been attacked from the air 36 times, once damaged, and it has sunk two German submarines.

 
I am in the tent now.  We’ve put up a pretty little tent and I’ve gathered some grass for a bed, eaten some preserves and have nothing to do now. I must wash my things and myself, and I will go to bed early tonight. It’s a lovely place, but I am unhappy.  We won’t stay here long. We, Polish “exiled soldiers”.
 
I have guard commander duty today. The weather is lovely. Everyone’s sunbathing, the place looks like a beach. There’s been a concert, such beautiful music and singing. The professor, “the Legend”, played marvellously. Today our officer cadets rebelled. I thought we were in for a bit of fun. Our company was resting in front of the tents, armed, when General Ujejski clashed with them by the woods. It’s over now. Oh, those cadets made trouble in France and now they’re starting the same here. They’ll get what they’re asking for. I made friends with a few English boys today, fine chaps, I could go to the front with them. They are not like the French, gutless cowards and scoundrels.
 
I am in a new place now, 120 km north of the other camp. We are by the sea. I am sitting on my lovely bed and it’s after lunch. It’s a beautiful and clean place. This is a whole other world. Beds, mattresses.  Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve slept like this.  What next? I don’t know.  I am soon going for a bath and a medical...

 
The day is filled with administrative affairs.  Checking, records, etc. I am sad today, Not many of us have arrived here in England. I am one of a handful of exiles.  Men who have not lost hope and decided to fight until the end.  Here, work awaits us, but not the kind we had in France. Hitler will strike here any day now. We will go from crater to crater, but we will endure. There will be no cowardice, no flight.
 
The main announcement of the day, dated 2nd July: Our vessel which brought us here, the Arandora Star, sank on July 2 off of the west coast of Ireland. She carried German and Italian POWs, 1700 men, besides the crew. Of those, 700 were rescued – the others rest at the bottom of the ocean, including the captain. That torpedo was aimed at us. Hitler wanted to sink the Poles – but he sank his own. The ship was headed for Canada. What happened aboard, only he can imagine who has been there and knew that 26,000-ton colossus.  And what would have happened to us, had a torpedo hit us? There were almost 6000 of us. And all would have gone down.


Important news.The French fleet has been disbanded. Part of the French fleet did not yield to the government in France and came to England, submitting to her command. The rest rejected the conditions offered by Britain to the French fleet – and they were as follows: either the fleet joins that of the Royal Navy or her vessels will be held in Britain and returned to France after the war, or the French will destroy or sink them immediately. France has rejected those conditions. So it’s done. The English have attacked the French fleet from air and sea, sinking almost all of their vessels. One battleship escaped. The French fleet moored in Alexandria and England has been disarmed and taken over by British crews. Beautifully done, England, bravo.

 
We are proud of the English, and the English – of us. There aren’t any here that will betray and flee; those who remain are ready to fight, and fight until the end. Our town is called Kirkham.  I have been appointed a squad leader. Yesterday we were given 10 shillings each from the King. We are being photographed, listed, etc. So for now we haven’t got much to do. We are resting, eating well, fruit preserves, eggs and other delicious titbits. This isn’t France – each room has a bathroom and lavatories – this is real culture and order.  We here on this little island, God with us, will hold fast and win.
 
We are slowly turning into Englishmen. Oh, those beautiful things we’ve been given. We had a bit of a drill today. We showed the English what we’ve got. They were thrilled. I like those English awfully. So kind, polite, oh, in a word, this is anything but France. We’ve forgotten all about the war. We don’t hear the scream of bombs or see enemy planes. But this will not be much longer. This silence is foreboding.

 
A lot of our English chaps came yesterday, who have been here for a long time. Many have already been deployed, other live 18 km away, in a seaside resort, in guest houses. They say they’ve never lived so well. We are in barracks, but even our huts are like palaces. England – here is culture, wealth. In France we were always questioned about why we weren’t fighting, but here no one mocks us for having crossed the Romanian border. With these men I would walk through fire.
 
A great celebration took place in Bergen today. Germans decorated their soldiers for valour in battle. The English took advantage of it. And the RAF very efficiently decorated them with wooden crosses. More than 100 were killed on the spot. The British offensive in Libya. On the first day they advanced 60 km. The Italian fleet on the Red Sea has been destroyed, and on the Mediterranean they’ve hid on the Adriatic. Roosevelt has agreed to run for president. This is the news of the day. Oh, but the most important: every night German cities and factories are set on fire by RAF bombs.

 
I think I will go to Blackpool today, there’s a camp of ours, our English friends. A whole gang of us are going. I am worried about Piotrek. I haven’t had any news of him. I do hope he gets here safely. I must have caught a cold, but where? When? A bit of a headache and pain in the chest.  Just like I had after the journey from Romania.
 
I went with Michał in a double-decker bus to Blackpool. We spent no more than 3 ½ hoursthere. 3 ½ hours, but filled with excitement, thrill and wonder. First of all, I met Heniek Niemiro and a whole group of friends. French and English soldiers came together. They live by the seaside, in beautiful guest houses, like civilians, only wearing uniforms. The King takes care of their bills. They live beautifully, as if on holiday. I did not speak with them long.

 
The whole town is packed with airmen, and almost everyone with a girl. Officers lay on beach chairs in front of villas, the sea murmurs and laps at the shore. We went to the funfair. Woo-hoo, all that is there! I tell you, one of the world’s wonders. This is a great big chest that gobbles up pounds. I did not take part in any of the diversions, but I bought 4 postcards. I ordered an English textbook – I will study, I like this language.  I have seen many things, but something like this – never. Blackpool is one of the largest sea resorts in Europe and in England. What gardens, flowers, simply a fairy tale. My camera is in Blackpool, at a repair shop. I will go there on Thursday, I think. We had 2 plates each of fish and chips and I was back by 10:00. Today I’m studying English. It’s a busy day, with lectures, briefings, etc.

 
The weather here is disgusting. England is beautiful, but the weather beastly.  Mutual bombardment goes on incessantly. Germany is preparing an offensive against us. We are waiting, day after day, hour after hour. Here is where they will strike the hardest. Churchill said, London will sooner be turned to rubble and the people lost than Britain will surrender to Germany.  Here they will have a hard job to do – England is not France.
 
And here, we cannot get through the street without being swarmed by children with their autograph books and notebooks, begging us to write something for them. It makes me sad. They treat us like heroes. No orders, no badges, just a French air force uniform, the uniform of a disgraced army – no more.

 
It looks like I might leave here soon. The 4th Air Regiment is organising units. Oh, to get into a unit. Halinka, how terrible this waiting is. But we will have our turn. Hundreds of planes fight in the air every day. Today Hitler was to hold a parade in London. It’s not happening somehow.  Well, yesterday was fun enough. 1000 German planes made a sortie over Great Britain. They accomplished nothing, lost 147 machines. We wait, the war dance will begin any day now. I’m on duty today.

 
I leave for Blackpool in half an hour. I have been detailed. I will be deployed in the first wave. Where and how I am still to find out. I am the only one from photo to go, from this camp. I will be doing something at last. What it will be – is of no consequence to me. Whether I fly in photo missions or work in the lab.

 
I am in Blackpool now. I am staying on St. Helen St., in a beautiful guest house. Piotruś lives 50 m away. I am so glad. I am with the first bomb squadron. I am glad to be the first to go and to be deployed with the first unit. We leave on Wednesday. Maj Wojda, my chief from Flight 41, is the squadron’s deputy commander, under L/Cpl Biały. Many of our officers are there. Daab, who came with us in a sailboat.  Kuszczyński, Cap tStenczuk, Lewandowski. I am in the technical group, under Lt Pianowski, also from Toruń. And most importantly, Piotruś is with me. We were sent out from Kirkham in a ceremony, by the bishop. The bishop said a personal farewell to each one. Then we had a parade and went to the train station.

 
I have 15 minutes. I’ve had a delicious breakfast, eggs and ham and tea, and we are soon off to be transformed from Frenchmen to Englishmen. We are going to pick up our uniforms. And the day after tomorrow – we go on... Soon our planes will begin carrying pills for the Fritz.  We have plenty to talk to them about. Our time is coming. Our fighters have long since joined the British. We are about to start pounding. The English bomb Germany day and night, without stopping.
 
Well, well, I hardly recognise myself, 100% an Englishman. I wonder if you’d recognize me. We’ve been given first-class equipment. Undergarments, boots, oh, what have we not been given. A whole bagful, I could hardly carry it all. Tomorrow we go for a medical and that’s it.
 
We leave today. We’ve had roll call, now I wait for 12:00. We are to be at the train station at 2. I had an awful night, kept dreaming of raids and bombings. Well, that is something we will not be short of at the airfield. For that I am ready.


Well, we might be leaving at last. We are to report to roll call at 9:30 to find out. I wish I could run away from people, forget the way they live here. You never see a worried or sad face on an Englishman. The war, the air raids, the bombings are in full swing, but none of it frightens the English. They believe in their ultimate victory and pay no mind to the cost. Yes, this nation can win more than one war. By their common sense, healthy government and lumps of gold. We, on the other hand, came short of all those things.

 
I am now at the Bramcote airfield near the town of Nuneaton. Last night after dinner we got comfortable and ready to sleep. 11 pm – alarm... Sirens scream – awfully. I ask Piotr, ‘Piotr, do you hear it?’ Some English chaps popped in and told us to go down into the shelter. I dressed slowly and we went down to the cellar, where there is a special shelter. I snuggled up in a corner and dozed off. I don’t know how long I was asleep. The alarm was called off. Cursing Hitler for interrupting our sleep, I got back into bed. Maybe an hour, maybe two hours passed. Same story. But this time we didn’t go to the shelter. I wrapped myself up tightly in blankets so as not to hear the howling of the sirens, and tried to sleep. A German machine began roaring overhead. Searchlights were groping about in the sky. Some of the men ran down to the shelter. I could not sleep. I strained my ears for the familiar scream of bomb. I heard artillery fire twice and that was all. But our night was not over. The same story happened before the break of dawn. Those beasts would not let us sleep.
 
Last night provided some excitement. The fun started at about 10. Fantastic – with a thrill... Somewhere high overhead, German planes passed over the clear background of the sky. Hundreds of searchlights groped about with their tentacles, painting a lovely web of lights. The artillery roared, and the hollow burst of shells came from somewhere above. It was a beautiful show, Piotr and I stood and admired it. There were quite a few planes. It was late when I went to bed. But the fun was not over. I had just dropped off when a volley hit someplace nearby. One of the bombs burst with a hollow bang, must have been a stray.

 
Last night brought us new shows. There were a few small clouds. We waited for the alarm, as usual. But it didn’t come. We went to bed. Suddenly, it’s light outside. Hop to the windows. Rockets (tracer bombs).The bastards came over at high altitude, trying to illuminate us. It looked lovely and it was quite bright. Then we waited for explosions. But they didn’t come. Even artillery was silent. We heard a few volleys at 1 am – bombs. You could see the afterglow.

 
Today I spent the day on preparing the equipment. It is difficult work. I don’t know the equipment, there is an Englishman who teaches me, but he speaks English and I still have a hard time. I must read and write in English and that is very difficult.
 
Last night was, I believe, the worst so far.  It was impossible to sleep and few managed it, I fell asleep after midnight.  Once the fun started with nightfall, it went on until morning.  A lot of planes played a part. They came at high altitude. They illuminated the area and scattered bombs. Not on us, for now.  We waited all night for the bombs to plough our airfield.  But they spared us. They only passed over us on their way to pound some industrial towns. They are menacing to look at. This war is terrible.  We – I understand, but what have those women and children done to deserve it?  ? But this is nothing compared to what happened in Poland. Though night raids are very unpleasant. It seems that we won’t have one quiet night here. We’ll just have to get used to the noise and racket and sleep calmly.
 
I have guard duty this afternoon. I’ll spend the whole night with the planes in the airfield. I like this sort of thing, as long as it doesn’t rain, but tonight the sky is strewn with clouds.
 
Oh, but it is the first of September. I forgot... The first anniversary of this dreadful war. Today is a year since we began without arms, without preparation, an uneven fight. Knowing we would lose... The September campaign speaks for itself. Romania – camp, escape. Then vast seas, scorching sands – France.  Our time in France, full of hope in a swift victory – desire to fight, dreams of Poland.  The fall of France. That was a terrible blow for us. The journey to the sea. That was interesting, too. Boarding the ship – 64 hours on the sea – Britain, Kirkham – Blackpool – Bramcote. This is our vagrant life. Often hungry – cold, barefoot, ah, we have been up and down. But all that can be described, can be told.
Many thanks to Barbara Poulter for access to her father's documents and photos
Special thanks also to Kresy-Siberia who originally translated the documents

OSWALD WALDEMAR KRYDNER - Part 2


He came. It was dark – we left the room. Sneaking through the gardens, wading in the mud, we made our way to the Russian’s (Romanian’s) hut. Luckily, no one saw us. The Russian knew why we’d come. I gave him 200 lei, we talked over the plan and sat waiting for a train. I wanted to get into the little cab at the cistern car, but he talked me out of it. The locomotive would be a better bet.

 
Time dragged on slowly, lazily. Long after clocks had stricken midnight, still there was no train in sight... It might not come... The tracks might be damaged or something else happened. Another hour passed. It was no use waiting any longer. We must try again tomorrow. We sneaked out of the hut and went back to my quarters the same way we had come. I was asleep in no time.

 
We woke up at 1:00 the next afternoon, famished. I fried some eggs and so strengthened, we waited for dusk. Night came quickly. We were on our way and soon arrived at the Russian’s hut. I have got to get out of here tonight, no matter how. The first train has to take us.

 
Again, the wait. The silence was broken by a faint distant whistle. I held my breath, listening. Again, the same but clearer sound.“Train,” I thought and woke the old man. He got up lazily, we walked outside. The night was dark; to the right, the rumble of the train now came clearly out of the black abyss of the night. We were not happy; it was going in the wrong direction. Never mind. I’m out of here! We put on our coats and went out, taking the luggage. Something drove me on – we are over the fence.

 
‘Go,’ said the Russian.

 
We ran across the street. In a flash, I was over a pretty high fence, my companion followed. The old man was having a hard time, stuck at the top he couldn’t get down. Then – voices. Several men talking, the flash of a torch, and five figures turned the corner. They walked straight toward us, lighting their way with torches. I saw them... gendarmes. I pulled the Russian off the fence. Hush! Silently, I pointed through cracks in the fence. The gendarmes must have heard the thump when the old man hit the ground, for they stopped, listening, and looking round. Three men lay like corpses, glued to the fence. I was clutching my stick. Three on five is a fair fight. Seconds turned to eternity. The group of soldiers moved and started on, passing right by us. A sigh of relief escaped my chest. Silently, we got up and crossed the garden. Another fence and then the platform. By then, you could see the engine. The station is full of light and on the platform those five gendarmes were standing, about 50 metres from us. How do we climb over the fence now and get on the train? But we were in luck. A second later, the engine rolled into the station shrouded in thick steam and stopped right in front of us. Billows of steam covered us like smoke screen – over the fence, across the tracks and we were crouching next to the engine. The Russian went in for a little chat.

 
The driver was a good chap. Offered us bread and cheese, we washed it down with some water. We were on our way again. I noticed a few sentries by the tracks and on station platforms, but wasn’t afraid.

 
It began to dawn. We were nearing Ploesti at 8:00am. Before we reached the town, I paid the driver, he slowed down the engine and signalled for us to jump. One hop and my friend was off the train, I was right behind him, my luggage got in the way and I was on the ground before I knew it. We waved to the driver and walked to town. After lunch and a visit to the barber, we headed for the train station.

 
We’re on the train, going to Bucharest.

 
It was warm at Bucharest train station. Some suspicious blokes were going between the compartments, watching us closely, but soon they were gone.  At 7:00 pm, we got off in Constanta and headed for the Consulate. Here we were given a slip of paper for the hotel: The Cochino.

 
We are in Constanta at last, the place of our departure.  Long days of waiting began. We had to be on guard always, at any time, ready to leave. Time was dragging on. We were expecting our real passports to arrive at any moment – the ones we had were false. We had 40 lei a day to live on, hotel charges were covered. Still, it was hard to make it last. Dinner was 20 lei. We ate twice a day until we found a Polish place ran by an engineer.  For security reasons, the Consul told us not to go to town at night. The Gestapo was everywhere.

 
Our time in Romania was coming to an end. Let me describe Romania in a few words. Romania is a country of prostitution and corruption.

 
The date 31st November came at last and the Consul told us to make ready. By evening, we had blended in with the crowd at the sea port. One more test. A moment of uncertainty – search and passport inspection.  All went well - the customs officers had been bribed. Soon the dock –gangplank – and we are aboard. At 9:00 I took my place in the A cabin, third class, on the steamer Carol. A few suspicious-looking blokes nosed about in the hallways, but they, too, disappeared with the bell that signalled our departure. Anchor chains rattled, the ship rolled gently and the tug boat grunted as it hauled to turn us around.

 
Last night I barely had two hours of sleep. We entered the Bosporus at dawn. Sights of wonder opened to our eyes as land emerged out of the morning fog – Turkey. Mysterious, hidden from Europeans, cities of mosques – Turkey. We progressed through the strait – quite broad, 2-3 kilometres in places. Charming Turkish towns on either side, with slender minaret towers bursting upward; a fortress, too, stands guard of the country.  After a while, a great port city came up out of the fog: Istanbul.

 
We reached harbour at 10:00 am on 1st December. Evening came. At 11:00 pm we left the harbour and sailed out to the Marmara Sea. Time passed, the Dardanelles disappeared. The Carol cut through the Aegean Sea. At 10:00, a tiny wisp of smoke appeared on the horizon. All binoculars turned toward it. It glided gently across the water on the clear background of the sky. An English destroyer. As we came closer, she motioned us to stop. The Carol slowed down, stopped. A boat peeled off that other ship and approached us. The ladder was lowered, English officers came aboard. After an inspection, the two vessels each went its own way.

 
Night fell. We passed a largish island on the port side and I saw land on the starboard – it was Greece. We entered the Greek port of Piraeus near Athens, at 11 pm.

 
The Carol cast anchor at 7 am in the port of Alexandria. Egypt. Two pretty motorboats approached us and the Egyptian princess went ashore. This is Africa – she speaks for herself: the air is as hot as it is back home in the summer.

 
I see land ahead. Yes, yes. This is Palestine. There is no harbour, just a dock. Two cities lie by the coast. This is Tel Aviv, a thoroughly Jewish town and that – Jaffa, thoroughly Arabic. The two cities are joined; today Arabs and Jews live in peace, and all live under the British mandate.


After five hours we arrived in Beirut – Syria. A French colony. Docked in the harbour are French navy ships and an enormous two-chimney ship, full of people – I can tell they are Polish, waving their handkerchiefs and shouting. We pass it and enter a second basin. Chains grind, anchor’s down.


I’m no longer aboard the ship, I had lunch in the barracks of the Foreign Legion and now I’m sitting in the courtyard. We came ashore at 6:45 this morning and were brought in cars into the barracks. They received us very kindly. I can finally boldly say I am a Pole – it is allowed here. This isn’t back-stabbing Romania, this is our true ally – France. We will stay here a few days, the Polish consul told us.

 
We are coming into Alexandria. I know this port. The anchors are down – the Patria has moored at the pier. Again the shouting, the merchandise, the loud black crowd dressed in white shirts. I was awakened by noise and rattle coming from the upper deck. Cranes roared and hundreds of people bustled about the Patria. At 12:00 the anchor was raised. The Patria peacefully sailed in a north-western direction.

 
A grey, gloomy day. Heavy clouds plod across the sky over a slightly rippled sea. I’m going up on deck. We should see land. Yes, we’re passing the island of Crete now. It’s terribly mountainous; there is even snow on top of the ridge. It will soon disappear and we’ll be back to nothing but sky and sea.

 
It’s five o’clock, and the lines of a distant land have come into sight. We can see Italy and Sicily. We will cross the strait between the island and Italy.

 
I lost, it got me. How the Patria is dancing in every direction. The stormy sea roars furiously. I’ve been on deck – it is terrifying to see this colossal vessel be tossed about like a nutshell. The bow dives down seven, eight metres and we are tossed now to one side now to the other. You have to cling to the walls. My Halinka would never guess that her Waldy is now out on a stormy sea, aboard a great ship, in danger from enemy submarines and magnetic mines.


The sea has calmed down, and a cheerful sun rose today. The waves are deep, but without foaming crests. The Patria has not yet settled from her dance and shivers a little. We are approaching the coast of France. Her rocky shores have appeared on the horizon; Toulon looms in a distance, combat ships glide across the sea. Oh! And there is Marseilles. Beautiful: the largest harbour of southern shores. It looks lovely, the railway meanders just by the sea, tunnels, bridges, what a charming place. We have entered the harbour. The anchors are lowered. We have arrived. We are to disembark at 4pm. In a few minutes our passports will be checked and soon we will leave the vessel.

 
On the same day, large buses took us in an unknown direction. We pass Marseilles, a great and lovely city, and enter a road that climbs in a wonderful serpentine up into mountains. We pass a small town of miniature houses. French women wave their handkerchiefs. We pass anti-aircraft batteries. We have reached the top. On one side is the sea and a sliver of the setting sun – oh, it’s gone – and on the other mountains and mountains, bare, rocky, without vegetation.

 
The cars turned and entered a small valley surrounded by rocks. Buildings, barracks, huts, we get off. Carpiagne Camp.  After dinner we found our bunks in one of the huts and went to sleep. The night was cold, my ears and feet were cold. It passed. I was appointed team commander and deputy chief of an air force group.  The living conditions are poor, 800 men packed into summer huts. This used to be a prisoner of war camp for Germans. We have no water, no place to wash. But all this is nothing, we are happy to know we will soon be deployed.

 
Today, on 21st December we received General Sikorski’s first orders to the air force. We are lying around, idling away our time in boredom and apathy. My boots fell apart after the hike today. I tied them together with a wire.

Today is a better day. Kazik Skowroński, Mielczarek and Gumowski are here. Kazik told me how my little hero lay in a trench in the airfield during a raid. And how bravely she did. I was proud of you, my Halutka.

 
A new page in my journal, a new set on the stage of my life.  Only a few days ago, we were among hills, enjoying warm sunshine. Today things are different. The air is frosty, snow, cold I am sitting in the dark mess hall at the Lyon-Bron airfield, 8 kilometres from Lyon.  But let me go back a few hours. From Carpiani (Carpiagne) we marched over the mountains to Cassis. At two o’clock after midnight, a steam-shrouded train with frozen windows raced into Lyon station. Here buses waited for us. They took us to the airfield.

 
I go to the next hut... I stop – and look: All of our boys, all my friends but Tadek. Our officers, commanders, heads of units. Joy lit up my face. The sight of friends, of the flight, fills one with hope. Who knows where we’ll be deployed – England, Finland or Syria. Every front leads to Poland.

 
I was dreadfully cold today. It’s freezing outside.  We sleep on straw pallets on the floor. Blankets and pillows froze to the walls, which are damp and the dampness freezes on them. I have no warm clothing and wear borrowed rubber shoes. We are still in the distribution unit. Some of the boys are going to England today, 400 men. Who knows if I won’t go there, too?

 
Ah, what is happening to our hall: they’ve hauled in enormous logs and are hacking them with stones, as we have no axes.  It seems stones are superb for chopping wood, and I didn’t know. One more thing, we have no water – so instead of washing, we wipe our plates and spoons with bread. It’s horrible. The French are a shiftless people, unintelligent and creatures as lazy as mules. And on top of all that, terrible slobs.

 
A new transport arrived yesterday. 300 men.  Many friends.  There is Lemański, who lives upstairs from us. A lucky man, he’s got a letter from his wife. She is alive and well, and lives at home. And I?  I suffer, I’ve got nothing.

 
I was very busy yesterday, and ran a high fever last night, I don’t know what from. Well, it should be expected, in these living conditions everyone has a cold. We are freezing cold 24 hours a day. 80 men sleep in the same room, one straw pallet next to another, dirt, dust and bad air. I’m afraid to get chinch, some already have them. Suddenly, a blanket starts walking or a shirt put down on a bed travels to the other end of the room.

 
I got pretty shoes and a uniform yesterday. I am dressed up all soldierly now. They want to detail us to Lyon.

 
I went to the Base in the morning to nose around a little. So Capt. Wojda told me not to apply anywhere, that I had a place in France, in a line squadron. The English recruit a lot. They have their pick.

 
We have a visitation from General Zając today. The camp is abuzz. Cleaning and tidying. At last the French have started tidying up. Oh, how I wish I could knock their heads together, those lazy mules.


Here in the barracks water is hard to come by – even just to brush teeth. Oh, the Frenchies – the Frenchies. No Frenchman holds a candle to a Pole. The weather is nasty, it’s raining incessantly. Terrible muddy. Our sleeping quarters are dirty, messy, filled with smoke. When 80 gobs spew the shag, who can bear it? I will soon be smoker without taking a puff.


And now I will tell you where I am. Not at the airfield any more. Last night, after bath and disinfection, we were transferred to the city of Lyon.  Food was better at Bron. Here the French serve raw meat. I cut it into small pieces and swallow like a turkey.

 
A big group left for Bron – the airfield – yesterday. I am leaving, too, tomorrow or the day after, I have been detailed to No. 1 Line Squadron. Almost the entire flight 41 is together. Almost everyone’s been transferred to Bron by now.

 
Today is Sunday. Our flight is on duty. I don’t think I’ve ever worked as much. After mass the British commission came – it’s recruitment again. But no, the English are not in a hurry. They have bombed a German base. Maybe now it will begin.

 
I was in Bron today to fetch a prisoner. It is a cold day. The weather keeps changing. A little sunshine, a little snow.I am so sad today. Many went to England last night. Few of us are still here. I will move to stay with our squadron at Bron, but not for another couple of weeks.

 
10th May 1940. This is a date to be remembered. This morning we shot out of our beds, awakened by the rumble of cannons. It was dawn, 4 o’clock. Quick as lightning, I dressed and leaped behind the hut.  Against the sky, still grey, three Dorniers moved, low – no more than 1000 metres, maybe lower. The artillery boomed, filling the sky with tiny black clouds. Machine guns flashed and we were showered with a storm of bullets. Into the trenches!!! I jumped into a trench 50 metres from the hut. It was filled with water up to our ankles. Splash in – I felt nothing. The boys heaped up on top of each other. We watched. A Bloch came at them – but a far off. Nothing happened. Our artillery kept on firing – nothing still. The shriek of shrapnels and shells, smoke – din. A volley... – and another... we clung to the water. The three were coming our way now. “It’s over” – someone shouted. A volley... at us. God! Jesus! Mother! Bam-bam-bam-bam. A storm of stones, sand fell on our heads and backs. Smoke covered the trenches; silence – long, an eternity. ...Knee!... a quiet groan... I leaped out of the trench, over the fence – and into the fields. Dropping to the ground when the shriek of bullets broke the silence, up and on again. I got out of the airfield and stood against a wall. The artillery was at it still. Zing! Something wheezed at my feet. A shrapnel of an AA round. The raid lasted over an hour. Siren... All clear. The aftermath is sad. Bombs were dropped on trenches and living quarters. About 20 killed, French and Poles fallen together. One bomb hit a pit – 6 men down. A few huts were turned to debris. This is just the beginning. What’s next? God only knows. They probably attacked Belgium and Holland. We are here with no masks and no helmets. Ready – to die. Our pilots have no aircraft, we have no weapons. Some training. 30 pilots to 1 banged-up Potez. The Finnish squadron is ready – but without aircraft.

 
Lunch passed quietly. I went back to my hut, packed my things into a sack and a case. Our hut looks pretty good – not a pane left in the windows, walls peppered with shrapnel and shells. I am writing a request for a sergeant. Alarm!!! Sirens. I dropped everything and took off. Over trenches, fences, the field, to the city. Everyone bolted, none stayedin the airfield. Ah-hah! Here comes one. AA pounds at him... he’s gone into the clouds. Wheez – bam bam, burst. He’s gone... well-well, I think, this isn’t a good place, time to go. I went to the cinema – it’s got thick walls. A pretty big group of the polonaise was there already. We stayed a while until “all clear” was sounded. I walked slowly back to the airfield. Ambulances carried away the wounded. There were 6. One died. The poor fellows had been out in the field and there they were hit.

 
14th June 1940 - The Germans have reached the outskirts of Paris.

 
17th June 1940 - The situation changes from one hour to the next. The Germans have broken through the front and are pushing south, towards Lyon, they are 180 km north of us. A new government in France.  Marshal Pétain has become the dictator and Weygand his deputy. Everyone has received orders: to stay where they are and defend themselves. Our training group is in a jam. We are just a handful, 280 men. We’ve been organised into companies, platoons, teams.

 
In the afternoon we prepare arms and ammunition and are to take positions by the river. Capt Chrzanowski is my platoon commander and I have a team of 12 men. Good men. We are ready for anything. To stop tanks without cannons is a difficult task. One disaster is followed by another. At 1400 hours we heard: France asks Hitler for peace. At 1600 we received orders to get ready to leave. I am ready. Where to? In what direction?  Time will tell. This morning, we were in splendid spirits, when we knew we would finally take up arms and stand up to fight. And now? we are in despair. I hate the French for this.

 
Oh, last night was awful. I went to sleep early, since we were to be up at three. Then there was a change. We were at the train station at ten.  We waited until midnight. Then we were allowed to sleep, wherever everyone could, since we might have to pick up and go any time.

 
Now, when I write this, I am on the train. It’s pouring cats and dogs and the train is stopped in St. Etienne. Where are they taking us? We know nothing. Last night there was talk that the Germans had taken Lyon.  We’ve been given guns. The French are not fighting. Hitler ordered for France to be disarmed. I have a feeling that France will wake up from her sleep and start acting. She will die if she does not wake up. We passed a few trainloads of French troops. They have no guns, but barrels of wine are everywhere. The more wealthy ones load their things onto cars and flee.

 
The train is moving now, I am terribly sad. What’s next? God knows. Our train is speeding along full steam. We are going blindfolded, as Michał says. For now, we are headed for Lyon. We are 25 km from Lyon. Trains filled with the French, women, children, soldiers and nuns, pass by going south, and we are going north. The French wave to us enthusiastically. We have turned south.

 
It is now 5 in the afternoon. We are stopped at a crossroads. A black cloud over Lyon, there must be a fire. When will we move? No-one knows. 3 Junkers bombers have just flown overhead, but did not engage us.

 
I slept quite well last night – on the floor in the hallway. We are now going west, having left behind mountains and tunnels and entered a land of beautiful vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. War is absent from this part of France. People work in the fields as if nothing has happened. A funny sight – women dressed in trousers, carrying some apparatus on their backs and walking between the vines and ridding them of pest. I am well today, only terribly hungry. It is 12:00 and I’ve had nothing to eat since this morning. We are now stopped in Montpellier, maybe we’ll get something to eat here. We have passed through a great number of towns, travelled alongside the sea shore, and now our train is pushing west, with the Pyrenees passing us on the left. People wave to us, girls blow kisses. And the landscape is beautiful. Little old towns buried in the midst of vineyards. I bought a card at the station in Béziers, where we were served broth by nurses of the Red Cross.

 
I am sitting under one of the train cars, it’s so hot. Oh, ours is the fate of true exiles. Last night we arrived here – this is a mountain town, a small town in the mountains. We spent the night on the train. Reveille at 4 am. A chunk of bread with meat paste and a blind wait.

 
They’ve begun unloading the train and billeting. A colonel came at 11 and says, “The situation is bad. If we don’t get a train, boys, we’ll have to take to the road.” On that account, Michał talked me into a glass of wine. Five of us went, all from Vilnius, out for a glass of wine. The situation is bad, but the main thing is to keep our sense of humour. We’ve come up with a plan. We are 80km from the sea in a straight line. I have a map. We will be given guns and then it’s up on our feet again. We must stick together. Oh, here comes the colonel. Let me hear what he’s got to say. All right, we’re leaving at 1400 hrs. But he says to pack for a march.

 
The Germans are already where we were yesterday, they are there already. In St. Etienne. But there’s no wonder. Since the French give them way. They lay mines on bridges, but don’t detonate, and their roads are excellent, so the Germans can speed along. No one has stopped them yet. The main thing for them is to have food and wine. They have not a worry in the world. Well, we’ll see what happens. They won’t give us weapons. We wanted to be armed and go as infantry. But they won’t have that, either. Well, never mind. We keep waiting... it’s 1:30 in the afternoon, we leave in half an hour.

 
We are on the train again. I have a gun and 150 rounds... Colonel Iwaszkiewicz of central command and a French colonel have arrived. There was a brief farewell. The French colonel wanted to come with us, but could not. He bid us a warm farewell and wept, the poor fellow. I’ve packed some food, I’ve got ammunition, we wait. We will move on soon, we’re to get to the sea shore somewhere and board ships. Such are our orders. To leave France, since France has failed and surrendered to Germany.

 
We might encounter some surprises on land and on sea. Hitler is sure to try and hunt us down. Will France care at all if a few thousand Poles are killed? Not in the least. We could have boarded yesterday. Now it’ll be difficult, indeed, difficult!

Many thanks to Barbara Poulter for access to her father's documents and photos
Special thanks also to Kresy-Siberia who originally translated the documents

Friday, 7 April 2017

OSWALD WALDEMAR KRYDNER


The Abbreviated War Diary of Sgt Oswald Waldemar Krydner
Official Photographer of 304 Squadron
Part 1


Dedicated to his wife, Halina, whom he left behind in Poland before his epic journey to England and his wartime career as an official photographer to 304 Squadron, Polish Air Force in Exile for the duration of World War 2.  The full diary is as much a love story as it is a chronicle of events that happened to him during the course of this epic period of European and world history.  The pencil sketch below, was in this diary and was included in the full length version.  Whether drawn from memory or copied from a photograph, it shows his artistic skill and love for his then, and future, wife.

Twenty-five kilometres north-east of Płońsk a swarm of men in grey uniforms bustle around – they are the crews of the 41st Squadron from Toruń.  Unusually, three Dorniers flew overhead then, suddenly, from somewhere near Modlin, we heard the blast of bombs.  World War 2 had started.
 
Our planes waited at a hidden airfield a kilometre away.  Our commander briefed us on the situation but little else happened that day.  I had a short time to say goodbye to my wife, Halina.  The train crawled towards Warsaw. As we approached Modlin, the cars were climbing a hill on the bank of the Narew when the trailer broke away and rolled backwards; suddenly a crash, and we hit a boulder which saved us.  Repairs took two days.
We passed Modlin; barbed wire along the road and in the fields told us the enemy was near. We started flying the next day and hoped for a swift victory.  German losses were high and our machines returned safely.  Next day we saw nine Dorniers challenged by a single fighter but it was over quickly. 

Our soldiers were brave and courageous. You could do wonders, great feats of courage with such men. But our leaders had let us down: when it came to dropping bombs, to deploy the squadron,  they had no ability and no skill.

One of the aircraft came back, reporting a column of tanks. Six machines ready for flight, bombs on, crews dressed, rub their hands in excitement.  All is set but our commander waits for orders. We waited but no orders came until next day. So they took off with the bombs, wind in tails. One machine wheels up, another can’t even get off the ground. Four aircraft took off. They were back after an hour, no tanks were found.
Next to us were fighters.  Dorniers flew overhead, but they didn’t have orders, either. None came but our commanders had no initiative.  That night we couldn’t sleep, artillery roared continually and the shelling was getting closer. We were told tall tales - the Polish air force, alongside Britain, is bombing Berlin; the French army has crossed the Siegfried Line, etc. But the artillery was getting closer and the mass of refugees confirmed our suspicions that the Germans were coming.

That day we loaded our vehicles. There was a lot of equipment and few vehicles – we could not take everything at once. At last orders came.  We set off for Warsaw. The road was jammed with refugees, we crawled at snail speed.  At Modlin some of the cars unloaded and went back for the rest of the stuff but the boys could not wait; they set a Karaś and a Czapla on fire and, left. The same happened with the fighters, except many were captured.  We knew about the massacres, retreats, bombing of cities and unarmed civilians, and we left them our bombs.
We had been kind to those barbarians. What we saw was horrifying.  Dead horses and people, broken wagons, strewn by the roadside.
Wounded soldiers told us hair-raising stories; we reached Zielonka near Warsaw with the greatest difficulty with the roar of Dorniers overhead as they bombed Warsaw all day. Gunfire grew fainter and there were no fighters to be seen.  Warsaw groaned from explosions.
From our field, two Karaś and their crews never returned – they had perished with Lt Strejmik, Lt Kardasz, Cpl Janicki, Cpl Oleksiński, L/Cpl Szymański and L/Cpl Majewski. One day in an air raid two planes crashed in flames. The crew bailed out quite far away.  We were sure they were Germans. I had a light machine gun.  We hopped in a car and shot down the road like lightning; to shoot them right there, was all we wanted. We turned right, the road ended, so we ran across country.
We combed the forest for an hour before we found them. Too late. One of the plains was a Łoś. Two men had bailed, two were burned inside. Next to it was a Dornier – full of corpses.
Our car took us to Wołomin. The Germans found us that day.  I leaned back and started firing my machine gun. Others grabbed their guns, too. It was hot as hell. The wailing of Dorniers, the explosions, the rattle of guns and the shrill whistle of bullets all mixed together. A few bombs exploded very close and we had to drop to the ground. The German aim was poor;  a few bombs failed to explode.
We left that night and went towards Mińsk Mazowiecki.  We were safe in the woods, so we lingered for two days. The second night was my night patrol. At eight at night our unit left the forest for an airfield somewhere. Only we stayed guarding the stuff, mostly bombs.
I woke up the rest of my boys, calling an alert. I had two heavy guns and twelve light ones. Things might happen, German patrols might show up. And so we awaited dawn with guns in hand. All we heard were a few shots, but all was quiet.  It wasn’t until after 10:00 that Edek came with three cars. We were to drive through Mińsk, on the main road, the most exposed bit.
We didn’t make a kilometre when 24 Dorniers burst from over the woods. The cars stopped, men dived into a dyke. Suddenly, a hellish racket, all was dark and they started pounding. We could see nothing, 24 but soon the din died down, the whirr faded away. Laughing and joking, we climbed back into the cars.
They’re coming! Run! The bastards had turned back and were coming straight at us. We took to the field, as fast as we could. They were flying low to get at the cars. I was on my back and saw six bombs peel off; they missed; the bombs fell just by the road on the south side.  But it wasn’t over. They turned and strafed us.  The raid ended.  All of my boys had made it.  We moved on; there were no more raids. We passed Mińsk and an hour later reached a forest and our squadron. The Siennice estate. The wheeze of a bomb and a familiar bang. They must have been on their way back from a mission with a few bombs left. They started strafing us but we were unhurt.
We didn’t stay long; an order came to move to Brest.  Kostek took off in an RWD, and crashed. He came out all right.  We couldn’t take the bombs, so we blew them up.  My car was last. Dyszlewski, in the jeep, was to be the courier. Our route led through Łuków, Parczew, Wisznice, Sławatycze, Domaczewo, Brest.
Thousands of wagons and people, filled the road. It was rough riding in the trailer in the dark. I picked up a woman and a man who were fainting from exhaustion. They had fled from Toruń. I gave them what I had, a meal and some rest. They wanted to get to Włodawa, so I took them along. I took in a few wounded soldiers, too.  My trailer was full. What a night that was! Burned villages and towns, corpses on the road, broken wagons.
We came to a town I thought we’d never make it through. The whole town was in flames. We were driving down a narrow street, houses burning on both sides. People running from burning buildings, women and children.  All night I stood on the steps of the lorry, guiding the driver so he wouldn’t hit anyone or fall into a bomb crater. Near Parczew, a colonel stopped us.  Again, tanks are close, we have to make an obstacle. So I pulled over, we got our guns, someone gave us anti-tank grenades and we took our positions. We waited until dawn, they must have taken a different route. We started the car and moved on.
We passed Parczew.  Twice they came close, but didn’t attack.  The road was empty now so we drove fast. I wanted to get to Domaczew and rest there. But Martoś objected that we were exposing ourselves, so we pulled into a forest. We had two wheels to repair on the trailer and one on the Renault.  A few men got to work, the rest I took to the village to look for food. We met very kind people there. They fed us and gave us some for the boys and wouldn’t take a penny.
We had to move.  Somewhere ahead more bombs exploded, but that was it.  My tyres began to give.  Every 20 km I had to stop for repairs.  That made it harder and delayed us.  But it couldn't be helped - I had no spare.  Late in the night we crossed a bridge on the Bug in Domaczewo.  Artillery pounded from the north and south.  The enemy had us in a pincer.  As we went over the bridge, I saw engineers with explosives and heavy machine guns set up on the other side.
The Bridge at Domaczewo (now Damachava, Belarus)
just before WW2
Past Domaczewo, I turned north, towards Brest; we had only 46 km to go.  The night was dark but  the glow of artillery fire rose up over Brest and every now and then a car bolted past us like a mad man going back toward Wlodawa.  One stopped and asked for a password.  The driver was a reserve lieutenant, sent to Deblin for petrol.  He told us our flight had probably gone towards Kowel, as they were not in Brest.  Fifteen km from Brest I met one of our cars, going the other way - a technical officer was making off. 'Turn round, it's closed off.  Past Wlodawa, in Koty, is where we regroup.'
 
On our way south to Wlodawa, fog had risen up from the swamp so thick you could barely see the edge of the road.  I saw a few women literally dropping with exhaustion.  I picked up the women, put them where I could.  They were young girls, Warsovians, all eight of them.  They had been posted near Nieszawa and ordered to get to Lvov.  On the way, some officers took their car and they had to walk.
 
30 km before Wlodawa my last tyre popped and the axle bent.  My little trailer was doomed.  I unhooked it, grabbed the equipment and the most expensive things and burned the papers.  I drove past Wlodawa, now the road was packed.  The fog was still thick, so no air raids that day. 
 
I pulled into the Koty Estate.  There were two lorries and a car and only one technical officer, Dyszlewski.  I found him in the barn, dead asleep, and his men sleeping next to him.  I found a driver for the car, and two other men and left the estate.  Carefully looking around, I took what I could.  Now on to Domaczewo, full speed. 
 
When we got to Koty, all was ready, sadly I found out our last Karas had been left in Brest.  We had no more aircraft.  Our troops were to concentrate on the San and Bug line.  We were going towards Kowel now.  We were passed by taxis and limousines with staff officers and their wives, even their puppies.  Meanwhile, wounded soldiers with no one to attend them, trudged along the roads on foot.  I picked up as many as I could squeeze in. They told me terrible things about crushed Divisions, fleeing commanders and officers, the whole situation. 
 
When we stopped, the ladies made us meals and coffee.  We passed villages and towns.  In one of the towns, I met Flight 42, a few of them were wounded.  In Luck - a nightmare.  Troop convoys, jammed streets.  We were barely making any progress. for all the traffic.  We finally got near the crossroad.  There was a crowd of staff officers,  a general was yelling something, waving his arms.  It was our turn to be let through.
 
The lorries moved.  Suddenly - 'Stop! Stop!' yelled the officers, pouncing on our car with their pistols.  It's easy to stop a car, not so with a lorry.  I was standing on the step on one side, Kryslak on the other.  Two officers pounced on me, shouting "Stop!" and jamming their pistols in my ribcage.  The driver slammed on the brake.  The Renault screeched to a halt.  The general jumped to us like a rooster looking for a fight.
 
'Where's your driver?' he yelled.
'Here,' replied Adzinski, putting his head out.
It was less than a second.  The general aimed his pistol and fired at the driver.
 
Then, "Go! Go!" yelled the same voices.  The Renault moved on, so he's alive.  I run around the car, open the door.  Is anyone hurt?  One of the ladies sitting next to the driver - I saw her pale face, mouth open, the poor thing is holding on to her neck, blood trickling.  The driver couldn't stop, all the cars were moving now.  One of the chaps held the torch, I tore open her blouse.  She'd been shot in the shoulder and chin.  Thankfully, it was not serious. 
 
Two hours later we were on the open road.  Now, 15km to go.  The road almost empty, we'll be there soon.  No man, no sound, all is quiet.  Must be the commander's done something again.  I'm furious.  What am I going to do with this wounded woman?  It's night time, dark all around.  I found a haystack by the road.  I made a place for the ladies to lie down.  The wounded one felt better.
 
That day I got a different lorry, a Chevrolet loaded with ammunition, 18 men and a machine gun.  I was told unofficially  that we were going to Romania to pick up planes.  We left at nightfall and made our way to Rowne where we went on towards Kolomyja via Tarnopol and Zamosc. 
 
We trudged on, through woods and Ukrainian villages where Ukrainian bands lie in wait.  One day we saw planes overhead.  We were sure they were British.  But, they were Soviet.  I saw the same machines coming.  A shower of bombs.  They are not English.  I heard from an infantry officer that Russia had marched into Poland.  We were in their grip; German tanks on one side, Bolshevik ones on the other.  They wanted to cut us off.  I was ordered to drive full speed through Kolomyja to Kuty.
 
That night Ukrainians sprayed us with bullets out of the woods.  We paid them back in the same coin and kept going.  We arrived in Kuty on 18th September and I drove across the border.  We moved in an unknown direction, going where we were told by Romanian soldiers.  And so Poland ceased to exist within 18 days.
 
I hated the Romanians from the very first day.  We pulled into the town of Storozyniec.  Here we were disarmed.  Pistols we hid where we could, most of us between our legs, inside our pants.
 
Officers and pilots were taken in light cars, soldiers by train, and all in an unknown direction.  Heavy vehicles were kept back.  We stayed in Storozyniec two days.  In the early morning we were off.  The weather was nasty.  Endless rain, awful roads.  And so we drove across Romania, stopping only to rest.  We had a longer stopover in Falticeni.  Here again they divided us - air force this way, armoured forces that way. 
 
That day, we moved on, we had no food to eat, tired, exhausted by the constant rattle on the bumpy roads, we were driving towards Bucharest.  Once in a town we were given a piece each of some nasty sausage and on we went.  We lived on tomatoes, eggs and walnuts.
 
Past Buzau, Ploesti.  We pull into Bucharest, quite a pretty town.  Beautiful lake, lawns, pretty buildings and monuments.  We drove through the town to Carol's airport; here we felt welcome.  They fed us and gave us a comfortable place to sleep. 
 
On the following day we were given 50 lei each and taken to the train station.  A Romanian officer said we were all going to one camp where all the airmen were.  The train moved.  We were riding in cargo cars.  With a small compass and a map, I soon knew where we were going.  To Ploesti, then Constanta. 
 
The train stopped at a little station 80km past Ploesti.  Urziceni station.  We line up and march.  I stuck with Edek.  We got a tiny clay hut, damp and airless. Bedbugs on the walls.  A cot and some dirty rags.  A kind old lady came in with a lamp and a girl of about 16. They brought us some fried eggs and bread.
 
One day an officer appeared among us. Secret meetings started in the lodgings, we began to organise. I was called into a meeting – there were column commanders and an officer. I was given a serious task; I took an oath, received my instructions and money and got to work. I was to photograph 1700 men, passport photos, and deliver the prints at an appointed time. I had to extremely cautious. The place was swarming with gendarmes and Gestapo; it was easy to get caught and then all would be lost.  So I set about taking pictures in daytime, developing the film and making prints at night. Our little quarters turned into a photo studio. I minded nothing, driven by the hope of breaking out of here. We were well organised.
 
We were awakened by a knock on our door. We leapt to our feet, I hid my rubber club in my coat, Edek opened the door. Large figures cloaked in black stepped inside. I knew them immediately – our officer and a captain from Bucharest. The first box of passports had arrived. Twelve of them were for the boys of our column. That night, the lucky ones left the camp. Kryslak and Lisiak were the first to go. They didn’t have much time. I woke them at 11:00pm, they dressed in civilian clothes, we said a quick farewell – they were gone.
 
Fervent work began.  We sold uniforms, bought civilian things, and every few days a group left us. The Romanians caught a whiff of something happening. They held roll calls and took attendance by name.  Imagine this – Monday – assembly.  We line up by column in the big market square. A colonel, major, a few officers and a whole pack of gendarmes arrive, all Romanians. In the middle, a table with books. They start roll-call.  As each one is called, he is to walk past the table and stand on the other side. What fools those Romanians are – with all those imbeciles standing there, we ran our game right in front of their eyes. All told, 400 people are missing, but everyone is present.  The Romanians were stupefied: they could see our ranks wither, but when they did a roll call, everyone was there.
 
One day we noticed a number of suspicious types watching us all the time. The Gestapo, of course. We moved our night-time meetings to another place. Now everything was done at the Red Cross ladies’ place. The Romanians cut off our connection with Bucharest.  Sentries patrolling roads and train cars were making our work difficult. The Lieutenant brought his sister from Czerniowce. A Romanian citizen, she became our courier.
 
More and more people were slipping out. Strong detachments of gendarmerie arrived, wrapping our camp in a tight net of sentries. You couldn’t move and not run into a blue uniform.  Daily searches of our quarters for weapons and civilian clothing often ended in a thrashing for the gendarmes. Hatred welled up from day to day. One of the boys was arrested and beaten in the cells.  We thrashed the captain of gendarmerie in return.
 
Another time a few boys got locked up; we broke into the jail and let them out. That was our daily entertainment. Disarming gendarmes and kicking them in the mud was our pastime. But I was completely consumed with my work. Only a few free evenings could be spared for night-time blue-hunting escapades.
 
I sold my damaged camera and the rest of my things. Edward and I bought civilian clothes. I worked out an escape plan and we decided to keep together, Edek, Adam and I. We were the last ones left of our flight and since our papers had been shipped out together, our passports should also arrive together. Now we only had to wait...
 
I was walking down a road one evening – someone whispered, “The courier is here!” – without a word, I was on my way back to the lieutenant. My heart was pounding. I knocked on the door and entered the dim room. Our lieutenant was sitting at the table, surrounded by unit commanders. Silence fell when he pulled out a folder from under the sofa. I waited, holding my breath, straining ears. Names were read, followed by “ready”, “no”. The list ended, but Krydner had not been called out. Edek and Adam had. God, how disappointed I was! I went back home to announce the news.  We parted that night. It was pouring, the night was dark. They left at 11:00.
 
The Romanians brought in a few more platoons of gendarmes and even the army came to keep us in. They manned all train stations, highways and byways. Only a bird could break out of the camp. And still... they kept running off. No escape route was impossible – in heaps of corn on wagons, in freight cars, some even pretended to have caught venereal diseases. A chap that got sick would legally be taken to hospital in Bucharest and was free. I bribed a Romanian – a poor Russian worker, actually. He helped our boys leave Urziceni and the Romanians were losing their minds.
 
Once we had a visit from a Romanian general. We weren’t covering up any more. At assembly, we reported all the absent as deserters. I thought the general would blow his top. We were doing our job. I got an urgent assignment to make some lists. It took me a few nights.
 
One day, November 4th, there was a knocking on the door. A messenger.
 
‘Hurry, the lieutenant wants you!’  My heart raced, blood rushed into my face... he was holding my passport.
 
‘I have nothing to say,’ he said, ‘you know everything. There are three roads: prison, death, freedom...’
 
I could care less, I was beaming with joy, thrilled to be standing before an open door at last. Who knows what waits on the other side...? I got my passport and some money, turned over command, said my farewells and ran home. The passport, tucked in under my shirt, was burning my skin. Back home, I got ready. I was to take one soldier with me. The night was coming in leaps and bounds, dark and rainy. The night of 5th November.

Many thanks to Barbara Poulter for access to her father's documents and photos
Special thanks also to Kresy-Siberia who originally translated the documents