Friday, 5 February 2010


He was born on 14th February 1922 in Ostroleka, 100 kms north of Warsaw , the seventh child of the family. He was brought up on the family farm at Susk Stary. He was educated locally right up to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Then the farm and the family found themselves first under the Nazi German occupation force from the west and then under Soviet Russian forces of occupation from the east.

In June 1941 the family was deported to Siberia . They were put on a train in cattle wagons without food. The journey lasted for two weeks until they reached Topchikha, not far from the city of Novosibirsk . There, KGB officials told them they were second class citizens and they were not to mix socially with local Russians. They were not prisoners but they worked "under direction" on a huge collective farm on a starvation diet - right through the winter of 1941 when temperatures reached -30 degrees centigrade. 

In mid 1942 he managed to slip away without any travel permits to try to join the Polish Free Army at Tashkent in the very south of the Soviet Union, today's Uzbekistan . Several times as he moved from train to train he just, almost miraculously, avoided arrest - which would certainly have meant a concentration camp in the Gulags; he lost his wallet and more importantly his identity papers. But he had that real sense that God was with him and that he was being protected. On and off trains for a week, with only fruit he could scavenge to eat, he crossed present day Kazakhstan until he finally reached the city of Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

This was to be the new start for his war. He was issued with new identity papers but because of a clerical error he found himself, like our Queen, with two birthdays – his official birthday 15th February as stated on his identity document and his real birthday 14th February

He joined up in Tashkent and he signed on for pilot training. He was sent to a transit training camp but conditions became awful as his group waited on the Caspian Sea coast for a crossing to Persia (now Iran ). No shelter, horrendous sun beating down and they were sold badly polluted drinking water which brought on serious dysentery from which he thought he would die - and a number of his comrades did die there. When he reached Palhavi in Persia he was almost unconscious; but an army buddy carried him the four kilometres to the camp hospital.

Later and still somewhat weak he travelled over the hills from Persia into Iraq where he found the Arabs friendly and welcoming. Next a train down to the port of Basra where he was seriously ill again with jaundice. Then a boat down the Gulf to Pakistan. For two months he was in Karachi before being put on a boat to Bombay in India . Finally he was put on a vessel to England via Durban in South Africa . It was the `Empress of Canada' passenger liner turned into a troop ship. It carried this Polish army and air force contingent as well as Greek refugees. However travelling up the coast of West Africa it was torpedoed by the Italian submarine, Leonardo da Vinci, and on 13 March 1943, he was shipwrecked. Defective lifeboats led to 400 deaths but Dad found himself on board an over-full lifeboat and he watched as the Empress of Canada went down like the Titanic before his eyes. For four days the ocean current took them 200 miles through shark-infested waters until they were sighted, picked up and taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone - and eventually on to Liverpool.

He, like the proverbial cat, had nine lives and he'd probably gone through at least five before reaching Britain at the age of 21. There followed billeting at the Polish Depot in Blackpool where he learned English; then Cranwell for radio telegraphy training.

He first flew on old Wellington bombers where yet again he had a narrow escape over the Solway Firth in Scotland when the plane nearly hit a mountain on a night training exercise. For the rest of the war he was with 304 (Polish) Squadron, part of Coastal Command, based first at RAF Benebecula in the Outer Hebrides off the West coast of Scotland and then at RAF St Eval in  Cornwall, two very remote outposts with few amenities and Arctic weather in winter.  He served as an air gunner and radio operator.

He and his wife Jean married in 1947 and after his demobilisation he was offered a training course as a Painter and Decorator.  He soon set up in business on his own, with a handcart and with Len his apprentice, trading as `Ted Fieldon'. He went on to become a painting and decorating contractor employing over 20 men at one stage. In 1963, together with his cousin Joseph, he bought Preston's bakery in Normanton High Street. With his insistence on investment in modern ovens and baking equipment it became a successful enterprise.

His first 12 years in Britain were really years in exile from Poland ; but when it became clear that the Communist regime was there to stay he applied for British citizenship and, like his sons, enjoyed dual - British and Polish – nationality. Yet, as early as 1959, with great courage he travelled overland to visit his family in Poland . Following warnings from the Foreign Office neither he nor his wife were really sure he would be able to get back safely. But he did; and in the early 1960s he twice took the whole family to Poland in a Ford Thames dormobile. He eventually saved up to have a house built in Warsaw and from the mid 1970s till the end of the 1990s he spent almost every summer holidaying in his former homeland of Poland.

He had many health crises over the years with angina, an aneurism, terrible stomach ulcers, and bouts of pneumonia and it's a remarkable feat to have reached 87 years. Some would put it down to the golf which he loved and played several times a week till almost the very end.  Bronchial pneumonia exacerbated by emphysema and long term lung damage finally overcame him and he died on 16th October 2009 at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, Yorkshire.

The photographs are by kind permission of his son, Julian Filochowski

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