Friday, 21 January 2011


This is a completely re-written version of a posting which appeared here in October 2010. It includes the answer to the mystery of why he was not recorded in the crash of R1072, how he escaped from Poland and a lot more personal information supplied from his own family records by his niece.

He was a pilot, born on 31st March 1918 at Zagorzycach near Krakow.

In 1936 he qualified as a glider pilot at Ustianowa and in 1939 he was assigned to the Air Reserve Officers School at Sadkow near Radom and later the Air Observers School in Deblin.

It was here, at 5am on 1st September 1939, that he had his introduction to war as the bombs began to fall. He spent the first hours of the war helping an ambulance driver to rescue the victims and bring the injured to hospital.

Afterwards, the cadets were ordered to get out of Poland any way they could and he set off for Romania on foot. He was a newly commissioned officer and so he stripped all insignia from his uniform and disposed of anything, including his ceremonial sword, that might identify him as an officer. Eventually he acquired old clothes from a group of peasants and was able to get rid of his uniform altogether.

He was half way to Romania when the Russians came and then he changed direction and headed for Wilno (now Vilnius). At one point the group he was travelling with were hiding in woodland but they were surrounded and captured by the Russians. All the men of military age were loaded into cattle cars on a train and were taken away but they had no idea where they were going. When they reached Bialystok, they had to change trains and he and one other bolted and jumped onto a train that was heading in the opposite direction. When the conductor came, Henryk gave him a few scraps of paper which he knowingly punched and moved on. Fortunately the train was heading for Wilno and so they made it to Henryk’s parents home in that city.

In the course of time, he met up with his brothers Stasiek and Jozef and they remained in Wilno for a couple of months, leading a more or less normal life under the Russians and in spite of a curfew. After investigation they found that Polish airmen were being evacuated from Kaunas in Lithuania so they went there, in December 1939, and easily acquired false papers. All three of them obtained evacuation papers to go to Sweden. The escape plan was to take a train to Latvia and then fly to Sweden. On the day they were due to go, the commander refused to allow three brothers to travel on the same aircraft and Jozef was forced to wait for the next plane. German threats to shoot down neutral Swedish planes carrying Polish airmen ensured that there was no next plane. The two brothers spent Christmas Eve in Stockholm and were then flown to London and on to France where they joined the Polish Air Force at Lyon-Bron.

After the fall of France he escaped to England and joined the Polish forces at the Blackpool Depot, where he trained as a radio operator. On 20th August 1941 he was promoted to Flying Officer and posted to 304 Squadron. On 24th April 1942 he made his first combat mission to bomb the docks at Rostock. He flew 47 missions over Germany and Occupied Europe and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

According to the list of Tadeusz Krzystek, he was on board R1072 when it crashed on 11th July 1942 but he is not listed as being on that aircraft in other sources and is not mentioned on the Squadron ORB. For a long time that was a mystery but the answer was provided by his niece. He was a passenger on that aircraft and was just hitching a lift. Apparently a door had been left open and he sensed that something was wrong; it didn’t feel or sound right so he jumped out before take off.

After leaving the plane he said it was taking too long to get up; the left wing dipped and hit a tree and there was an explosion and a fire. He assisted with the rescue and attended the funeral of one of the dead. He was not officially recorded as having been on board.

Henryk, second from left, with other Polish Airmen
In the summer of 1943 he finally achieved his ambition and was sent for pilot training; he qualified in October 1944. During his war service he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari as well as the Cross of Valour three times and the British DFC.

After the war he settled in Britain and remained with the RAF as an instructor until December 1948 when he was recruited, on a three year contract, into the Pakistan Air Force. During 1948/49 he fought in the first Kashmir War. He was in a transport squadron based at Peshawar, flying Douglas Dakotas. After his contract expired he worked as a pilot for Orient Airways (now known as Pakistan International Airlines).

In 1952 he married a Glasgow born, naturalised American woman and, the following year, he moved to America where he worked as a salesman for Encyclopaedia Britannica, an insurance salesman and a bus driver. In front of his house in America he always flew the Polish and American flags.

On 28th November 1992 celebrations were held, by the Polish Embassy in San Francisco, for the bicentenery of the inception of the Order of Virtuti Militari. He was one of four Cavaliers of the Order to be awarded honorary citizenship of the State of California.

He had three brothers; Stasiek was killed on Liberator EW278 of 1586 Flight (Squadron Code GR-U) which was supplying Warsaw during the uprising when it was shot down by a night fighter over Senta in Jugoslavia on the night of 11th September 1944. Edek who was an Officer in the Armia Krajowa and was executed by firing squad by the Russians in 1944 and Jozef (Lutek) who was captured by the Russians and spent two years in Siberia before he finally got to England and fought with the Royal Air Force until the end of the war.

He died in North Scituate, Providence, Rhode Island, USA on 1st July 2006 and, in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were buried in the Military Cemetery at Warsaw on 12th September 2006. He was accorded full military honours, including a gun salute, in both countries.
Photographs courtesy of Henryk's niece, Helena

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