Thursday, 3 November 2011



He was an electrician, son of Vojciech Bogatek and Aleksandra Modzielewska and was born on 2nd August 1906 in Warsaw. It was obvious that war was coming and, at the beginning of 1939, he was conscripted into the Air Force where he rose to the rank of sergeant and was involved in the September Campaign until Poland was overwhelmed by the combined might of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. He was captured by the Russians and was part of the mass deportation of Poles to Russia and described how he often had to sleep in the snow and had to get out of his frozen greatcoat in the mornings and physically remove it from the ground. He also describes how he was marched around the country escorted by Russian soldiers – which suggests that he was in enforced labour at the logging camps, one of the main uses of prisoners of war but, in reality, slave labour.

In June 1941, Germany turned on Russia and most of the Polish prisoners were released to join an army being raised by General Anders in the Middle East.  This mass release came under pressure from General Sikorski and Winston Churchill.
We can only speculate on his route but the main route out of the Soviet Union was via Kermine in Uzbekistan, boarding ship at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) in Turkmenistan and crossing the Caspian sea to Pahlavi in Iran (now Bandar e Anzali). After many months of hard labour and living on a totally inadequate diet, he was in pretty poor condition. In his own words, his knees were bigger than his thighs and he could not believe that the emaciated body he saw in the mirror was his own. The gaunt looking face above says it all – suffering in capital letters. The above photograph was taken soon after his release by the Russians.

After a time spent recuperating from the illnesses that they all carried and getting used to proper food (many died from the sudden change to an over rich diet from starvation rations they had received in Russia), the men were taken overland to Palestine (now Israel) or to the Persian port of Bandar Shahpur (now Bandar Khomeini). The latter seems more likely in Marian’s case as there was a troopship service to the far east – possibly the SS City of Canterbury – which would take them to Bombay where they would tranship to another vessel, probably the SS Awatea which they would take via Cape Town, South Africa. The ship then routinely sailed far out into the Atlantic Ocean, up the West Coast of Ireland then around the north of Ulster to Glasgow.  The Awatea was capable of 23.5 knots and was considered fast enough to sail without a naval escort - it was one of the fastest civilian ships afloat at the time.
This is more than just speculation as Marian’s widow remembers that he came on a New Zealand troopship (of which there were not many –the New Zealand Navy was only formed in 1941) and the SS Awatea was a New Zealand ship.  This and the other vessels and the ports mentioned were all used in the early movement of Polish airmen to Britain from the Middle East.  Like all the others, at Glasgow he would be fed, given a gift of ten shillings (50p) from the King, and then put on a train to Blackpool which was the reception and assessment centre for the Polish Air Force in exile.  The photograph above shows the improvement after decent food and rest had taken the place of malnourishment and hard physical work.

After further training on British aircraft he was posted to 304 Squadron and spent the rest of the war maintaining their aircraft, often working 20 hours a day to keep them flying.  His time with the squadron coincided with their time in Coastal Command as submarine hunters and he was posted to places as bleak as RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, RAF St Eval in Cornwall and RAF Dale in Wales – all beautiful in summer but inclement in winter.  And all necessary in the fight against the U-Boats.  After demobilisation in 1946 he served for two years in the Polish Resettlement Corps.
A group of 304 Squadron ground crew – Marian is second from the left in the back row

For his wartime services he was awarded the British Defence Medal and the War Medal often, (and wrongly) known as the Victory Medal and the Polish Air Force Active Service Medal.

In 1948 he made the decision to emigrate to Australia. On arrival he was taken from Sydney to a refugee camp in Bathurst, New South Wales . The accommodation had no heating and the temperature was below freezing every night. He said they were all suffering badly from the cold which was something they had not expected in Australia.

Travelling within Australia, he found the vast distances, and the fact that they could travel hundreds of miles without seeing another person, overwhelming However there were good things at which he and his weary travellers also viewed with astonishment. They were allowed off the ship at the different ports and when they first arrived in Australia they could not believe the food available to them – they could order a steak in a café for very little money and it was huge and of the best quality. To those who had been prisoners of war in the worst possible conditions, food was never again taken for granted.

Although not easy for some years, life continued in Australia. Then, in 1950, while he was working on the railway at Bowning in NSW, he saw a little boy and his mother struggling with a suitcase. It was Betty Weekes and her son John. Marian’s gentlemanly offer of help, led to friendship and the first real stability in his life since before the war. Betty and Marian married in Yass, New South Wales, on 25 June 1952 and that year, they moved to Cooma where, in time, four children were born to to them; Joe, Robert, Jane and Andrew. And it was here that this picture was taken in happier days when all the conflict and suffering of his youth was over.
It was at Cooma that Marian again picked up his electrician’s trade, at the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and, like most of the European settlers in Australia, he was a very hard worker and never missed a day’s work. He worked on the Snowy Scheme until his retirement in 1971. He then worked part-time for Ortner Electrics in Cooma until he was 80 years old.

As a man, Marian was most known for his integrity; he was a competent tradesman and was highly respected by all who knew him. He kept contact with war-time friends during his lifetime. Marian had a keen intellect, open mind, wide knowledge and interest in many subjects including history, music, philosophy and science. One of the greatest gifts he bestowed upon his children was to treat them as intellectual equals from when they were very young and the house was always filled with lively debate on interesting topics.

As a man who had a very diverse life which included both world wars, a great deal of travel, a long single life, a long married life, several children and grandchildren, Marian had a deep wisdom about life which was often mixed with his dry wit. On one occasion he was asked if he thought life was fair and he said he had noticed that there were always compensations in life. For instance, if you see a man with one short leg – if you look closely – you’ll notice that the other one is always a little bit longer. Perhaps humour born of the difficult times in his life – a life that deprived him of everything as a young man, even a birth certificate. See the picture below of the military issue replacement.
Marian remained active, walked every day, played his violin, drove his car and had his keen intellect and all his faculties intact until the very end of his life on earth on 27 February 1993 when he sadly died of a cardiac arrest .  He is buried in the Cooma Lawn Cemetery.
All photographs courtesy of Betty Bogatek

Betty as a young woman
I have the sad duty to inform you of the death of Betty May Bogatek nee Weekes who was born on 30th September 1923 at Burrinjuck in New South Wales. She died peacefully at her home in Cooma, on 29th September 2014, the day before her 91st birthday.   As a child, her father had to follow work wherever it was available and they lived in various places across Queensland and New South Wales where they were building hydro-electric dams.

As a young woman she worked as a cook; she lived in Sydney for a time where she met and married and had a little boy, John.  Her first marriage ended and she and John returned to Bowning to live with her family.

She met Marian Bogatek, one day on Bowning railway station when he offered to carry her suitcase. In time, they got to know each other and eventually married on 25th  June 1952 in Yass. It was also in that year that they moved to Cooma. Together they had five children, ten grandchildren and one great grandchild after a long and happy marriage.

She was an accomplished dressmaker and trained pattern maker and made many of their clothes. She also did paid dressmaking.  As a mature student, she went to Cooma Technical College for three years to do secretarial studies and in those days it covered book keeping, shorthand, typing and all sorts of business studies.  Over the years, she also did courses on pottery, painting, writing, the Internet and various other things.  During that time she also worked briefly as a housemaid at the Marlborough Motel and longer term, as a cleaner in Cooma North.

Betty just a few days before she died
She loved to paint and she painted many pictures and always of beautiful things, flowers and birds and things like that.  She could write well too and one of her stories about the Snowy Mountains Authority is held as part of a collection at the National Library in Canberra.

Two of Betty's paintings

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