Friday, 11 January 2013


Jozef Stendera 

He was born on 6th March 1918 in Bochum, Germany and, after completing his education in Poland, he trained in electrical engineering.  Whilst training, he organised a gliding club at the college and took A and B glider pilot certificates.  Following this he enrolled for military training at Bydgoszcz in 1935, qualifying as a radio mechanic in 1938.

Because of his diminutive size, he was concerned that he would not be accepted for this training.  In his own words:                      

"I never liked medicals, but I decided to attend.  I managed to get through most of the difficult tests but, at the end of 'tortures' I had to go before the Chief Medical Officer.  After examining my reports, he took a long look at me and said "I will pass you, on the 'condition' that you go and see the School Commandant and ask him whether he will accept you with your height." - I was only five feet two inches tall in my shoes.

So, I went to look for this Commandant and found him standing with a few other officers around him. There were too many of them for my liking, so I lost my courage and, after walking in three large circles around them, I went to do my exams instead.  I passed these with 'flying colours', as I found out later on - fourth place out of a thousand!  Eventually the time arrived for the final results. However, the examining board realised that they didn't have my medical papers and so
they sent me back to see the chief doctor.                              

It was late in the afternoon and the final results were to be announced shortly.  In order to speed
things up, they decided to give me an escort and told me to follow the Sergeant Major, all six feet two inches of him!

The problem was that he was on a bicycle, whereas I was on foot, and the medical centre was on the other side of the aerodrome, half a mile away.  By the time we got there I was a bit out of breath. When the chief medical officer looked at me and noticed I was rather 'overheated', he asked me why.  I told him about my 'quick journey' across the airfield.  He laughed and asked if I had seen the School Commandant.  I said "Yes" and fortunately he didn't ask whether I had actually spoken to him!  Anyway I passed my medicals and, in August 1935, I became a pupil at this school in Bydgoszcz, which took three long and sometimes painful, years to complete."

He was then posted to the 1st Air Regiment at Warsaw, moving to Terespol aerodrome near Lublin in Eastern Poland where he fought against the invading Russians.  He was taken prisoner but escaped and made his way to Lwow where joined the Armia Krajowa.  Whilst on the run from the Germans, and Russians he used the name Stenderowski to protect his family from being rounded up and shot or sent to the Russian Gulags or German Internment Camps.

In Jozef’s case, this was considerably more difficult because, before the re-establishment of the Polish state, his father had been awarded an Iron Cross for his bravery in fighting the Russians during the first World War – when fighting in the (German) Prussian Army!  At this time nationalities changed with border changes and Jozef was fluent in both Polish and German.

In June 1940 he was injured in a gun battle with Soviet border guards whilst trying to cross into Hungary.  He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour and sent to Siberia.  He subsequently escaped and  rejoined the Polish forces.  He then made his way to England by way of Persia (now Iran), Iraq, India and South Africa.  This included being torpedoed on the Empress of Canada on the way from Durban to England; he arrived in Liverpool in April 1943 and was sent to the Polish Depot at Blackpool.

After several months of wireless and gunnery training and operational training with 6 OTU, he was posted to 304 Squadron on 12th January 1945 at RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides where he was engaged in anti-submarine warfare.  In September 1945 he moved to 16 Ferry Unit where he delivered Avro Ansons and Vickers Warwicks to Egypt and remained in service until 1948.  During his service he was awarded the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords and the Air Medal twice.

After his demobilisation he settled in England and worked in an engineering factory: he died in Ipswich, Suffolk on 19th October 1999.

With my very special thanks to Jozef’s family for giving me access to their personal papers, artefacts and photographs.  There is much more to come, as soon as some documents have been translated and integrated into the text. 

Except where information is already in the public domain, all detailed text and photographs are ©K E J Bailey 2012 as sole heir of Jozef Stendera.