He was born on 29th September 1919 in Rakowice, (site of the original air base at Krakow) near Ilawa and the family later moved to Lebcz, near Wladyslawowa, Pomerania, on the south coast of the Baltic Sea. He received a primary education at Puck and further education in crafts and industry at Gdynia. He qualified as a locksmith at that establishment. His family were of aristocratic descent – the family name being Ostoja-Owsiany; his father Tadeusz was an agricultural inspector and his mother was Jadwiga nee Marwicz.
In 1937 he went to work in the DWL experimental aircraft workshop where RWD-17 and RWD-21 planes were being assembled. Two years later, he qualified as a glider pilot at Ustianowa gliding school, in the Bieszczady Mountains, having completed his A & B courses. His first experience of flying was in a PZL-5 piloted by Michal Offierski (later, a bomber pilot during WW2). This is when he began to develop his flying skills, he began to learn to fly powered aircraft at Maslow near Kielce on 15th August 1939 but his training was cut short by the onset of war.
After this, training flights were stopped and, on 5th September 1939, he was evacuated towards the Romanian border but had to evade Russian troops in the Trebowli area and went, by way of Kolomyia, to the border crossing at Kut and crossed into Romania. Along the way, he was detained at the military camp in Targu Jiu, where he stayed until April 1940. With assistance from friendly Romanians, he boarded a train for Bucarest and went on via Jugoslavia and Italy, crossing the French border on the night of 9th May 1940.
He initially reported to a marshalling point near Paris and was sent on to the Polish Air Force base at Lyon-Bron. In France, he served as a basic grade airman. Due to the rapid capitulation of France, he was forced to make his way to the Basque port of St Jean de Luz, near the Spanish border, where he borded the SS Arandora Star for Britain, landing in Liverpool, before being sent north to Glasgow and then south to Carlisle in Cumberland (now Cumbria) and on to the Polish Depot at Blackpool, where he had to learn English.
On 1st September 1941, he undertook an elementary pilot’s course, on De Havilland Tiger Moths at 25 EFTS at RAF Hucknall, near Nottingham He then moved to 16 SFTS at RAF Newton, also near Nottingham where he flew Airspeed Oxford trainers – basically to familiarise himself with British aircraft. He then moved to 7 Air Gunnery School at RAF Stormy Down near Bridgend, Glamorgan, Wales on 11th May 1942, where he trained on Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley Bombers; these were virtually obsolete but gave him the necessary experience and flying hours. He then went to RAF Watchfield near Wootton Basset in Wiltshire for a short Blind Approach Training course. Following this, in mid-July 1943, he transferred to 18OTUat RAF Finningley, (now Doncaster Airport) in South Yorkshire for operational training.
On completion of this, he was posted to 300 Squadron at RAF Hemswell near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, from where he undertook a tour of duty of raids on France, the Netherlands and Germany, being posted to the Blackpool Depot as a trainer, on completion of this tour. His principal duties were mine laying in the sea off the submarine pens at Lorient and also at Brest and St Nazaire, France as well as the Wadden Islands and the coast of mainland Holland. He also flew three air sea rescue missions, searching for downed airmen. After this, on 1st March 1944, he was posted to Blackpool at the end of his tour of duty and placed on training duties.
He was unsettled and applied for a transfer to 1586 Special Duties Flight, which he knew was making trips to his native Poland. No doubt, due to shortages of experienced aircrew, his request was accepted and he was posted to RAF Tempsford, in Bedfordshire, the home of 138 Squadron, for training on Handley Page Halifax bombers. On 25th May 1944, he was sent to RAF Campo Casale at Brindisi in Southern Italy, where he joined 1586 Flight. The very next day, he flew the first of his 39 missions with them (to Jugoslavia). Of these missions, 20 were to Northern Italy, 8 to Jugoslavia and 11 to Poland, including 5 to the participants of the Warsaw Uprising.
On the last of these missions, on the night of 16/17 August 1944, he was attacked by a Junkers Ju88 night fighter and shot down over Bochnia in Silesia. This Ju88 was probably piloted by Lt Gustav Francsi of 1/NJG100 who reported shooting down four aircraft, including a Halifax, on that night. He had successfully carried out his mission and was on the way home when he was forced to the ground.
He was captured and subjected to a brutal interrogation before being sent to a hospital at Krakow Stalag Luft VIIIb at Lamsdorf, Germany (now Lambinowice, Poland) near Opole, in Silesia – a partitioned off part of Stalag VIII army POW camp, housing about 1,000 airmen, mainly NCO’s.
This camp was evacuated on 22nd January 1945 and the prisoners were marched west, ahead of the Russian advance from the east. This was carried out under extremely difficult conditions; freezing weather, inadequate clothing and inadequate food supplies. He was liberated by American troops at Kassel in Northern Hesse, Germany on 30th March 1945 and subsequently repatriated to Britain. On 2nd April 1945, he boarded a Douglas Dakota and was flown to Oxford (RAF Benson ?). At this time he was in very poor health, suffering from dysentery and weighing only 46kg, and was sent to Craighall Castle at Rattray near Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland – where he spent time resting and recuperating until January 1946, when he was posted to 304 Squadron at RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk, flying Vickers Warwick unarmed bombers in Transport Command to Naples and Athens until his discharge on 16th August 1946.
After the war, he decided to return to Poland and arrived in Gdansk on 14th October 1946, but the Communist regime would not allow him to live where he wanted and so he lived, briefly, with his sister in Gdansk then moved to Wejherowo. In time, he moved to Walbrzych Mieroszow in Lower Silesia, where he was summoned to be interrogated by the Stalinist authorities, but he was not mis-treated. In this place, he took over an almost derelict German garden centre and spent his savings in restoring it to functionality. In the reconciliation period, in October 1956, (after the death of Stalin) he was able to take up a firearms licence and resume his passion for hunting. He was also offered the chance to join the flying/gliding clubs at Wroclaw and Jelenia Gora, but he declined these offers.
He maintained his horticultural business until August 1993, when his health was no longer sufficiently robust to continue working there. He sold the business and retired, moving back to Wejherowo, where he died on 28th January 2008. He was buried in the Smiechowskim Cemetery there.
During his military career, he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Valour (three times). After the war he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of Polonia Restituta.
With special thanks to Wojciech Zmyslony for information contained in his website