Michal Stefan Pienkowski was born on 6th April 1914 in Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine). His father died in 1916 – a family story is that he was executed for his political views and espionage, as he was a supporter of the Austrian government. His mother, Maria Sadlak, had independent means and was a landowner and the family believe that he had quite a privileged upbringing - he certainly had horses and was taught to speak English, French and German fluently. He was also taught to sew and would, later, tailor his uniforms to make them fit better! Later still he used this skill to earn a living.
He studied Chemistry at Warsaw University and joined the Polish Air Force in 1937, after completing his studies – this was his compulsory military service. At the end of the September Campaign he crossed the border into Romania where he was disarmed and interned for three months. The family sent him money which he used to bribe his way out of the camp and he would almost certainly have had assistance and false papers from the Polish Embassy in Bucarest.
After his escape from the internment camp, he made his way, overland via Jugoslavia and Italy to France and then across France to Lyon-Bron where he rejoined the Polish forces in exile in January 1940 although his Identity Card was issued by L’Armee de L’Air on 21st May 1940.
French Air Force Identity Card
On the French capitulation, he made his way to the coast, almost certainly to St. Jean de Luz, just on the French side of the Pyrenees where he boarded the ill-fated SS Arandora Star and set sail for Liverpool, where he landed on, or about 28th June 1940. He was transferred to the Polish Depot at Blackpool and formally enlisted with the Polish Air Force under the operational command of the RAF on 5th August 1940.
After initial training and familiarisation with British equipment, he served as an interpreter and then with 304 Squadron for the rest of the war, later transferring out to become an interpreter and an instructor at technical training schools. Finally, he served with the Polish Resettlement Corps until his discharge on 9th June 1947 from RAF Dunholme Lodge.
He settled in Derbyshire where he married and had three children and earned his living as a tailor until he had saved enough money to open a shop known as Michael’s Stores. Later he was the Sub-Postmaster at Duffield, Derbyshire for 17 years before retiring to Staffordshire where he ran a small-holding caring for animals and growing flowers and fruit.
He died in 1985 from pneumonia which he contracted during the war and had plagued him all his life. There is much more to come on this story.