Sunday, 4 January 2015


He was born on 19th May 1906 in Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine) the son of a book seller and, after his education was completed, he went on to do his National Service in the Horse Artillery section of the Army.

His dream was always to fly but he was short sighted and that was a major barrier in the peace time Air Force.  Not totally put off, he took lessons as a glider pilot but had a serious accident in which he broke his arm badly and totally wrecked the glider.  In hope, he waited until the arm was healed then went to the Air Force base to have a medical for a civil pilot's licence.

He passed and then took lessons at the aero club in Lwow at Sknilow airfield which was shared with the military.  He trained on an elderly French Henriot bi-plane; in his memoirs he recalled that it was lubricated with castor oil which was foul smelling when hot and liberally sprayed the fuselage and front cockpit when the engine was running.

Once qualified as a pilot, he was able to transfer from the Army Reserves to the Air Force Reserves.  This was timely as he qualified and gained his wings in 1938 and the impending war with Germany created a bigger demand for qualified pilots.

As political tensions grew, he was called up from the Reserve and his flying was brought up to military standards in the weeks before Germany invaded.  The aircraft he trained on was a de Havilland bi-plane and they were soon moved to a rough airfield near the Soviet border to keep their aircraft away from the bombing of the main airfields.

Once Russia joined the conflict, they were ordered to fly to Romania.  With neither maps nor compass, he navigated by the sun and a railway line and landed at Czerniowice where he was refuelled and directed to Focsani.  He was disarmed and interned but a small bribe helped him to simply walk out of the camp and he took a train to Bucarest where the Embassy supplied him with a fake Jugoslavian passport, travel documents and money.

He took a train through Jugoslavia and Northern Italy to France where he waited in Paris to be equipped and called to duty.  When France capitulated he hitched a lift on a Polish bomber bound for North Africa but it crash landed in Spain and they were not interned but handed over to the Vichy authorities.

After a spell back in Marseilles, his group tried to get to Portugal but they were caught by a Spanish border patrol but they escaped and returned to Marseilles where they were sheltered in the American Hospital until the underground arranged for them to stow away on a ship bound for Oran in Algeria.  This failed because the Vichy authorities handed them over to the Germans and they were imprisoned.

He escaped and made his way to Casablanca in Morocco where he was again imprisoned.  The local resistance arranged a mass escape and they waited in the dunes to be picked up by a ship from Gibraltar.  Unfortunately they were caught by the local Police and taken to a POW camp at Mascara.  He persuaded a French doctor to give him a certificate saying that he was unfit for military service and was subsequently released.  He then returned to Oran and made contact with Polish agents who arranged for him to be picked up by a fishing boat with a Polish Navy crew.

He spent Christmas 1941 in Gibraltar and was then picked up by a converted liner escorted by two naval vessels and transported to Glasgow..  He was sent straight to the Blackpool Depot where he was interrogated and screened to make sure he was not a fifth columnist and then given a medical and taught rudimentary English.

In May 1942 he was posted to 25 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) at RAF Hucknall in Nottinghamshire where he learned the basics of flying British aircraft on de Havilland Tiger Moths.  In July 1942 he moved on to 16 Service Flying Training School at RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire where he repeated the training but on twin engined Airspeed Oxfords.

In December 1942 he was posted to No 6 Advanced Operations School at RAF Staverton near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.  His duties there were to assist the newly trained navigators from the British Commonwealth Air Training Schools in Canada.  They had learned in vast open spaces with few geographical landmarks.  This naturally left them ill equipped to deal with the cluttered and much more crowded ground space in Europe.  They were well trained but had to learn to speed up in order to keep up with the landscape features.

In February 1944 he was posted to 304 Squadron at RAF Predannack in Cornwall, just in time for their move to RAF Chivenor in Devon in March 1944. He then moved with them to RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides (September 1944), RAF St Eval in Cornwall (March 1945), RAF North Weald in Essex (June 1945) and RAF Chedburgh in Suffolk (November 1945).  For the latter period, the Squadron had transferred to Transport Command where they carried essential supplies to France, Italy and Greece, returning with mail and released Prisoners of War.  On 3rd June 1944 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. In October 1944 he was sent on detached duty to RAF Chivenor to help train three new crews.  He was awarded the Cross of Valour and bar.

In total he flew 39 missions and several transport flights during his time with the Squadron and was given a "green ink" endorsement in his flying log for his prompt and effective action in saving his aircraft and crew when the port engine caught fire moments after take off.  This was one of the last flights he made and took place in February 1946 from Bordeaux, France.  He made a perfect single engine landing and, other than fire damage, the aircraft was undamaged and the crew unhurt.

Commendation leading to his "Green Ink" endorsement

Other milestones in his life were his marriage to Barbara J.W. Hammersley in December 1944 at Marylebone, London.  On 25th March 1949 he was granted British Citizenship and this was published in the London Gazette on 20th May of that year.  At the time he was living in South West London and was described as an assistant manager with a travel goods manufacturer.  He died on 21st December 2006 having reached the splendid age of 100.  He was buried at Brompton Cemetery in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

In writing this story, I was very lucky to have had the chance to read his own story, which extends to 61 pages and gives an atmospheric feel of what those days were really like.  "Fly For Your Life" is well written, informative and anecdotal and is highly recommended.  It can be viewed, in English, online at the website of the Krakow Aviation Museum

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