He was born in Minsk (now Belarus) on 28th November 1915, the eldest of three children, but the family had moved to Pinsk (also now in Belarus). They were forced to leave when he was only four years old - just ahead of the Bolshevik invasion of his homeland. The family were quite well off and had a maid who escaped with them. They fled in a boat and were later picked up in a horse drawn carriage and continued their journey by train until they arrived at Leszno, in Western Poland, where they settled in 1920.
Life seemed to be settled and he completed his education there before being conscripted into the army in September 1935. The following January he applied for a position as Technical Officer with the Air Force which meant that he would have to enlist as a regular airman rather than continue as a conscript. He also had to study mechanical engineering science and aerodynamics to degree level.
He was granted the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, posted to an airfield near Warsaw and given charge of a mobile repair unit which was intended to repair military aircraft wherever they may be. Before he had a chance to start, he was woken in the early hours of the morning by the first wave of German bombers attacking the aerodrome. World War II had begun.
He was ordered to Lodz but almost ran into the German advance and so he decided to make for Warsaw instead but circumstances and constant harassment by the Luftwaffe changed all plans and, when it became known that the Russians had invaded from the East, they were ordered to make for the Romanian border.
They were disarmed and interned but not treated badly and the Officers and NCOs were allowed the freedom to leave the camp and go into the local town for their meals. During his time there, he was photographed and put on an orderly list of men to be helped to escape. When he was advised that it was his turn, he and another airmen simply walked out of the camp. They bribed a taxi driver to get them past the army patrols and into Bucharest.
They visited the Polish Embassy where they were issued with false documents and money to get them to Balcic (now Bulgaria) via Medgidia and Bazardzik and onward travel out of Romania had been arranged for them. He was unable to get an exit visa and so he was one of a party of about twenty who were smuggled on board the Greek ship Patris before it set sail for the Mediterranean via the Black Sea. They were ordered to Malta and here they were transferred to the SS Frankonia for the onward journey to Marseilles where they arrived on 19th November 1939 and were immediately put on a train for the air base at Lyon-Bron.
They were not put to any real use and spent a frustrating time there. However, he was unfortunate enough to pick up an infection which turned out to be jaundice and he was to spend the rest of his time there in hospital. He left without being discharged and joined the Polish forces heading for Britain but when they arrived at Port Vendres near the Spanish border their ship was held by the local Mayor and Chief of Police - the new Vichy French were hostile to both the Poles and the British.
When it was drawn to the attention of the Captain of a Royal Navy vessel, he threatened to shell the Town Hall and the Gendarmerie unless they were released immediately.
This vessel took them to Oran in Algeria where they were immediately loaded onto a train which took them to Sidi Chami where they spent an uncomfortable night in an empty school before taking the train to Oujda in Morocco and the next day they travelled on to Meknes and finally Casablanca.
They then made the short sea journey to Gibraltar where they stayed for a while until there was a convoy leaving for Britain. They sailed on 2nd July 1940 and arrived in England on 12th July 1940.
This was probably Liverpool or Glasgow but within about four weeks they were sent to Blackpool where he was billeted in the Hartford Hotel and, because of his ability in English, he was put on a trainee interpreters course and at the end of February 1941 he was posted to RAF West Freugh near Stranraer in Scotland as an interpreter at No 4 Bombing and Gunnery School where he took a crash course as an air gunner so that he would understand the English terminology that he had to translate for the others.
In December 1941, he was posted to No 13 Initial Training Wing at Torquay, Devon where he completed his theoretical and physical training before moving on, at the end of March 1942, to No 25 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Hucknall in Nottinghamshire and then to No 16 Secondary Flying Training School at RAF Newton, also in Nottinghamshire, in June 1942.
In November 1942 he was posted to RAF Llandwrog near Criccieth where he served until September 1943 as a staff pilot - essentially ferrying trainee navigators during their training miissions. In September 1943 he was posted to the Deputy Inspectorate General at Blackpool where he completed courses in reconnaissance and navigation before being posted to 304 Squadron at RAF Davidstow Moor near Camelford in Cornwall on 10th December 1943.
Record of his arrival at 304 Squadron
Now he was in an active squadron and had his first taste of hitting back against the enemy and that taste came very quickly and with success that went unremarked in the Squadron ORB. Patrolling the Bay of Biscay at 05.43hrs on 4th January 1944 his aircraft picked up a target on radar at a distance of 7 miles. Five minutes later they had a sighting of a surfaced U-boat and immediately attacked, dropping six depth charges from a height of 100 feet and raking the deck with machine gun fire from the rear turret. At this time the U-boat was clearly visible and the whole crew witnessed a big flash of white light on the water after the depth charges had exploded. Both visual and radar contact were then lost.
The website uboat.net explains that this vessel was the Type VIIC, U-629 captained by Oberleutnant Hans-Helmuth Bugs. It had picked up the crew of U-284 which was scuttled off the coast of Greenland. Severe damage was caused but it managed to limp into Brest the next day. However, it had to abandon its patrol and did not sail again until March 1944 - a significant achievement.
The next attack came very quickly when the same crew gave the Kriegsmarine another taste of the treatment available to them. On 11th February 1944 a stick of well placed torpex depth charges landed about 10 feet behind a diving U-boat. This must have caused some damage but the Admiralty Report was not charitable: W/C Czeslaw Korbut wrote that the stick of depth charges was well placed except that it landed behind the diving submarine. The Admiralty verdict was that the depth charges landed astern of the submarine and that there was no damage - a bit harsh, even if it was taking a pessimistic view, when the depth charges were seen to land within 10 feet of the U-boat.
On 28th March 1944, this crew was on a patrol over the Bay of Biscay when they were attacked by two Me110 fighters. The combat report records that the pilots co-operated very well with the rest of the crew and that one of the Me 110s was hit by concentrated and accurate fire from the Wellington. It is recorded as having crashed into the sea and exploded on impact. The second fighter made a half-hearted attack from the distance of 1,000 yards before being driven off. The tail gunner was awarded a DFC for his actions in this battle after suffering head and body injuries during the exchange of fire.
On 6th May 1944 he was sent to RAF Haverfordwest on a short course to convert him to first pilot - a captain of his own aircraft, but he was very quickly back on active service. In May 1944 he was awarded the Field Service badge to his pilot's wings - effectively his coming of age as a combatant airman, and in June 1944 he was awarded the Cross of Valour.
In June of 1944, they attacked another U-boat but, in the excitement of the attack, the Leigh Light was not properly activated and was not working as expected. Six depth charges were dropped from
a height of 175 feet but the results were not properly observed and no conclusive evidence of damage could be observed. The Admiralty report was less than charitable about this attack; blame was laid on the Navigator's excitement in the heat of the moment as he forgot to turn on the Leigh Light's rotational valve.
On 6th July 1944, when Waldemar Siewruk was in place as senior captain, they attacked another U-boat under less than perfect conditions. He dropped two depth charges, knowing that a seriously good result was improbable. However, on this occasion, the boffins were a little more charitable in their assessment. Captain D V Peyton-Ward R.N. stated: "I think the captain was quite correct in dropping a couple of depth charges to scare the U/B although as he dropped them on the swirl they would of course have exploded a long way (about 600ft) astern and the U/B would be about 100ft. below the surface." Air Commodore J.B. Lloyd added his agreement.
Report on U-Boat attack
At the time Wing Commander Czeslaw Korbut, commandant of 304 Squadron wrote: "This crew is a model of excellent teamwork and is one of the best crews in No 304 Squadron." This was high praise indeed as W/C Korbut was no desk jockey; he flew many active missions himself and knew what his men had to face.
On 10th January he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and five days later, having completed his tour of duty, he was posted out to 6 OTU at Silloth as a training instructor. It was here that he met his future wife, Dorothy Postlethwaite, a nurse, who was recovering from her own health problems. They married on 21st June 1947 and his best man was a fellow airman, Flying Officer Mieczylaw Herman Sloboda. Dorothy was unable to have children so they adopted two and had a loving family life until Dorothy's death after 58 years of marriage. Sadly, Waldemar also died on Christmas Eve 2008 aged 93.
Waldemar Siewruk (left) and F/Lt Piotrowski at RAF Silloth
At some point, he received the award of the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest award for military gallantry; the high point of an exceptional military career. This was not for a single act but for many hours of combat flying in difficult conditions and several attacks on U-Boats.
Being decorated with the Virtuti Militari
At the end of his time in the Air Force he progressed through the Polish Resettlement Corps and was still technically an airman but this allowed him to re-train and prepare for life as a civilian. Because of his previous training in Poland he chose to specialise in Mechanical Engineering. There was no chance of him returning to Poland after the War and he spent his civilian life lecturing in this and allied subjects at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
On 16th April 1952 he became a British Citizen. This was announced in the London Gazette on 13th May 1952 when he was living in Western Way, Wellingborough and his profession is given as assistant schoolmaster.
He was active to the end of his life and, in November 2008, he spoke at the presentation ceremony, on Remembrance Sunday, at which a solid oak altar was presented to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Mary Magdalene in Tavistock, Devon where he lived. This altar had been paid for by former Polish servicemen. At the end of the service he proudly carried the Union Flag to the altar.
Remembrance Day 2008 (from The Tavistock Times)
Following all of this, he wrote and published his own story in a book entitled "Three Escapes and a Final Capture" The final capture is his marriage although I am still not sure whether it was he or Dorothy who was captured! It is a comprehensive and easily readable story of his life and made the task of writing this story a lot easier than it might have been. The details had to be researched but the basics were there.
Photographs courtesy of John Siewruk