Rudolf Marczak was born on 6th May 1917 at Magdeburg, Germany, the son of a farmer. There is little hard information available on his childhood but it seems likely that the family was displaced after the tumultuous wars that tore Eastern and Central Europe apart after the end of WW1.
The Poles fought hard to re-create their country, which had been swallowed up by the Austro-Hungarian Empire many decades earlier and the war of 1918-1920 finally re-established the Polish nation. All seemed set for a settled future in the new land and the ethnically Polish area that became the new Poland. His family settled in the hinterland of Debowo and built up a substantial farm which certainly appeared prosperous in the available pre-war photographs.
The Marczak family farm near Debowo, Poland before the War
But this hard fought for peace and prosperity was not destined to last as German resentment at the loss of territory and Russian expansionism were soon to result in the devastation and destruction of the newly established Polish state and both nations proved their willingness to be brutal, callous and unremitting in their determination to seize back the lands they had lost. And Rudolf Marczak's life was about to change forever.
He started life as a normal young man and entered military service in 1935 at the age of 18. He would have to have done so through the normal rules of conscription, but it appears that he decided to enter the military as a career. On 4th November 1935, Polish records show that he was taken into the aviation branch of the Polish Army and subsequent details show his steady promotion to sergeant and the fact that he was training as a pilot as late as March 1939 - well beyond his normal 2 years of conscription. This indicates that he was one of the better conscripts and that he had voluntarily opted to continue in the Polish Air Force as a career airman.
On the outbreak of war he was still a pilot under training and it is unlikely that he flew aircraft on hostile missions, although it is quite possible that he was flying "second dicky" and may have had battle experience as a gunner - there is no evidence either way. What is for sure is that he was a part of 5 pulk Lotniczy (5th Air Regiment) and was active in the defence of the city of Lida (now in Belarus). When it became obvious that there was no chance of Poland winning the battle - after Russia attacked from the rear - his regiment was ordered to evacuate through Romania.
The Polish authorities had an incredible network built up to assist their fighting men to get out of the country. Even after they were disarmed and interned in Romania, provision was made for them to "escape" (bribes to corrupt officials) and they were given fake ID, money and travel tickets to get them to France where the provisional Polish Government in exile was set up and a Polish air force base had been created in Lyon Bron. It is unlikely that he did any flying in France; the French seemed lethargic towards the Poles and made no effort to get them into fighting mode, nor did they do anything to make the recruits comfortable. Some were housed in large open areas, sleeping on straw palliasses on the floor and living in the same area and without heating or a hot water supply. Others were housed in the cheapest rented accommodation and few were happy with their lot.
There is no solid evidence but large numbers of Polish airmen were routed to Balcic (now in Bulgaria) on the Black Sea coast and there placed on ships that were taking diverse routes to Marseilles via Syria, Lebanon, North Africa or Greece. This is all conjecture but many (indeed most) Polish airmen were evacuated this way. It should also be remembered that, in violation of Romania's neutrality, the Germans had a huge intelligence presence there and were pressurising the Romanians to stop the flow of Poles to France. In any event, no matter what, he arrived at the Polish Air Base in Lyon-Bron in early January 1940.
Rudolf's verification as a genuine Polish Airman
Only a privileged few qualified pilots were able to fight from that place, basically as fighter pilots defending the French industrial bases from the attention of the Luftwaffe. Still unqualified, as a fighter pilot, it is highly unlikely that Rudolf was one of these pilots. However, itching for action, they stayed on until the French capitulation and then made their way to the Mediterranean or Atlantic ports with the intention of reaching what the Poles called the Islands of Last Hope (Great Britain).
Document dismissing him from the Polish Air Force and enlisting him into L'Armee de l'Air
L'Armee de l'Air ID card issued at Lyon-Bron
There is no doubt that he was part of Operation Ariel, shortly after Dunkirk, in which almost as many troops were evacuated but far less publicity was generated because there were none of the small boats involved. However it was no less bloody or brutal and the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine put in an enormous effort to stop it. From Lyon-Bron, it is most likely that he travelled to St Juan de Luz, just north of the Spanish border from where, under heavy fire and attacks from the Luftwaffe, he would be taken on board ship for England.
To give some scale to the carnage, the RMS Lancastria was a Cunard liner sent to assist with the evacuation; she had a capacity of 2,200 including her crew. There were actually up to 9,000 people on board when she was attacked by the Luftwaffe. She took three direct hits and sank within twenty minutes. Only 2,447 survived and a D Notice was placed on the event, preventing it from being recorded but some weeks later the British and American press defied this notice and reported it anyway.
Over 55,000 Poles attempted to board ship in this area and those who were unsuccessful, made a fighting retreat to St Jean de Luz.
Once in England he was posted to the Polish Depot which was initially at RAF Eastchurch in Kent but this was soon to become a front line fighter base and the Poles were moved to a complex of RAF sites based in Blackpool and the surrounding area which was out of effective reach of the Luftwaffe.
Here he learned to speak, read and write English, familiarise himself with the King's Regulations and learn the essential differences between Polish and French aircraft and the British ones that he would be flying; controls and handling were significantly different
He remained there until 10th May 1941 when he was moved to his first stage of pilot training which was actually a more intensive form of school room flying - basic and theoretical training. This took place at No 15 Elementary Flying Training School which was at RAF Carlisle (formerly known as RAF
Kingstown) in Cumberland (now Cumbria). He completed this training and was returned to the Polish Depot at Blackpool on 21st June 1941.
Just a week later, on 28th June 1941 he was admitted to the hospital at RAF Weeton suffering from gastric problems, probably ulcers which were to dog him for many years He was released after thirteen days to No 1 ACD (Air Crew Despatch) where he recuperated until 11th August when he was transferred to No 2 ACD - these were probably just 'on paper' moves to give him a chance to recover. Finally he was transferred back to the Polish Depot on 22nd August 1941 where he stayed until 17th September 1941 - probably totally bored and with little to do but work on his English.
At this point he was moved to No 3 Service Flying Training School at RAF South Cerney near Cirencester, Gloucestershire for actual flying training on British aircraft. Here the training was on the Airspeed Oxford twin engine aircraft - this was an early indication that he was destined for a bomber squadron. On 20th January 1942 his training was complete and he returned to the Polish Depot at Blackpool.
On 5th May 1942, he was transferred to No 4 Air Gunnery School at RAF Morpeth (aka RAF Tranwell) in Northumberland. He was a pilot responsible for flying the target tugs and the gun platforms - the aircraft carrying the gunnery students; these were Blackburn Bothas, Westland Lysanders and Miles Martinets. Because of the length of time he was there, he was obviously there to develop experience before moving on to flying operational bombers and needed to amass 400 flying hours before he was ready to become a senior pilot - described on his records as a Master Pilot.
During his time there he married Mona Mary Magleave (on 26th December 1942) at St John's Church at Wigan, Lancashire.