Thursday, 22 December 2016


He was born on 11th March 1913 in the County of Lubaczow, to Roman Szklarski and Katarzyna (nee Hamuda).  He began his education at the Piramowicz School in Przemysl on 1st September 1919 and stayed there for the first three years, completing his education there in 1922.  After that, his father, who worked for PKP (Polskie Koleje Panstwowe), the Polish state railways, was moved to Domazyr near Lwow.  Following that, he passed the entry examination for the Koscuiszko Gymnasium School in Lwow, where he stayed until 1928 after being accepted for higher education.  He was forced to leave school because his father could no longer support the cost, because of events leading to the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
Family photograph showing Mieczyslaw standing
in front of his mustachioed father on the right c1913

He stayed with his parents until October 1931 and, in May 1931, he applied to Panstwowej Komendy Uzupelnien in Grodek Jagiellonski for help to enrol him in the army.  He was accepted as fit for army service and remained there from October 1931 until September 1933 in 61 Eskadra of the 6th Air Regiment, based in Lwow.  From January to April of 1932, he trained as a mechanic and then did practical training as an assistant aircraft mechanic (apprentice?) until September of that year.

After this, he was placed on the reserve list and returned to civilian life.  He applied to a private school to finish his studies in the humanities, but had to give it up because these were the Depression  years and his family could not support his studies.  He applied to Government Agencies such as the state railways, the Police, the Post Office and the Ministry of Trade, but without success.

In September 1937, he was recalled for four weeks refresher training in 62 Eskadra of the 6th Air Regiment and then returned to his civilian life but remained on the army reserve list.

In April 1938 he applied to Malopolski Zwiazek Mleczarski (roughly equivalent to the British Milk Marketing Board) and was accepted for three months unpaid training in the accounts department of one of the 1,475 co-operatives then extant.  He worked there from 1st May 1938 until 30th July 1938 and obtained good references but was not retained as paid staff.

Three months later, he was accepted as an assistant in the Trade Department (Commercial Office?) of the railway station at Hmirdyczow-Kochawina where he was paid 1 zloty 50 groszy per day but it only lasted until the end of 1938, when the budget for that post ran out.  At the time of writing (February 2016) that would just about buy one cigarette, half a bar of chocolate, a small bread roll or pay half the postage on a single letter within Britain!  I realise that there has been vast inflation over the intervening years but, even then, that must have been very low pay.

Two weeks later, on 15th January 1939, he took up a post at the paper works at Kochawina, near Stryj, where he worked until 14th September 1939 as a clerk.  During this time, with war imminent, he did a further four weeks training (19th June to 15th July) as a reservist with 6th Air Regiment.

He was lucky, in that he was not conscripted by the Russians, and left the area, escaping to Hungary via Ujhely and Miskolc to a little place named Merohoveod, where he remained until April of 1940.  During this time, he made contact with an illegal underground group in Eger who helped him to get to Budapest (where he arrived on 12th April 1940).

Mieczyslaw on the right with other escaping Polish airmen
in Split, Jugoslavia 26th April 1940
Mieczyslaw second from the left with other escaping
Polish airmen in Split, Jugoslavia 26th April 1940

Later that night, he joined a group of Poles and they moved to the border with Jugoslavia.  Two days later, they made a night crossing of the River Drava and made their way to Zagreb, where they arrived on the 18th April.  Six days later, they arrived at Split, where they waited for a boat to evacuate them.  On 27th April 1940, they boarded the SS Patris and sailed for Marseilles, where they arrived on 1st May 1940.
Ticket and identity document for his journey on SS Patris from Split to Marseilles

There appears to be some dispute about where the Poles gathered, but Sgt Szklarski’s own report states that they were initially dispersed to Carpiagne the home of the 4th Regiment of Dragoon Guards.  He was moved to the barracks at Lyon (Lyon-Bron?) on 4th May and left there on 17th May  1940  ‘as a member of 108 Batallion (Park) in Montpellier.  He remained there as a working assistant mechanic until the fall of France.

 En route to St Jean de Luz, Mieczyslaw is in the dark
shirt and braces in both pictures
Note the pointed roof of the French railway wagons
Loading up on the ill fated Arandora Star
Mieczyslaw still in French uniform

At that time, he was under the control of a Captain of Artillery, Loboda – and another named Tregano – and he left Montpellier en route for St Juan de Luz, where he boarded the SS Arandora Star.  This vessel was torpedoed and sunk, with enormous loss of life, just a few days later; the majority of victims being Italian and German internees and prisoners of war.  He arrived in Liverpool on 27th June 1940 and, five days later, was sent to RAF Weeton  in Lancashire and later to RAF Blackpool. 
Square bashing in basic training at RAF Weeton, 1940

He was there until 23rd August 1940, when he was attached to the newly forming 304 Squadron at RAF Bramcote.  He started work as a clerk there on 28th August 1940.

Between 1st and 11th October 1941 he was at the Polish Depot at Blackpool.  On 1st October 1941 he was accepted as medically fit to be trained as an airman and was sent to No 7 Air Gunnery School at RAF Stormy Down near Bridgend, Glamorgan  for training as an air gunner on 12th October 1941 – a course that he completed on 21st November 1941, after which he was sent to the Blackpool Depot. 

Gunnery Course at RAF Stormy Down
October - December 1941

On 9th December of that year, he was transferred to 18 OTU at RAF Bramcote near Nuneaton in Warwickshire.  The purpose of the Operational Training Unit was for tactical training and for crews to be formed and to learn to act as a cohesive unit because their lives depended on each other; it was important that they developed trust in each other.

He remained there until 26th April 1942, when he was returned to 304 Squadron at RAF Lindholme near Doncaster in Yorkshire .  Two days later, he reported there and began his service with them.

Coastal Command made serious mental and physical demands on aircrews, often requiring flights of 10 or 11 hours over featureless ocean and that frequently in appalling weather.  To stay alive, they had to be alert and maintain their concentration for long periods.  This may often have been boring and inactive but it would often keep U-boats submerged and a lower risk to merchant shipping.  In spite of this, there were moments of excitement.

25th June 1942, flying out of RAF Dale in Pembrokeshire, his crew was detailed to Bomber Command to attack Bremen but failed to locate the target and went on to their secondary target of Bremervorde in Lower Saxony where they dropped six 500lb bombs from a height of only 1,250 feet.  They were unable to observe the results because of concentrated flak and an attack by a Messerschmidt Me110 night fighter.  They were hit several times but all the crew were safe.

11th August 1942 his crew attacked a U-boat, dropping six depth charges from a height of only 50 feet and just 36 seconds after it submerged.  They circled for 18 minutes and saw residue and wreckage but were unable to confirm a kill.  However, it is likely that some considerable damage was done.

24th September 1942, flying at a height of only 2,000 feet they were attacked by a Junkers Ju88 and were fired upon but no hits were taken.  They dived down to 1,000 feet and took refuge in a cloud bank after which the fighter broke contact and left.

8th November 1942, flying out of RAF Talbenny in Pembrokeshire, they were again detailed to Bomber Command and took part in a bombing raid on shipping between Bordeaux and Grave Point on the Atlantic Coast of France.  They made a run at 5,500 feet dropping four bombs and, five minutes later, a second run at 5,000 feet dropping five bombs.  The explosions were seen but poor visibility made it impossible to observe the results.
Receiving the Cross of Valour at RAF Talbenny, November
1942.  Mieczyslaw is between the Officers in peaked caps

12th December 1942, flying out of RAF Dale, they suffered a starboard engine failure and flew for some time on only one engine.  They put out a Mayday call and jettisoned their bombs and depth charges but the engine kicked in again and after 1 hour 22 minutes they were able to cancel the Mayday.

26th January 1943, they were again detailed to a bombing mission over Bordeaux.  They dropped five 500lb bombs from a height of 6,000 feet and observed the explosions which started fires that could still be seen ten miles away after they turned for home.

8th March 1943, they were attacked by a Junkers Ju88 and tracer was seen to pass across their flight path but no hits were recorded and the pilot made a sharp turn to port an successfully reached cloud cover.

17th July 1943, flying out of RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, they were one of three aircraft sent out on an air sea rescue mission but it had to be aborted due to bad weather conditions and very poor visibility.  They were unable to make it back to base and diverted to RAF Dale.

In total, he flew 50 missions whilst with 304 Squadron and possibly a further six with 18 Operational Training Unit as his records state 56 operational flights. In this time, he served at RAF Lindholme (Yorkshire), RAF Tiree (Inner Hebrides), RAF Dale (Pembrokeshire - 2 separate postings), RAF Talbenny (Pembrokeshire), RAF Docking (Norfolk), RAF Davidstow Moor (Cornwall), RAF Predannack (Cornwall) and RAF Chivenor (Devon).

Presentation of the Virtuti Militari by the Polish President
in exile President Władysław Raczkiewicz.  Mieczyslaw is
the last airman on the right

Virtuti Militari Certificate
During this service, he was awarded the Cross of Valour on three occasions and the Virtuti Militari on 7th May 1943.  He remained with the Squadron until he became tour expired and was transferred to the Polish Depot on 13th September 1943.  Ten days later he was transferred to Polish Headquarters in London where he had administrative duties until 5th May 1944.

He was recommended for Officer training at the college shared by the Polish Army and Air Force - the Szkola Podchorazych Piechoty i Kawalerii Zmotoryzowanej.  It is not known precisely where this establishment was located but he appears to have attended at a time between the move from its location at Auchtermuchty in Fife and its new premises in Crieff, Perthshire.  His records state that it was near North Berwick which is in East Lothian.  He was there from 6th May 1944 until 2nd August 1944.  In any event, he passed the course and was granted the rank of Pilot Officer with seniority from 1st October 1944.  The most likely location was Archerfield House at Dirleton, which had a cadet school, a woman's auxiliary school and an Officer training unit and this building was large enough to accommodate the training but billeting would probably have been elsewhere.
Archerfield House, Dirleton, East Lothian

Following this, in November 1944, he was posted to the Polish Depot where he served in the Training Department until 20th April 1945 when he was briefly seconded to Bentley Priory at Harrow, Middlesex, HQ of Fighter Command and the home of the Royal Observer Corps.  On 26th June 1945 (with effect from 1st April 1945) he was promoted to Flying Officer and transferred into the Research and Experimental Pool at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Hampshire as an administrator and Adjutant to the Polish forces there.

On 9th June 1945 he married Mary Eileen Hunt at Blackpool.
Mieczyslaw with Mary

In August 1947 he was in Hereford at the Royal Air Force Secretarial Branch, Training Establishment where he was undertaking further training during his time with the Polish Resettlement Corps, from
which he was finally discharged in December 1948.
After the War had ended Mieczyslaw led a parade in the town of Shrewsbury.  This was far from where he was serving and could have been in honour of the Allied Victory or could have been part of the Polish Soldiers' Day celebration but I am inclined to think that a more likely explanation was that it was a memorial service for his brother Tadeusz, a fellow Officer, who was unfortunately killed in a road accident in that town on 26th August 1947.

Series of photographs showing the Air Force parade to
St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury probably in memory of
Tadeusz Szklarski

However, it is during his time at RAE Farnborough right through to his discharge from the Polish Resettlement Corps that details of his service become very sketchy and give credence to otherwise unsubstantiated family lore that he was involved in some kind of clandestine work that he described to one member of the family as potentially very dangerous. 
He rose rapidly from NCO rank to Flying Officer which does not seem to square with him then being buried in an administrative role.  His military records describe him as intelligent and very capable of performing any task given to him.  Again this seems an unlikely waste of talent.  There are stories within the family which suggest that he was training for a return to Poland to carry out dangerous and secretive work.  This work was allegedly halted only after the first groups to go in were killed by the Polish Communist/Russian authorities.

I have to stress that there is no solid evidence for this idea but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to back it up.  A significant number of Polish airmen were recruited by the American OSS, who were the immediate predecessors of the CIA, to recruit deniable agents for espionage purposes in Albania and other Central European countries under the code name OBOPUS-BGFIEND and with help from MI6 under the code name VALUABLE.

Other agents were parachuted into Poland in small numbers by the Americans - again using Poles for deniability.  The British authorities had an ongoing agent insertion programme right up until 1955 when it was stopped because too many agents were being caught or killed as the scheme was compromised.  This was done by sea, using an ex-Kriegsmarine E-Boat with enhanced radio communications and long range fuel tanks and crewed by former German naval crews under the guise of fishery protection.

Interestingly, one of the CIA pilots was Stanislaw Jozefiak who was in 304 Squadron at the same time as Mieczyslaw Szklarski.  The rates of pay for these agents was also a long way above what they could earn in a normal job at the time.

This is a matter for speculation only, as it is very unlikely that the records will be released in the lifetimes of these men or their children.  A large percentage of the MI6 records of the time were destroyed in a fire and the rest are liable to be buried indefinitely in the "National interest".  It is also interesting that the Soviet Bloc was very well informed in advance of all these activities and a prominent diplomat in this area was one Kim Philby. 

During the course of his military service he received gallantry and campaign medals from Poland and campaign medals from Great Britain and France.

Mieczyslaw's array of medals
Mieczyslaw left all forms of public service in 1948 and registered as an alien on 3rd January 1949.  This meant that he was obliged to regularly report to the Police and could not set up in business or work other than as an employee without the express permission of the Home Office until he received, on 1st February 1951, his British Citizenship and Naturalisation Certificate No BNA 17531 under his adopted name of Scot.

Typical pages from the Aliens Registration Book
He worked sporadically as a dental mechanic for a variety of dentists in Hertfordshire, Blackpool, Kendal and Windermere until the mid-1950s when he went to work for Duple the coach builders at Marton, Blackpool.  He worked mainly on the production line and then as an Inspector for his last few years there until his retirement in about 1978.  He was also employed on one of the pleasure steamers on Lake Windermere.   He died on 15th October 1986 in Blackpool and is buried in Carleton Cemetery.

What follows is a selection of his personal documentation recording his military life.  They do not necessarily fit in to specific sections of this text but record major milestones in his life:

Final Record from the Polish Air Force
Polish Air Force Certificate of Honour
 Certificate of Demobilisation from l'Armee de l'Air
Reverse of previous document.  Note
the rubber stamp which denies him the
right to live in France and the right to a
French Ration Card
Certificate of Admission into the Polish Resettlement Corps
Testimonial in support of his Naturalisation
Grant of Citizenship 1951 - also rescinds
his need to remain as a Registered Alien
With many thanks to Kevin Scot (Szklarski) for the unprecedented use of his family archive and incredible collection of photographs.


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