Friday, 7 April 2017


The Abbreviated War Diary of Sgt Oswald Waldemar Krydner
Official Photographer of 304 Squadron
Part 1

Dedicated to his wife, Halina, whom he left behind in Poland before his epic journey to England and his wartime career as an official photographer to 304 Squadron, Polish Air Force in Exile for the duration of World War 2.  The full diary is as much a love story as it is a chronicle of events that happened to him during the course of this epic period of European and world history.  The pencil sketch below, was in this diary and was included in the full length version.  Whether drawn from memory or copied from a photograph, it shows his artistic skill and love for his then, and future, wife.

Twenty-five kilometres north-east of Płońsk a swarm of men in grey uniforms bustle around – they are the crews of the 41st Squadron from Toruń.  Unusually, three Dorniers flew overhead then, suddenly, from somewhere near Modlin, we heard the blast of bombs.  World War 2 had started.
Our planes waited at a hidden airfield a kilometre away.  Our commander briefed us on the situation but little else happened that day.  I had a short time to say goodbye to my wife, Halina.  The train crawled towards Warsaw. As we approached Modlin, the cars were climbing a hill on the bank of the Narew when the trailer broke away and rolled backwards; suddenly a crash, and we hit a boulder which saved us.  Repairs took two days.
We passed Modlin; barbed wire along the road and in the fields told us the enemy was near. We started flying the next day and hoped for a swift victory.  German losses were high and our machines returned safely.  Next day we saw nine Dorniers challenged by a single fighter but it was over quickly. 

Our soldiers were brave and courageous. You could do wonders, great feats of courage with such men. But our leaders had let us down: when it came to dropping bombs, to deploy the squadron,  they had no ability and no skill.

One of the aircraft came back, reporting a column of tanks. Six machines ready for flight, bombs on, crews dressed, rub their hands in excitement.  All is set but our commander waits for orders. We waited but no orders came until next day. So they took off with the bombs, wind in tails. One machine wheels up, another can’t even get off the ground. Four aircraft took off. They were back after an hour, no tanks were found.
Next to us were fighters.  Dorniers flew overhead, but they didn’t have orders, either. None came but our commanders had no initiative.  That night we couldn’t sleep, artillery roared continually and the shelling was getting closer. We were told tall tales - the Polish air force, alongside Britain, is bombing Berlin; the French army has crossed the Siegfried Line, etc. But the artillery was getting closer and the mass of refugees confirmed our suspicions that the Germans were coming.

That day we loaded our vehicles. There was a lot of equipment and few vehicles – we could not take everything at once. At last orders came.  We set off for Warsaw. The road was jammed with refugees, we crawled at snail speed.  At Modlin some of the cars unloaded and went back for the rest of the stuff but the boys could not wait; they set a Karaś and a Czapla on fire and, left. The same happened with the fighters, except many were captured.  We knew about the massacres, retreats, bombing of cities and unarmed civilians, and we left them our bombs.
We had been kind to those barbarians. What we saw was horrifying.  Dead horses and people, broken wagons, strewn by the roadside.
Wounded soldiers told us hair-raising stories; we reached Zielonka near Warsaw with the greatest difficulty with the roar of Dorniers overhead as they bombed Warsaw all day. Gunfire grew fainter and there were no fighters to be seen.  Warsaw groaned from explosions.
From our field, two Karaś and their crews never returned – they had perished with Lt Strejmik, Lt Kardasz, Cpl Janicki, Cpl Oleksiński, L/Cpl Szymański and L/Cpl Majewski. One day in an air raid two planes crashed in flames. The crew bailed out quite far away.  We were sure they were Germans. I had a light machine gun.  We hopped in a car and shot down the road like lightning; to shoot them right there, was all we wanted. We turned right, the road ended, so we ran across country.
We combed the forest for an hour before we found them. Too late. One of the plains was a Łoś. Two men had bailed, two were burned inside. Next to it was a Dornier – full of corpses.
Our car took us to Wołomin. The Germans found us that day.  I leaned back and started firing my machine gun. Others grabbed their guns, too. It was hot as hell. The wailing of Dorniers, the explosions, the rattle of guns and the shrill whistle of bullets all mixed together. A few bombs exploded very close and we had to drop to the ground. The German aim was poor;  a few bombs failed to explode.
We left that night and went towards Mińsk Mazowiecki.  We were safe in the woods, so we lingered for two days. The second night was my night patrol. At eight at night our unit left the forest for an airfield somewhere. Only we stayed guarding the stuff, mostly bombs.
I woke up the rest of my boys, calling an alert. I had two heavy guns and twelve light ones. Things might happen, German patrols might show up. And so we awaited dawn with guns in hand. All we heard were a few shots, but all was quiet.  It wasn’t until after 10:00 that Edek came with three cars. We were to drive through Mińsk, on the main road, the most exposed bit.
We didn’t make a kilometre when 24 Dorniers burst from over the woods. The cars stopped, men dived into a dyke. Suddenly, a hellish racket, all was dark and they started pounding. We could see nothing, 24 but soon the din died down, the whirr faded away. Laughing and joking, we climbed back into the cars.
They’re coming! Run! The bastards had turned back and were coming straight at us. We took to the field, as fast as we could. They were flying low to get at the cars. I was on my back and saw six bombs peel off; they missed; the bombs fell just by the road on the south side.  But it wasn’t over. They turned and strafed us.  The raid ended.  All of my boys had made it.  We moved on; there were no more raids. We passed Mińsk and an hour later reached a forest and our squadron. The Siennice estate. The wheeze of a bomb and a familiar bang. They must have been on their way back from a mission with a few bombs left. They started strafing us but we were unhurt.
We didn’t stay long; an order came to move to Brest.  Kostek took off in an RWD, and crashed. He came out all right.  We couldn’t take the bombs, so we blew them up.  My car was last. Dyszlewski, in the jeep, was to be the courier. Our route led through Łuków, Parczew, Wisznice, Sławatycze, Domaczewo, Brest.
Thousands of wagons and people, filled the road. It was rough riding in the trailer in the dark. I picked up a woman and a man who were fainting from exhaustion. They had fled from Toruń. I gave them what I had, a meal and some rest. They wanted to get to Włodawa, so I took them along. I took in a few wounded soldiers, too.  My trailer was full. What a night that was! Burned villages and towns, corpses on the road, broken wagons.
We came to a town I thought we’d never make it through. The whole town was in flames. We were driving down a narrow street, houses burning on both sides. People running from burning buildings, women and children.  All night I stood on the steps of the lorry, guiding the driver so he wouldn’t hit anyone or fall into a bomb crater. Near Parczew, a colonel stopped us.  Again, tanks are close, we have to make an obstacle. So I pulled over, we got our guns, someone gave us anti-tank grenades and we took our positions. We waited until dawn, they must have taken a different route. We started the car and moved on.
We passed Parczew.  Twice they came close, but didn’t attack.  The road was empty now so we drove fast. I wanted to get to Domaczew and rest there. But Martoś objected that we were exposing ourselves, so we pulled into a forest. We had two wheels to repair on the trailer and one on the Renault.  A few men got to work, the rest I took to the village to look for food. We met very kind people there. They fed us and gave us some for the boys and wouldn’t take a penny.
We had to move.  Somewhere ahead more bombs exploded, but that was it.  My tyres began to give.  Every 20 km I had to stop for repairs.  That made it harder and delayed us.  But it couldn't be helped - I had no spare.  Late in the night we crossed a bridge on the Bug in Domaczewo.  Artillery pounded from the north and south.  The enemy had us in a pincer.  As we went over the bridge, I saw engineers with explosives and heavy machine guns set up on the other side.
The Bridge at Domaczewo (now Damachava, Belarus)
just before WW2
Past Domaczewo, I turned north, towards Brest; we had only 46 km to go.  The night was dark but  the glow of artillery fire rose up over Brest and every now and then a car bolted past us like a mad man going back toward Wlodawa.  One stopped and asked for a password.  The driver was a reserve lieutenant, sent to Deblin for petrol.  He told us our flight had probably gone towards Kowel, as they were not in Brest.  Fifteen km from Brest I met one of our cars, going the other way - a technical officer was making off. 'Turn round, it's closed off.  Past Wlodawa, in Koty, is where we regroup.'
On our way south to Wlodawa, fog had risen up from the swamp so thick you could barely see the edge of the road.  I saw a few women literally dropping with exhaustion.  I picked up the women, put them where I could.  They were young girls, Warsovians, all eight of them.  They had been posted near Nieszawa and ordered to get to Lvov.  On the way, some officers took their car and they had to walk.
30 km before Wlodawa my last tyre popped and the axle bent.  My little trailer was doomed.  I unhooked it, grabbed the equipment and the most expensive things and burned the papers.  I drove past Wlodawa, now the road was packed.  The fog was still thick, so no air raids that day. 
I pulled into the Koty Estate.  There were two lorries and a car and only one technical officer, Dyszlewski.  I found him in the barn, dead asleep, and his men sleeping next to him.  I found a driver for the car, and two other men and left the estate.  Carefully looking around, I took what I could.  Now on to Domaczewo, full speed. 
When we got to Koty, all was ready, sadly I found out our last Karas had been left in Brest.  We had no more aircraft.  Our troops were to concentrate on the San and Bug line.  We were going towards Kowel now.  We were passed by taxis and limousines with staff officers and their wives, even their puppies.  Meanwhile, wounded soldiers with no one to attend them, trudged along the roads on foot.  I picked up as many as I could squeeze in. They told me terrible things about crushed Divisions, fleeing commanders and officers, the whole situation. 
When we stopped, the ladies made us meals and coffee.  We passed villages and towns.  In one of the towns, I met Flight 42, a few of them were wounded.  In Luck - a nightmare.  Troop convoys, jammed streets.  We were barely making any progress. for all the traffic.  We finally got near the crossroad.  There was a crowd of staff officers,  a general was yelling something, waving his arms.  It was our turn to be let through.
The lorries moved.  Suddenly - 'Stop! Stop!' yelled the officers, pouncing on our car with their pistols.  It's easy to stop a car, not so with a lorry.  I was standing on the step on one side, Kryslak on the other.  Two officers pounced on me, shouting "Stop!" and jamming their pistols in my ribcage.  The driver slammed on the brake.  The Renault screeched to a halt.  The general jumped to us like a rooster looking for a fight.
'Where's your driver?' he yelled.
'Here,' replied Adzinski, putting his head out.
It was less than a second.  The general aimed his pistol and fired at the driver.
Then, "Go! Go!" yelled the same voices.  The Renault moved on, so he's alive.  I run around the car, open the door.  Is anyone hurt?  One of the ladies sitting next to the driver - I saw her pale face, mouth open, the poor thing is holding on to her neck, blood trickling.  The driver couldn't stop, all the cars were moving now.  One of the chaps held the torch, I tore open her blouse.  She'd been shot in the shoulder and chin.  Thankfully, it was not serious. 
Two hours later we were on the open road.  Now, 15km to go.  The road almost empty, we'll be there soon.  No man, no sound, all is quiet.  Must be the commander's done something again.  I'm furious.  What am I going to do with this wounded woman?  It's night time, dark all around.  I found a haystack by the road.  I made a place for the ladies to lie down.  The wounded one felt better.
That day I got a different lorry, a Chevrolet loaded with ammunition, 18 men and a machine gun.  I was told unofficially  that we were going to Romania to pick up planes.  We left at nightfall and made our way to Rowne where we went on towards Kolomyja via Tarnopol and Zamosc. 
We trudged on, through woods and Ukrainian villages where Ukrainian bands lie in wait.  One day we saw planes overhead.  We were sure they were British.  But, they were Soviet.  I saw the same machines coming.  A shower of bombs.  They are not English.  I heard from an infantry officer that Russia had marched into Poland.  We were in their grip; German tanks on one side, Bolshevik ones on the other.  They wanted to cut us off.  I was ordered to drive full speed through Kolomyja to Kuty.
That night Ukrainians sprayed us with bullets out of the woods.  We paid them back in the same coin and kept going.  We arrived in Kuty on 18th September and I drove across the border.  We moved in an unknown direction, going where we were told by Romanian soldiers.  And so Poland ceased to exist within 18 days.
I hated the Romanians from the very first day.  We pulled into the town of Storozyniec.  Here we were disarmed.  Pistols we hid where we could, most of us between our legs, inside our pants.
Officers and pilots were taken in light cars, soldiers by train, and all in an unknown direction.  Heavy vehicles were kept back.  We stayed in Storozyniec two days.  In the early morning we were off.  The weather was nasty.  Endless rain, awful roads.  And so we drove across Romania, stopping only to rest.  We had a longer stopover in Falticeni.  Here again they divided us - air force this way, armoured forces that way. 
That day, we moved on, we had no food to eat, tired, exhausted by the constant rattle on the bumpy roads, we were driving towards Bucharest.  Once in a town we were given a piece each of some nasty sausage and on we went.  We lived on tomatoes, eggs and walnuts.
Past Buzau, Ploesti.  We pull into Bucharest, quite a pretty town.  Beautiful lake, lawns, pretty buildings and monuments.  We drove through the town to Carol's airport; here we felt welcome.  They fed us and gave us a comfortable place to sleep. 
On the following day we were given 50 lei each and taken to the train station.  A Romanian officer said we were all going to one camp where all the airmen were.  The train moved.  We were riding in cargo cars.  With a small compass and a map, I soon knew where we were going.  To Ploesti, then Constanta. 
The train stopped at a little station 80km past Ploesti.  Urziceni station.  We line up and march.  I stuck with Edek.  We got a tiny clay hut, damp and airless. Bedbugs on the walls.  A cot and some dirty rags.  A kind old lady came in with a lamp and a girl of about 16. They brought us some fried eggs and bread.
One day an officer appeared among us. Secret meetings started in the lodgings, we began to organise. I was called into a meeting – there were column commanders and an officer. I was given a serious task; I took an oath, received my instructions and money and got to work. I was to photograph 1700 men, passport photos, and deliver the prints at an appointed time. I had to extremely cautious. The place was swarming with gendarmes and Gestapo; it was easy to get caught and then all would be lost.  So I set about taking pictures in daytime, developing the film and making prints at night. Our little quarters turned into a photo studio. I minded nothing, driven by the hope of breaking out of here. We were well organised.
We were awakened by a knock on our door. We leapt to our feet, I hid my rubber club in my coat, Edek opened the door. Large figures cloaked in black stepped inside. I knew them immediately – our officer and a captain from Bucharest. The first box of passports had arrived. Twelve of them were for the boys of our column. That night, the lucky ones left the camp. Kryslak and Lisiak were the first to go. They didn’t have much time. I woke them at 11:00pm, they dressed in civilian clothes, we said a quick farewell – they were gone.
Fervent work began.  We sold uniforms, bought civilian things, and every few days a group left us. The Romanians caught a whiff of something happening. They held roll calls and took attendance by name.  Imagine this – Monday – assembly.  We line up by column in the big market square. A colonel, major, a few officers and a whole pack of gendarmes arrive, all Romanians. In the middle, a table with books. They start roll-call.  As each one is called, he is to walk past the table and stand on the other side. What fools those Romanians are – with all those imbeciles standing there, we ran our game right in front of their eyes. All told, 400 people are missing, but everyone is present.  The Romanians were stupefied: they could see our ranks wither, but when they did a roll call, everyone was there.
One day we noticed a number of suspicious types watching us all the time. The Gestapo, of course. We moved our night-time meetings to another place. Now everything was done at the Red Cross ladies’ place. The Romanians cut off our connection with Bucharest.  Sentries patrolling roads and train cars were making our work difficult. The Lieutenant brought his sister from Czerniowce. A Romanian citizen, she became our courier.
More and more people were slipping out. Strong detachments of gendarmerie arrived, wrapping our camp in a tight net of sentries. You couldn’t move and not run into a blue uniform.  Daily searches of our quarters for weapons and civilian clothing often ended in a thrashing for the gendarmes. Hatred welled up from day to day. One of the boys was arrested and beaten in the cells.  We thrashed the captain of gendarmerie in return.
Another time a few boys got locked up; we broke into the jail and let them out. That was our daily entertainment. Disarming gendarmes and kicking them in the mud was our pastime. But I was completely consumed with my work. Only a few free evenings could be spared for night-time blue-hunting escapades.
I sold my damaged camera and the rest of my things. Edward and I bought civilian clothes. I worked out an escape plan and we decided to keep together, Edek, Adam and I. We were the last ones left of our flight and since our papers had been shipped out together, our passports should also arrive together. Now we only had to wait...
I was walking down a road one evening – someone whispered, “The courier is here!” – without a word, I was on my way back to the lieutenant. My heart was pounding. I knocked on the door and entered the dim room. Our lieutenant was sitting at the table, surrounded by unit commanders. Silence fell when he pulled out a folder from under the sofa. I waited, holding my breath, straining ears. Names were read, followed by “ready”, “no”. The list ended, but Krydner had not been called out. Edek and Adam had. God, how disappointed I was! I went back home to announce the news.  We parted that night. It was pouring, the night was dark. They left at 11:00.
The Romanians brought in a few more platoons of gendarmes and even the army came to keep us in. They manned all train stations, highways and byways. Only a bird could break out of the camp. And still... they kept running off. No escape route was impossible – in heaps of corn on wagons, in freight cars, some even pretended to have caught venereal diseases. A chap that got sick would legally be taken to hospital in Bucharest and was free. I bribed a Romanian – a poor Russian worker, actually. He helped our boys leave Urziceni and the Romanians were losing their minds.
Once we had a visit from a Romanian general. We weren’t covering up any more. At assembly, we reported all the absent as deserters. I thought the general would blow his top. We were doing our job. I got an urgent assignment to make some lists. It took me a few nights.
One day, November 4th, there was a knocking on the door. A messenger.
‘Hurry, the lieutenant wants you!’  My heart raced, blood rushed into my face... he was holding my passport.
‘I have nothing to say,’ he said, ‘you know everything. There are three roads: prison, death, freedom...’
I could care less, I was beaming with joy, thrilled to be standing before an open door at last. Who knows what waits on the other side...? I got my passport and some money, turned over command, said my farewells and ran home. The passport, tucked in under my shirt, was burning my skin. Back home, I got ready. I was to take one soldier with me. The night was coming in leaps and bounds, dark and rainy. The night of 5th November.

Many thanks to Barbara Poulter for access to her father's documents and photos
Special thanks also to Kresy-Siberia who originally translated the documents


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