Dla tego filmu nie wygenerowano opisu.
The third. The motor horse. Yeah. The gun. Yeah. That's it. Sir, could you tell me about your father, Ruth, in Poland? And why he chose to be a fighter pilot? My father was the sixth son of the coachman on a rural estate at Wereszín, about 20 kilometres from Hrubieszów. At the end of his schooling in Hrubieszów, he wanted further education, but the family could not have afforded it. So he'd been on a gliding course with the Polish Air Force and thought he'd apply for the Polish Air Force and get his education that way. So in 1936 he would have been taken on and begun his training at Demblin.
But he didn't manage to finish before the Second World War? He did. He was in the twelfth entry at Demblin and he finished the course in the summer of 1939. So he hadn't been formally commissioned when the war broke out, but like everyone in his year, he was commissioned in the field and sent straight to their squadrons to begin their life as officers now fighting a war. And how was that during September 1939, during the Polish-German war, how he managed to know what he did? He was a junior pilot with 162 Escalda and described a time of incredible confusion and difficulty as they were progressively withdrawing towards the Romanian border.
And the aircraft would fly, the transport and the ground crews would try and find them. There wasn't fuel in the right places. They were operating out of temporary airfields. It was a terribly difficult time until eventually when the Russian invasion occurred and the decision was taken to evacuate the Polish Air Force through Romania, at which point my father and his colleagues abandoned their new uniforms and had to pretend to be civilian tourists to avoid internment. And with the help of the Polish Embassy in Bucharest, eventually got transport from Belcec on the Black Sea to Marseille where they could then fly and fight with the French Air Force.
And during that German-French campaign, he also fought? He would have liked to have done. There wasn't much going on. The French Air Force didn't really know how to use the Polish pilots. And there was, it has to be said, a lack of aggressive spirit in a number of the French Air Force. And so when France capitulated, the Polish Air Force wasn't allowed to fly the French aircraft to Britain.
They were armed guards to prevent it and they made their way to the south of France and were evacuated through a little port called Saint-Jean-du-Luz near Biarritz onto a large British liner that was waiting offshore to take them to Vispa Ostatny-Nadjei, the island of the last hope. He's part of the French campaign. The French campaign was difficult and disappointing because there was a lack of aggressive spirit among the French. And when the French capitulated, an armed guard was placed by every French aircraft to stop Polish pilots flying them to Britain.
So the Polish Air Force, my father was based at Lyon then, moved south and were evacuated to a little village, Saint-Jean-du-Luz near Biarritz and then made their way on the Arundora Star, a pre-war British civilian liner, to Vispa Ostatny-Nadjei. And Britain was the island of last hope for many Poles? It was indeed, because Poland had fought against Russia and Germany and been crushed. In France, France had a million men under arms, it had the most armour of any European country. It had the Royal Air Force, it had the British Expeditionary Force, it had modern equipment.
It should have been able to see off the invasion, but it collapsed in about the same time as it took Poland to be overrun.
When he arrived in France, the first thing a French officer said to him was, you say you couldn't fly Monsieur, but how do I know? My father said, well, can I show you in this aircraft? So he took off and he described to me how he climbed to 3,000 feet, flew to one end of the airfield, and he couldn't think of anything else to do, so he did the full Dumblin aerobatic display pattern with loops segwaying into the next manoeuvres at a perfect three-point landing in front of the French officer who was now perhaps convinced.
When my father got to Britain though, again there were a lot of difficulties because the whole of the British fighter system depended on the system of ground control. The radar signals went to fighter command headquarters, from there they came to the headquarters of 11 Group here at Oxbridge, and this is the bunker we're standing beside, where the decisions were taken to deploy the different squadrons, and then once they were deployed, they were directed by radio from the ground as to where they should fly to meet the enemy. Now all that depends on being able to speak and understand English, so there were huge difficulties at the beginning. But there were other problems too.
My father was initially posted to 307 Squadron, which was then equipped with a bolt and pull defiant. Looks a bit like the Hurrican behind me, but with a turret behind the pilot, and a gunner there with four machine guns, and my father asked when shown the aircraft, where are my guns? And was told, you don't have any sir, all the shooting is done by the man in the back. And my father said, I'm not a bus driver, I'm a trained fighter pilot. And then it was, are you refusing to fly this aircraft? Yes. And seven other pilots beside him also refused to fly it, and in fact it was a mutiny.
But they were removed from 307 Squadron, and then he was posted shortly afterwards in October to 303 Squadron, when it was taking on new pilots. I have to say I'm glad he mutinied, because the defiant used in a daytime role was a suicidal aircraft. Most of them were shot down, and if my father had chosen to fly it, I wouldn't be talking to you now. And how is that doing the famous 303 Squadron? Well my father was always very clear that he wasn't a Battle of Britain pilot.
He was posted to 303 Squadron in October, they had just moved north to Lakenfield, where they were training new pilots, so in the last phase of the Battle of Britain, he was converting onto the Hurrican and learning to fly it. He might or might not have possibly done one or two flights which might have qualified him, but to me he was always very clear, I don't care about technical qualifications, I know what the men in 303 Squadron did in the height of the Battle of Britain, and I'm not claiming to be in any way their equal or to have a share in that, that was what they did, and that's not me.
OK, and then he was trained a new airplane, and what's next? Then in January 1941, now that Britain had realised the value of trained Polish pilots, a lot more Polish squadrons were being formed that were entirely Polish led, and my father was posted to 315 Squadron, he spent two years with them, and at various locations including Northolt, and after two years there, he was, to his great surprise, he became first a flight commander, and then he was appointed to command 308 Squadron at the age of 26, and he was the youngest Polish Squadron commander at the time, and he was the first of the 12th entry in Demblin to command a Squadron.
He was astonished, he had no influence, no friends, he came from a very humble background, and couldn't quite work out why this had happened, but that was the job. It didn't last for long, because after about a month or six weeks, he got appendicitis while flying, and had to land and be met by an ambulance, and was then in hospital, so he lost the command of the Squadron, didn't know what would happen next, but was then appointed to command 317 Squadron, this was the beginning of 1943, and he said to me that period of about seven months was his best time in the war.
He had a superb Squadron of terrific pilots, well disciplined, well trained, very effective, and he obviously led them well, and it was within the context of a war, as happy and effective a period as you could have. After that, he went on a staff course to prepare him for higher command, and then through 1944 and to the end of the war, had staff jobs with the Second Tactical Air Force, assisting the invasion of France, Holland and Germany.
How many German aircraft did he destroy? Well, I once asked him how many aircraft he had destroyed when I was a small boy, and he started running through a series of aircraft that he had destroyed, one was a Pessitel P11, which he had crashed in, one was a French cyclone, which had an engine failure, and that crashed as well, and as he went through this story, I realised that all the ones he was describing were all on our side, not the other side.
He made no official claim to shooting down any enemy aircraft, and he said to me, I was always too busy trying to stay alive to check what had happened to someone I'd been shooting at, and the first time when he was young, when he went to try and make a claim, he found two other pilots arguing about the same aircraft, and he thought, I'm not bothering with this, I'm not playing this, what's the point? So he never made another claim again. He was a modest man, whether he did or didn't, I don't know.
What mattered was his leadership of the squadrons, and in particular, an incident cited in his citation of the Virtuti Militarii describes how the squadron was tasked with escorting American bombers over France on their way to the target. While they were doing that, one of his squadron members drew his attention to some enemy fighters that were climbing to attack and get behind them, and my father's orders were, stay exactly as we are until I give the order.
He watched the enemy fighters get above and behind them, thinking they hadn't been seen, and he waited until they were committed to their dive to attack them, before giving the order to change course by 180 degrees, climb, and mount a climbing attack into them. The effect was very successful, they shot down four of the attacking aircraft for no losses, and protected the bomber force successfully, at the end of which time, the bombers long gone, so my father's orders, the squadrons were right, back to North Ault, but what we'll do is we'll be in line abreast, and we'll go down to treetop height, and shoot at any target of opportunity, directly in front of your guns.
And I remember him saying to me in his late 90s, I don't honestly think he did an awful lot of good for the war effort, but he did a fantastic amount for squadron morale. He told you that he wanted to go and support, for example, the Warsaw Uprising. No, that wasn't a role that would have at all fitted a fighter pilot, it was the bomber squadrons that were supporting the Warsaw Uprising. Like everybody else, he was listening to the news of it intensely, desperate to do something, to help or force something to be done to help, but in his role in a staff job relating to fighter aircraft, there was no way he could have been engaged.
And after the war broke up, did he have any time possibility to go back for him? No, he didn't have a Poland to go back to. It was now occupied by the people who'd invaded it in September 1939, and of those pilots who did go back, it didn't take long before people realised what happened to them. He would have been regarded as a traitor, he would have almost certainly been tried, imprisoned, possibly executed, but it wasn't the Poland that he'd fought for.
And after the Solidarity, after 1990, he managed to go to Poland? He went before then actually, he went in 1965, he hadn't seen his mother for 25 years, he was still serving now in the Royal Air Force, eventually got permission to make the trip. Unsurprisingly, he was met by the Polish security services who tried to persuade him to work for them, not very effectively. They brought out a large bottle of vodka and he made sure that they drank the vodka and his vodka went into the nearest pot plant, so nothing came from that.
But then, from then onwards, he started going back more often, and certainly after the Solidarity period, when Poland became open again and reclaimed its place as part of free Europe. He went regularly, went to Polish Air Force reunions in Warsaw, I was there with him on a number of occasions, went back to his home, his own village quite frequently, has been back at Damblin. So he reconnected with his roots when at last he was free to do so.
You think that on the bottom line for your father was that time in the Zamość Wyrawnsze ship, that he would stop that place on the earth? Because after the Second World War, he was quite good career here in great detail. So what for his mind was the most important? It's difficult to know. He made a new life here, he married an English wife. Interestingly, we never lived in Polish emigre circles. My mother spoke no Polish, and my father, then serving in the Royal Air Force, we were moving around a lot and abroad a lot as well, so it wouldn't have been easy.
But I did once ask him whether it was by chance or design that we had never grown up associated with the Polish community. He said it was quite deliberate. As soon as I knew that I couldn't go back to Poland, I knew that your own future would be in this country, and the best thing I could do for you was to bring him up as British, not Polish, which was a very self-sacrificing thing to do. Interestingly, as so often happens with parents and children, if you push children in one direction, they'll go the other way. If you don't push them, they'll find it for themselves.
So both my brother and I learned Polish independently in later life. I've become heavily engaged in the chairing the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee and making sure their memory is maintained. And indeed, I became a Polish citizen a few years ago, and my brother is now going through the same process. So the roots are there. And when someone asked me once whether I considered myself British or Polish, English or Polish, I think my reply was that I got a Polish heart and an English head, which feels about right. Congratulations, Rodak, for the Polish citizenship.
OK, but how strong is that memory that you are preserving for Britain nowadays, for all that society that came from different parts of the world? It's stronger now than it ever has been. In the immediate post-war period, nobody wanted to know about Poles. They were a nuisance. They were competitors for jobs, housing and indeed girls. And there was a huge sense of British official guilt, the way Poland had been treated. So better not to know about it. So the Poles kept themselves themselves by and large.
But really going back to when my father wrote his autobiography in the 70s and nobody was interested in publishing it, in the 90s, 1990s, suddenly people were interested and they realized that there weren't many airmen left. And those that they could find from Poland actually all have unbelievable stories to tell. And there was suddenly a huge surge of interest in the Polish air force, its history, what Poles did, what Britain owed Poland. And the more people found out about things like the victory parade in which we were not permitted to march and the way Poles had been treated, the more ashamed a lot of English people became. But the interest has grown.
If the British population knows one thing about Poland and the war, it's probably 303 Scotland. There's a lot more to it than that. But that's a start. And everywhere that we share the Polish air force story, the interest is tremendous and never goes away. I keep coming across English people with no Polish background who have stumbled across the story and then spent years working for it.
A colleague of mine at RAF Ingham, which was a Polish bomber station, ex-RAF, English, once he read the story and discovered that he lived next to what had been a Polish bomber station, now farmland, he set about restoring the buildings, building a huge group of volunteers, setting up a charity, getting a lease on the land, building a Polish memorial, now restoring the mess buildings to become a museum. And that is the Polish bomber squadron's home in Britain, which we regard as a sister organization. And we work very closely with them. He has no connection with Poland, but he read the story, was bowled over, found out more and just got stuck in.
And at RAF Northalt, I meet every succeeding station commander as they arrive. And in turn, they all become incredibly passionate supporters of the Polish air force memory. My opening gambit is always the same. I just say, you do realize, sir, that every school child in Poland knows what happened on your station in September 1940. What? They do? How? Because the book, Fiedler's Squadron 303, is still on the curriculum. They've all read it. They know more about your station than you do. And from then on, they will do anything they can of the Polish memory.
And the current station commander, Group Captain McFadden, has just allowed us to move our museum exhibits from what had been essentially a small lounge area into the heart of the historic officers mess, providing a huge open space entirely for our use as a museum and art gallery at the centre of the mess, which everyone passes through. So more and more people see the story. And that was provided by the station, by RAF Northalt, at its own expense as a gift for the Polish memory. And they take as much pride in the Polish part of the station's history as we do. I think that's important.
I really want to meet both of them, the British people and the commander-in-chief. But do you think that the solidarity case, that all have a connection between the time of war period effort, for example, Małpach and solidarity movement, and now the Ukraine war crisis, bring the history of our fighters, our fight for freedom, more even to the spot of British… I think the resonances are very, very strong. And the Polish embassy in London, early in the Ukrainian war, started adopting a symbol on its emails, which combines the Polish and Ukrainian flags. And the slogan is, first to fight, first to help.
And both Poland and Britain have poured in huge amounts of assistance to Ukraine in one form or another. And what we are seeing is exactly what we saw in 1939, when a tyrant decides that he wants to set the borders of his country wherever he pleases on other people's territory. And you have two choices. Either you try and stop him and fight, or you give in, in which case he will take what you're offering and then come back for more the next year and more the year after. So we are both doing the right thing for the right reason. The Prime Minister, Charles Churchill, has a right in the parliament.
Before he was the Prime Minister, you can choose, Prime Minister, to have a war or disgrace. Yes. You choose the grace and who are you going to have in it? And what's the story of your father after he got out of the Polish aircraft to the British? Could you tell us? In the Royal Air Force, you mean? Yes, sorry. He, at the end of the war, like all Polish forces, he moved into the Polish Resettlement Corps, which gave him a nominal base for two years while he found some civilian work. Ran a small hotel with my mother for a few years.
And then in 1951, when the RAF realized that it was now terribly short of pilots because under Treasury orders, it had sacked them all. It suddenly had the bright idea that if you get some of the old ones back, you don't have the expense of training them. My father replied. And at the end of his interview, they said to him, well, thank you very much. We're delighted to offer you a post as a sergeant pilot. What? How dare you? I commanded a squadron and you're offering to make me a sergeant.
And he was nearly out the door before they pulled him back and said, I'm sorry, we are under orders to make that our first offer to you. Now that you've refused it, we are allowed to offer you a post as a flying officer. And he just looked at them and said, getting your pilots on the cheap, aren't you? Yes. And how many years he spent on the role? He then served a full RAF, full service commission until it would be the 19 mid 70s that he would have retired from the Air Force.
And could you specify where you were with the whole family? Variously in Northern Ireland, in different stations in Britain, in Malta when I was two, in Aden when I was nine, in Cyprus when I was 13. And between those periods, we usually had a small flat when we're not abroad. And my father would commute for the week at a time to places like Cranwell where he served. He was prepared to fight with service in that time. Do you want to? Someone once asked him, if you had to choose, which would you fight first, Germans or Russians? And he said, Germans. Why? Business before pleasure. But he wasn't in a combat role.
His initial flying was essentially flying training aircraft for trainee navigators. So flying Wellington bombers with trainee navigators in the back who didn't really know where they were. And occasionally he would ask them where they thought the aircraft now was. And they would say, Birmingham, sir. Have you looked out the window lately? Why? Well, take a look out. What can you see? An awful lot of water. Yes, it's the North Sea. Your navigation's a bit off. And then eventually, particularly with communist control getting worse, to stay in a longer period he shifted into a ground job running catering provisions. Goesio? No, I was just wondering about that.
Dad! You asked about that My colleague, remind me, what about that time that your father was chosen by all the readers to be the most popular? How is that? Yes, well, he was, the poll was actually a choice to find a representative, ordinary pilot to show at the RAF Museum next to the Spitfire. And a wide range were put up. The truth is that as soon as polls in this country and in Poland found there was a Polish pilot nominated, it didn't matter who it was, they would all vote for him. And everyone I know and everyone I've ever met, for the first time, they'll all say to me, I voted for your father.
So he won by a colossal, colossal margin. And he was a few months before his death then. And he said, well, why me? I was no one special. And I said, well, no, but you are the last living representative who fought in the Polish campaign in 1939 and fought in France and fought in Britain and commanded a squadron. So you are a representative. And he said, well, all right then. But this is for the ground crew too, because my fitter and rigor meant everything to me. And without them, I would never have survived.
And interestingly, when he gave his artifacts to the museum, part of which is here at the bunker, part of which is at Northolt, he had originally said everything except two small crucifixes, which is fitter and rigor had wired into his cockpit and gave to him for his safety. And when he left the view on Five Squadron, they passed them on to him for his next aircraft. And I explained to the museum that everything but the crucifixes. And I talked to my father later and he said, I've changed my mind. And he said, put the crucifixes in the museum, because that's the only way that fitter and rigor will ever be remembered in history.
And their role was every bit as important as mine. At the time, he couldn't remember their names. One of them, the fitter, we have now tracked down and his name is Kubalski and his son I now know well who is a good friend. The other we don't know yet. But the classic photograph has my father sitting on the wing of a 315 squadron Spitfire at Northolt with a fitter Kubalski on the engine cowling. And the unknown rigor beside him. Somebody knows whose face that is. And one day we will give him the credit and the naming that is his due as well. You have that photograph? We have, yes.
Could you email us? I certainly can. Yes. And you remember the last words of your father? What was he want to pass by the side of the crucifix to the next generation? Of course also. It was, well the crucifixes were passed over so that the ground crew who generally are overlooked and get no credit would have their place and be remembered very specifically. Beyond that, at the end of his life the thing that he was most concerned about was to make sure that his wider family were all still speaking to each other and connected. He placed huge value on family and on education. That mattered to him.
And he did make more or less from his deathbed one final contribution to historical knowledge. Somebody was writing a monograph about a French aircraft, the cauldron cyclone, and realised that there's almost no one alive who's ever flown one. And realised that my father was still alive, had flown one. He wasn't fit enough to do an interview or anything at that stage, he was heading a few weeks before he died. But I took the questions and spoke to him about them. And I said, do you have anything you want to say about the cauldron cyclone? And he said, yes. It was an absolutely terrible aircraft. It did not have a single redeeming feature.
It was grossly underpowered. It should never have been built. So a few months before he died, one last historical nugget was fed into the record. I saw the picture of your father in the Spitfire. Did you be a part of him? What did he talk about after so many years? He has been back in the cockpit of the Spitfire several times. It has the registration BM597. It served in 315 Squadron and 317 Squadron. His logbook proves he flew it in 315 Squadron. I watched him get back into it when it had just been restored to flying condition. We were on our own, more or less.
He slipped into the cockpit and just pulled the cover over. I watched 60 years drop away from him. And then on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the aircraft flew into North Holt. He was back in his old cockpit again, slipped in effortlessly. After his wheel tried and found it actually not as easy as he made it look. At age 93, he climbed out of the cockpit, walked down the wing route, which would be about three or four feet off the ground.
At that point, the station commander in his full uniform and braid walked up on one side and I walked up on the other side to help him down. He stood there on the wing route, looked down at us and said, I didn't need any help, and jumped down like a teenager. And that same aircraft will land in at North Holt next Saturday when we have our annual Polish Air Force Commemoration. And it will taxi up and park in front of the historic officer's mess where my father lived, along with so many other Polish pilots.
And it will be visited by the Rector Commandant of Denblin, General Tzur, and a number of his officer cadets who will be staying with us at North Holt for the Commemoration period. So you will have the present and future of the Polish Air Force against the background of its past and our students. Still fighting together. Still fighting together. That's the most important thing. OK. OK. OK. Gosia asking to put this question more directly. How many times during whole life your father think and tell you about what and what future and the past? When we were boys, he never raised the subject particularly. But if we asked, he always responded.
Like a great many veterans, he never wanted to talk about himself or what he did. I suspect because a lot of the memories are too terrible. But if we asked, he would always tell us openly and honestly, answer all questions. And gradually we got to learn more about his background, his home, his walker career. And then when his autobiography was eventually going to be published, he needed editing for all sorts of reasons. And he asked me to edit it for him. And at that point, having to read the text very closely, check it, then see it through the printers, reading it and rereading it.
At the end of that process, I realized I knew him better than I'd ever known him in my life. And it needed a new epilogue. And I said, he'd already said to me, make whatever changes you like. Fine. But this new epilogue, I mean, you have to write that. And then I'm too old to write anything. You write it or compromise. I'll draft it, but you have to approve it. OK. And I just made a short half a page describing the village where he lived in his final years, which is on the South Downs, close to the coast, a lot of racing stables nearby, a lot of horses, racing horses passing through.
And how the sound of them reminded him of his childhood in Vrescin, where at the age of six, he filled his great ambition of riding the lead horse on the Fleshing team, which is a skilled boy's job and you've got money for it. And it brought him back to his childhood. And now to find that time in England, again full of polls, but this time free to come and go as they chose. That was the difference. And I sent it off to him and he just sent a message back saying, that's what I would like to have written.
I thought we have actually got our heads into the same place, which was a very lovely feeling. I think he chose you to be a keeper of the village. Well, it's. . . It brings you into this habitat. It is a huge privilege to tell his story, not because he was someone special, as he always said, I wasn't, I just wasn't. But because his story is a representative story of so many other exceptional, extraordinary airmen, most of whose stories were never written down, won't be known, and many of whom didn't survive.
So what he wanted to do was to see that the effort of the Polish Air Force was remembered and recognized for itself, not for him. That's the symbol of victory, Polish and British, the last very one big one, by army, just like this. But the last question, I'll guarantee. What he said about German airmen, is he appreciated their skills or he saw the values or differently? The airmen were good, technically. He had admiration for their professional flying skills.
There was a sense in which the war in the air had a different feel to it, in that a lot of it was essentially one to one combat between people who were similarly trained, similarly equipped, and it was down to the best pilot. He was certainly a very skilled pilot himself. On one occasion coming back, low on fuel, more or less out of ammunition. He could see a German aircraft fighter on his tail. He couldn't spend a lot of time diverting in maneuvers. So what he did was he applied a little bit of rudder to have the effect of turning the aircraft in that direction.
But he applied a slight bank, which would have the effect of turning it in the other direction. So to a pursuing aircraft, you would see a Spitfire flying like that. In fact, it was pointing that way, but it was going sideways across the sky. And he thought if the German pilot was any good, he will do a deflection shot, allowing for the turn. And my father had the nerve to wait until he saw the tracer come six foot past his port wingtip, at which point he spun away. And the other aircraft realized that actually, no, this wasn't some novice and that no one's going to get anywhere.
So they both more or less waited at each other and went home. But that was the, those were the better sides. There were, there were grimmer sides too. And on one occasion, and this was told to us as teenagers over lunch when we pressed him, and it's not in his autobiography. They were doing a low sweep as a squadron over northern France. They were passing a passenger train and suddenly a lot of rifles and grey uniforms appeared in the windows taking pot shots of them. So the squadron did what it should, which is wheeled around. And the entire squadron of Spitfires then raked the whole of a German troop train from end to end.
And it must have been the most appalling carnage. He never spoke about it again. And I think it was those sorts of things which meant that when he spoke about the war, he would pick up the light moments or the moments to his own disadvantage. The actual business of killing he didn't like. And on one occasion, he was in a one-to-one combat quite low down over the water with a German pilot who he realized actually wasn't that good. It was probably quite young and new. And although he described a manoeuvre to me, I can't replicate it.
But the effect was the German pilot took a manoeuvre which he thought would bring him to escape, which my father had assumed he'd do because he'd forced him into that position. And it meant that as the pilot came out of his manoeuvre, he found my father straight in front of him with all his guns pointing straight at him. And my father described seeing the face of a pilot going white, convinced he was going to die within the next half second or so. And it was such utter fear and desperation that he paused and didn't actually press the button. I think he felt it would have been murder because it wasn't an equal combatant.
I toyed with the idea of flying. It once said it would appeal, but it's one more thing. And what gives me the satisfaction is telling the story of pilots and making sure it's not forgotten. Thank you very much. Thank you. My colleague asked me about. . . Thank you. .