Today I want to remember Waclaw Czekalski. He was born on the 8th of July 1918 in Wolkowsk Poland which is now in Belarus. He managed to get to England when France fell in 1940 and continued to serve in the Polish Air Force, which became part of the RAF at the time.
On the night of the 5/6th of May 1942 he was the co-pilot of Wellington bomber Z8599, call sign SM-R from 305 Squadron operating out of Lindolme. They were intercepted by Oberleutnant Wilhelm Herget of the Stab II./NJG 4, flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110 over Sart-Saint-Laurent in Namur, Belgium. One engine was severely damaged in the attack. Now unable to maintain height the pilot, Stanislaw Krawczyk, ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. One of crew members, Pilot Officer Kazimierz Rowicki, did not have a parachute. Krawczyk gave him his own and stayed with the stricken aircraft. He survived the forced landing even though he had been wounded in the original attack.
All of the six man crew survived. Only one member, Sergeant Ludwig Czarnecki, was captured. He had broken his leg as a result of the parachute descent. He would serve out the rest of the war in Stalag Luft3 in Sagan and Belairia. The remaining five all managed to evade capture and return to the UK and continued to serve in the PAF.
After three days of hiding in woods and isolated barns Czekalski was in the care of the Comet Escape line. Two days later he found himself in a safe house in Namur with two other members of his crew, Flying Officer Alojzy Szkuta and Sergeant Edward Siadecki. Czekalski’s turn to cross the Spanish border near Saint-Jean-de-Luz came on the night of 6th/7th of July. He was accompanied by Collins, Griffiths and Goldsmith, all three were RAF officers. The party left Gibraltar on the 21st of July and arrived in Scotland on the 30th.
He returned to operational duties, which he was not obliged to do. All airmen who had escaped from occupied Europe were offered the chance to serve away from the front line; training new recruits, admin and control duties, that sort of thing. To return to the fight the man had to insist. He did. So did the other members of his crew who made it back to Britain. Indeed most Polish airmen in the same situation did too, Heroes every one.
On the 11th of April 1944 he was the pilot of another Wellington, HF188 of 304 Squadron operating out of Chivenor, on an anti-submarine patrol over the Bay of Biscay. His old crew mate Edward Siadecki was the Wireless operator. The aircraft was intercepted by a Junkers 88 Night Fighter and shot down. None of the crew survived.
So why do I want to remember him particularly today?
Well for one thing, in common with so many other Polish flyers, he returned to dangerous front line duties even after they ‘qualified’ for a much less risky, softer job. And he paid the price. As did his friend Edward Siadecki. So too did his Pilot from the 5/6th of May, Stanislaw Krawczyk, who was also shot down on an anti-submarine patrol on the 1st of November 1942. His navigator on that fateful day was Alojzy Szkuta also from the flight on May 5/6th. That’s four from a crew of six that put there lives on the line again and again, and did not live to tell their stories.
For another reason too. I learned only a few days ago that on the morning after the VE day celebrations on Tuesday 8 May 1945 the first, but by no means the last, graffiti inviting the ‘Poles Go Home’ was found on a wall in London. Seems a bit ungrateful, don’t you think?