Miroslaw Ignacy Wojciechowski 1917 - 1956

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A New Home...

1945 was an odd time for the Poles in England. In 1940, they had been seen as the plucky survivors, willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with the only European country as yet undefeated. Their pilots had been lionized, with the exploits of 303 Squadron in particular being used in huge propaganda offensives against the Germans. 
Arkady Fiedler's book, Squadron 303, first published in 1942, was inordinately successful and is now recognised as an important propaganda piece from the war. Copies of the book, with flyleaf signatures of some of its pilots are much prized. I'm grateful to Andrew Goff for letting me have a copy of the flyleaf signatures in his copy of the book.

Squadron 303, with flyleaf signatures including Miroslaw Wojciechowski

By now, especially with Stalin's friends in the ascendancy in England, the "fascist" Poles started to have a difficult time. At war's end, the British government was faced with an increasingly difficult dilemma. Despite Churchill's war time promise of a home for all Poles who had served the Allied cause, trades unions and socialist members of Parliament (anxious apparently about absorbing so many foreigners who would take the jobs of returning Englishmen) actively campaigned for their immediate repatriation. Public hostility was, in some places, quite intense. Mirek was ordered by his Station Commander to remove the Poland flashes from his uniform, as this was considered provocative. He refused. He was spat at in the street and told to "go home". Britain and the USA now recognised the Soviet led Government in Poland. 

To the eternal shame of Britain, Poles were excluded from the Victory Parade in 1946; Clement Atlee and other supporters of his Labour government were concerned about upsetting their allies in the Soviet Union. 303 Squadron were invited, but refused to join the parade, as no other Polish forces were allowed to join. Brazil, who declared war on Germany in March 1945, was well represented.

 

That is not to say that there were no voices raised in the Poles' defence. Public subscription led to the dedication of the Polish Air Force Memorial in 1948. 

Polish Air Force Memorial, Northolt

 

For Mirek, there were pressing reasons to stay in England. Firstly, he met, fell in love with and meant to marry an English woman. Panda, as he nicknamed her, was a WAAF serving on the same station near Nottingham in 1946. They were finally to marry in 1949.

 

There was another reason; in September 1945, an English pilot serving with Mirek had just visited his sister in hospital in Edinburgh. He returned with the news that a woman with exactly the same name as Mirek was in the bed next to his sister. "Except, she insisted that her name ended 'ska'", he said. Later that same day, Mirek found himself talking on the telephone to his sister for the first time in six years. She had been sent by the Red Cross to recuperate in Scotland. Despite having a withered left arm and no teeth (as a result of malnutrition), she recovered well and moved down to Brighton to begin the long battle to bring her children to England.

Mirek with his sister Janka, London 1945

Janka and Mirek reunited, 1945

 

Meanwhile, since the British government no longer recognised the Polish Armed Forces stationed in England as legitimate (so much for the Polish contribution to the Battle of Britain, Monte Cassino, the assault on Arnhem) Mirek was moved from the now disbanded Polish Air Force to the Polish Resettlement Corps. Only after Stalin's refusal to hold free elections in Poland did the British government feel obliged, in early 1947, to pass the Polish Resettlement Act, which offered a haven to all Poles in England. The PRC was wound up and, by now a Warrant Officer, he re-engaged as a Master Pilot in the RAF in November 1948.

 

Mirek and Spitfire, probably taken between 1949 and 1953

Mirek, with PR Spitfire, 1951

Between 1945 and 1949 there were more postings to flight training and BAT (Blind Approach) schools, where Mirek became one of the most experienced Flight Instructors in the RAF. On 1st January 1950, two weeks before the birth of his daughter, he was posted to 2 Squadron in Germany. Initially flying Spitfires, the squadron soon converted to the Gloster Meteors. 

 

I'm grateful to John Mitchell for contacting me in 2003 and sharing with me his experiences of 2 Squadron and his memories of my father -

Dear Jan,

I served as one of your Fatherís ground crew from 1949 to 1951 as an Airframe Mechanic, on No 2 AC Squadron in Germany .

I had served on the Berlin Airlift at an airfield called Wunstorf, and after it finished in 1949, I was posted to RAF Wahn to join No 2 Squadron which was equipped with PR Spitfires mark XIV and XIXs at the time. Also on the station were 4 Mosquito Squadrons Noís 4, 11, 14 and 98.

Soon after I arrived, so did your Father and some other Poles and Czech NCO pilots, after their own squadrons and fighting units had been disbanded after the war. They had joined the RAF instead of returning home under the disgraceful Yalta Agreement between the powers that be at that time; many were encouraged to return to their Communist controlled countries, only to be persecuted when they got there.

Your Father and his colleagues were conspicuous by being informal, kind and sociable to their ground crews, not like some others Iíve had to endure. They wanted reliable aircraft to throw around the skies at will. They certainly did this in a spectacular manner when ever they returned from a trip, much to the disapproval of some on the station, but the Station Commander, Group Captain D.J. Eayes used to be a 2 Squadron pilot himself many years previously, so I think a lot of requested reprimands never got off the ground!

Many of our pilots had seen wartime action, and had plenty of practice of doing this type of flying during the Battle of Britain, and throughout the war.

They also got away with it because, our Squadron Commander, Sdn Ldr Newenham DFC was also an exí Battle of Britain veteran, and when he left, he was replaced by Sdn Ldr Bartett DSO, another B of B veteran. After a while the Squadron was treated with great caution by the rest of the administration on the camp. They were a mad lot - you should have witnessed some of the parties we had. All ranks, all looking after each other. Your Father being in the midst of it, and at all times sporting his cigarette holder.

I and my fellow mechanics were all of a similar age and had watched the war unfold as spectators. Most of us, as soon as we were old enough, joined up - and for the likes of your Father and his generation, we couldnít do enough. They were all on average about nine years older than we were. In hindsight, I donít know if your Father had any younger brothers or not, but speaking for myself, it seemed that they were treating us as if we were the younger brothers they might have left behind. 'Wojí was very kind. When the squadron stood down for a long weekend, we would go with him and the other pilots up to a place called Bad Harzburg. There was skiing in the winter, (he loved skiing) in summer there was hill climbing, and of course plenty of elbow bending at night in some bar.

The Squadron moved up to an old Luftwaffe base called Wunstorf on the 15th Septí49. I was on the advance party, which went by road a few days before, ready to receive the Spitís. When they arrived, I remember, there were joyful greetings and leg pulling when they taxied in safely, as though they had just flown the Atlantic !

I relate all this, because this type of relationship between Officers, NCOs and other ranks was not encouraged in the forces. Indeed one was usually reminded of oneís place quite often. Young men, still wet behind the ears and far from home, appreciated a little kindness and understanding at times. The likes of your Father, who were deprived of ever returning home to see their own families, liked to include their young ground crews in their recreation. It was a unique situation, and from what I remember, nobody ever took any advantage of it. Your Fatherís kindness has stayed in my mind ever since, and was one of the reasons why I tried to find him after I retired, just to thank him. A kindness is never forgotten. Iím 74 now.

After Wunstorf, the squadron moved to an isolated airfield called Buckeburg on the 29th of June 1950. About this time, I went on UK leave, and your Father asked me to take a bottle of special liquor back with me, and post it to the lady who would eventually become your Mother.

All this time the squadron was very busy systematically photographing the whole of Western Europe west of the Iron Curtain. At intervals, the squadron would go to the German island of Sylt just below Denmark for air firing exercises, I went in Janí 1950 and it was so cold the sea was frozen between the island and the Danish coast. 

For internal leave, we would all go up to Bad Harzburg to let our hair down.

In October 1950 we received our first jet engined aircraft. It was a dual seat Meteor Mk 7, trainer. None of us like the idea of losing the Spitfires, especially your Father and his fellow pilots; they had fought so many of their brave battles in such aircraft.

In November 1950, the first of the squadronís Meteor PR Mk 9s arrived and later some PR Mk10s. Nobody seemed to like the jets, the pilots more than the ground crew. We had quite a few who overshot the runway.

It was a sad day in January 1951 when the Spitfires were flown back to the UK via Holland . Iím glad to say one of them a Mk XIX survived, and is now part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, PS 915. Your Father would have flown her at times; it also shows how well she must have been looked after by her ground crew to last so long!

My stay with 2 Squadron was one of the most enjoyable periods during my 6 years service This was only due to the type of personnel we had on the squadron, but regrettably my time in Germany came to an end and I was sent to the UK as permanent staff on No 504 Aux Squadron, based at RAF Wymeswold in Leicestershire. They had Mk 8 Meteors and were desperate for Riggers with Meteor experience.

I had my farewell party with 2 Squadron and left in the spring of 1951. That was the last time I saw your Father, and many other friends I made on the squadron. Thankfully after many years I have been reunited with many of them, but not your Father.

In the early 1990s my memories of your Father seemed to be more vivid and at about the same time I saw an article in the daily newspaper, which stated that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were going to sell one of their Spitfires to help pay for the restoration of a Hurricane Fighter, which had Ďprangedí. I knew they had one of our old Spitfires there, so I rang BBMF and asked if the Spití was PS 915, some clot the other end said it was. I was incensed by this, and wrote to the press to the effect that these aircraft were our heritage, and why wasnít there Government funds to cover these contingencies etc? The Daily Mail took it up, and came to see me and put an old picture of me standing by the aircraft when I was with 2 Squadron, plus my views on the matter. It turned out that I was given the wrong information, and it was not our old kite that was being sold, but another Spitfire. Never mind, the principal was the same.

The response was absolutely amazing; my sentiments reverberated throughout just about every ex RAF chap who had anything to do with war, flying or aircraft, from the highest to the lowest ranks. The newspaper passed dozens of letters on to me, and the phone never stopped. One Ďphone call was from Johnny Power, another 2 Squadron NCO pilot who served with your Father. He remembered me and suggested that I come to a ĎSpitfire Societyí meeting, which was being held at Hendon. I went and was made a member. While we were there I asked him if he knew where your Father was, and he gave me the unbelievable tragic news of your Fatherís death. I was absolutely devastated, as I was hopefully going to track him done and personally thank him for his kindness all those years ago.

I cannot explain why thoughts of your Father were so strong after so many years. If anybody was qualified to object to those old Battle of Britain aircraft being sold, he was amongst the highest. One day I said to my wife, ĎIím going to find Wojís grave, she must have thought Iíd lost all my marbles, but we set off with only the knowledge that he was killed flying from Middle Wallop. I went straight to St Peterís churchyard and found your Fatherís grave. I must confess I found it very moving after so many years, and not be able to shake him by the hand and say thank you. I took some photographs, and wrote to the local school nearby to tell them all about him and his wartime exploits. I believe they put flowers on his grave on Remembrance Sundays.

Yours sincerely,

John Mitchell

 

Current research undertaken by Wojtek Matusiak on 2 Squadron's photo reconnaissance role in Berlin suggests that the high altitude Spitfires, which at that time were well out of reach of Soviet air defences, were engaged in covert surveillance over East Germany and even Poland. There were other Poles on the squadron at the time and it would be fascinating to know whether they were engaged in "spy plane" flights over their homeland.

 

PR Mark XIX Spitfire

PR Spitfire PS915, flown out of Berlin by Mirek in 1951. Now restored and in flying condition at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Coningsby, Lincolnshire

Interior of PR spitfire PM627 flown by Mitrek out of Berlin in 1951

A view of the cockpit of PR Spitfire PM627, flown by Mirek out of Berlin in 1951

 

Indeed, the Polish and Czech pilots on the squadron were continually reminded that flying close to the East German border was dangerous. In the event they and their aircraft went down in the East, neither would be repatriated. After conversion to Meteors (with a nominal flight time of 30 minutes), pilots competed for the squadron endurance record. Rather too many times, flight controllers thought they had 'lost' aircraft, only to see a Pole or Czech land after 50 or more minutes airtime.

Gloster Meteors

Click here for a larger version of this picture

One of Mirek's Photo Recon pictures of Cologne in 1951.

The total devastation around the Cathedral is still obvious.

Mirek and his daughter Krystyna, Gutesloh 1952

 

Relaxing in the mess

Mirek was back in his element, flying fast single seat aircraft. Still, there were other aircraft to fly and there is reference in his service record of a posting 147 Squadron, which was bringing Sabres over from Canada.

Over a period of some six weeks, according to his wife, he flew aircraft across the Atlantic, being stuck in Canada on several occasions by bad weather. However, their is no record in his Flying Log Book of Sabre conversion or any flights. There is an entry for a dual flight, followed immediately by a solo in a Vampire at around this time. Whether he was engaged in secret work or not may never be known.

North American Sabre F-87

Home
Pilot
Escape
303 Squadron 1
303 Squadron 2
A New Home
and Finally
Links
Contents