ANTON (ANTHONY) WITKOWSKI

by his son

Born in 1913 in Minsk, Poland to Stanislaw & Krystyna Witkowski.  Anthony lived in Moscow until he was two years old, as his father worked in the Polish Embassy. In 1917, he moved back to Wilno with his parents, to where his Grandmother lived - this was part of Poland before 1939.

His Father then worked as a Railway Official and his mother continued to work as a Midwife. His Father was a keen gardener and always kept busy in the garden with the many fruit trees they grew.

Anthony was an Alter boy at St Anne's local Catholic Church in Wilno, which is now (Vilnius, Lithuania).   He was a very keen stamp collector and had quite a valuable collection before the onset of WW2.  He also played Ice Hockey in Poland.  After finishing college, he worked in a Power Station as an electrician. He later joined the Polish Air Force.  His Father died in 1939 and is buried in Rasu Cemetery along with lots of Polish Military dignitaries.

When WW2 broke out, Anthony was stationed at the barracks near Wilno.  He took part in the 1939 September campaign in Poland with the 5th regiment.  He had to leave his Mother behind, as the Polish Air Force Unit he was with had to flee the advance of the German Army through Poland.
 

Like many Poles, Anthony fled to Romania with his unit, where he was interned in various Polish Army Camps.  He was put to work on a farm with his comrades, where their captives gave them very little food.  He was very lucky to survive, as many of his comrades died of malaria. He managed to escape the farm with some colleagues and eventually got a job in the Polish Embassy in Bucharest.  The Polish Military Attaché in Bucharest later called him up for training.

In March of 1940, Anthony left Romania and made his way by sea to Haifa, Palestine via Istanbul, Turkey where he joined his Polish colleagues on 25th Oct 1940.  At Christmas, he visited Bethlehem with all his colleagues for Midnight Mass. The choir on the night was made up of Polish Airmen. He said it was one of the most moving experiences he had.

In October, he was posted to the Reserve Centre of the Carpathian Rifle Brigade - the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade 1940/41.  Formed in April 1940 from Polish exiles in the French Levant (now known as Syria), as part of the French forces there. Two infantry regiments, a cavalry regiment (Carpathian Lancers), and supporting units (including a Carpathian HMG Battalion) numbering 3500 soldiers. In June 1940, the Brigade came under British control and moved to Palestine.  From there, the Brigade moved to combat in North Africa, and in Mar 1942, withdrew through Egypt back to Palestine to reorganize.

Anthony stayed with the Australian Units and eventually came to England in 1941, after rejoining the Polish Air Force.  He was posted to the Polish Air Force Depot, RAF Station, in Blackpool.  This was when General Sikorski re-formed the Polish Air Force.

Anthony’s cousin and some of his close friends died at the battle of Monte Casino.  The words inscribed on the monument at the cemetery in Cassino reads:, "We Polish Soldiers for our freedom and yours have given our Souls to God, our bodies to the soil of Italy and our hearts to Poland".  

At a later stage during the war, Anthony‘s mother went to live in Biala Podlaska (the house still stands today).  This was after the Germans bombed her house.  The valuable stamp collection was lost in the destruction.  At one stage, the Russian Army interned her for two years.

Anthony‘s service record shows that during WW2 he was stationed at many different Air Force Bases throughout the UK, such as Cranwell, Sealand, Northolt, etc.  He was with the Polish Air Force Wing of the 306 Spitfire Squadron, as an Electrical Engineer working on Spitfires - preparing them for battle.  He trained at the Signal School in Radio Signals and Communication at Cranwell.  Later, he went on to be a Signals Instructor at the school.  In 1944, he married Mary Prendergast at St Chad's RC Church in Cheetham.

 

His service record includes the following information:

19-9-41 No 1 Signals School RAF Station Cranwell
23-1-42 No 306 Polish Spitfire Fighter Squadron
2-10-42 No 30 Maintenance Unit RAF Station Sealand
15-3-44 No 131 Airfield HQ RAF Station Northolt
24-4-44 No 6308 Service Echelon (on the continent from 3-8-44)
14-1-46 No 6315 Service Echelon
08-8-46 No 1 Radio School RAF Station Cranwell

 

Anthony went on to serve with the 306 Spitfire Squadron, (Badge "Torunski") which was formed at Church Fenton on 28 August 1940, manned by Polish personnel and equipped with Hurricanes.


It became operational on 8th September and moved to Northolt in April 1941 to take part in sweeps over northern France until October.  It was then allocated to the defence of Merseyside.


Spitfires replaced Hurricanes in July 1941 and, in December, the squadron moved to south-west England to undertake sweeps over north-west France.  After a few weeks in Lincolnshire in May 1942, No.306 was back at Northolt for further sweeps until moving to Yorkshire in March 1944, converted to Mustangs.  With these it helped cover the landings in Normandy, but was transferred soon afterwards to combating flying bombs over southeast England.


In October 1944, the squadron moved to East Anglia for bomber escort duties, a task which it carried out until the end of the war.  The squadron remained in Fighter Command until it was disbanded on 6 January 1947.

Due to gradual demobilization of the Polish Air Force under British Command, Anthony enlisted in the Polish resettlement Corps (PRC/RAF).   He served in the UK until finally discharged at the rank of L.A.C, on the 15th of January 1949, on absorption into Industry.

Anthony was awarded the Polish Air Force Medal with 2 Bars, the 1939/45 Star, the France and Germany Stars, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939/45.  Research shows his name is on a list of the Virtuti Militari Medal for his services in the War.  This medal is as important as the British Victoria Cross.  We believe he never received the Virtuti Militari medal and there is a chance we can obtain it and the other medals at a future date as part of our family history.

Further research and advise shows Anthony’s service was unique because he served in both the Army and the Air Force, which means he wore two uniforms during the war and two sets of insignias.


He was entitled to wear the following insignias:

10 Year Long Service medal - WWII Army Medal Medal.
WWII Victory Medal - September 1939 Medal - September 1939 Cross.
WWII Fighters of Freedom Cross and badge.
Signal Corps Training Center - Radio School Badge - Signal Corps School badge
5th Air Force Regiment badge-306th Torun Fighter Squadron badge-Radio crewmembers wings
Indep Carpathian Regiment badge - Polish II Corps Badge
POLAND patch - 2nd Corps Patch sleeve
8th British Army patch - Carpathian Rifle Division patch - Repatriation Corps patch
WWII Exile Cross of Freedom and Independence Crowned Eagle, Army Air Force Crowned Eagle, both pre WWII and WWII issue Air Force patch. Army Crowned Eagle, WWII.

My Mother still has the case Anthony kept with him from 1939, where his mother placed a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa (the Black Madonna) in the lid of the case.  His last known address in Poland was 3 Maja No 36 Slonim, County of Nowegrodek (now in Belarus).  He recorded on his Air Force documents one of his next of kin, Regina Cynikowna (relationship not recorded), UL Bulwar Oginskiego No 3 Slonim.

Anthony’s mother used to write but her last letter came in 1953, and that was the last time anyone ever heard from her.  Anthony worked until retirement at Bradford Colliery as an electrician.  During his life in the UK he continued with his hobby of stamp collecting.

 

Source: BBC. The People’s War  https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/00/a4029400.shtml

PHOTO:  LAC Anthony Witkowski ( far right of picture) & his pals in RAF 306 Spitfire Squadron.