Born: 1927 in Kleptów, Łuck, Poland Died: 1995 in St.Catharines, Ontario
During WW2, Henryk was a Polish Cadet at Heliopolis (Mechanics course)
in the Middle East - Service Number: 707896 - Rank: AC1
The story begins in 1 September, 1939 with the outbreak of World War II. My family lived in Eastern Poland; father was a forester and my brother was in the Polish Armed Forces, serving at the front. On September 1st, we had already begun to experience the war, with German planes coming over, bombing a nearby town. So we were already part of the war.
By February 1940 - the Germans had conquered half of Poland, and the Soviet Union had invaded Poland from the eastern side. We were under Soviet occupation and, as part of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s policies, most Polish elements were destined to be deported and that included my family, my father’s family and myself. We were deported to Siberia on February 10th, 1940, where we spent the next 20 months.
There I lost my older brother, the middle brother. Then Germany attacked its previous ally, the Soviet Union, in July 1941. We were released from the prison work camp, and were allowed to travel anywhere in Soviet Union. Stalin had signed an agreement with the Polish government-in-exile [in London, England], which allowed for the establishment of a Polish Army in the Soviet Union. The original plan was for that Polish Army to take part in the fight with the Russian Forces against the Germans. So the Soviet authorities allowed everybody to travel to certain points to join the Polish Army in 1941-42.
That’s what happened with my family; and I was fortunate enough to find a unit which accepted younger people, younger than military age people. The military personnel were sent to Iraq to train, while the Young Soldiers Battalions (i.e. Cadets) were sent to Palestine. I was among them. There were close to 1,000 young people like myself. That was sometime in, I think, September-October 1942. I was assigned to a company, a young cadet company, and then transferred to the senior cadet company from which I graduated.
Then I volunteered for the Polish Air Force. I had dreams of becoming a flyer, fighting these Germans in the sky and so on. And I was fortunate because it’s very hard to get into that particular Polish Air Force Academy. It was very hard. There was only about 220 of us. So I was lucky enough to be accepted and I was moved to Heliopolis in Egypt in 1943-44; and I became a member of that particular school. The school became legally part of the Polish Air Force in 1944.
There we were trained, we were taught, and we were prepared to eventually take part in the war. The war ended before we were ready, but we were still expecting to be part in the war against Japan. In fact, we were already prepared, going to train for rear gunners and we were on one of those dangerous things. We were lucky enough that war ceased before that.
I was demobilized in 1948. That’s the extent of my military service. I actually spent six years in uniform, although only four of those years in the formal, recognized, military unit, the Polish Air Force in the UK.
At that time, we were young people and we weren’t actually involved in the front lines. War was something relatively distant, although we were very, very aware of it because, for example, my brother was in constant contact with the enemy. He was on the front line all the time from 1944 until the cessation of the war in May 1945. He was on the front line all the time. But we were in correspondence and we, of course, heard the news. We were very interested in what was going on. We were very interested in things like what was happening in Poland. We were very, very concerned with events in Poland, like the Warsaw Uprising [the ultimately failed August 1 to October 2, 1944 Polish effort to liberate Warsaw from the Germans, while the Soviet Army stood by and did nothing] and so on; and kept our ears to the radio, at that time glued to the radio. We were very, very aware of all the things that were happening.
We were somewhat apart but, at the same time, we were part of it. To lots of young people, you do have certain ideas of oh, let’s have fun, and sometimes go on leave to Cairo and maybe have a few beers, or something like that... So we did that as well.
People in my particular situation, people who came from Poland through the Soviet Union and the Middle East, and so on, and then England … each one of them has an incredible story and it’s an unending story. It’s a story that is full of dislocations, full of changes, full of lack of certainty. You can go from month to month, week to week, day to day sometimes. A story that in one part was very, very dire; the struggle for survival because literally thousands and thousands of people were killed or died from starvation and sicknesses. Out of the million and a half or more Poles who were deported to Soviet Union in 1940-1941, perhaps only one-half survived. The rest of them died or were killed. So that’s the survival rate.
Henryk Radecki, Palestine 1943