Polish Air ForceHomepage
Polish Air Force Polish Air Force Return to Homepage Polish Airforce Polish Army 1st Polish People's Army Polish Navy Norwegian Campaign Resettlement Corps The Warsaw Rising Exile Blackpool 1940 Enigma Other Stories Escape Operation Market Garden Operation Vistula Victory Parade 2005 Contact Addresses References Glossary  
Stefan Zolkowski O'Dell
Ensignia of 307 Squadron
Stefan Zolkowski O'Dell


Stefan's Journey


At the beginning of the war I lived in my own flat in Warsaw. My father, Alexander Zolkowski and my stepmother, Helena, lived in Victorska Street, our family home. My brother, Jan and his wife Jadwiga and their four year-old daughter, Wanda lived in Marszalkowska. which, he also used as his office; he was a lawyer.

My brother and I were reserve officers, he in the Army (Lieutenant) and I in the Air Force. As he was five years my senior, he had done his military service (obligatory in Poland) in 1925 and I in 1930. Jan had been 'called-up' in the third week of August 1939 to his regiment stationed near the Russian border in northeast Poland. I was mobilized to No.1 Regiment in the Air Force on August 31st and I joined-up on September 1st 1939.

I reported at the gates of Okecie Aerodrome but they were shut as all planes had been flown away before the Germans came. Groups of officers were standing about. The airfield had been bombed by the Germans that morning.

We were informed that the Airforce had been dis-persed to various airfields around Poland and we were taken in trucks to the racetrack, Sluzewiecin, south of Warsaw where about two or three hundred Air Force personnel were assembled. There, we were fed and slept for three or four days. We heard bombs falling nearby.

4th September

I went into Warsaw to see my partner Jerry Sliwinski in our printing works, to make arrangements and to give him written authority to deal on my behalf. When I returned to the racecourse, I was told we would be leaving on September 6th. Warsaw was being bombed all the time with Polish fighter planes trying to destroy German bombers.

5th September

I went again to Warsaw to say goodbye to my parents at Wikborska Street. I had my last meal at home and my stepmother made a parcel of food, towels etc to take with me. When I was leaving, my father came with me to the tram-stop in Pulawska Street. While we were waiting there, I gave my father written authority to act for me in any business matters needed. The tram came and we embraced, said goodbye. My father stood and waved to me as the tram left. That was the last time I saw my father.

When returning to Sturziwice the tram was stopped by a large crowd outside the British Embassy - because Britain had declared War on Germany on September 3rd. They were cheering the British and celebrating.

That evening at the racecourse, a group of Air Force Reserve officers [about 25 of us] made preparations to leave next morning as we could not report to our own regiments. Amongst us was one pilot who had left hospital the day after an air accident just before the war broke out.

6th September

Hearing bombs still falling on Warsaw, we left in vans for the Warsaw East Railway station in Praga. The train was packed with civilians leaving Warsaw, but we had reserved places. We were ordered to go to Brzesc aerodrome on the East Polish/Russian border. We soon left, going East through Minsk Mazowiecki. Soon after we left, German bombers attacked the train and we all had to get out and hide in ditches alongside the track. The train was damaged. The planes re-turned, we saw out in the field a girl minding geese. One of the planes swooped down and machine-gunned her and her geese. We were all shocked by the inhumanity by the pilot. We walked back a few kilometers to Minsk as our train was unusable. There we found an open truck in a garage. We requisitioned this, filled it up with petrol, took several tins of petrol and about twenty of us set off for Brzesc.

In the afternoon we reached Siedlce - my birthplace, which was burning. We passed the church where I was christened [St. Stanislaw] and turned off towards Brzesc - but found we could not reach the airfield, as it had been bombed and personnel who had escaped were trying to hide in trenches. We hid the truck among the damaged buildings near the airfield and we also hid in the trenches with the others. We found the CO. who was unsettled by our arrival and told us he was moving all his men south to Zaleszczyki, south to the Romanian frontier. He said we had better get petrol and as soon as the bombing stopped and get away in our truck.

9th September

We stayed at the airfield.

10th September

We stayed all day and I was appointed to arrange food and Pilot Officer Pajko was my assistant. We all pooled our money and bought a Primus stove, pan and cups' to make drinks. We left Brzesc and spent the night near Wlodzimierz.

12th September

We left and went on towards Luck. On the way we saw bombing in the distance in Luck. We stopped in a wood, leaving the van on the road and could hear the bombs and machine gunfire. We saw German planes approaching and spread out in the woods, lying on the ground - and I saw a plane approaching me and bullets hitting the ground. Luckily it stopped firing about 100 yards from me and so I escaped death or injury. We stayed the night there. I went with a driver to the town [which was fine] and managed to buy some food. Next morning we left.

13th September

We were getting low on petrol so we stopped in a small town Krzemieniec. People stopped and told us that Russians were crossing the frontier. We were nonplussed and didn't know what to do. We asked if there were any petrol and were told that there were no petrol stations around. But they said there was a bus there. We approached it and found it was a British Leyland coach with two men in it. They told us they had come from Katowice where the Germans were bombing. They had filled the bus with spare parts and tyres. But they said, "We just heard the Russians have crossed the frontier and we don't know what to do". So we decided to take over the bus. We deposited all the spares in a nearby school and the driver took us towards Zaleszczyki on the Romanian border.

14th September

We slept in the coach and next morning drove to Wisnowiec and spent the night there.

15th September

We arrived at midday in Zaleszczyki. We reported to the Headquarters of the Polish Forces, housed in one of the larger buildings in this spa town. We were told that we would be crossing the Romanian frontier in two days time. We were given Polish money and were told to buy civilian clothes and other necessities for a long journey. The Commanding Officer from Brzesc, who had also arrived in town, asked if he and his adjutant, the cook and a girl waitress for the Officers Mess could join us on our "luxury bus".

Polish Airforce Mess

Saturday 16th September

We spent the day buying goods and resting after our strenuous journey. I met up with one of my old friends, Ryszard Walcrak from Warsaw who had been at college with me.

Sunday, 17th September

We reached the frontier at noon. There were many cars and trucks full of Poles. Some were pilots who had been shot down and others who had to abandon planes for lack of fuel from all over Poland. We were probably the last few Poles to escape to Romania. To denote the border between Poland and Romania there were signposts saving No. 183. Poland/ Romania. We were all addressed by a Polish general who said, "I am sorry that we have to leave our dear country. I under-stand that some of you who have families may wish to stay and fight". One of the twenty or so who went back was my friend Walcrak as he had a wife and new baby. There were no frontier guards, nor, any Romanian authorities at the frontier. We drove through the countryside with out making any contact with the Romanian authorities. We slept the night in the coach.

Monday 18th September

We entered Suszawa and spoke to the police there. They did not know what to do with us. They phoned somewhere and told us to go to Focsani.

Tuesday 19th September

Next morning the police gave us a guide and we entered Focsani in the evening. There again, a similar thing happened and we were directed to go to Odabesti with another guide who had food provided by the police.

Wednesday 20th September

When we arrived there we repeated the saga of the previous two days. The police said we had to return to Focsani.

Thursday 21st September

So we went back. The same thing happened. This time we were sent to Gallati, with a guide, the next morning.

Friday September 22nd

Next day we went to Tulcra. It is a small town at the start of the delta on the Danube as it flows to the Black Sea. Although the Danube is a beautiful river -the delta is ugly, a wide marshy swamp stretching for kilometers and with banks of rushes by the side of Tulcra, infested with malaria-bearing mosquitoes. It is impassable. About a mile from Tulcra was a complex of barracks where the Royal Guards of the Romanian king lived. Several hundred Poles arrived here and the officers were billeted in private houses and the rest in tents in the Royal garden near the barracks.

We all felt very sad and confused. We had left our homes and families and here we were, virtual prisoners and not knowing what would happen to us. We got some food from the houses but had to supplement it with basic food bought in the town. Some of us were reduced to tears when we thought of all we had left behind. We all felt betrayed by the Polish government and military leaders and noisy arguments broke out between the air force personnel and the army, each blaming the other for our plight, causing days of anger and strife. We had lost our country and our freedom, hard won following years of oppression by Russia and Germany and had now reached this desolate state.

After three or four days we heard that the Polish men in the tents had revolted, disarmed the guards surrounding their encampment and, advancing on the barracks, took over from those guards there. Some Romanian police must have phoned Bucharest because a Romanian general from the War Ministry arrived by plane.

The Poles demanded that their officers, who had been barred from the men's camp, should be allowed to take charge of them, that the terrible food situation should be improved and that they should have toilet and sanitary arrangements made for them. To this the general agreed and the officers organized supervision of the men.

The days passed very slowly. We were so despondent and couldn't do anything to better our situation, nor could we contact our families in Poland. Soon, some personnel seemed to disappear and we found that some of the officers had departed from Tulcra and made their way to Bucharest, trying to get to France.

3rd October

Pajko, my friend and I with whom I traveled from Warsaw, decided to get to Bucharest to obtain passports. We had to do it secretly because we weren't supposed to leave Tulcra. We hid in bushes on the side of the track opposite the railway station. When a train stopped we jumped into a carriage, gave some money to the ticket collector and after four hours we were in Bucharest. We found the Polish Embassy and were shocked to find queues of Polish soldiers in civilian clothes, five times around the building.

We found some friends in the crowds. They had been in the queues a few days and nights. The Polish officers were controlled by Romanians and it was slow work as they were very unpleasant. The Poles we met were living in an hotel near the Embassy and so we could stay there too. After three days we saw we had no hope of getting papers as we had to pay a lot for the hotel and food. So we decided to go back to Tulcra.

11th October

I decide to grow a beard so that when I went for a visa I could pass as a non-military personnel, as they only issued them to civilians. The authorities decided there were too many Poles in Tulcra and so they moved some of us to a large village nearby called Hainolidia. I was billeted on a farm, a poor wooden building with just one room on each side of a corridor. It was a very poor place. The farmer and his family of four had a slightly bigger room. I had the smaller room with just a wooden bed and nothing else but a single candle to light me to bed. There was no mattress only a pile of maize stems cut to fit the length of the bed, no pillow and one linen sheet. I had a blanket with me and made a pillow out of my clothes. I tried to sleep on this but after an hour or so, I separated the maize stems and tried to sleep between them but not successfully. The "bathroom" was a tin basin on a wooden box in the passage with a jug of cold water and no soap or towel. There was a dry closet outside.

In the morning I ate some of the bread and meat I had brought with me. There was a small baby lying in a box outside the house. I found that every two or three days the baby had a malaria attack. Each time I passed it, there was a cloud of flies on its face which I tried to shoo away. They lived in abject poverty.

With nothing to do and getting hungry, I walked to the village and found an eating place (you could call it a restaurant). There was a group of Poles including Pajko. He told me one could get bread, eggs and tea or coffee. The coffee was almost solid so we stuck to tea with sugar but without milk of course. We were in that village a week with nothing to do but eat bread and eggs and drink tea. Then we were told to get on a train at a nearby stop. We all met up at the village 'café' and walked two or three miles to the railway stop which was not a station and got on the train. It stopped frequently. At some stops we could buy more eggs and bread. There were soldiers with us on the train.

October 21st

After four days on the train, we arrived at Babadag. a small town in west Romania and on the banks of a wide river. From there, some of us were marched in columns to a village about two kilometers away called Rossari-de-vede. We were put up in very poor rooms over a café. Pajko and some others went to a small hotel in Babadag.

October 27th

I moved back to Babadag. Some Poles escaped to try to get to Bucharest although Babadag was surrounded by soldiers. One day Pajko said he would also get away by swimming across the river, like many others to get to Bucharest. But I couldn't swim so had to stay, so I lost my travelling companion.

October 29th

I decided to be brave and try to get away. We knew that a heavily guarded bus went early each morning to Bucharest.

October 30th

I rose early and went to the garage where the bus spent the night. There were some women with baskets going by bus so I sat among them on the bus. It moved out to the bus stop and quickly filled. I noticed that seats immediately behind the driver were vacant. The bus was waiting to leave. A car arrived out of which stepped the head of the town's police and his wife and they took the empty seats. A policeman got onto the bus, as was usual I had heard, to check if there were any Poles on board. He saw the police chief, saluted him and after a few words, got off again. A stroke of luck!

I got to Bucharest without any further trouble arriving at midday and went to the Polish Embassy. I was pleasantly surprised, as there were no queues outside in the street. I wondered how many hundreds of Poles had passed through Bucharest on their way. My first thought was to find Pajko. I went to the hotel where we had stayed before but he had gone and I booked in. Next day at 9.00 am I was at the Embassy and there were queues inside. I was advised to queue for residency papers. It took half a day to get them.

Meantime, I got the first news I had heard in Polish about what was going on in the world. I heard that Mussolini had joined the Germans and the news caused general depression. I was given 25 lei. Next day, I attended again for a new passport and visa. Talking to others in the queue, I found that no one had written home to Poland because they feared that the Gestapo would make trouble for their relatives and even possible for themselves in Bucharest. At last I got to the passport desk and spent the rest of the day answering questions and writing my life-story. I was told to come back next day when I received it at last. I was told to go to another room. I was told to come back at 9.00 the next day.

Today I was given a train ticket for the port of Constancia and that I must leave next day. There would be a room for me in a hotel there for which they gave me the name. I was told that there would be ten Polish air force mechanics and that I was to look after them. I was told that we must sit quietly in our rooms and only send out one person at a time for necessities. We were all in civilian clothes. I was told that a sergeant would come to my room and give me eleven tickets for a boat. When in Constancia, we were to go one-by-one to the port and not speak Polish at all, nor when were going through customs as there were German officials there. We were to be as invisible as possible. The boat would be the 'Transylvania'.

8th November

In the afternoon, a civilian came to my room and suddenly I realized that I knew him as he was a member of the same sports club as I, the "Skra" in Warsaw. We were very happy to see each other and he told me that he was the man I was to expect who would bring the tickets. He said he did not intend to go to France and soon he would be going back to Warsaw to his wife and children. He gave me the tickets. He told me that as long as we were in Romania it was very important that we keep a low profile until we sailed. As I said goodbye, I remembered that I had some zlotys that I had been given as we crossed the frontier so I gave them to him to help him on his war. I gave my men all the instructions I had. The boat was to sail the next day in the evening.

16th November

We embarked and were very happy to be leaving Romania. We shared three cabins and felt that, at last, we could breathe. We felt free although it hadn't been too bad in Romania. The 'Transylvania' was a small boat going from port to port. We were the only Poles. The others were probably all Romanians. We left the Black Sea by the southwest corner. It was night but we could not sleep very well. We sailed through the Sea of Marmara, through the Dardanelles and we saw the dawn and beautiful sunshine.

About midday, we stopped in the port of Eirens in Greece. They told us we would be staying about three hours there. I decide to get off and found a tram going into Athens. In about fifteen minutes we were at the terminus. I got off the tram and there I found a wide boulevard stretching into the distance. There on a hill was the Acropolis. It was such a beautiful sight that I was quite overcome with the joy of seeing it.

I thought suddenly that I had left my men on the boat and perhaps the captain might decide to leave the port. So I got back as quickly as possible to the boat. When I did so, the men told me that a Polish freighter had arrived in the port, full of Polish personnel. It was so crammed and packed with men that the captain was afraid it would capsize. I tried to see if there was anyone I knew on board but there was not. Our captain set sail. He told me he was making for Beirut.

19th November

We arrived in Beirut and were told to leave the boat. We didn't know what to do but soon a Pole in civilian clothing turned up and told us that a bus would soon arrive and we would be billeted in the barracks of a French-African troop for two days. There were quite a lot of Poles already there and we were put in the officers' quarters. The food was good but a bit too spicy!

Next day I went with two other officers into Beirut and, walking around found ourselves in the Jewish Quarter. We heard someone shouting excitedly, "Polacy, polacy!" with a typical Jewish accent. We turned around and there he was, in Kracow Jewish clothes, black hat, beard and side-locks ! He threw his arms around us, shaking our hands. He was so happy to see us. He had left Poland several years before and when heard us speaking Polish, he was delighted. My friends left and I stayed behind and spoke to him. Among other things, I asked him if he could tell me where I could change Polish money. He didn't want to do anything about it but then he changed the zlotys for fifty francs. I said goodbye to him and caught up with my friends. Later we walked to a big park where we saw huge eucalyptus trees. One of us had a camera. A passer-by was asked to help and he took a picture of the three of us. By this time we were exhausted and found transport back to the barracks.

15th November

The next morning buses were waiting for us to take us back to the port. Here we found a beautiful French cruise ship called "Champollion". We didn't yet know that it was for us. We were directed onto the ship. We sailed and stopped in Haifa. We were in the luxury quarters with plentiful food and wine - French of course.

16th November

We reached Alexandria and stayed for two days. Next morning an excursion was arranged to see the city. But then I had my first terrible attack of malaria. My friends called the French doctor. I was half- conscious. praying to die. He gave me quinine tablets and slowly it quietened down and I slept. The next morning I felt better. We left Alexandria and told that there was danger of German U-boats. We sailed straight across and passed Sardinia and Italy.

27th November

We landed in Marseilles. There we took a special train for Polish personnel and were take to Lyons. The next day they took us by bus to Bron airport. There we were registered and filled-in forms. There were Polish officials in charge.

When we arrived at Bron aerodrome we found hundreds of Polish officers and men walking about or standing in groups aimlessly, talking about the chances of some kind of employment. After travelling across Europe in all sorts of ways, they were hoping here, to be able to start fighting the enemy for the freedom of Poland. It was surprising and shocking that the French didn't know what to do with us. They were saying the Poles had caused the war - they lost their country and now they wanted to occupy' France!

Our pilots expected to be able to fly again, but there were no available planes at all.

Outside Polish Headquarters were hanging large posters with lists of different jobs on which we were to write our name, rank and qualifications. I put my name down to train as a pilot. We were given French money, and told that officers had to find somewhere to live in town, as there was only accommodation for mechanics on the aerodrome. After a long search among the hundreds there, I found my friend Pajko, who told me he had a room in a low-down hotel in the town - the D'Albion. It had a big double bed so we could both sleep there. There was a wash basin with running cold water and no heating in the room.

Each day we had to meet in the Town Park in a summer theatre [no heating again]. There we reported and they recorded our presence and gave us any operational information and any news of the war. Our breakfast was a small cup of coffee and a croissant at a stall on our way to the park. We spent November doing this and at the beginning of December they told us that we could send parcels to our families in Poland. These would be sent from Portugal [which was a neutral country] and consisted only of tins of sardines! Later, after the war Babcia told me that my father was so happy because he knew that I was still alive and the sardines were hidden in the cellar, and only used when times were very bad and food scarce.

The days were very tedious with no work. We walked about Lyons, killing time, eating lunch at a little café near our hotel and then for the rest of the day we bought food and wine and ate in our room. We even were able to get out of the town and once we went by train to Grenoble.

The winter was very severe, and unusually much snow in the middle of France. Our room was freezing with no heating, so we piled everything on the top of the bedcovers - some old blankets we had bought with us, our coats and even our jackets. I was glad even that Pajko smoked - it did give a bit of warmth!!

December 1939

Christmas was coming and we wanted to celebrate our Polish Wigilia with two other Poles in the hotel. It was a Saturday, on the way back from our daily meeting on the Park we broke off a small branch of a fir tree. We bought 2 long French loaves, 2 bottles of wine, 4 or 5 tins of sardines and so we all sat in the bed to eat them. All the time we were thinking of our families in Poland - probably starving under the German occupation. We sung our carols and that was our Christmas Eve. Next day, we went to church, to mass.

January 1940

The New Year came and went without any celebration. It got warmer and the snow disappeared. We often went by bus to the aerodrome to see if there was any work for us. I asked "What about my application for flying training? " And they said, "you are an engineer - we have hundreds of pilots but we need engineers".

February 1940

On February 28th they put out a list, on which I found my name at last. We had been issued with French Air Force uniforms in January, we were told that we would be going to a factory which re-constituted aero-engines after they had done a tour of duty. The engines were "Gnome Rhone" and the name of the factory was A.R.A.A. in Limoges. A group of 200 Poles was formed and the CO. was Fl. Lt Lojasiewicz and his deputy was Fl. Lt Kwikiewicz. Other officers were: Fl Lt Sendorek, Fl. Lt Puzylucki, Lt. Zolkowski [I was in charge of the mechanic's workshops] and Lt. Wacek Markowski - the first time I had heard of him since I left Poland! He was the official interpreter. The rest were either non-commissioned officers and airman mechanics.

March 5th 1940

On March 5th we left Lyons and after 2 hours on the train we reached Limoges in Central France. We were taken on coaches to the factory on the outskirts of Limoges. It was a huge complex.

The gates were heavily guarded by military police. Behind the main office block was a big marquee with beds for our airmen. When we had seen the men settled - we officers were taken to the town and were billeted in the "de la Paix" a first class hotel. It was nice to have a comfortable, warm room and bed. We found the next day that we had to pay for each meal as we had it. We found a list of prices for rooms and food and it was so expensive that we could not afford it and thought we must move.

March 6th 1940

Next morning we went to the factory where we had an official welcome party with bands which played the French and Polish National anthems with speeches by the managers of the factory. We were then told that the factory worked 12 hours a day - 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with 2 hours lunch break and a day off on Sunday.

Afterwards they took us back to the hotel and we spent two hours eating lunch! We went back to the factory and found the office where all the officers had desks allotted to them. After work, in the evening I went with Wacek to look round the town to try and find a cheaper hotel. We found the "Marcean" hotel - very nice with comfy single rooms. I booked in and next day moved in. Wacek was afraid of moving -but next day I went to the C.O and told him what I intended to do. He was angry and said I shouldn't have done that. Wacek then decided that he would move too.

After two or three days, I was punished by being called to the C.O's desk and told I had to go and lecture to the men in the marquee about the necessity of staying friendly with the French workers. The next Sunday I went to them and talked for about half an hour on French/ Polish co-operation in the factory. In spite of this there wasn't much camaraderie between the two nationalities. The Polish men worked too enthusiastically and too quickly for the liking of the French. The Poles were anxious to do their bit and make some sort of fight against the Germans and further the war effort, but the French took it easy and didn't get too worried about that. The French kept saving - "slow up" to the Poles. They also spent a lot of time in the toilets, chatting and smoking. Sometimes rows broke out in the toilets and the French tried to rough up the Poles, but they got as much as they gave. The French even kept bottles in their overcoats that hung on racks from which they frequently took swigs of wine or even brandy !

One incident I remember took place with a reconstituted engine. It had been re-built by the Polish squad and then it was put in the test chamber for testing. When it started to run the whole thing blew up. The factory police arrived and there was a big hoo ha - with the French blaming the Polish workers. The pieces of engine were taken for investigation and it was found that sand had been put into the engine. We were unable to resolve the incident because we suddenly were told we had to get out as the Germans were approaching.

March 24th 1940

Before we had to leave, we had made some local excursions. Wacek and I left Limoges at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning and went by train to Lourdes where we arrived in the afternoon. We found it crowded with pilgrims so we joined the people who were walking to the Shrine and attended the open-air mass in that Holy place. We prayed there for our families and for Poland. We stayed overnight in a hotel run by monks and returned next day to Limoges. We also went to the Limoges porcelain factory. We had a Polish football team of which I was the manager and we played several matches with local teams on Sundays.

April 22nd 1940

With money I had saved up, I bought a jacket for Fr. 525 and slacks for Fr. 150! Still in Limoges on April 28th, I received a card from my father to say he was alive and well. He also told me that my brother Jan had been taken prisoner (later murdered at Katyn Forest) by the Russians and was in a camp in Starobielsk. I was having attacks of malaria every 3 days and had to stay in bed. The factory nurse supplied me with malaria tablets.

June 17th 1940

The war was still going on and we had heard that the Germans had broken the treaty and were moving south. Then we heard artillery for the first time and it drew nearer the next day. Our Polish Commanding Officer met with all the Polish officers and asked us what we wanted to do. It was decided that we would all leave Limoges and make for the South of France.

Wacek, as interpreter, went to the factory boss and in-formed him about this. He said he was sorry we were going but understood the situation very well. Wacek also asked him to help to reserve seats on the southbound trains for us all. He tried to do this but about half and hour later he told us that the last trains would be leaving Limoges the next morning for the South and that it would be impossible to book seats. Unfortunately it was one of my days to have malaria and Wacek got the nurse to come to my room with quinine and other medicine. I was semiconscious and the nurse felt sorry for me. I was so weak and had tears in my eyes because I thought I would not be able to leave. I was ill all night and it seemed as if I would not be able to get up and go with them. At first light I felt a bit better and forced myself to get up and pack my things. Wacek came to my room and helped me to get to the waiting coaches. We found that of our airmen, five had deserted and were staying behind. At the station the train was already waiting and was full of people. They all looked like civilians and some army deserters. The French men taunted us and said, "the Poles are escaping again". They tried to stop us getting in but some were hanging on to the carriage doors and even on the coupling between the carriage doors. However, they all managed to get in at last. The train went very slowly and after two days travelling, we arrived in Toulouse.

June 21st 1940

In Toulouse we found another group of about two hundred who had worked in an aircraft factory there and we all boarded another train going south. We had to change trains once more but, in the afternoon of June 24th, we arrived at the fishing port of Venters on the Mediterranean, next to the Spanish border. We had to walk with our luggage about two miles to the port. There was a large barracks complex that had been used as a camp for escapees from the civil war in Spain. There were beds and heaps of straw. We were directed to these and tried to sleep but were attacked by hordes of insects - lice and bugs. We took our blankets, shook them well and went to sleep on the sand dunes on the beach.

We were ordered to go to the port where we found a Polish Group Captain who had arranged two big trawlers to take us to Oran in Algeria. We embarked and arrived the next evening. There was an empty train waiting for us, arranged by the French. We traveled for a night and a day through the Atlas Mountains and reached Marrakesh on the morning of June 27th. When we got out of the train, we crossed over from the station and found a huge open space set with tables, with bands and a reception committee of French generals' etc. We had to line up in columns and the officials made speeches to welcome us, saying how the Poles and French had been fighting together against the common enemy! The National anthems of both countries were played and the Poles all shouted "Nie zye Francje" - Long Live France! We were invited to sit down at the tables and were fed a delicious French meal with wine, of course.

We stayed on the train all night and left Marrakesh the next day - still on the same train. We traveled through Morocco and finally arrived at Casablanca airport. It was very hot and the sun was blazing down. We left the train and lay about on the grass, then we were told anyone who wanted could stay on the grass or else be taken by truck to the town where there were barracks. I was one of the silly ones who stayed. When the sun set it was a lovely evening but as darkness fell it became extremely cold and we felt like we were in Iceland! I had my overcoat and two blankets but was still frozen. In the morning we were taken to the barracks. These were in a very poor district and all my dreams of romantic Casablanca vanished. It was filthy and stank. We stayed two days in Casablanca.

August 2nd 1940

We were taken in lorries to Heport, and found an English coal boat. It had discharged its cargo of coal and they were trying to clean it up. Our dreams of a luxury liner disappeared. When we boarded we found no comfortable beds, just floors of steel sheets, where we all slept with our two blankets, clothes and our bags or suitcases as pillows. We were the only cargo and set sail that night.

It was horrid with so many bodies packed into the boat. However, we were happy to be in British hands at last.

Coal Freighter in the North Atlantic Coal Freighter in the North Atlantic

August 3rd 1940

About midday, we reached the Straits of Gibraltar where we had to wait in the Mediterranean for a convoy with which we would travel. We staved on board for three days. Several small groups of Poles were brought to our ship and, on August 7th with a convoy of over twenty ships, a British Navy destroyer and other craft, we left the Mediterranean and began our voyage to Great Britain. On board there was one Polish/ English guide book which we all had to share. A group of us would have it for half an hour while we copied out words. Then it was passed to another group and we learned the words until it was our turn to get some new ones. We tried to speak to the ship's officers and found out that we would be sailing out into the Atlantic in a wide arc and then on to England. We did this to avoid German planes and U-boats which patrolled the coastal waters. In spite of this, two of our convoy were sunk en-route.

August 15th 1940

We had arrived in Britain! We sailed up the River Clyde and landed in Glasgow. As we came up the river. I remember seeing red vehicles in the distance like toys. They turned out to be double-decker buses, something we had never seen in our lives. We disembarked and were taken by coaches to a large park on the outskirts of the city where we were housed in tents.

[Reproduced with the kind permission of Stefan and Winifred Zolkowski O'Dell]

© Copyright polandinexile.com 2008. All rights reserved.
Site hosting by Paston.