Veteran Stories:
Henryk “Henry” Radecki

Air Force

  • Royal Air Force Service and Discharge Certificate issued to Henryk Radecki on November 22, 1948.

    Henryk Radecki
  • Henry Radecki, aged 16, on guard duty at Be'er Tuvia, near Qastina, Palestine, while training with the Polish Young Soldiers' Battalion, 1943.

    Henryk Radecki
  • Henry Radecki (on left) and a comrade in the Polish Young Soldiers' Battalion during bayonet training at Heliopolis, Egypt, 1945.

    Henryk Radecki
  • Henryk Radecki, leaning on a Vickers Wellesley during his training at the Polish Air Force Academy (the Polish Air Force emblem may be seen to the right of Mr. Radecki) in Heliopolis, Egypt, 1945.

    Henryk Radecki
  • Henryk Radecki's Polish Air Force (PAF) cap badge (on left) and Polish Air Force Academy "propeller" shoulder flash (on right).

    Henryk Radecki
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"Out of the million and a half or more Poles who were deported to Soviet Union in 1940-41, perhaps only, well, one half perhaps, survived."

Transcript

The story begins in 1 September, 1939 with the outbreak of World War II. My family resided or lived in Eastern Poland; father was a forester and my brother was in the Polish Armed Forces, serving in the front. Anyway, on September 1st, we already began to experience the war with the German planes coming over, bombing nearby town. So we were already part of the war.

In February [1940] - the Germans, of course, conquered half of the Poland, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the eastern side. We were under the 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 in February 1940, where we spent next, I suppose, 20 months.

There I lost my older brother, middle brother, when Germany attacked its previous ally, Soviet Union, in July 1941. We were released from prison camp, work prison camp, and we were allowed to travel anywhere in Soviet Union. By that time, of course, Stalin signed agreement with the Polish government in exile [in London, England], which allowed for an establishment of the Polish Forces in Soviet Union. The original plan was for those Polish forces to take part in the fight with the Russian, or the Soviet, forces against the Germans. And the Soviet authorities allowed everybody to travel to certain concentration points to join the Polish Forces 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 the military age people. The military personnel were sent to Iraq to train, while the Young Soldiers Battalions were sent to Palestine. I was among them. There were some that were close to maybe 1,000 of us young people like myself. That was in sometime, I think, September-October 1942. I was assigned to a company, young sort of cadet company and then transfer to the, I graduated let’s say, to the senior cadet company, then I volunteered for the Polish Air Force. I had dreams of becoming a flyer, sort of fighting these Germans in the sky and so on. And I was fortunate because it’s very hard to get into that particular, it was a military, 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 part member of that particular school and as you have seen in my documents, the school became legally part of the Polish Air Force there, 1944.

There we were trained, we were taught, we were prepared to eventually take part in the war. The war ended before we were ready. 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 spent actually six years in uniform, although only four of those years in the formal, like a recognized military unit, as such Polish Air Force, Royal Air Force.

At that time, we were young people and I don’t know if it’s, you can say that we looked at war, we weren’t involved in front lines. So war was something relatively distant, although we were very, very aware because, for example, my brother was in constant contact with enemy. He was on front line all the time from, I think, 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, what was going on. We were very interested in things like what’s happening in Poland. We were very, very concerned with the events in Poland, Warsaw Uprising [the ultimately failed August 1 to October 2, 1944 Polish effort to liberate Warsaw from the Germans before the arrival of the Soviet Army] and so on; and kept, you know, 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 the same part of it. To lots of young people, sort of, you do have certain ideas of oh, let’s have fun, sometimes go on leave to Cairo and maybe a few beers, or something like that... So we did that as well.

People in my particular situation, people who came from Poland through Soviet Union and Middle East, and so on, and England. Each one of them has incredible story and it’s unending story. It’s a story that 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, struggle for survival because I mean, literally thousands and thousands of people were killed or died from starvation, and sicknesses. Out of, just a fact perhaps, out of the million and a half or more Poles who were deported to Soviet Union in 1940-41, perhaps only, well, one half perhaps, survived. The rest of them died or were killed, or something. So that’s the survival rate.

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