Interview with Jan Black


Interview with Jan Black


Jan Stangrycuik (Black) was born and raised in Poland. His family emigrated for a better life in Argentina when he was a teenager, but when the British Embassy called for volunteers to join the war effort, Jan answered the call and sailed with seven hundred other volunteers to England, where he joined Bomber Command and trained as an air gunner. He was the only surviving member of his crew when, in 1943, his Wellington aircraft crashed, near RAF Cosford, escaping with severe burn injuries.
He recalls his time in the RAF, including his recuperation from his extensive burns under the care of Sir Archibald MacIndoe with whom he became friends. He became one of the founder members of the Guinea Pig Club. He talks about life away from flight operations, of his exploits whilst on leave in London where daily life went on albeit under the threat of bombardment. It was where he met his future wife, an English woman who came to see him regularly at the hospital in East Grinstead, as he made his lengthy and painful recovery back to health. Jan later returned to duty as a gunnery instructor on Lysander aircraft before returning to his squadron and resuming flying operations.
Jan talks about daily life in between flight operations; how one lived day to day, because each day was precious, how crews had their own table in the dining room and wondering if the table next to them would be empty the next day.
He also shares anecdotes about, and pays tribute to, Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire who he knew and considered them friends. He recalls his fondness of, and conversations with, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and, at the time, President of the Guinea Pig Club.
Jan also reflects on Polish history and the aftermath of the war. After the war he settled in Britain, working all over the country, until he retired.

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Temporal Coverage




03:08:22 audio recording


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GB: On record now, right. Right. Hopefully, the intention is obviously, when we get, we’ll get a professional company to edit the whole tape to make it into, you know, for presentation, so it doesn’t matter if we have kind of little kind of funny laughs and things like this, because it will obviously kind of, hopefully the tape will look, you know, quite good when it’s all finished and put together so it doesn’t matter a bit of explaining.
JB: Yes. In style.
GB: Indeed yes, indeed. I mean really obviously the intention today is just to talk to you about your life, before the war, and obviously kind of little bit about your family. Obviously your time in the Polish Air Force before you left Poland and then obviously your, your kind of trip or your route into, all around and into.
JB: I will tell you completely different route, my route, you know, how I came here, yes.
GB: Okay. And then obviously once you came to Britain, obviously about joining up with the Polish Air Force in the RAF.
JB: Yes, yes.
GB: And then really talking a little bit more perhaps in depth about when you were at RAF Ingham. If you’d like to talk about, obviously, the missions that you were on and in particular the one where your aircraft crashed, then we don’t mind but if you prefer not to talk about that for personal reasons, then we fully understand.
JB: No, I think is good to mention how it happened, and because it will be, you know what I mean, the real story, you know what I mean. It’s no good to leave something important what happen in my life, not to mention it, yes.
GB: Well the nice thing is this will be a lasting memory, unfortunately after you have passed on and probably after we have passed on as well, the Heritage it’s almost the Heritage Centre will be for future generations, yes.
JB: That’s what I was thinking. What now you see Minister of Education try to bring the Second War into the children, into the history, because you see somehow after the war you know what that generation went through, for such a suffering and sacrifice which in giving their life, what was quickly forgotten, you know what I mean. GB:Because that was worst history than Napoleonic days, because Napoleonic War, it was gentlemen war, but that, in a Second World War, that was almost unbelievable what in twentieth century you know, such a barbarous could be committed, crime on the people. So you see new generation came, and the authority, you know, completely forgot about the suffering, what we went through it, you know what I mean. And to listen now what they said when they asking children at school about history of Battle of Britain, some of them even don’t know, because there is so much newcomers to this country. But all right, they newcomers, but they should learn the history of this country, you know, what was happening here, and I think now what they’s trying to um, recover the lost time you see, after so many years, you see, because that was probably one of the most, I would say, desperate effort, that Second War what we win, because if the Germans would succeed, what they almost did, I mean we probably would be for thousand years under their domination. That’s what they had idea, you know what I mean.
GB: I think so.
JB: That’s what they kept it, the rest of the world for so long.
GB: Yes.
JB: Because they had the system what, you know, that they would manage under their sort of strict rules you see, and I’m glad what you now try to recover some of the history so the young generation after us, you see, will probably know what we had to go through it, you know what I mean. Yes. It’s important what they still try to save something you know it would be a good idea. Look at Margaret Thatcher. I used to remember, I used to go to her shop, when father, on the corner, had that shop.
GB: Yes. In Grantham.
JB: Because I used to get cigarettes some time, but when I used to go to that little shop, early in morning, I had to look left, and right, if nobody already in the shop or if somebody been in the shop, I was waiting till they come out, and then I would walk to the shop and ask for some cigarettes because I didn’t want cigarettes only for myself. I wanted for myself and for my friends. So when nobody been in the shop, I was alone, so I used to get one or two packets extra! [Laugh] You see, that’s how the things were you see, those days! I mean people today have no idea. If you, in morning, you see, yesterday your friend went to get cigarettes, but the next day was your turn. So you see we used to do in turns, we used to get up early in the morning!
GB: Just to get the cigarettes.
JB: To get cigarettes and go from shop to shop! Terrific. [Laugh] We come for holiday to London, come to holiday, and sometime we come in afternoon, all hotels booked up because all the people who have forty eight hours, military people, come to London. If you come late, outside hotel: ‘No Room, No Room’ you see. So you didn’t have even to go and ask, because they used to leave the sign: No Vacancy. So we used to sleep in Serpentine, you know, they had the deck chair, [indecipherable] we put some deck chair. In morning we go wash ourself in Serpentine, shave because we won’t be served in our gas mask, you know what I mean and waiting for pubs to open, you know what I mean. [Laugh] So first we had to order ourself rooms early in morning, because that was only time, but many times we slept in, in the Park, you know what I mean, because we been happy, and living from day to day. If you went to bar on your own - I’m just telling you this story what I went through.
GB: Yes, yes.
JB: And some time you make appointment with your friends, so we meet you in Fifty Two Piccadilly – that was well known pub - and sometime you got to the Park and your friends still been delayed, so you would be standing on your own. You will not be standing for long because people come and talk to you, you know, straight away, you see, because you could not stand on the corner and drink alone, the people be friendly, you know what I mean.
GB: When you were on the forty eight hour pass did you have to go in uniform?
JB: Oh yes, yes, uniform.
GB: Always in uniform.
JB: Yes, uniform, because if you been in civvie you always been suspected what you some, probably you know person undesirable, you know what I mean, yes. And I mean pubs were packed [emphasis] during the winter, I mean during the war, because people just been living uncertain life, you know what I mean. And they been so happy you know. You came and the cinemas were playing, the bombs were dropping, shows were going on, you know what I mean, people just got, in the end you know, they got used to bombing, you know. Sometimes they were falling closer, sometimes they been, the Germans used to bomb East London, dock side you know what I mean. Somehow they didn’t do much in the centre of the London, you know, but the East London was receiving the most hit, yeah.
GB: Did you always come to London for your forty eight hour passes? Was that the best place?
JB: No, some time, some time I go to Scotland, because you see when you come some time to London, and you know you have lots of disturbed nights, you know what I mean, then some time you will go, and Blackpool.
GB: And Blackpool. Because that was the Polish Depot, wasn’t it.
JB: Blackpool. That was our depot you see. We had such friendly relations there because we used to, sometime when you been doing, you did half tour, used to get two weeks little rest you see to Blackpool, and we nearly always went and stayed same small boarding hotels, you see, and it was beautiful place, Blackpool. Oh, I still think Blackpool is one of the nicest part in England, you know what I mean. That beach, long, you know, sandy beach and the Blackpool Tower, you know, dancing, you know, phoar! [Laugh] Manchester public house on the corner on the Promenade, you know what I mean. Blackpool was lovely place, and so much in holiday, in those days, so much excitement.
GB: Was, in those days, was Blackpool like little Poland, because of the sheer number of Polish airmen that were being trained there?
JB: Yes, yes. You see, I’ll tell you why we left good respect, but after the war, when war ended, from Germany, from lots of those concentration camps, came lots of different people what they call themselves what they were Polish, but they were not, they were all different, some even Germans been disguised telling them they could speak Polish, that they were Polish, so they spoiled us reputation. But when Polish Air Force only stay in Blackpool, when we used to enter to the small hotel on the Promenade, we made our own rules. Some time was landlady the owner of the hotel because her husband was Captain in the Far East serving for four, five years, and in the hotels was the rules what you can bring girlfriend to sitting room for cup of tea or coffee, but nowhere else. And we had our rules and anybody brought girlfriend sometime, because every hotel had sitting room, you could invite her to sitting room, you can treat her with cup of tea or coffee or cake.
GB:: That was it.
JB: Gentlemen, If you wanted anything else you have to look outside but not in! And we had those rules and you know the landladies would go to sleep during the night and they didn’t have to worry because they knew what anybody who came inside to the hotel, she was sure what there would be not be any bad reputation on her. And we kept that, you know what I mean, and that was good. [Laugh]
GB:: Jan, what’s your full name? Cause I wasn’t sure. I spoke to Danny and he wasn’t sure.
JB: Yes, I tell you. I’m glad you asked. You see, when I met my wife, in London, my wife managed private club [sniff]. And I, so we went to one pub in London and we met English, erm, English, erm, he was, PO, Pilot Officer and he came and talked to us, asked us from which squadron we on. We told him we came from Lincolnshire and spending holiday and the pubs was closing because they open from eleven till three, after, open five till eleven, so he said - and we been seven of us - he said and what you doing now and we said probably have to go to cinema, wait till pub to open again! He said to us, listen I am member in one of the club, would you like to come with me? Well we said, oh thee, In those days if you could go to private club it was almost big, you know, satisfaction you know what I mean, because so we say you know that would be almost unbelievable what you. Oh yes he said, I’m member and I can take you but you not allowed to buy drinks; I will treat you to drink. So we went with him and he introduced us to the person who owned the club, and he said they are Polish aircrews from Lincolnshire and I like to introduce them to the club so they can have a drink with me. So the young lady said very nice, thank you. So we had one drink, second, and the people in those days they all were shop owners, solicitors, engineers, come for lunch during, because they were active in their own profession you see, but members of the club. They invite us in evening again because you see the club had also hours opened in afternoon and after in the evening. So we went in the evening and we behaved properly and the lady who owned the club, after second day, she said to us, listen you bunch, I will make you members. But when she said she will make us members we got stiff, frightened, because we thought she would ask us to pay the membership! And in those days membership, you know! [laugh]
GB: Was some money, yes!
JB: So she said but don’t you worry, she said, you don’t have to pay. I know you come from time to time and my members, her members mentioned that she should make us members you see, so she give us little book with the rules, how we have to obey the membership. So if we have friend to bring to the club we must treat them with the drink, not allow them to buy the drinks and be sure what the people we guarantee their membership you see, so that was fine. We went one night, second night, on third night, when our lady was closing the club, our navigator, he was our banker because we used to give him all our money to him, and he used to pay the expenses: hotel, restaurants, drinks [laugh] and we only stayed on holiday till kitty was lasted. When kitty was empty we returning back to the station, some time before the holiday finished, depends on the kitty.
GB: How much time, yeah how much money.
JB: Anyway, to come to the point, you see we had yes, and the lady was closing the club and you had to finish the drinks on time because in those days the police rules were strict. If they caught you some time half an hour late delay the club was fined, heavily, you know, for not obeying the rules. So anyway we had to finish drink quickly and we said to the lady who owned the club, and what you going to do now? She said I’m going home. So we quickly said, we suggest to her, we want to take her to dinner. So we said what about if we take you for quick dinner? You been so kind to us, make us members, and we like to reimburse you something what we can. Well she said, I have to take dog for walk. [Laughter] [Indecipherable] when she finish. So we take her by taxi, we wait in taxi outside, she take that dog for walk quickly, come with us, we got to Soho, to little Italian restaurant and we give her nice dinner you see, and we finish almost two weeks, nearly every night we went to that club because we’ve got so many nice members there and we just been waiting for night to go up there you know, to have, meet the people. Then she said to us, look, if you have any friends, you come again to London, you give them my club address and tell them you are friends of your crew and I will make them members. Because there were Canadians coming, New Zealands, you know, all the military. Our second crew, what we recommended, we say you go to London, you will be able to go to club where lovely ladies come, you know, and you will, it is different from the pubs you know, because in those days it was big different between club and the bar. So we went there and the lady said what happened to that crew, first lot? They said, oh they were all killed, only one survive. She said and this one survive, where’s he? Is on the station and not come to London, they said to her, no he is in hospital. Oh, I see, and he still alive. Yes, he is badly burned. Which hospital is he? Oh he is outside London, in East Grinstead, Sussex. Oh I see, yes, that’s a big hospital for Royal Air Force, you know what I mean. So she made note and the one Saturday afternoon, sister, ward from hospital, come and she said, Jan, you have somebody come to visit you. I said sister, I don’t expect. Oh yes, somebody know your name, yes. So I said bring her in. She come and I was all in bandages. And she said you laying here and you never even phoned me, to tell me what you are here, and I said I don’t know where is my telephone numbers; I lost everything, I said that’s all what I own: my bandages! She said never mind, I’m glad what you are here. And I was so proud, because that’s on Saturday, listen, lots of my English colleagues had father, mother, brother or sister come, and I was on my own and knew, been feeling very, you know, lonely. She used to come and see me you know. Because when my English colleagues bring her, they said to their father oh that’s the Polish airman. So they will come, treat me with cigarettes, have a joke and talk, but I knew it was not the same, you know what I mean, but when that lady came especially to see me, I honest, I was important, really was. [Laugh] So that sister, and afterwards she spent a few hours, that sister brought tea, cup of tea, cakes, you know, because that how was treating the visitors. And I said how you came here. She I came by train because I have car but I have no petrol. So I call taxi and there was about one mile to the station. Took her to the station, I thank her for her visit, and she said if you ever passing through London, you come and see me. I said to her I will be going to station to collect certain thing, so I said I come for quick drink. She said you do that and afterwards she came few times to see me in hospital because I spent in that hospital six months, and it was just friendship, she was so kind to me. I said to her, I used to call her by her name, I say Evelyn, listen you coming to see me, you have so much business to do. She said listen, I come to see you, you don’t know why? I said no. Well, she said look, your friend, this one, has father and mother she said, somewhere they have, and you are on your own she said, and that’s why I come and see you. And you know this touched me, you know what I mean, what I felt I had somebody still. I was so happy afterwards because you know, I used to talk to my friends – you had visitor but I had visitor too, you know what I mean. And you know that develop afterwards that I became friendly and I married her. I married her for fifty years.
GB: What was the date of your marriage?
JB: 19 10 46. Yes, I remember that date. I was married in Lincolnshire: Great Eastern Hotel. That’s a railway hotel.
GB: Was that in the middle of Lincoln, was it?
JB: Yes, yes.
GB: Great Eastern.
JB: Listen, nearly all the staff got sack because I got married in Registry, [sigh] but reception was, you know, in a, and I booked myself in the Great Eastern with my wife for couple nights and nearly half of my station turn up and the rest of the hotel could not sleep! So they said the next day, the next manager had all the waiters, waitresses, everybody, what there was so much noise all the people could not sleep! But there was no disturbance, no problem except lots of people turn up. And they made kitty and they been ordering the drinks, you know what I mean, people in corridors, everywhere, but in the end you know, he accepted what that was special wedding, only one what he would remember you see, and there was some of them had caution you know what I mean, but that about all you see, and that was also lovely wedding because I wanted, you see, I even show you, you see here, here, if you have glasses.
GB: Permission to Marry.
JB: That Permission to Marry. In those days our commanding officer would not let crew, aircrew, to get married, girl, if he doesn’t see girl first. Because a lot of them go on holiday, get drunk, meet any girl, get engaged and get married and some of that marriage didn’t last long. And afterwards it, rules was what any aircrew member who want to get married must bring his girlfriend first, commanding officer had to accept and if she was suitable and you see I had from the commanding, when my wife saw him, you know what he said to me, he said I will, because she used to come and stay in the White Hart Hotel.
GB: In Lincoln
JB: On top, you know.
GB: On the top, near the Castle, yeah.
JB: That’s right. So he would, he sent her taxi back to the hotel, you know, she almost had it from beginning he was asking her question, afterwards she was asking him! [Laugh]
GB: That’s very good!
JB: And you see I got married.
GB: This has answered the question. You know, my first question to you was what was your original name, your Polish name. It was Stangrycuik.
JB: Stangrycuik I tell you why: my wife, you see my wife was named Evelyn Black and she was born in Derbyshire, but her father had lots of land, big land and she was as a young, studying economic and working on the land. She had two brothers. After when father died, two brothers left on the, on that big farm, and on that farm they had pub, so on Saturday and Sunday, local farmers come with their children, discuss what crops they should have in different parts, because the weather is the most suitable for such a crop and children would play in the garden, have orange juice and the father and mother would discuss in the bar you see, their life. But when she finished study economic she didn’t wanted to return and work on the farm because it was hard work. Hard work. She decided to work for big London company, hotel and restaurants, as er, erm, she was, you know, qualified accountant. She was kept all the, from the restaurants, all the expenses, statements. People used to come, have table, waiters used to serve them with the drinks, whatever food and used to bring to the office expenses of those. And in those days Royal Family, Café Royal off Regent Street she was working, and that was syndicate. They had hotels in Maidenhead and different expensive hotels in London. When they had extension nights, sometime, they applied to the police for extension because it will be till two o’clock in morning, you know, special function, and she would get that extension for the later night. So my wife used to, the manager ask her if she work overtime because is very busy gala night you know, when also from royal family members come, so they used to pay her double time. And she worked few years there and not one time, and when used to have gala night big function, they used to invite the manager from brewery, Watney Brewery on Piccadilly, Victoria, sorry, Victoria, that was brewery in Victoria, and in the end they were asking if they lower their drinks because in the end they said we give you so much business you must lower the drink. So I will make the story quickly, and when is that gala night, he, that big manager come from Watney Brewery come with his wife and often talk to my, in the end wife, who was in the reception, accountant. He said listen I don’t think I will be coming much often here, so my wife then as the secretary of that Café Royal, said why not? I had terrific bust up with your syndicate and I think we breaking our relation business, no longer. She said, no not really. Yes, yes, they try to bring me, so down in prices what I can’t lower them no more, you know, to supply with the drink. And he said to her then, to my wife, he said and you working here so few years, they not treating you so generous. Well she said but I’m still happy, I pay my rooms and I said, he said you know that business better than owners, you should have your own business. Because she was already annoyed with the syndicate company what you see he was breaking the business after all those years, he said you should have your own business, you know that business better than the owners. She said yeah, but you must have money to have that. He said surely you must have some money! Well, she said, my brothers sold the estate in Derby and gave they me little because I would not work with them so they gave me a small compensation One went to Australia and one brother went to went to Canada; they had bust up between them so they went far from each other, you know, but they, you know, share whatever. She said but I have no money to start. Don’t you worry, you tell me how much you have, brewery will give you, find you place but you have to buy drinks, in exchange for little concession what I help you, and you should have your own business, he said, because you will make better business because you know that business better than the owners of that syndicate, hotel in Maidenhead and Café Royal and the [indecipherable] in London and he put her that fix into her head what she should own private club, and for seventeen years she owned that, during the war, and that’s when I met my wife you see. I was little airmen gone to club and land myself with the lady who own the business you see.
GB: Can you remember when you actually met her when you went down to London that first time?
JB: Yes, that English pilot officer took us in, and he was the member you see.
GB: Do you remember what year that was?
JB: Yes! In, end of ’41 you see, and my wife was ten year older than me, but she was, after I show you photographs, everything. Anyway I married her and she was, some time when we go to our reunion, because I show you some, you see that’s where I go to my Guinea Pig Reunion, yeah.
GB: Did, when you got married, did Evelyn take your name or did you change straight over to Black?
JB: Yeah, I was, you see is already war finished and my wife knew I not going back to Poland you see. Because there was so much communists and the communists didn’t like the people from the aircrews because you see all people, aircrew, we knew all the sickness of this country and so on, and they used to suspect us what we will be spying against the communists, and we been always, those who weren’t, been always followed by the KGB you know what I mean. So I, my wife knew I was not going back to Poland and she said look Jan, calling me by my name, I have business and for me to change all the administration is lots of extra expense and she said I want to keep on the same and she said I want to naturalise you British, because you not going where so many communists there, you went enough with the Germans and she said now you have another you see, people to follow you. And I love my wife so much I didn’t care what I, and you see, and of course my doctor from East Grinstead, Sir Archibald McIndoe, that big plastic surgeon - he used to call me Polski you know – and when he used to meet us in East Grinstead in the Whitehall bar, that’s hotel bar, when he's not operating on people, his chauffeur bring him in Rolls Royce and wait for him outside and he will come to that bar and when we had operation finished, so we can work we used to go in evening to East Grinstead to have a drink or to cinema and return to hospital for next operation, and sometimes he will meet us in Whitehall Bar and have a drink with us. He was like our friend; our advisor, our surgeon and all the doctors in those days were so friendly, you know, with the airmen. When they had some time in the evening they used to, we meet in certain places and have a little drink or chat, yes, and he was also advisor to us. And when I had demob, I went to see him and I said Sir Archibald, I said, I have letters sent for my demob. So he look at me, he said listen, he said I would not advise you to sign for the Regular. Because in those days when you were young still, you didn’t have to take demob but you had to sign for the Regular, for seven years or fourteen years contract. He said when you take demob now, you will be entitled to your pension and he said if you have problem we find you job and you’re sure. He said you sign new contract, suppose you get discharged for some reason, what you didn’t obey the rules or something, he said you lose all your entitlements. So he said I advise you, you take your demob you see, and I had to listen to him, you know what I mean, because he was, he was to us like our doctor, advisor and so on. And I took my, and I had two jobs after the war. Och, I tell what job I did. I did twenty years in rubber factory. You know why I did in rubber factory? Because owners of the rubber factory were members of my wife club. Listen, my wife said you are mad going. I said Evelyn, you have business, but I want to be independent; I cannot work with you because I say I will ruin your business. She said why? I said listen, your members come to the club, they will buy me drink, I have to reimburse them drink. I said I have to feel I’m the same like them and I said your business will go bust! I don’t want nothing to do with your business, you keep your business, and you see the sister of the owners of that big rubber factory was her friend. They used to, went to school together and she used to come to my wife club. And she said to me listen, I take you to my brothers and I tell them they have to give you job. So I said Sonny, I don’t know if I would be able to do the job. Don’t you worry, I tell them what they have to do with you: they have to teach you. I in one year I was supervisor, I could sell rubber, anything, rubber tyres, whatever rubber you see, because they train me as a supervisor because their old fellow was leaving the job after sixty years. That was big rubber factory and I start I thought I just work year or two, I get enough money to get some deposit on some house, because my wife always paid flats, you know. She was renting in Albemarle Street that’s near Ritz Hotel, almost, where our Margaret Thatcher, poor thing, died yesterday, and she said because she wanted to rent near the club because she always walked from business from hotel, to her flat and she paid lots of money. I say Evelyn, I said you work so hard and I said half your money is going for the, she said in this district you have to pay you see. So I said don’t you worry, I make enough money. So I bought old house, with the leaking roof in Holland Park because during the war all the houses in London were so much dilapidated because you get no paint, no wood, nothing, and I like the house. And the roof was leaking, stair was broken, I said to my wife, never mind, don’t you worry, I want this house. She said you’re mad! So I paid the flat one month, I moved myself with the dog [laugh] to the house; four storey house. In those days it was two thousand five hundred pound, but to earn two thousand five hundred pound in those days was like almost fifty yesterday, but every month I did something, a bit, you know and in the end you know, that dilapidated house you know, start going up and up in prices, you know, and when recently you know, the property went, you know, sky high, I would, in the end when my wife finished the club business and we rented up flats in Holland Park with her because even club was too much in the end because that’s a big responsibility. When she was young she was. Boys I must give you drink coffee, cake listen I have special cake made for you.
GB: Shall we take a little break for a moment then, we can switch the filming off and talk about some photographs.
JB: Listen quickly.
GB: I think you probably need a break more than we do, you’ve talked for about a whole hour! If you press the red button again the word record should come off the screen. [Beep]
JB: That’s right, plenty sugar.
GB: I’ll just er, leave that running anyway, might be some other bits that are worth, oh yes please, thank you.
JB: That’s why I don’t worry! [Crockery sounds] Long as your stomach enjoy it! [Laughter] [Pause] Well I’m so glad you came all the way from Lincolnshire to see me because you see we spent so many years in that part. I used to love Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, because the countryside in summer beautiful, you know, yes. Lincolnshire, I used to go with my friends in Lincoln, when they had racing in those days. You know that was first race in the spring what used to start.
GB: The horse racing in Lincoln, yes, yeah.
JB: Nowadays that’s went to Doncaster.
GB: But the old grandstand is still there.
JB: Still there, yes.
GB: And the racetrack is there, for the horses, but nobody races any more.
JB: Yes I know.
GB: Still run at Market Rasen.
JB: Yes, oh yes, that’s right. Yes, Lincoln was lovely – that Cathedral, every time we used to coming to land we always had to joke and be careful captain don’t touch the thing! [Laugh]
GB: Well we’re delighted to come down to see you and we’re looking forward to when you can come in May, not just because of the time at Faldingworth for you, but also hopefully the next morning on Sunday, and I’ll speak to Daniel, to come and visit us, to see how the renovation is going up on the site. Cause we’ve got the old airmens’ mess where the Junior Ranks, but we can walk round the corner to the old sergeants’ mess, the big long building, that’s still there: the farmer keeps chickens in there now.
JB: Oh boy!
GB: But, and there are one or two other buildings that are still there, including the old control tower, but that’s been changed now; the present owner has turned it into a gymnasium I think. There’s one or two things on the old airfield, and if the weather is good for us as well we can drive you round and stop at different places around the airfield and you can tell us if you remember certain things. Many of the old buildings have gone now, just because the farmers, they’ve either fallen down or the farmers have knocked them down to make a bit more room for the fields.
JB: You know last time when I went and I saw, saw that overgrown airfield, I thought to myself, every time we shall return, we thought that was our home, you know that. Yes. You know you, when you came out from the plane, you thought I am at home.
GB: I’m at home.
JB: You see the trouble was, when you used to miss your friends and you went to dining room and you saw that table empty, and that table empty and you think to myself I wonder when this table will be empty? Because we always used to sit together at the same table, the crew.
GB: I was going to ask you did the crews sit at set tables, you had your own crew table.
JB: Yes, we had our own chart, and at one time [sigh] my crew, my squadron, had quite bit of bad luck, you know, we lost five crews in short time and Bomber Harris came, paid us unexpected visit. So in evening, we didn’t have flight then, the adjutant said we will be meeting special guest in one of the hangar. So have a, all good shave and wash and after tea get yourself into the hangar. Because this guest come, we thought who it would be? Maybe King you know or, who, and he came with the car and he had little talk with us. He said, boys I came to see you because you look bit depressed, and I know why you feel depressed. But he said, that’s what happen in, during the war: some time we going to happy day, sometime we going to depressing days, but he said I tell you what I want to tell you - I’m exactly telling the words what he explain. He said our friend Germans always had ideas to start the war, because he said, by starting the wars they used to make good gains. They invade other people homes, destroy their homes, rob their homes and bring the loot back to their own country. And he said people in their country never saw the destruction and suffering. But he said, I came to tell you, with this war, we going to take destruction and suffering into their [emphasis] countries, so the Germans will know what war brings, and memories. So he said for the first time we’re doing that, and by doing that we’re having those depressing days left in our memory, but he said this will not last for ever. Sooner or later the rest of the world will start to be happy. But he said is getting very near when that success we achieve, but success is in front of you, so don’t you worry; it will not last forever, you know. And that we give him because we knew that he was under pressure to do that you see, because not only he, the Russians press him, because you know what the Russians knew, the Russians say if you not going to help us, the Hitler will, he had planned to, was the destruction of Dresden, because the Germans had very big concentration troops there and they wanted to contra attack Russian’s advance and Stalin said if you not helping me they going to chase me back to Stalingrad and the war may completely change still in the last phase of the war. And that’s why destruction went to Dresden because they were preparing lot of last Germans, you know, contra attack on Russian’s advance you see, because the Russians was pressing with all their strength because they didn’t give Germans chance to recuperate, you know what I mean, and by doing so they were gaining the successes. But they knew they wouldn’t be able to do it for much longer. That’s why the destruction went on Dresden, because, to completely wipe out the Dresden. We had such heavy losses in Bomber Command you see, because Bomber Command support the Russians, and support our troops. Our troops. Our invasion on Normandy coast, without Bomber Command going and smashing fortification from Baltic to Atlantic, none of our troops would landed on Normandy coast. The Bomber Command helped them you see, to bridge it, just because they had so fortified, you know what I mean. They, they were, Germans nasty, nasty people. But Bomber Command, paid the price and achieved the result in the end. More cake boys? Yes!
GB: I’m all right thank you.
JB: Now listen!
GB: That’s not good; that’s on tape now. My wife will know I’ve eaten cake! [Laugh]
JB: That thing is red.
GB: Is that the warning? I think it is.
GB: Yes. Is the red thing on?
GB: Yeah, it’s flashing and it’s got green, it’s not got the pause. It’s just the battery usually. Is it on the screen is it? Does it say red?
GB: Just record on it.
GB: How many hours left does it say?
GB: Nine hours thirty six. If I can read without my glasses.
GB: It should be quite a lot because it had had about four years worth of recording on there, everything from when Hayley used to swim. I cleared all that off last weekend. My camera when we bought it about three or four years ago, probably little bit longer than that now, we just recorded everything from family holidays to everything, it’s got quite a big memory on there so this last weekend I wiped all of it off, well saved it onto my computer so that we knew we would be chatting for quite a while today, so you know, we’ve left it on so.
JB: It’s nicely set I think for our height, you know, so.
GB: It captures you just here nicely, with us out of the screen.
JB: More coffee? Listen, I’m not going to charge you no more because not hot. I make you hot. [Steps] [Pause] We have a hot coffee this time!
GB: Oh! Okay, thank you.
JB: {Banging] Listen, next time you come to [indecipherable] we won’t be strangers you see because you’re our friend from Lincoln, Yorkshire. Yes.
GB: Well next time you’re coming to be our guest, aren’t you, in May, you’ll come and see us.
JB: You see, which way round, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Bomber Command. Here in [indecipherable] they want fighters, you know, and most Bomber Command boys lived there because they had friends and so on, so they remain there.
GB: In Lincolnshire everything is all about the Lancaster and they forget about the Wellington. So because Ingham was purely Wellington squadrons, this is it, we go Lancasters, Wellingtons.
GB: Line them up!
JB: Wellingtons give us the start, yes, yes, they give us the start.
GB: Never heard anything back from Malcom.
GB: Malcolm?
GB: Everett from Nottingham. His uncle. Polish. He was in Fighter, he’s a Fighter. He’s over in Canada. [Indecipherable]
GB: Colin did say that quite a few of the Polish WAAFs are coming to the Faldingworth thing, and [emphasis] the Nottingham Polish scouts.
JB: This time you have the good coffee!
GB: Oh right. We have the rubbish coffee first! [Laughter]
JB: Yes that was it!
GB: I thought you were just seeing how the visitors were going before you give us the good coffee maybe!
JB: You came long way you know, to see me, and sugar, help yourself to sugar. That’s right.
GB: I’ll move that back. There we go. [Sounds of movement] I’ll come and sit this back here a little bit just so that it faces more the front.
JB: Thank you. Yeh, you see, the trouble was, not many people remember the history, but I tell you what I want to tell you. In the old days Poland was country surrounded by three very big power: Russia, Germany and Austria. At one time, many years ago, Poland was the strongest nation in Europe. We stop Turks’ invasion on Europe, but our history start change, you know what I mean, like every country, you know, in future. And then at one time Poland went under occupation of three big power: Russia, Austria and Germany, and we stay under their occupation for hundred twenty years. When the First War started, after hundred twenty years we regain independence, and we’d been destroyed completely, left like that because the biggest battlefield went on the Polish land, you know, between those three superpowers, Russia, Germany and Austria. But when we got independence, for twenty years, England and France was only our far neighbours what we could depend. The rest we still been surrounded by er, not friendly nations, like Germany, Russia, and even Austria and then there was Czechs, Lithuanians, I mean those country, encouraged by the Russians, by the Germans, to cause Czechs against Poland. They knew what that new country, after fifty years to gain independence, was very weak nation. But we had only two countries what we thought we could depend little on friendship: England and France, and we kept it. But in the end we knew in Europe what the Second World War is brewing. But one thing what I have respect for England till my dying days, what England had the guts to stand up against the Germans. No other nation in the world in those days. They all were frightened of the Germans. When the Olympics started in 1930-
GB: Six, yeah.
JB: The Hitler show well his superior power, you know what I mean. And when that Olympic finish, everybody were in fear of the Germans’ superiority. But England, always they were big Empire in those days, they knew what the Germans to them also are big danger, you know, because they knew what the Germans always were creating to regain their superiority in the world. When 1939 came, England only had the guts to stand up. Even French was hesitating in the end. They, you know, were not hundred percent sure, but in the end they had just to do it, but they didn’t do it with heart, no, you see, and the French being senseful were truly bluffing in the end, what it ended that way, you know what I mean. What in the end the Americans got themself involved, because the America didn’t want to it come to the war, and we had very, but in the end who stood up only? England and Poles on this island; everybody was running away. I remember, I work in London, in some parts, in Willesden, where lots of Jewish community live. Rich community, nice houses, and it was at night. I took girlfriend I met in the dance, it was very dark and she promise me she stay with me if I take her home because she was frightened afterwards when dance finished. I said I take you home. I took her home and I was walking back to the Paddington station, I had small room there where I working, and I walk through Willesden, where was half dead. Houses, windows were boarded in, everybody, lots of Jewish community fled to Canada, or somewhere, because they thought the Germans inevitably coming here. And when I walked through that empty park, I thought to myself, will it really happen, you know, what everybody so frightened you see, but that how it was in London. Certain parts in London they were almost deserted too, you know what. I don’t know where people gone, if they gone to different parts of the country but some of them went abroad. So you see, the world, because I went through the beginning of the war till the end, what this country, with Mr Churchill in the end, as the warmonger, I think maybe he was wrong sometimes, [laugh] he didn’t know what he was doing!
GB: We needed a strong leader.
JB: He kept going, you know what I mean! He started in the First War, in didn’t go according to plan everything, but when the Second War came he was about one of the best, you know what I mean, what could come at that time. And he took bluff, he bluff many times and he was biding for the time, because that was only hope what something will happen. And yes, we may don’t like the Japs, but good job what they attack Pearl Harbour, you know what I mean, and they made Americans to come into the war.
GB: Big mistake for them.
JB: Because otherwise I remember the war how every day I was studying the events from day to day and only when Americans go to war you could see the laughs on the people’s faces you know, because we knew now we are not alone and that happened like that, yeah. But from beginning it was hard going but in England with Mr Chamberlain, he was, he believed Hitler from beginning. The trouble was with him, every time he go meet Hitler, he come back, step on Croydon airport: ‘There will be no war, I have signature in my hand.’ But Hitler did not have honour to tell the truth: he was just playing for time, you know what I mean and in the end he knew what he made blunder because he believed him, he believed him, and that’s why he had to resign and coalition became, you see.
GB: Don’t forget your coffee.
JB: That’s right, and you see by bluffing that time, when Mr Churchill came, what Americans got themselves involved, and that, he made also mistake, attack Russia, too late, because he wanted you know, for his stand place petrol and he had not petrol, petrol running out. Every time he had any reserves somewhere we used to bomb there, you know what I mean, and he could hide no longer and he was desperate. He started in North Africa, yes, he won Alamein but it was already with Americans help, yes, okay, you see. Because Rommel, you see he got himself involved in Russia, could not help Rommel in North Africa. Of course, Montgomery beat Rommel you see, but they prepared themselves, up to here Germans you see, when they started but they made lots of mistakes and we gained it. [Laugh] You see that’s how war go. Sometimes you see, you almost have victory but mistake costs and to put mistake right Is very costly. [Laugh]
GB: Can I ask you Jan, about?
JB: Ask me anything.
GB: Can we talk about your, when you came to, when you first came to Britain and joined the RAF, as a Polish airman, can you tell us which, did you fly in or did you come by boat and where did you come to? Tell us a little bit about about Blackpool because I think that was your first- the Polish Depot.
JB: I think you touch one of the most important ones. My father was soldier in the First War and we, when the Russians, the Germans were defeated, Austria collapsed, Poland start re-emerging independence, my father was in Polish erm, in Polish Army. When the Germans collapsed, you know, in 11 11, the Russian wanted to invade, under the Bolshevism, the rest of Europe, because Europe was so tired of the war. The France was almost collapsed; England was very bad unrest, because suffering for five years in the First War and the Russians people who starved, they were hungry of food because the big pressures was on Russians’ Front too you see, and we beat the Russian’s invasion on the Vistula river, in Poland. Because how we beat the Russians then, when they wanted to invade the rest of Europe – Bolsheviks. Because the communists was breeding, wanted to overthrow the monarchies, in Germany, in Austria out, out. England sent small reinforcement because the English Royal Family were linked with the Russian Royal Family and as you know, in the First War, Russia, and England and France and very strongly united.
GB: [Beep] Carry on. Right we’re back on again.
GB: [Indecipherable] battery at the same time.
GB: So were you going to tell us a little bit about how you actually came to England.
JB: Alright. Before war started, my father knew the Second War would always begin sooner or later, and he was fighting against the Bolshevism in the First War. When the Russians had very big defeat and they were always warning what, you know, they will return. That was the, always sign. And he saw, he saw the First War destruction and he said to my mother what he don’t like to see Second War. He had the idea what the war will come and would be same thing what happened in the First War, so he sold his possession in Poland and in those days was very big emigration going to Canada, America, South America, Brazil, Argentine, and my father went, decided to go to Argentine, to start plantation there. We went on the boat from Poland. When I was passing near Dover Strait, I saw the white chalk of Dover, I thought to myself, I had been at school having so many lessons about England, what the democratic system in this country, how near. I could see it but I cannot be in, on that coast to see it. You know how it’s in sight you see, because England was always in Poland very important lectures done you see, how it is leading modern nation in the world. Anyway, my ship continue through the English Channel, stop in Spain, stop in Portugal, stop in North Africa, Casablanca, Dakar, then cross to Brazil, off Brazil went to Argentina, BA. My father you see had already planned where we went to settle down in Argentine. We went there, bought lots of land. I thought to myself what he's going to do, forest? He said we will start plantation: plant lots of oranges, bananas, all different type of wine grapes. I went to school in Argentine to learn Spanish. I was already fifteen year old, where you, during break play football, so some of those Argentinian he said you cannot play football. Then, you know, I shoot goal. No, you didn’t score that goal, you bloody fool! I said what did you say? I already knew how to ask him what this he say. He says something again, I punch him in the face. He will go to teacher, report what I misbehave at school. The teacher report to my father, your son not behaving properly at school. My father said listen, you going to school to learn Spanish and learn the Spanish history. I say father I’m learning but I said, I’m not happy. I said they not going to call me what I don’t want you to call me. [Laugh] He said but you don’t have to fight with them I say sometime you have to. [Chuckle] Anyway, I continue to listen to father. War started; I was already nineteen. English Embassy, French embassy, Polish Embassy calling for volunteers. You don’t know how many volunteers came from South America to this country, from Brazil, from Argentine. They were all different nation joining, against Germans. We had three English ship, the Royal Mail had, big English company Royal Mail, going continuously because English had so much investment in Argentine, they were building railways in that huge country. All the meat factory, because Argentine is one of the biggest meat producer in the world after United States. Frederice Angelo, the factory, when the trains come with the, all the stock from the, those huge provinces with the, to the factories, whole train, you could see those cows inside in the train going from beginning of the factory when slaughter start, in the end of the factory, all ready, ships taking all the meat frozen to different parts of the world. England had lot [emphasis] of money tied up in Argentine, lot; big companies, big companies. And when war started lots of volunteers, English, French, Polish start, because Embassy put, advertise, need people. We start, we been put in the hotels in BA, never know what time we going to leave because the German submarine was all over waiting and all those big boats what were going from Argentine with meat supply to England, and volunteers, we used to sleep on the hammock; we had no beds. All the time you have the salvage tied up in case the boat is torpedoed so you jump into the water to save yourself and we had at night a turn we had to watch with binoculars for German submarines somewhere, and our boat – huge! Royal Mail had three: Highland Moorland, Highland Chief, Highland Princess: four big boats. Continuously they used to cross each other, one coming already from England, second come and they used to hoot each other when they pass each other, crossing the Atlantic. And they used to never come to Southampton, the far as they come to Belfast. Unload in Belfast and go back. Belfast then go back. I came to Belfast and first I felt bombing [laugh] and what a souvenir, imagine! And from Belfast they shipped us to Scotland, you know, at night. And from there to Blackpool and from Blackpool to Evanton in Scotland on the train and we be start training day and night, in hurry because the war was in hurry, you know what I mean, to train. We had sometime few hours sleep, you know what I mean. In Scotland we were living in huts. Those round huts, you know.
GB: Nissen huts.
JB: In the middle we had coal fires, chimney. In morning cold, we had, river was passing near our hut and the wooden boats was from the river, we had to wash ourselves, shave ourselves, quickly before the you know, our duties start. And coming in Argentine during that time was summer there, we came here it was winter. In Scotland dark [emphasis] at night in winter time, cold. First I had to go climatise myself to Scottish weather [chuckle] and start training there. When we got first training then we been shipped to Midland, that was better, you know, better. Then when we finished training in Midland, we then joined to the squadrons you see, and in squadrons was much better, you know, much better life. Yes. So you see I start my way, come from Argentine, was seven hundred of us on that boat coming, on Highland Chieftain, big boat, twenty two thousand ton, and we, German submarine all over South Atlantic, with that Graf Spey what they could not catch, that big German er, battleship what you know eventually they caught him near Montevideo, what they, being sunk you see; we start training. Then, you see, when I was start to fly I done few ops from my OTU. First we been doing lots of leaflets, throwing over France. ‘Don’t you worry, we beating Germans in three months, war finished!’, to give to the French people! [Laugh]
GB: So they were your training runs.
JB: Thousands! Then afterwards they send us bit more deeper in Germany to drop few bombs, you see. And then I, we had our accident and I came out on my own from my crew, because my plane got broken, Wellington. I lost consciousness during the accident and when I woke up, I recover my memory what we had crash and I saw everything in fire. [Pause] I, I was squeezing myself; I’d been trying to get my pilot out of, out of his seat, but I think he was still tied up with his, and I couldn’t get him out and in the end I was running out of breath because I could not see, I could not feel, and I start to crawl back and when I crawl back the plane was broken in half, so I had to exit where I got myself out. When I got myself out, my uniform was burning on me, because some parts, some parts I think got wet with petrol, so those parts when was wet, or when I touch maybe, when was trying to squeeze myself from the plane were fire, and we crash near farm, and the people run out from that farm and er, [pause] they tear my clothes from me you see, but I was, I lost my helmet because during that, er, er, during the crash, you know what I’m, impact, I was you know, I was somehow thrown, my helmet was thrown, so I already burn my hair and good job what they torn my flying [indecipherable] out because otherwise I would got probably burn you see with my uniform. We crash near farm somewhere, very near.
GB: Was that in England?
IJB: In England, yeah.
GB: And your aircraft at that time, was that a Wellington or a Lancaster?
JB: Wellington, yes. And I land myself in Cosford hospital, Royal, RAF hospital, that’s where we crash near, and they soon give me, I was in such a pain, but before we crash, the pilot notify flying control what we are in trouble you see. You see during that time our plane not been serviced properly, we’d be in such a hurry training, training, training, and our plane not been hundred percent sometime, maybe, fit to fly, but if you too often put what there were certain problem, you’re gonna some time maybe you don’t, just don’t want to fly, you know what I mean, so you had to do it. Now if something not working In the old days You see now sorry.
GB: Can’t fly.
JB: But in the old days small problem you just have to -
GB: So your crash happened when you were on the OCU then?
JB: Yes, you see, that plane was continuously refilling it up, refilling it up, you see. They had not enough time to service properly. Anyway, I don’t know what was problem but the pilot signal what we are, you know, going down you see. Then I land myself in hospital, but with pilot notified, he give a signal, we going to crash land, you see. It was at night time and when those people took me inside to their house, I couldn’t see them because everything was red in my eyes because my eyes was also burnt you see, from the flame, so everything was red, and he give us, the pilot give directions to the plane control exact place where we been heading to, to crash, and the ambulance came in about half an hour, but I was in such a pain, such a pain. I still remember that today what, and those people were offering me cup of tea, something I couldn’t touch, nothing, because my hands was, but they were talking to me. And I land myself in Cosford, RAF hospital and they start giving me injections to lower the pain, and in the end, in the end when I woke up, that was somewhere I think in afternoon and we crash in evening, so it was long time, and I just look at my, everything, I was embalmed, but I still could see very little through my, one eye I could see ward, what everything was when I look on my hands was full of bandages and the doctors start came and slowly they start talk to me what to get better, you know, start tell you and I spent there three weeks. And Sir Archibald McIndoe, that the big plastic surgeon from East Grinstead, he used to go visit different hospitals in England, also see different cases, the Air Force fellow who burn, in different locations, and he was surgeon and asked them to be to transferred to his hospital in East Grinstead. So he came and spoke to me. He said you, do you know me? I look at him. I said no. I am big plastic surgeon from East Grinstead Hospital. In those days I didn’t know East Grinstead! I said where, he said East Grinstead near London. Oh yes I said, yes, I know. He said that’s where you come to, I’m taking you there! He shout at me! I say when? He said tomorrow you will come. I said thank you, and you see they transfer me with the ambulance to that hospital, and that was proper hospital there because there was modern facilities, good staff, beautiful hospital. Every time when I pass near I always go visit there, you know what I mean. And the people there, in East Grinstead, they so kind, because some of the boys so badly burned, if you would saw some cases you will close your eyes. Their faces, eyes, ears, no hair: completely [emphasis] new faces, you know what I mean. They had to repeat, because fire is a shocking thing, because fire damage. I was in my life couple of times drowning because I was swimming and in the end I got in some very steep, deep hole what I couldn’t get to the edge of it you see, I was drowning, in the sea, but the fire is the worse enemy. The water is bad but the fire is even worse, you know what I mean. You see I spent there six months and the hospital was every night new cases come, at night. People shouting at night. They bring them on the trollies with pain, from different accidents; tell they could have done with the injection, with the pills you see. So as they, they bathe you little. They keep sending you to diff, to units, because hospital could not cope with so much overloading. Then you do certain time and they recall you back for to continue. So they sent me doing instructing in the gunnery school you see, because I already had few ops behind me, they used to call me, I was capable to do that job what they been so desperately need. So I used to go with those gunner, Lysander used to have that air bag and we going in [indecipherable], that’s a twin engine plane with the two, when the gunners in turn go and shoot him. They sometimes shooting bag, shooting the pilot [laugh], pilot shouting on the intercom [laugh] stop you bloody thing you know what you doing! The bullets flying over my head! [Laughter] Because you see the student you have to tell gently, you know, he somehow press on the trigger you see that turret moving fast you see, so you get him out, you see, you put another one, you say listen when you turn it you must turn gently not so sharp! I said once you pointing on the airbag, once you pointing at pilot head! [Laugh] I said you shoot down the pilot you get into trouble, you get me to trouble you understand! What you doing! So I kept it for six months then I went back as I told you, back to my squadron, then I start to feel to be like home, you know what I mean. Yeah. Because there was, you did your job, and there was no shouting at you, you had more respect, you know what I mean. On this gunnery school I mean I was already instructor but still you had to stand up as a, you know what the discipline, to show them what they must be, you know, example to be, know what I mean.
GB: What rank were you at the gunnery school?
JB: I was Warrant Officer.
GB: Oh Warrant Officer. And was it just Polish.
JB: I had Warrant badge.
GB: The students you were teaching, were they English or just the Polish?
JB: Mixed. There was Australian, there was Canadians, you see, there was Poles. Some of the Canadians been coming already trained, some of them been finish here you see. In the end my squadron sometime, because we always had about eighteen crews operational, from my squadron. So some time when we had replacement we had to have backup from the Royal Air Force because we had, our crews were still due to be, er to come, so we had some spare crews coming, flights. A Flights or C Flights you see, English Section, because we always sent about eighteen planes you know, on the op.
GB: On op.
JB: That was big, big, lovely aerodrome for headquarter, new build by Wimpey, beautiful there.
GB: What, you obviously can remember the date, what was the date of your crash?
JB: My crash, yes, 1943, about three weeks before Christmas.
GB: So yeah, beginning of December ’43.
JB: Yes, somewhere, because Christmas, I tell you, I never forget that Christmas till my dying days. We had Christmas tree, beautiful tree, and you know, first when you badly burned, every day they take you to have a bath. They take your pyjama out: top, bottom, beautiful two WAAFs, nurses, WAAF officers will come and take your dressing gown from your hands, face, because that dressing is with oil, so the oil doesn’t stick to you. And they have to keep changing those dressing gowns till skin heals, you know what I mean. So they have to keep clean every day you must have a bath, they run bath full of water, imagine, from beginning, young man, you go to bath and two beautiful nurses you know, take your dressing gown, afterwards you get used to, but from beginning you almost, you shy to look them. They used to because they already been doing that, but you from beginning. And that Christmas, Bing Crosby sang White Christmas. Anyway, before midnight there was nice atmospheres, nurses were singing, the lights weren’t on and afterwards we had spare room so they turned the lights down and I had radio, and Bing Crosby sang ‘White Christmas’,’ and that touch you, you know what I mean. And I was then in the little room, lights very dimly lit up and I thought, if it is Christmas, that special day, what it touch you so much, you know what I mean, with that song, and every time when I ever heard him singing that song, you know, it remind me that day I was in that hospital you know what I mean. Because that Christmas was such a thing, once you land yourself in hospital and you knew, when in the past you always mix with crowd of people, and this time you was on your own, was very, very sentimental, yes. You know even now, you say, I’m sorry I’m probably bore you talking, but I want to tell you my exactly life.
GB: Oh no!
JB: Even when I go now, during Battle of Britain, when we have all big crowd here - I don’t know if you ever been here, by the monument?
GB: Yes, last September we came.
JB: I’m glad. I hope you come this September.
GB: Every year. We will come every year.
JB: You to us you are very valuable because you going to live lots of, you help us lots of history what we, you know, want to leave behind, because the war’s it is remain, all the history should be known. Yeah. So every time I go to that and when I see those face, my men, who, I’m telling you exactly what I, what to tell you from my heart. I think to myself why didn’t I die with them, you know what I mean, when I say their name because you think they gone and I left behind why should be? I should be there with them but it just happen like that. But some time you, you think you would be better off if you would died with them, you know what I mean, yes. You see friendship, you see, you probably will remember, when you facing, facing, death, and we are three of us together, [pause] is the biggest friendship, the biggest brotherhood you share together. Because you know you depend on each other. You see the same thing would have been in crew, seven, you knew defend each other life and when you miss one of them is probably more than your own brother, you know what I mean. The sort of friendship, you sort of develop friendship. If I see my English crews like I, before [crashing sound].
GB: It’s all right. I’ll get it.
JB: Oh sorry, I’m sorry to give you problem. Oh thank you.
GB: That’s all right. Gone everywhere.
JB: I have lots of more memory, I lost lots of my different records, but I’m still holding [paper shuffling], oh, yes, yes. That’s all right. [Paper shuffling] I thank you, you’re friend.
GB: I’ll move those on to there.
JB: Yes. That’s lovely. [paper shuffling] Look, before we have our statue erected, few years ago Daily Mail was, I miss some daily, because that was every day different added story, I thought why don’t we have our recognition? Even Churchill betrayed them; the nation turn its back. So should we still feel duty, you know what I mean, and in the end we got this monument because every time I see them I was the same like them and I felt what the people forgot us. But you know why? When war ended, the Germans call what was that’s biggest barbaric system done on Dresden, but so many and Mr Churchill slightly turn us back, to give the most recognition to Fighter Command. But we never forgive him because who were Fighter Command, they just stop, delay invasion, in the end Hitler said I will come back to you later, I’m not in such a hurry, but the Bomber Command, who from beginning till the end, went night after night, day after day, from beginning nobody could touch Germans, only Bomber Command did here and that’s why we pay such a big casualties.
GB: You took the fight to them.
JB: We had to go for eight hours. The fighters -
GB: Would you like to sit down.
JB: Yeah. The fighters, listen!
GB: There we go. [Paper shuffling]
JB: Thank you. Sometimes they jump in their Spitfire, they come back and the cigarette still left on ash tray, burning. When we had to go, we had to go for eight hours, over their sky, over their land and face them for eight hours, you know what I mean, then return to English Channel, that was sacrifice and you see people always talk with mistake: Battle of Britain. We only stop invasion but he still had so much power he went on Russia, because he was running out of petrol, that’s why he went in hurry to get, he start North Africa, no success, Then he said well, the other way: I go on Russia. And if he were to take Russia much early probably he would succeed, you know what I mean, but he attack them bit late and winter came and delay him, and why delay? Because Bomber Command, night after night, went over their sky, over their cities, over their whatever places what it hurt them badly, you see, and made destruction and who in the end lost the most people? Bomber Command – yeah, we paid the prices. And we should be, now we have our statue. Every time we go there, we know what only, I went there, Duke of Edinburgh pass with the Queen and I sat in the second row of chairs. So I waved to him, he turned, he said I know you from somewhere! So I turned to him, I said so you should Your Highness. He saw me from somewhere! I often talk with Duke of Edinburgh because he is our President of the Guinea Pig. When we have our dinner before, in East Grinstead and when he is not abroad or somewhere he always come to dinner with us and he eats, every time will enjoy pint of bitter in the bar and he talk with different voice. Then my English colleagues said to him, they bring him what they said that’s a Polish airmen, he stay with us. So he turned to me and said oh, so you not in Poland? I said no because I said the Russians don’t like me, so I said I’m still here. Oh so you here, where you living? I said I’m living in London, Your Highness. Oh in London! I say yes. Whereabouts in London. I said I’m your neighbour. You are my neighbour? I say of course I’m your neighbour: I live in Royal Borough, I said, I live in Holland Park. Oh, but you never come to see me, I say don’t come to see you because you have so many fellows with rifles and stuff! [Laughter] So he said but, you have to tell me, you are my friend – I said they don’t listen to me! [Laugh] And he laugh and he went andgo talk with somebody else, you know, he’s a very. People say talk to Duke of Edinburgh what he’s such a, you know, he’s just the same, and he will have same food with us and he enjoy joking and telling us some nice story. He said when I go to different meetings I have to be so careful because, he said, if I make something, they up to it and he said next morning in the press lots of things done to it. He said with you boys I can talk and it’s no paparazzi [laugh]. And he will have same pint of beer to start, and he will walk in bar and chat, you see you never can press yourself to start talking with him, but when he is brought to you, then you can have a chat with him you see, [laugh] then, yeah. So, he said so you are living in my borough? I say yes, I say I have been living before you, because I said, I know you got married after me [laughter] when you came, and the fellows who escort him laughed, you know, because I remember when he got married, and in Hyde Park we had all different groups from Colony come, and they had in Hyde Park, in the tents, accommodation, you know what I mean. So I said oh yes, you became my neighbour much after me, I say I came after the war, yeah, because, and he, he few times he came to see us and after, when dinner finish, quietly to take him through back door and back to London, yeah.
GB: Can I ask you a question? When, you said when you went on operations and you went for eight hours, can you tell us a little about what it was like? Did you spend all eight hours in your gun turret, or were you allowed to walk up and down the aircraft? Did you take a little bag with a flask of tea and sandwiches? What did they give you? Tell us a little bit if you can about an ordinary mission.
JB: Yes, I tell you what. We used to take coffee with flask; strong black coffee with drop of rum, drop of rum, and pilot will always, from time to time: Jan, you all right, how you feel? All right skipper, don’t worry, I’m watching, watching, don’t worry. Oh we just want to know, you know, he communicated with one each other ever so often, you know, so, because some time certain fellow can fall slightly sleepy, you know what I mean, so we keep in communicating from time to time, but I, you see when I went second time after my accident, and the new crew came, they were feeling what I was to them like, superior, because I already had few operation before me and I had to tell them, before we went on first op, I said listen, I can advise you one thing what you have to do. What you have to keep your eye left and right all the time, because if you going to keep that, what I’m telling you, you probably will have much more chance to, because I said the Germans come so quickly and so unexpectedly what, before you notice it’s too late, so you have to see him much before he see you you see, and I said you must keep eye on each other so you all know what you’re doing, and you keep looking. Because I said, pilot has his responsibility and you as the gunners, you have your responsibility, because you have the responsibility for the rest of crew. I say you have your guns and your guns is for defending ourselves. I said some of the members of the crew, they have no guns. Well you have the guns and you have to give that, you know. They felt, you know, like I was to them, bit more superior because I already had few ops you see.
GB: You had the experience.
JB: Yes, that’s right.
GB: How many operations did you go on all together do you think?
JB: About fourteen.
GB: Fourteen. Did you, it’s a delicate question to ask, but did you manage to shoot down any Germans?
JB: No. I had one, I had, who wanted to attack us, and I don’t know why, and he kept following us for while, but I think he knew what we saw him you see, and he was coming, was lowering himself down, from the back he was following, but never took attack you see. And I, to the mid upper I said look, look he’s on your right, on my, on my right from the back, watch him, watch him, he’s going to do something! And he follow us, I don’t know, or he had not enough guts.
GB: Maybe.
JB: Because Germans too also, not everyone was not brave, you know what I mean. And in the end when clouds came we went, because when clouds came you run into the cloud, you don’t care what happen, if you collide with something long as you get away, you know, so the most danger night it is when it’s moonlight. When we go on bombing and is full moon, is almost fifty fifty chance, you know what I mean, because the Germans could see you like in daytime, you know what I mean, and long distance but when is certain over cloud, over target, is, you see, very, very big to us, future to survive, you know what I mean. Because you don’t care when you see the fighter is attacking you, if you have near cloud you run into the cloud, you know what I mean, and he will be frightened to follow you because you know, you can collide, but you, to save yourself you don’t care.
GB: You go into the cloud.
JB: You will do it. Yes.
GB: Did you think yourself, you obviously with a rear gunner in a Wellington and then also in the Lancaster, what was it, what were the guns like, were they powerful enough do you think you could have better? Because they kept changing the different armaments that you had.
JB: No I think Lancaster had better, they were more modified, more superior, movement and erm, effectiveness than Wellington. You see every, from Wellingtons they made lots of improvement into the Lancaster and you felt the second, what you been, not two gunners, it was three of you, you know what I mean, and the Germans knew, when he would attack you from the back, he would have two gunners against him, you know what I mean, instead of one. Because Wellington is rear and front, so he know the front, he’s not bothered about the front, he only, and the German fighter, first of all, when he attacking you his first idea to kill the rear gunner, because once he point on you and he, he upset your defence, then he know he got the rest, you know, easy way. So his first idea to have eyes set on the rear gunner you know, and he will always attack from the back, very seldom from the side, because from the side is so big speed, what he cannot catch you in his gun sight, but when he follow you from the back he has distance.
GB: A still target.
JB: And he get you right in his circle and then you are, you know, almost in his mercy you see, yeah.
GB: Did you have any armour plating in the rear turret at all to protect you?
JB: No.
GB: Nothing at all.
JB: No. You just, you know, you had good visibility, but pilot had, pilot had. From beginning we had sometime two pilots; one and assistant pilot who’s doing first trip or something. But afterwards you train pilot for Lancaster four engine; it take so long what they couldn’t afford it to have two pilots so we had one, yes. Maybe some time first trip, some time, when the pilot, Commanding Officer knew, what he need to send with the second pilot, so they send him to give him one trip, what to experience, you know what I mean.
GB: When, when you came back from each operation, was there a certain time when you were able to relax? When you were still in the air, coming back from an operation, was there a certain time when you came over the British coast or was it further inland than that?
JB: You know first of all when we just been over Holland, to Belgium, even France, we felt little better, but when we came over English coast at least you know you were home, yes, [telephone] you knew what maybe some Germans here but they so scared over our land when they have no time and because sometime we will come and the Germans will be around here you know, so we had some diversion you see, yes. There were occasion we landed on American bases. That was good because we could get cigarettes you know, [chuckle] and bottle gin, and bottle of gin! And you can have a beautiful food whatever the time of the night you like, because kitchen is always open you see. So listen, next time you come back to your station all your friends after you because they knew you’d been diverted to American station! It was like you know [laughter].
GB: Are there any funny stories you can remember when you were on operations, up in the air, the funny things that happened in the aircraft? Can you remember any funny things that happened with your crew when you were up on operations?
JB: Oh yes, yes! Sometime you know there is certain job, fellow sitting, he said, listen you know what this, our skipper doing now? He turned, he completely turned his course, he sort of [indecipherable] going on Berlin, I say you’re joking! No, no he’s something, doing wrong! Listen, you don’t tell me he not so stupid to do such a thing. Only jokes, you know. But jokes is all right if is quiet, but when is sometimes hot you know what I mean, there is no joke, there is no joke, you know. After, when we get from the danger, we can joke, you know what I mean, yes.
GB: And your time when you were back on the ground, on the stations, tell us a little bit about your life on the RAF stations, if you can, in between operations. What was your normal day on the ground?
JB: I’ll tell you what we’ll do, [sigh] I was very good snooker player, and you know when I learned very good snooker? When I land myself in hospital and we had recreation room and three snooker table. So when you not in bed, you go to that canteen, have a cup of tea or coffee, and sometime play game or two just to pass the time, and I had you know, very good talent for the snooker and some time - I’m glad you ask me that because I cannot remember everything, so when you ask me certain question I sometime give you interesting answer - that Sir Archibald McIndoe, what he was such an important person in Air Ministry, if he phoned to Air Ministry and he said listen, I want twenty professional nurses: my hospital short of nurses. After two days new nurses come from Ireland, because most Ireland supply beautiful trained nurses, young girls. And they come to hospital and after one years hospital short of nurses because boys married them, you know what young boys, and they soon find themselves husbands you see, but anyway, that Sir Archibald McIndoe also liked play snooker. Sometime he will start operating from seven o’clock in morning because the more they operating those people, the more some of them they finish them in to do the service again, you know, it was like you know what I mean, conveyor belt. People coming in and going out, coming in and going out. So he would start operating early, certain cases, and lunchtime sometime, you know what he would do to me? He will call me, to my, I will be on Ward One, he will ask sister, sister call that Polski – he called me Polski – so sister say, hey Polski, your boss want to see you, So I get on the telephone. Yes Sir Archie, what can I do? Listen Jan, reserve table one o’clock today because I give you game. I give you three black start! I say thank you Sir Archie. Yes, yeah, because you have to learn little bit more about snooker! [Laugh] So he bloody come, I will already have a sandwich for them, coffee, because he will play snooker with me and have a sandwich and coffee because he, then we finish one game listen, we have a quick one, another one. So instead of one game we will have two games, we would have sometime he would not even have time to finish a sandwich and coffee, but two game he will finish, and then he will laugh. Some time I specially let him win the game because that give him satisfaction. He will go back to operating room, he said I beat that Pole, because he thought he will beat everything! But he said I told next time three blacks is not enough for him, next time, listen, so that give him satisfaction. And he loved playing snooker. When he will meet us in bar, in Whitehall, in the evening, not every night, but from time, he usually know Friday or Saturday was the best time to meet us, he would always talk snooker to you, you see, because he loved that game and he used to play with me and with other fellows you know, but he always used to like play with me because I supposed to be quite a good player what wins them, because they all knew, so he used to enjoy beat the best one. And he was really nice. Some time he will ask us, he lived in East Grinstead, New Forest, that’s a little outside town. He has beautiful big bungalow there. So sometime he few us, he ask us for glass of beer into his, because we all had cars, you know, in East Grinstead, because lots of people sold cars cheaply because petrol was so expensive, some of people had cars but no petrol so you could buy petrol for, car for twenty five pound in those days and you know on the station you always been able to get petrol.
GB: Little petrol here, little petrol there, yeah, yeah.
JB: So we go to his, that little, that nice bungalow and he will have a drink with us in his sitting room and afterwards sometime he leave us, because he said I have to get up tomorrow morning, I have to go to London and we will have a game or two in his you know, also have a drink and afterwards go back to hospital. He was really our friend; we, we, when he died we felt for him like he was our advisor, doctor and father, you know what I mean. And he had so much influence, you know whatever, because when the Queen and King came to visit, he was the right hand man, you know what I mean, and Queen and King from time to time visit that hospital because it was all the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, you know, colonial boys too and you know Royal Family often pay visit there. He was, and he was such an influential,so. Whatever he wanted to gain you know, something, he had his voice was respected everywhere. Yes.
GB: Do you remember back to the names of the crew in your aircraft when you had your accident?
JB: Yes, I yes, that my second crew who died, I have in my book – this one.
GB: Oh, in, how do you pronounce his surname. Is it Jerzy Cink, is it Cinic? In Polish, how do you say that name there?
JB: Ah, Cink. Yes, Cink.
GB: Cink, I’m just going to use your toilet for a moment. Brendan wants to ask you a question.
JB: Just here, first on the right, go there. First on the right. Yes, just first on the right. [Cough] I’m sorry I, [cough] do too much talking, but you see I have to tell you whatever, because you came long way and if I don’t tell you I forget, you know what I mean. I find when my second crew got lost. Four hundred something. Thank you, yes, put that somewhere. [Crockery sound] Yes, thank you.
GB: I presume, this book references, I’ve seen copies.
JB: Put that, yes thank you. [Long pause] Yes, you see here, I.
GB: Page [indecipherable]. Three hundred Lancasters.
JB: Oh yeah, here you see.
GB: Oh right, marked.
GB: More heavy losses on the first raid in 1941, attack on [indecipherable] on the night 2nd of January VHJ?
JB: Yeah. That’s my crew. Konarzewski, yes.
GB: Right. That was the aircraft. VHJ.
JB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where is Konarzewski? [Pause] No. There is the car. [Footsteps] [Crockery sounds]
GB: All marked in here as well.
JB: That’s right, yeah, Jan Konarzewski, oh yeah, that’s my crew. Second one.
GB: VH-J then. EB722.
JB: Yeah. That’s my crew what I was recalled to hospital, they went and, and that fellow was instructor, and he was in Hucknall, Hucknall.
GB: Mmm. Nottingham.
JB: And afterwards he got so fed up he said, he went, he came to our squadron and pass all the training and he was made Group Captain. Because for his services, for few years he was instructing, and imagine just before war ended, went on the flight, and you know what I mean, and crew vanished, yes. I mean different from beginning of, this end like er, that fellow, er, our ace, what in the last war, before war ended, went over Belgium. One was um, my memory, my memory you see is, er, Group Captain, Group Captain who had the most bomber, the highest Victoria Cross in Bomber Command there.
GB: Polish or British? English? Do you mean Guy Gibson or Cheshire?
JB: Guy Gibson. On Mosquitos. He went just before the war ended, in last few days, over Belgium and was shot down and killed. And the second one was er, er, his wife also contribute a lot, Group Captain Guy Gibson and second one was er, he had the most, the most trips, he was the most highly decorated – Cheshire!
GB: Leonard Cheshire.
JB: Leonard Cheshire. They were, my friends, I, listen, Leonard Cheshire had gunner in Holland Park. I tell you why, I will tell you history, fact, why Leonard Cheshire did so many trips. He was the highest decorated man in the Second War, Leonard Cheshire. He was first as a Lieutenant, made first tour, and when they finished first tour they had given holiday, everyone went different directions. One live in Scotland, one in Wales, one somewhere in London. When they return from that holiday, they all been given different, afterwards, type of duty to do. But his crew came back first, day before, from his, from their holiday. He came on second day, it was on Saturday he came back, and somebody tell him, oh your crew went to the local park to have a drink because one of the fellow is having birthday. So he get in his car and go to that park, and he said why have they just spend holiday. Oh, we had lovely holiday, one was in one place and one in another! And they said so what you doing here? No he’s, Jack having holiday, birthday, so they his birthday so we have drink, skipper, we buy you drink too, what you have? So skipper he says Oh, I have a bitter. Well he said listen boys I have the news what I will be transferred to London, to Headquarters, I will do office job now, he said I don’t know what you going to do. Well skipper, we decided today, as we having that birthday drink, what we going to continue to fly till end of the war. You know they got drunk and decided they not going to take, you know, different jobs; they want to fly. So he said when did you decide to do that? Oh well, Jack had birthday and we had drink, we thought you know, it’s nice to continue. And he start to feel sorry for them they going to fly without him. So he said why didn’t you told me that before? Well we didn’t know that, but we somehow came back from holiday and we decided the best thing for us to continue. And he start to feel sorry to leave them, you know, behind. He said now I have to do, rearrange everything you know if I want to stay with you. No they say, you don’t have to, you know, you decide for yourself. So he decide to fly with them second tour, he decide to fly second and third tour you see, and that’s how his story went. When war ended, he knew what Polish Air Force contribute to the Second War. He was lovely fellow, Leonard. He went to visit Poland, with his wife, and he saw some Poles who went back, because some left their wives in Poland, you know, and when he went there and saw some of them, or some of them already by communists badly treated, badly, you know, went through different interrogation, you know, he decided to build in Poland few, to those homeless people, home, to the ex RAF who went back to Poland and he found them in such a suffering, with his wife. So the Polish government made her Baroness of Warsaw, you know, his wife.
GB: Yes, yes.
JB: Leonard Cheshire became Catholic after the war, he went to Rome and he made application to Pope what he want to become Catholic. You know why? Because he made so many trips and sometimes he said, the, his guilty conscience was hmm, touching him, maybe so many trips what he made maybe the bombing, maybe some suffering to some people and he thought maybe to ask God forgiveness, because he was half religious person, you know what I mean. Probably that’s why did so many trips know what I mean, and his wife spent half of the time in Poland when he died, you know what I mean. Because she was doing some charity job there and she was well respected you see, in Poland. That’s Leonard Cheshire. But I tell you one story about him. You see when I live in Holland Park fifty years, all people knew me – oh that’s ex Polish airman, that’s Polish Guinea Pig. Our Police Station, all Police Station knew me because two girls from the station rent the flat in my house so when they have time they will popping in for cup of coffee, when they had day off they would come and go by, oh, Mr Black, how are you, all right, we’ll pop in quick and have a coffee. I, you see I did and in one job after the war, twelve years in rubber factory and after, when I finish, I work for electric wholesaler, twenty years. Because I knew all the cities in England and my boss like me so much because he send me to Nottingham, Coventry, Birmingham. I know that city Doncaster. He send two fellows you see they couldn’t do the cover because you see they had no experience to be in that part. I work for big electric wholesaler, [telephone ringing] so I very seldom saw my boss because he send me, all my customers like me. When they ordering, want to put orders, they asking on the reception they want to talk to me. Because when they talk to me, I promise them what I will deliver them tomorrow or after tomorrow for sure. When they talk to the boss, he take the order but long as he take the order he doesn’t bother if he deliver on time! So you see all the customers got to know me. They phone for the orders, they want to talk to me, because they know, what I, and they used to give me always good orders. You respect the guy what’s ex you know RAF and so on. So my boss was jealous of me. He said I don’t know what you do with your friends, they phone me, they only want. I said because I tell you why, I said when they order with you, you take their orders but you don’t bother to deliver on time! I said when I take order I sometime don’t sleep the time that I will deliver them, that’s the difference. I said, yes, I said and you thinks, you know, because you know I do that job, so he was also ex-Army fellow, you know what I mean! But yes, you see, I was starting, where did I start, with them, yeah, so you see, I had two jobs. Second job I loved because I had independent job. I used to travel all around the cities and in the end I went to my boss and I said, listen, when I start the job you told me it will be London. Then it was London, then afterwards you said it outside London, it was outside London, [beep] I said now we spreading all over, Scotland, Wales. Ah, he said Jan, but you don't have to hurry, you can stay in hotel, boarding room when you fine to. I said listen, I have wife. I said I didn't marry my wife to stay in Scotland, or somewhere, I said I marry my wife in London! I said no, no, I said. Listen, you know we in business we some time do more, some time less. I said yes, now every year is more and more and nothing less, but in the end he said well we will be changing so, but for time being. So I had lovely job, but it was you know, responsible job, you had to do it: nothing for nothing you see. And when I come back now, what we did war days responsibility and when war ended how we had to be also, you know what I mean, doing the job, you know what, we had nothing given for nothing you see. Now people never satisfied, you know what I mean, yes, lots of changes yes, and that’s why, maybe now, we cannot afford certain things, you know what I mean, to give so much. Like now they, wanting flats in Westminster for thousand pound you know what I mean whatever, you know, weekly, because these days you see time change, yes, you know what I mean. The Chancellor, the present Chancellor, Chancellor cannot do so much, if he cannot afford it he has to do it.
GB: Looking, looking back at your time when you’re in the Polish Air Force, in the RAF, do you look back at it now, I know you have some sad memories, and some, probably memories you prefer to forget, but as a whole thing, what do you, when you look back now, what do you think of your time in the RAF, how do you view it now?
JB: RAF, you see we live, it was days when we never knew what tomorrow’s going to bring; we used to live from day to day. But every day, when you had chance, you enjoy it, because you been catching. I’m glad you ask me that. Sometime when I was stationed in beautiful parts in this country because England have such a beautiful scenery in certain parts. This country is so much, compared with different parts of the world, so nicely preserved, so nicely upkept, you know what I mean. I used to take bicycle, in spring, and sometime go quietly for nice cycle, and I would stop that bike, and see beautiful flowers, beautiful flowering trees and I think to myself: how God made this planet so beautiful. When you some time visit you never look that, you never think that, but then when I find the time and you see that beautiful thing in front of you, those birds singing, you think to yourself I wonder if tomorrow will be such a beautiful day. If I go tonight and never return, you know what I mean. You been thinking that, you know, if you survive that one. Because when you young you something like flower growing, flowering, you don’t want to die, you know what I mean, because you full of life, you know, and see all that thing beautiful round you. So you see when you’re young person you want to live, that remember, and when I used to see that beautiful thing round me, the river, and I used to drive, cycle in those quiet place, beautiful county Lincolnshire and I think that would be shame, you just want to live now [laugh] and you facing that, the worst when some time you going to take off you see, Once you’re airborne you just feel phew, you can breathe, but the take off is always a bit of, you know what you up to: start. The second time when you go on target, when you already been there before, and you know when it’s lots of German guns there, you know, when you have on the briefing, because when you come to briefing, and our briefing officer with his long stick and big map, start pointing and you think to yourself: not that bloody place again! [Laughter] You know.
GB: Were there times when you were in the big briefing room, when they told you about where you’re going to go, so you had good locations, and not so good locations, and bloody awful locations, and was there like a groan round the room and things like that when they told you? I presume the first thing you knew was in the briefing room when the senior officer stood up at the front and told you did you?
JB: Listen, when he’s telling you about that what you already been there, you want him to finish quickly [laugh] without no mentioning them, what they have somewhere back [indecipherable] because they will tell you when, before you reach that place somewhere where you will have obstacles too, you know, so you just, you please will you finish quickly, you know! [Laughter]
GB: Where would you say, remembering back, where was the one [emphasis] place you didn’t want to hear that you were going? Where was that? Was there one place or a couple of places?
JB: Yes, one, one I remember.
GB: What was that?
JB: I remember Gelsenkirchen, that’s in industrial part of Germany. At one time I thought, I thought my plane was, you know what I mean, going down. I said to skipper, I said Jan, what the hell are you doing? I said, I cannot shift in my turret! His name was Jan too, Jan Konarzewski, he was Group Captain and I was Warrant Officer. He said Jan be quiet, I’m frightened, he’s shooting at us and I have to get away, he said, don’t you bloody shout! [Laugh] Because I, feel, listen, they in front, they don’t feel that, but I, in that bloody turret, when they turn and put that [indecipherable] I fucking feel my feet is going down! I said listen, hysterical here, you know what I mean, he say hysterical here too! [Much laughter] But, you know what I mean. In the end I know he’s not doing that on purpose you know what I mean. But I said you did bloody make me nervous, I thought you know that’s it, I said I didn’t know what happened. He said what he saw those flares coming up him and he just couldn’t, wanted to avoid them or something and that’s why he turn. But some time you know, when you try to avoid the desperate moment you do so many funny things, you know, you just don’t care, you know, in those days. And some targets are, Germans, they were, oh they, I must give them that, they had terrific, you know, defence, you know, on certain. I never been over Berlin but the boys who told me once they gone on that, you know, he said they had good drink before, because they knew it was very, very strongly defended place because the Germans, specially wanted Berliners, to show them what, there was nothing to worry about. Because that Goering he told German people what there would be no any planes coming in the sky, you know, he gives them such a surety, you know what I mean, and after our plane on Hendon Museum, it said who made over hundred trips over Germany [laugh], yeah; he was giving Germans to Hitler such assurance, what they don’t you worry, I see them all you know what I mean, yeah.
GB: Have you, we’ve obviously got the Wellington in Hendon, and the one at Brooklands. Have you been inside them, at all? Have you been to see them at all?
JB: Only Lancaster, oh I take lots of people from Poland.
GB: Yes. To Hendon, the museum.
JB: To Hendon, yes, that’s the first. When I have some visitors I tell them to. Listen, I went to Argentine because my sister lived there, and er, [pause] and I went to museum and I saw were Lancasters in Argentine. In Buenos Aires there is one in the city and I thought to myself where did you beautiful things end you see, land yourself here? My sister said to me Jan, I didn’t wanted to call you back because I knew you been something so much attach. I said – my sister called Marcella – I said Marcella, I could stand on that plane and watch him and talk to him. I said what you would probably would be tired waiting for me. I said Marcella, because that plane bring me so much memory. I said for you is probably difficult to understand. I said, when some time we went on operation and it was very, [pause] very, I said, scary. And when we came back, we touch his wings, we kissed him, that’s why we been grateful what he took us there and brought us back, you know what I mean. I said Marcella, you will not understand me why I will stand outside him and I feel sorry what he so far away, yeah. I telling you this story, story from my [emphasis] life, what I felt sorry what that plane was so far away and we have only couple left now.
GB: Indeed.
JB: And those planes helped us so much to win the war. How we got rid of them, you know we been sending them on scrap and these are such historical planes - they helped us to win the war.
GB: It’s the same with the Wellingtons though, isn’t it.
JB: Wellingtons, Spitfires, look now we looking in Burma, those planes what were buried somewhere. You’ve heard that.
GB: Yes, yes.
JB: I mean what they were shipped there all that distance, and it was too expensive for them to bring them back, you know what I mean.
GB: So they buried them.
JB: So they buried them and they looking for them now, and they are somewhere because if they would be sold or something it would been known by now.
GB: They made a lot more Wellingtons than they did Lancasters during the war, and after the war they obviously sold quite a few to different countries but the rest were all scrapped, scrap metal.
JB: Scrap, yes, yes.
GB: What they would give for a flying, a Wellington that was flying now.
JB: Oh yes, oh boy, yes.
GB: Got an alarm that was all.
JB: Yes, you see, I mean those planes to us they were so I mean historical you see, what we flown in them they been to us, what they are part of us, I, when I go now to Hendon museum, you know, some, I like to go some time on my own because when I go on my own, quiet, yes.
GB: Quiet, and your own time, I understand that.
JB: And I, because I know every plane, what type of duty he was doing here and I think those planes helped us to win the war, because without those. You see Poland, what I want to tell you, we were new country after hundred twenty years occupation by those three nasty neighbours, we knew what the Second War will be, the biggest part who will play – Air Force. We train lots of people to be new country born in Eastern Europe, but we had not enough money to build the planes. But we had well trained pilots, been flying. We been producing small planes what was, we were selling to our poorest countries, for training. As the war started we had our own production plane, but very few. What came, just came to beginning of the war, but nothing compare with Great Britain like Spitfire, Hurricane or Wellington.
GB: They were very special.
JB: They were more superior. But the pilots had lots of flying hours in Poland, we train lots of people, we knew the Air Force will play big part. When that war started, you see the Germans attack us unexpectedly; we knew they would attack us sooner or later, with the Russians they made treaty together. They were friends, Hitler and Stalin together, and England said no, you see. And the Russians, when Hitler was fighting England, Stalin was helping Hitler, sending him whatever he needed because he wanted if Hitler attack Britain; he was encouraging Hitler. You’ve got France, England next. Because you know why? Because he was preparing to stab him in the back afterwards, and in the end Hitler knew that. Hitler knew that. That’s why they from beginning as the friends then in the end turned enemies you see, on each other. Well you see -
GB: Sorry, go on, no.
JB: When war ended, England, didn’t know much about the communist because they were separated for the rest of the world, they did wanted people to know how suffering they live, had bad situation because that was communist, you know what I mean, and they not never been friends of our. They became friends because we had to help them. Because we had to help them because we been frightened if we don’t help them the Germans get hold of their essentials what they need, so we had to help them, but the Russians weren’t really our friends, you know what I mean, not like during the monarchy days, like when they were our friends. We sorry what we didn’t help them because probably if we would help them in those days, we would been able to squeeze the Bolshevik, you know what I mean, because those people only went there because they were suffering with hunger, with the condition. But we, we also been so weak, after the First War, what been not able to help them, you see. But I mean the Russians, look now, they now more friendly because they have big enemy – China. Sooner or later Chinese will make move and the one move what they will make is only that big territory, what they want. They don’t want nothing else. Up to now they been doing trade with England, America; they manage to get by, but when the trade start to slow down, the Russian, the Chinese have everything now what they need, and the Russians now not making with us no more trouble, you see, living very quietly, very scared not to touch them, you see. Putin holding here.
GB: Maybe.
JB: But not for very long because people knew in Russia what they want change, because the rest of the world is living better than them you see, and the people will make a change sooner or later and Putin holding, but that empire is not the same what it was, you see, is breaking down. Look like that big part Ukraine, yeah, is broke down, the Eastern Europe what broke down, they just holding, but time come.
Let me just switch the camera off now, cause I think there’s probably not much time on there anyway


Geoff Burton, “Interview with Jan Black,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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This Item dcterms:relation Item: William Barfoot sitting at a desk at RAF Castle Bromwich
This Item dcterms:relation Item: Interview with Jan Black. Two