Wanda Szuwalska Interview

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Wanda Szuwalska Interview

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Wanda Szuwalska was born on a farm in Poland and was deported to Russia by train at the start of the Second World War. She talks of the journey to Russia, the time she and her family spent there, then coming to England and becoming a WAAF. Wanda worked at RAF Faldingworth and then Stanmore and she describes the normal life she felt she had. After the war Wanda married and had a family, working as a machinist eventually becoming the manager. She also tells of how kind people were to her, the food she prepared, her family and her life on her own.

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01:36:23

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GB: Right, we’re on record, good. [Background conversation]
Int: That’s right, yes.
GB: Good, lovely.
WS: I’m having a good look, Halifax, Lancaster.
GB: The only problem, is I’m going to have to come over here cause otherwise you’ll be looking, you won’t be looking straight at the camera.
Int: Right.
WS: Yes. I’m all right, like that?
GB: Lovely, thank you. Yes’ you’re okay.
Int: Smashing, that’s good.
GB: Oh, superb. Right, good morning Wanda, could you first of all tell us please what your name is, where you were born and your date of birth please?
WS: My name is Wanda Szuwalska, I am been born in Poland, in a part of Poland that is Ukraine now, near Lvov, and my date of birth is 18th of January 1923.
GB: Lovely. And could you tell us a little bit about what happened before you came to Great Britain, could you tell us how you got from Poland to Great Britain.
WS: War started on the 1st of September, 1st of September 1939. Britain joined the war 3rd of September, 1939. Hitler advance on Poland, but we had a pact, with England, Poland had a pact with England and with Russia, that they will not invade us and when Hitler advanced, of course our forces were not so strong, Polish forces was not so strong, and they been backing towards the east border of Poland. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anything about it. On the 5th, 17th of September 1939, Stalin Soviet Army advanced to Poland and all our forces were at that border and it took everybody, just, it took hundred to, hundred and twenty thousand Polish soldier would been killed in 1940 at the Katyn Woods in Russia and that’s why we have got plaque in [indecipherable] about this, Polish Army. Now all the other Polish people, just ordinary Polish people - I was born on a farm, we had a farm, big farm and so on - been taken to Russian prison camp. On the 10th of February 1940, that was the first, they took first part of Poland and then in April the same year, 1940, they took the rest of Polish people, about probably about over a million Polish people went to the Russian prison camp, to Siberia, and we been working there on the river doing the hard work in the woods, and on the river. It was terrible when they took us from home, they gave us, they, soldiers came, Soviet soldiers came to our house and say half an hour, get ready, we are taking to the station and you are going somewhere that your life will be better. We didn’t know anything. We had to pack in half an hour. There was five of us, my mother and father: seven people. My youngest brother was eight years old. Well, it’s very difficult to describe how the panic, half an hour to get ready, and it was three o’clock at night, in the morning. We went to this train, it was the goods train, and we been packed for about thirty people in one wagon and we, on those train we went to Russia. We travel about six weeks. We been get, we had some food because we took some food from home, on the way there we been given some hot water. And in that train we had to sleep one next to other, it wasn’t any beds or anything like that, or some blankets, and there was iron stove in the middle of the train and there was a hole in the floor, and the was the hole in the floor in that train was the toilet. And the iron stove, that’s what we could cook something on. Then I arrive to the town Kotlas, and from, the train didn’t go any further and we been put on the sledges, because it was winter, and along river Dvina we went track, pull with the horses, we went to the north like to Arkhangelsk. On the way there was a barrack built on this riverside, banks, and so many people were dropped at one place and then few miles later was another place, and we all disperse in there and we work there. We had nothing. When our food finished, what we took with home, we been only getting a slice of bread, those who don’t work, and we been paid very little to work. My father went to work, my mother couldn’t because, and I was already six, seventeen, sixteen, seventeen and I went to work just to have this one kilogram of bread, not a slice, one kilogram. And we didn’t know what happen, we had no contact with anybody. And suddenly, in 1940, the end of 1940, Hitler advance on Russia and Russia were not prepared to do it so ask England, Mr Churchill, to help. And our diplomats here in London, Mr Sikorsky, and our President was here, Raczkiewicz, they said to Mr Churchill tell Stalin to release all those people who he’s got in Russia’s prison camp and they will be the best [emphasis] people to fight Hitler. And Stalin went to it and we been released. From the prison camps in Siberia, all of them, all of us, and there was General Anders who also was in the prison was also released and he started to make the Army so we can fight Hitler. And we been left on our own then. Going there to Siberia we had these soldiers to take us there and tell us what to do, but when we were released, released, we were left on our own, we had to find a way to go down the south of Russia, near the river Amu Darya, Tashkent, there was Uzbekistan this way right from north to there. We travel on our own, on the trains. We couldn’t buy the ticket because we had no money. But the Russian people, people from the street, they were very helpful; they were not our enemy because a lot of things happen during the Russia different part of thing, they been move people and thing, so they help us and very often there was a good train and the train driver said yes, when you find room just jump in and took us. It was absolutely, people was lost on the way. I know my friend mother, she fell off the train and took arm off and she didn’t have one arm. Eventually we arrive there, where the Polish Army was formed. Now the Army had to have a uniform and the army had to have food; British government supply it all. We were all put into the uniform, British uniforms, and we had food there. Now there was our families who join us, whoever could join, was seventeen years old could join. What about the families? Older people? So naturally British Government also took charge of it, and being a dominion like India, Africa and things like that, all British government, took all the civilian people to make the camps in those parts of India or Africa, which is Rhodesia and other, Uganda and things like that and then we had the training and I was going to fight. So from Russia, to Caspian Sea we all travel to Persia - which is Iran now - and the camps were set in Tehran, which is the capital of Persia, and from then been taken all over the place, and military people move to Egypt, Syria, to Palestine. I was in Palestine for about six months training, in a uniform, Army uniform, British Army uniform, and then we were going to be ready, train, to go to Italy, travel because the war start to advance. And at that time it was beginning of 1943 when the Royal Air Force lost so many people and there was appeal to join, and I was advised by my relative to join WAAFs, to go to England, and I, and I did. After we travel, we travel through Suez Canal to Alexandria and to Mediterranean Sea, Gibraltar Strait, that was our first transport and was a big ship which wounded British soldier were coming to England, and we joined that ship [indecipherable] and this is the very funny thing to say, while we were getting a bit of money in the Army, and living in Palestine, all the girls bought probably silk stockings, and silk underwear and probably perfume because that what we didn’t have for years and when we were going through Gibraltar Strait there was a first transport there was still U-boat would be there and we been advised to put a swimming things. Oh girls, what we are going to do with all the lovely things we bought? So we decided to put everything on and what about perfume? We put about shark would not like it and they take us from the water we won’t lose those lovely things that we crave! You know, once we got that, that is the funny part, because when you are eighteen, war or not war, you just think positive, you, you not frightened at all, you laugh, you haven’t got, you take the best part of it. So we travel, and we also advised, I have to tell you this, this is bit probably funny. We’d been advised, in Army, that going to England, very, the best country in the world, everybody educated, everybody so sophisticated and English ladies are very attractive, very slim – not fat - and after the Russian prison camp when we got the food in the Army we got a little bit of fat on. You have to lose your fat and we all got a lipstick, to put the lipstick so we don’t look different than English ladies. We all had a picture you know, even in, before the war in Poland, we come to very highly intelligent country and all the ladies are lovely dress and gentlemen with hat, and walking stick and so on. Okay. We arrive about five o’clock in the morning to Liverpool.
GB: Can I just stop you, just for one moment? I’ve just realised – we’ll leave the thing running – is it, is that still in focus?
Int: Yes.
GB: I’ve realised that I should have had.
WS: Do you mind if I say all funny things in between? [Cough]
Int: That’s lovely, yes, yes.
WS: [Cough] Because that kept us going, those little things.
GB: The funny things are the best because it’s, you’re just, it’s not like a documentary where you’re just giving information, you’re actually putting your personal side of things on to it. I forgot to put this; this is a separate recorder just for your voice, and I’ve got to remember how it works.
Int: Yes, that was, the adventure, when you are that age, when you’re a teenager, it’s an adventure in a way.
WS: Yes, it was little things very important to us! [Rustling] You know, I have to tell you about this arriving to England. We had to put all the lipstick.
GB: I think that’s incredible, cause we -
WS: And put the hair so we look the same as the English sophisticated ladies!
Int They’re the interesting things because the history has been so well documented that people know a lot of it, but it’s the little things like that are so [emphasis] interesting.
GB: Can you?
WS: Yes, you can take that.
GB: If I put that there? Can you actually see that on the camera cause ideally we don’t want to see that. Is that visible or not?
Int: You can’t see that, no.
GB: You can’t see it.
Int: No.
GB: Right. All this is the latest technology is very, very good.
WS: Yes, okay.
GB: So just move those out the way. So this will record as well, right, let’s see. If I press that.
WS: Okay?
GB: Mmm. Okay. [Pause] Don’t you just love it when it doesn’t happen. Why is it not happening? C’mon. [Pause]
WS: Yes, like technology.
GB: It is technology! Right, that’s probably it now, I think. Right, if I press. Right, we’re now up and running.
Int: We’ve got record have you?
GB: Lovely, great stuff. Right, sorry about that Wanda, could you just tell us when you arrived and where you arrived in England?
WS: And when we arrive about five o’clock in the morning to Liverpool, Liverpool, and then we were coming to get off the ship, and then the first English ladies we saw, [chuckle] it was the ladies who were coming to clean the ship, with the mop, bucket, curlers on the hair, [laughing] and the scarf curled round there and we couldn’t stop laughing because that what we been waiting to see, first English lady! Which of course we seen them later on, they were like we been told. But that was, the people are everywhere the same, they were working class people, they dress what they want to work, when they go to somewhere else to see, so that was very funny. And then from there, from Liverpool station, er, from Liverpool dock, we were taken by the train, to Scotland, near North Berwick, near Edinburgh. And we been put not in the camps, only in big houses. You’re probably too young and you don’t know, but all the big houses, England was so well organised during the war, that I couldn’t think of any other country, all the people [beep] in big houses been asked to give their houses for military people and they live, go and live with their relatives or something small. And that house was very, very big, probably six bedrooms or something like that and we live this, till everything was organised, and from there we went to Wilmslow near Manchester. It was a special training camp to train us to be, and to change us into new uniform, Air Force uniform, and train, everything. We had to learn English and drills and things like that. And from there we been posted to different station and I was posted to Faldingworth where was Polish, 300 Polish Squadron station. My job was there, just the general, Clerk General Duties and I had to do whenever there was something, I landed on the Flying Control, but not being on TR, to talk to the plane, my job on Flying Control at Faldingworth was, when the plane already landed, then my things was to say which dispersal I have to go, and things like that, which was a little job an ordinary, just glad to be on this one so it was very happy with this. But then I was posted from there, for some reason, on to Fighter Command near London, Stanmore, they wanted somebody there and I went there and my job was very good there because I was, every pilot had to, every month, to give their log book to the main office and their every hour of flight, whatever he do, had to be put in to the ledgers, that are still probably somewhere in the offices held back. So this was my job and I knew almost every pilot of the Fighter Command because they personally came to the office, some sent by post but most came personally. So I got the name and then I put them there and that was my duty till the war finished.
Int: Was that just the Polish fighters, or was that all the RAF?
WS: Only Polish, that was the Polish yes, because Polish had their own command, and the commander of the Polish Fighter Command was, I think he was General yes, Jerszy Byam, Jerszy Byam. He was very famous because he took a challenge in 1933, in Poland [indecipherable], it was you know, ’32, ‘33 that was still the years that the plane came round and I even have got hanging there this challenge wrote in this thing: you know this is my whole life I think that! So, then I work there all time, although my husband, which I met him at, we were not married yet, at Faldingworth, we still kept in contact. So at the end of the war I was, I travelled to, mostly I travelled to Faldingworth from London because we lived there in Stanmore, in a civil, in a billet, in houses, but when I came to Faldingworth they were barracks for all my friends and we decided to get married, and I’ve got some pictures. That’s my, there was a second marriage at the station, Faldingworth, in uniform. There is not very many probably marriages in uniform I dare say. Then the war finished and I had to go to civil life. Now, this is my er, you know, forces career, then the civil life comes to different completely story. But I must return to something else: I told you that when we been moving from Russia through Caspian Sea, I, we been on this big boat and then we are approaching a free country because Russia, we were approaching Persia - free country [indecipherable] – and everybody went on the top and everybody was singing and praying and something like that and we couldn’t, even if I tell you now I’ve got the goosebumps; I never forget that moment. And suddenly somebody screams look, this is the first of April, April Fool, I mean all [indecipherable] is that true? Because you know what is April Fool, and that’s why is so important as I say, at the moment, because we are so happy thinking we are going, being free and then suddenly somebody says 1st of April, that was 1st of April 1942, and everybody was so quiet. Is it a joke that we are moving from Russia? No of course, it wasn’t a joke, we just arrive there, but I thought I mention that little thing because they are little points that are so important in all this, to me.
GB: It’s part of your memory and your thoughts, yes, certainly.
WS: Exactly, exactly.
Int: Could you tell us Wanda, a normal typical day for you [emphasis], working at Faldingworth. Can you tell us from getting up in the morning what you had to do, whether it was cold water or hot water you those kind of, the small details. From the minute you woke up in the morning, could you tell us a normal, typical day for you working at Faldingworth.
WS: Yes. We live in a barracks. Those barracks were made from iron and they look like, I don’t know how we call it in English, but we had a saying in Polish: [Polish phrase], it means [Polish word], it means barrel, barrel cut in half and put this, and we say [Polish word] is laugh, laugh, we laugh about it because there was, we all were young and we always laugh and joke, and say little joke and getting up in the morning, I had to get up, now we had to go outside the barrack to a washhouse, and then dress. We had to put our bed, we didn’t have to have beds made up, we had to put, the mattress was in the four squares and we had to put those squares up, and pillow, everything was in a square, and the bed, iron bed was that free, and one little cupboard, everything on to the cupboard, so everything had to be absolutely perfect. We also had on the barracks, I hope you are going to do it in Ingham like it used to be, and I hope to see it, I don’t know when is going to be.
GB: Well we’ve just put the shell on now, the outside curve on, when it’s complete then we would like you to come along because you can tell us exactly where things should be!
WS: I would love that! I can remember everything.
GB: Yes.
WS: So we went there. Now, the thing is, we went to job, different job, well office job, erm, folding the parachutes in this way, laundry because we didn’t wash, of course we didn’t have [indecipherable] so we had to give every week where all our things were marked and we give it to the laundry and we got another thing every week. So people worked there in the canteens, in a mess, you know, those um, there was officers’ mess and there was sergeants mess and just ordinary a, so we had a lot of that. And there was little, not hospital but I even don’t know how to say it in English.
Int: Sick Quarters?
WS: Sick Quarters there and there was some nurses. Any job you can think of, oh, even we had a film shown about twice a week in one of the barrack, and of course after that we had a duty to go and clean this barrack if somebody drop something like that, anything you mention was there. The only thing this: our quarters were a little bit further away from the gentlemen, from the airmen quarters. They had probably the same life. And we had a 300 Squadron, all the girls, you know, that was because once Lancaster goes there’s six or seven people in a Lancaster, so when it didn’t come back, what happened and we knew all [emphasis] the aircrew you see, so we decided that is probably something nothing to do with us, we just, so the girls decided that we have to mark those aircrew that they are different when they go out. I don’t know how that we managed to get navy blue fabric, it was sort of a silk with a white spot, and we made the scarf to all the aircrew so when they went out to somewhere else they put the scarf on and everybody knew that is, you know, 300 Squadron. I don’t know if some people still remember. Mr Szuwalski, he never served anywhere, he was only in Headquarters because he came after the war and erm, so that was, that was I remember was very nice. The only thing is, even with a boyfriend, oh that’s something very funny, I have to tell you [chuckle], I have to tell you! You know there was somebody came to, about twenty years ago somebody came from Embassy from Poland to our Polish Centre and one of our friend, who was here, he was telling that Ambassador from Poland or whatever, that a lot of Polish airmen married English girl. There’s a lot of English girls being married to Polish airmen, because for English girl are more sophisticate, more prettier and something like [indecipherable], when he finish this talk, I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I just, sorry, but I have to say something and of course they couldn’t stop me, I was nobody, I was one of the people, and I say well I’m sorry Mr [indecipherable] but it wasn’t true! Polish airmen married those English girl not [emphasis] because they are prettier, because they are more sophisticated, because they’re better education, only for simple reason WAAFs couldn’t go out in uniform to dance hall, to Palais de Dance and men could go. So when they went there, and start dancing, meet this young lady who was there, civilian, and after the dance they took them back home and the mother was there, sitting on the settee, easy chair, giving a cup of tea in the nice cup, not the one that you have got in the camp, and probably a biscuit, and from one to another it went to the marriage. And what we could give those young men? We could only meet and go to the bushes for a walk if you want to be there [laughing]. I got so much! Because that was true. We could meet only in the canteen. That was all. We could not bring any young men to our barracks, and we couldn’t go to the barracks, and that how it was. When we wanted to meet we could just walk round the camp or, as I say, go a little bit away from the camp, which we could. There was villages and so on. So that is the funny part, I have to tell how it used to be and er, you know when, that’s what all we do in the camp, everything, you mention everything.
GB: What, what did you think of the food that you had at the camp? Could you describe breakfast and lunch and the evening meal?
WS: Yes. I can’t describe very much but one thing I must tell you: if you have been year and a half in Russian prison camp, have nothing to eat, there is nothing that you can say what this is better. Or if you haven’t got a choice probably you will say this, I would like this or this, but everything even today [emphasis], at my age, I eat everything, whatever is being served. And I would have to eat probably two three times not to waste anything. I do not waste food [emphasis]. If it comes to have to throw away, no I have to work so hard, think so hard, this has to be eaten first. Even my grandchildren now, say, Alexander said to me – he knows me so well - said to me babcia, now there’s a lot of things on the table, I can’t eat it all, but tell me which one have to be eaten first so it doesn’t go bad! Honestly, truly, they know me so well, and my stomach. The food was very good. There was a lot of sausages because there was not very much meat as you know, this country was, even after the war there was everything rationed.
GB: Was the food Polish because I know there were Polish cooks at Faldingworth and Ingham, so did they cook?
WS: Yes. They tried, they tried to but there is for instance we never knew English sausages, that for us was completely what we had, meat was the sausages prepared different way. Yes, but as I say, none of, none of us ever [emphasis] thought about the food that is no good. The one thing only – tea! We never had in Poland tea with milk, and here was this, this tea with milk. At first when we start it, we couldn’t drink it, but I tell you something, if I go somewhere for a holiday, and I don’t have tea, first thing when I come back from the holiday to this country I want a cup of tea with milk! You wouldn’t believe it how I love a cup of tea with milk, thinking that we couldn’t even think of it to drink it like that. And now the food. I must tell you something what happened last year in Northolt. We had this reunion and the meal was at the Northolt. Have you been there, at Northolt?
Int: Yes, yes.
WS: So you know those quite expensive: twenty five pounds, and so some of us, I wasn’t, they served sausages, this. I never, what for this money, sausages, but they didn’t know, we should have been told, they was specially was like that to serve us the wartime meal!
Int: Yes, yes, three kinds of sausages wasn’t there, yes, yes.
WS: Yes! You been there so you know that story.
Int: Yes, yes.
WS: Of course we been always having this Northolt and then the reunion at the POSK, Polish Centre in London, and of course the meal was Polish there and then we have it on the station, and this is going to be on the station next, 5th of September, going to be on station, and they didn’t tell us that that was the meal. And my daughter was with me and she really, you know, she was surprised that what we eat, yes, but as I say, it was lovely, I liked it, no, but nobody, but somebody was little bit surprised that was sausage for the money we pay. This year is also twenty five pounds [beep] and we have to do it very quickly, we have to be there, we have to say that we are coming the end of this month. This is a little bit, because it's three months later, how do I know, at my age.
GB: What you’ll be doing.
WS: What happen to me in three months it doesn’t matter, whatever happen I will just, how I get there. So no, the food was very good, but you cannot ask, if you ask this question of any of the Polish people who been to Russian prison camp they will never, never [emphasis] will anybody tell you that the food was bad. There is no such a thing as bad food.
GB: What did you normally have for breakfast? Can you remember?
WS: I think [pause] did we have some porridge, I think there was porridge there: the porridge was very popular, which was good. There was porridge, probably bread, maybe the toast. I cannot remember exactly, but as I say, food was never important to me, as long as I wasn’t hungry and it’s still [emphasis] is not important for me.
GB: And did you, you obviously worked to bring the planes in and the planes quite often flew at night, didn’t they. So were your duties?
WS: Oh yes, the duty has to be twenty four hours, wherever there was a duty, twenty four hours.
GB: Right, okay, so when you were doing your, perhaps you can explain a little bit to us about how your duty, how a normal twenty four hour duty would be for you. What, how you would kind of work, and where you would work, to bring the aircraft in to their, to their um, their dispersals, if you can remember.
WS: Yes. We knew, we knew exactly when, when they were flying because there was some tannoy at the station, you know, special person, everybody, all the crew been in the barracks staying and then when this, when this man came to the barrack all the crew knew that they have to go to the briefing room and from there they been taken by car, which all of the girls were drivers and they be taking some, each little car had six men, in the car. It wasn’t car, it was bigger like, it was not even like your car here, it was sort of like an open -
GB: Like a van type of thing, or a small lorry.
WS: And they would taken to their plane, they knew which plane they go, and they mostly go in the evening, some light, so we all had a duty, so many hours in the office, sitting in the office waiting or doing whatever they want to be doing, the same on the little, on the next door in the hospital, they would be twenty four, they always have to be somebody, maybe not so many people, but there was always somebody on duty there. When anybody wanted to be, you know, alarms something happen that they have to wake up in the morning so the tan –
GB: Tannoy.
WS: Tannoy came, loudspeaker, all over the station and everybody would wake up and knew what’s going on and be doing their duty. But I would say that was, you know, can’t remember even, but that just how it was, you to do. I didn’t, when I was at Flying Control, I never, I don’t believe I ever had this night duty there. Somehow the plane used to come in the morning, light, because they flew.
GB: They flew through the night.
WS: Through the night.
GB: And then they arrived back in the morning.
WS: Come in the morning. Nobody hardly ever I can’t remember now exactly because always something was going on on the station, and we always sort of walk to the mess for a meal. We never sat in the barracks, we have to have something – go there, go there, something we always been very, very busy, if we didn’t have anything then we learn English, we had to read, we had so many hours to go to library. Everybody sort of had to know what to do at any time.
GB: In the, in the mess hall that you went to, for the food, did the WAAFs have to sit separate from the men or could you sit wherever you wanted?
WS: No separate.
GB: All separate.
WS: All separate. Yes, we had to sort of separate and I tell you very, very funny. Officers have their lunch a bit early than other people, and the officers mess, we had to pass officers mess, and when they come out we had to salute, [whisper] we didn’t want to salute, so we were so annoyed because it just happened that all the officers came from the mess and we had to pass and we kept saluting to them [slapping sound], and we didn’t like very much [laugh] because we had to do it. But it wasn’t so bad because we had to salute from, from the squadron leaders up, not to the squadron leader, so that was, that was thing like that. And again, I can’t answer about the food as I say, food is least important to me.
GB: And did you have Polish WAAF officers as well? There were some?
WS: Yes, yes, we had Polish WAAF officers; everything [emphasis] on the station was run by Polish people, but we had a liaison officer, English lady who was English WAAF, liaison officer, so probably this, our commander Polish WAAF, she was always with this English, not you know, everything, whatever, she was tall, she was there. We had all Polish, that’s right. And there was this, we, well we didn’t meet many, I met only in Stanmore, when I was in Stanmore I met English WAAFs, you know. Mostly we been in Polish station and things like that.
GB: And you mentioned earlier on that in the evenings you tended to go to the canteen, the club.
WS: Yes.
GB: Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like and any funny stories you might have as well, from the canteen?
WS: Um, yes, we went there and we met, there was all man and woman, we talk. I even don’t remember that we ever had anything, any dancing there. No, there was no music, that wasn’t, no. So we just talk and have a cup of tea, or something like that and just talk and go to the barrack. And we had, because it was well, eight or ten in the barracks sometimes, two or three times, and what a lovely time there, telling the joke, reading the book and whatever you know, laughing and so on. The barracks were, well there was no separate just all the beds one way and another, and then, it was lovely: we were young and we didn’t care. Mostly girls, lot of jokes and funny things and somebody said Poland, remember what it was, which, talking about Poland, about home, what happened and everybody want to know how it happened. Somebody very funny. So that’s how we spent the time.
GB: And did you as young ladies, young girls, when you were back in the barrack blocks did you do things like sewing and knitting and things like that? Things that perhaps in those days ladies would do more so than these days?
WS: No.
GB: No. Nobody was.
WS: We didn’t make, I never no, no, we never made anything. No, not sewing. Oh there was sewing people, there was, I think Mrs Kaminska was in a group, there was a machine, sewing machine if there was something to repair, to sew, sometimes maybe parachute, it depends who it was. I was um, I wasn’t in this group because something cooking, cook and Mrs Kaminska was I think in the sewing, I don’t know if Mrs [indecipherable] was doing, but I was Clerk, GD, Clerk, General Duty, and that was my job: Clerk General Duty, and I always doing something for the officers here and there, and yes I never been either, something also, as I say, giving the parachute out and taking them in and something, because parachute has to be folded special way and things like that.
GB: So did you get some training in how to do the parachutes then?
WS: Yes, everybody got the training, even me when I was doing General Duty, I had office training, what to do, and I was typing: I have to learn to type. And maybe, I don’t know why I was chosen, but you see, you didn’t choose what you want to do, you been told you go on this course, you go on this course and that’s it’s. You are probably good at that job probably there was some changes but usually you had nothing to say. Wherever you been told to go, you go, that is the uniform.
GB: Can you tell us a little bit now about, if that’s possible, about how you met your husband and leading through to the day you got married, and to talk about that, if you don’t mind talking?
WS: I knew my husband from Poland; we went to the same church. And then we’d been in Siberia in different camp about five miles away, so we usually kept in touch with all the people that we knew. Sat, Sunday if we don’t work, or if there was one day that you didn’t work, you probably could walk from one camp to another – we could not escape from there because the camps were on the river banks and one big and very, very wide and very fierce river, Dvina, you couldn’t swim across that river, was impossible, you know, you would drown. And another thing on the other side was woods, a very big woods we used to go to, nobody could escape there because those woods probably would go up to the sea, I have no idea, but we used to go to the woods to collect the mushrooms, the wild mushroom, and probably some um, how you call fruit, not fruit.
GB: Nuts and things like that?
WS: Like nuts and nut and blackberries, something like that.
GB: Wild fruit, yes.
WS: That’s right, and we went to these woods and I, this what I said, we had to be very careful, keep together because there was wolves and things like that but you just go, not very far. And one of my relatives even my, my grand, my grandfather’s sister, that’s right, my younger sister of my grandfather, she was there – because they took whole villages in to Russia [cough], and she was lost and we never found her. She probably was just attacked by wolves, there was wolves we had to be very careful and she probably just wander on her own. So of that I sure, er, you know, it is, you know you have to live, if you’re like that you have to live for the day to day, and you don’t bother what happen to you the next day, you go wherever you have to go, you just most of the time like the automat, you have to push there, go there, not very much safe.
GB: So you met back up with your husband again at Faldingworth did you then?
WS: [Cough] Sorry. I met my husband, and as I say, I don’t know where he is, I knew he came to England, but I didn’t know what station they were on, but no, he wasn’t just anybody, I just like more, this girl came for the holiday and tell me who your relatives and his name is Jan Kavell, and he’s very handsome and he’s enquired about you! Oh so I just, and then we met, he used to come to Faldingworth to see me, came when he had a, because we had a two weeks’ holiday or sometimes we can have a out pass for the weekend. So, he came to meet me, nothing, nothing very much happened, and then I used, that’s how I went to Cranwell, or I wouldn’t know the Cranwell station, so I went to Cranwell station there for the day and then when I went to London, I don’t think he ever came to London, but I came to Faldingworth because I had lot of friends there, and we just become a very, very good friends, and that was all. He was quite handsome. And we never planned, there was nothing like you think now: you go, you get engaged, you meet parents, there was no parents no, there was just nobody. Then when the war was ending we all [emphasis] knew the war is finishing, the things like that, it was relaxing on the station, and we would be discharged, and what do we do? We were already told that if the war were finished we would be discharged, would have to find a job, we have to live, to find somewhere to live. Now I wouldn’t even know where to start. We just, we were just, and he was in the same position and he said what do you think about this? And I said, so he said we both, wouldn’t it be better to get married and together we would [indecipherable] and I like him very much and he’s quite handsome, so you see the thing is, you want, you have to think what is best for you. And then we got married. And, went honeymoon, where did we go to honeymoon? I think to Blackpool, yes to Blackpool, and I was still in the service and then I was pregnant, and then what I’m going to do? Still in uniform and still on the camp and knowing we were already married, and he was in the camp, somewhere else, no, just there. And then he have to be discharged and where are you going to live? Now, how [sigh], you know and I think now, and where we going to live. So we simply had to go, knock at the door, like you knocked this morning, and say have you got a room to spare to let? That’s what we used to do. And I must say that English people were very, very good. You know I, when I think now, somebody knocks on my door have you got a room to spare to live, I have, but why I should I let this room, I don’t need it, you see. And when I think back, and then he ride on the bicycle to the farmhouse, and there was this farmhouse, and he just said my wife will be soon discharged, she’s expecting a baby, and those Mr and Mrs Smith, Dorothy and Charles Smith, they say yes, they will take me. You know they is so good at taking me friend, and no farming, [beep] and my husband is still was at Faldingworth about two miles and he had to go by bicycle, he was living out pass, was so much money for it, but he stay all day at the camp and he was still flying and they were flying to Italy to bring the service people back to England so it wasn’t bombing or anything like that, but that was flying to bring the people back and then he was in Italy in January when my daughter was born. And I was at this farm: no mother, no father, my husband three days I don’t know about when he flew to Italy, there was a fog so they couldn’t fly back and this farmer, took me in the car and he took me in the car from, to Scunthorpe I think that was, nearest hospital was Scunthorpe, and there was such a fog that Dorothy drive this car and he was going to go with a hurricane lamp in front of the car so she know whichever she is going, ha, right, so she doesn’t go into the ditch! And they arrived there, we arrived, she was drive all night, probably four hours, from midnight, arrive there and probably I was there about two hours, my daughter was born. Those people took me there, and left me there and went back home. And I’m there on my own, the baby was born, and we never talked, my husband, how in case there is a girl, because my husband didn’t want a girl, he wanted a boy. And we know all the names of the boy but not of the girl. And this is three days and nurse say you have, we have to register your baby, and the name. And I didn’t know what the name, I had to choose my name and I wanted her to say I think something like Christina, okay, Christina, and just as the nurse started my birth he came to the ward, he just arrive. And I say oh my husband! Because I said Christina and he said no it’s going to be Jadwiga, okay, Jadwiga, and that was on the register, I didn’t, I was on my own, all the time. Now it’s impossible to think about this, nobody, only just English people was so nice. My husband was discharged, every airman got, my husband wasn’t officer, he was a Flight Sergeant, and those people got fifty pounds, a lot of, that was a lot of money, fifty pounds at ’47. That was ’47. Yes ’47 now. And fifty pounds we had live somewhere, and find a job. So Nottingham was the place with such a lot of jobs there was such a big industry and now there is nothing. So how you get, you must live somewhere, you must get a house. So his three friends and him; two hundred pound together, we have got two hundred pound together, so he go and buy the house, put two hundred pounds deposit, the house was six hundred pounds on the Blue Bell Hill Estate, very bad part Nottingham and with this house there was one big bedroom, an attic bedroom and a small bedroom. No bathroom. So they all going to live with us, and at that time there was two pounds a week from the board and the bed, two pounds a week. So, they gave this, they say we not going to live with you and instead of paying you two pounds for the board and thing, we are going to give you one pound and after a year we will be back what we put with the deposit the house was hold in my husband’s name. Women didn’t count at that time and it was so easy to get the mortgage because he’d started to work in a, there was iron works somewhere near Nottingham, it’s not there any more, and he got the mortgage, but he had to earn a week the same what your mortgage is by month and that was four pound, and he used to earn four pound a week, got the mortgage and we lived with those lodgers, and they gave me one pound, every week, to buy the food; everything was on the ration. Are you interested what was then?
GB: Yes, yes. Please carry on. Are you okay still to carry on talking?
WS: Yes.
GB: Do you need a break?
WS: No, no. I just tell you now what you do, you got, I’ve got, another baby was born, Alicia, and I’ve got one small bedroom, so we stay with the small bedroom on the single bed with my husband and the two cots for the children. I think there was one cot and one was just a pram that lifted the top and that was all. Now there was no, no bathroom, so the men had to shave in the kitchen, get up in the morning early, shave in the kitchen. The bathroom was not very far [indecipherable] just probably five minutes to walk, that we can go to the bathroom once or twice a week, that was good. And then everything was on ration, but there was something like you could buy sheep head without the ration, because you got only one pound of meat on those, so we bought this. Then there was the Sleighthome market which still exist, wasn’t very far, so you go to the Sleightholme market, at the end of, if they close about one o’clock, or two o’clock on Saturday, and you go at that time, and then the vegetables and things wouldn’t last because Sunday, everything was closed on Sunday, so the tradesman he used to throw away some in the basket or sell it very, very cheap. And that’s how you try to get the vegetables and things. And then you could get allotment. They were very popular allotments, I got good allotment and I had my own you know, another allotment, I had onions, carrots something like that and because I was born and lived on farm I knew exactly, I even had here, I had two years ago everything [emphasis] in my garden what I need for myself, but not any more, I can’t do it any more. So that’s how we carried on, and you could buy tripe, you know what’s tripe?
GB: Yes, yes.
WS: And that what was, but know what cook, tripe, you could buy a brain, you don’t buy them now, I don’t know that they sell brain now, and you buy brain, which was very cheap, and sometimes you could get a kidney cheap, I don’t know there’s the offal, you could get them without ration, so that’s how you manage, and I don’t know if you ever had the brain and you know how to prepare it? No. Okay, so I’m not going to go into it [chuckling] because I know, because when we killed a pig or something on the farm where I live, every bit [emphasis] had been used one way or another so I know. And I can remember going with my daughters to the butcher and we stand there, and there was a kidney, and I wanted to buy this kidney and my daughter said don’t buy the kidney! I think they learn already about it! But what goes through the kidney, I don’t want to eat kidney! Okay, fair enough, but they love brain and this gentleman, this butcher, said do you want the brain, yes I love brain. I make it like a brain fried and I add to it, like a scrambled egg, it was very good, I l love brain, and this butcher said well, if you think what’s going through the kidney and you don’t want to eat it, you know what’s going through your brain all your life and you still like it! I shall never forget how he say that – you know a lot of things happen in life! So that’s how we lived through this. One egg a week and I think four ounces of bacon a week, and of course men are working so most of the thing was, but er, I know how to cook. I made my own pasta, everything. I could buy flour and make own pasta, there is lot of Polish food that you can cook without meat because now you haven’t concentrate on meat. It was very, very hard that winter but I must say, when we moved to this Bluebell Hill house we had no furniture, nothing, we had just blankets with us, and the lady across the road, two days later knocks to the door and she said, well you moved to this house but I never see the van with the furniture. I ask her in and we had the orange boxes which, and the two boxes were put there and two boxes here and we sat on there covered with something and she looked at this. She brought us two chairs and a coffee table too. You know I just, I just can not [emphasis] praise enough how this English people in this country, act during the war. Even go on two weeks’ holiday. Men can go anywhere, Blackpool, anywhere, but where the young lady goes on holiday - in uniform. But there was appeal for the British people take WAAFs, and I have in Wool, Wool Hampton, Mr and Mrs Grainger, who had daughter probably same age, and we went for, two of us and another friend, we went there for two years for a holiday, living in their house, they fed us, they took us wherever they could to show us the park or something, maybe to cinema and that how English people were good, you know.
GB: That’s a lovely story.
WS: You know, I just, I don’t know if it, people nowadays would do anything. No, I feel now, I’m living, I’m the foreigner here. I’ve got lovely people, but nothing to talk and to say cup of tea and we talk about it. Maybe because I talk about the war all the time, and the politics. To me politics, politics hah, I mean I’ve got Polish there, television, and I sat here, there and watch everything now. I mean Cameron came, very good, but I don’t believe that, I believe there should be opposition I don’t [emphasis] believe that one party should rule because it’s kind of dictatorship, you know, but I think Cameron was good last five years, but there is Polish elections and they electing, they electing a President in Poland and none of them goes to war wanted to be President, and none of them won, so it’s going to be in another fortnight another election.
GB: Can you, sorry, can I take you back for a moment to 1945 and obviously we’ve just celebrated VE Day seventieth anniversary. Can you remember what you did on VE Day in 1945? Was there a big party on the station?
WS: No, I don’t think there was any big party or anything like that. Not in, not on a Polish station.
GB: No, no.
WS: Because at that time, being Polish, we already knew that we haven’t got a free Poland. Already in 1943 and then Yalta, that was agreement, Yalta Agreement, I think in 1945, that Stalin, that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin together, they ruled the world. They sold Poland to Stalin and half of the Germany, as in all the Germany was divided and this, Russia took this part of Poland and then we got the territory from Germany; we knew already. On the Polish station there was no celebration and we nowhere to go, now this is, that that’s politic again I don’t know if I should say it.
GB: You say what you like!
WS: You see politics again. Mr Churchill was a very, very good for English people, very good. He care for British people, but he would have sent us back to Poland which was not free Poland. But Mr Churchill like Stalin, they used to like to drink together, and he believed, I won’t say anything rude, he believed because Stalin said yes, Poland’s going to be free and Churchill believed in this and Mr Churchill would definitely send us back, like he sent one Ukrainian Division. But just for us, fortunately, Atlee came, Churchill did not win just after the war. And Atlee, he was Labour, and he, he knew what’s going on, he probably was, I don’t know, should he be more clever, more politically minded or whatever, but Atlee decide that we can stay in this country; we have no free country to go – we can stay. And he also allowed all our civil people who live in Africa, in India, or wherever they were, come and join the forces people here in England, and my family came in ’47 and I think my mother, father, my sister, younger brother and the cousin who’s mother died in Russia and my parents. My grandparents died in Russia and so, I, you know, so they came and lived in Nottingham. Of course they didn’t have any money whatsoever, but children who served in, during the war here, like they came to us and we had to keep them, yes we had to keep them. We had to give them the shelter, they lived first in American camps, you know the American gone back after the war, so they lived there but we had to give them a little bit of money and the camp they got some food I believe, for such a [indecipherable]. So, but there was one thing: there was a lot of work in that camp [beep] I mean lace things and sewing, and I started, I had to go to work, and again, I had a little girl, Jadwiga started school, five, but the other was three and I had to go to work and nobody can look after the baby. So the next door people had a child the same age, and for no reason the next door lady said yes, you have to go to work, wok. I stay at home, your little girl can stay all day with me, now just like that. Now, can you imagine anybody now, doing anything like that?
GB: I think they would want to be paid wouldn’t they, I think yes, yes.
WS: Yes. Why should they put, they offer, you know, I have no words to describe it, I even starting not understanding how it used [emphasis] to be, helping everywhere wherever you went. Now even, my daughters went to school and they had to cross [indecipherable] road, was busy road, I had to go to work to different place so they took, six years old and five years old, or something like that, had to hold the hand and go across the road and there was this one lady who always waited for them and took them across the road, and I didn’t know anything about it, and how it was, that something there that this lady was standing on the corner, I just can’t, I only can remember and she said did you know those two little girls in brown uniform going to school? I haven’t seen them for two or three days, and I said who are you? And she said well I was always taking them across the road. And then when I came home and the girls were there I said why didn’t you tell me? They didn’t think anything about it. This lady was standing there and taking those two little girls across the road. Day after day. Now this something, I don’t know, I can’t, I just don’t know, it sort of, those people are saints or something like that; that’s how it was, that’s how. And I had to go to work. You see, again, going to church and one older lady, Polish lady, said are you look, maybe you be looking for some work, I say yes, I [indecipherable] she said look, I am a schoolteacher from Poland but I went to work for this factory [indecipherable] and I’m there as a machinist, I didn’t know anything about machining but I learned and I like it very much, and she advise me, from nowhere she advised me, go there, you’ve got two little girls and you sew. You know how to machine, you be able to and that and progress. And I took that advice and I went there and of course the manageress say we are not teach you, we cannot afford to teach, you have to know how to machine. Naturally I said yes, I know how to machine. I didn’t, but I lie to get the job. Again, I have to say, I came, the first time I see the electric machine, you put the foot down and then, if I put this foot down and that machine was moving I don’t know when will turn up with it! But the girls in the factory they were straight away round and teach me: no you put the foot down and just that. And then when I got a job to do it I didn’t know anything about it, they told the girls to one side and another side – help! Have you got to do this and this, and this, for nothing, just like that, and I learned very quickly, because I think if you have to learn quick you do learn quick, if you don’t have to you don’t bother. I believe in that. And I learned very quick and believe me, I work in this factory for thirty three years and after twenty years I landed as the factory manager and the head of production. I went up and up and up: I knew how to do it, the girls like me. I finished working about twelve years ago and I still keep in touch with my girls [indecipherable] and we meet once or twice a year here come, and have a good chat.
GB: That’s very nice.
WS: Which is very, very good. And I can remember we had a manager there and he used to talk to a dictograph, he used to be well educated, his English was very good and those girls, I remember he said hello girls, if you got more surplus shuttle, you have to give it to Wanda, our supervisor, there. Wanda, what does he mean surplus? What is that? I say if you got more than six, something like that, you know. And when I came the manageress, they love it because I spoke their language, I learned from those girls from the factory. I didn’t learn in any colleges or anything like that, and anything I said they understood me because we spoke the same language, it was lovely, and I work there all this time and then when the factory, intentionally, had to finish, he had two son and he’s got enough money and [indecipherable]. I couldn’t get any job because everybody in this trade in Nottingham knew me as manageress and they wouldn’t let, wouldn’t give me a job as the machinist and I wanted the machinist job. But those were young men who used to work for us, used to learn from us, came to work, and I like them, he was George [indecipherable], and he opened his little factory and he gave me a job, first to go round, to ask how to arrange this and then he gave me a job five hours a day, um, as a supervisor, examiner thing and I am very grateful that he gave me this job. I worked till I was seventy three years old going every day to the factory because I loved the work, not because I probably need the money, but I love the work. But what did happen, I managed to buy this house, in West Bridgford, so on my own, because my husband died when he was six, fifty nine okay, so I managed to buy this house, so this house is because I love work, and my grandson Richard who is here, although he is well educated at Nottingham University but he can’t get a job you see! My daughter, older daughter, she was quite a businesswoman, he was brought up spoilt, one son. Richard left one job, left another, I said Richard, you go, get up in the morning and say, oh I hate this one, no! You should say I love the work, I meet my friends there, we should talk about this and the other, [cough] and he learn, he learned now, after about four years. He’s forty two and he never loved his any work, but he learned eventually to say that he loved his work. He won’t get work anywhere if he left three, four works and he's forty two and how can he get the work! So I’ve been drilling and drilling and drilling, tell him how he have to say I love my work and after a year or two, you believe you love it! And I believe in it, yes. [Cough]
GB: So, that’s fascinating to hear what you did after the war, and when you left the Polish Air Force. We’ll probably kind of come to a close with what we’re chatting about now in a couple of minutes.
WS: [Cough] Yes.
GB: Because you’ve been fantastic, we’ve been talking for almost two hours, well you’ve been talking, we’ve been listening!
WS: I’ll bring you a drink shall I?
GB: Oh right. Yes please!
WS: Just the water, [cough].
GB: We still on?
Int: Yeah.
GB: Good.
WS: Can I get you [indecipherable] [Cough] [Bang] Okay.
Int: Which is off?
GB: The record is still on – oh, it’s on the other side.
Int: Oh is it.
GB: We’ll just leave it running and then we can, because it can all be edited.
WS: Now I just give you both a drink. That is a very nice drink. That keeps me going. Here.
GB: Oh right, thank you very much!
WS: That keeps me going.
Int: Very kind. Thank you very much.
WS: Because to make the tea takes a long time. [Cough]
GB: Oh yes, yes.
WS: [Cough] Okay. Now, you ask me some questions.
GB: It was just some more questions we were just going to just ask you to describe about obviously your time here with the erm, as a Polish WAAF, you know, especially at Faldingworth, and it’s always the everyday things, the things that ordinary, that happen that you don’t think about, like if you imagine your day to day, what you start with and how you go through your day cause they’re the things that are often not written down anywhere in books and things. They will often talk about the flying that happens from an RAF station, but not the small everyday things. You mentioned the fact there was um, there was a laundrette or people that did the laundry for you, you talked about the barracks where you had all the beds and the little locker. Obviously during the winter it must have been very cold in the barracks was it – or not?
WS: It was cold but we had in the barracks I think two iron, round iron stoves.
GB: The stoves.
WS: Those iron stoves I think. But we had er, warm clothes, you know, we had the warm underwear, we had warm stockings, I don’t think, I don’t think there was very much at all because every day was the same thing, there was nothing different, every day was the same and when I had a weekend we had a pass out we went to Market Rasen or Lincoln, and just for the day. I think we had to pay for the bus – no we didn’t have to pay, no. In London also we, in uniform we didn’t pay for the underground train, or a penny or something like that, but it was routine, every day the same; nothing really much happened. The only thing happened was you had a boyfriend, if you wanted to meet somebody you just went for a walk and that was all. You went to cinema, nothing very much exciting ever [emphasis] happened in the camp.
GB: You said there was a cinema on camp, they showed some films on camp?
WS: Yes, there was a film I think twice a week you could have got to cinema, and it was very, wait a minute, how did cinema work? I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody turned that at the back.
GB: But you must, I presume, especially being Polish, and obviously with your Catholic, the Catholic religion, there was a church on camp was there?
WS: Yes, there was.
GB: And a priest?
WS: A priest, every camp, yes, and I was married at that, the camp with the same priest who was our priest at the camp, yes that was. Again you see I didn’t mention it because that was routine. There is, because every Sunday you have to go to church, and that is full stop and nothing to say about it, nothing, you go to church, finish! Like you get up in the morning and go to breakfast and go to church, now all May, May is the month especially dedicated to Our Lady, and in the evening everybody who were not in the duty go to this church. There was a chapel rather, you know, a barrack also or something, chapel, we go there but as I say, this is in our, that’s what we do. Here I haven’t got a car but I take a taxi every Sunday to church and back because I can’t, the car, the buses are not so good, frequent sometimes, and at my age sometimes it’s too difficult to go, take two buses to get to the Polish church. I have got the church here, also it was Bridgford, but there is this church you have to walk to that church, about fifteen minutes, and I cannot walk any more fifteen minutes, but taking a taxi here, so I get my taxi and go to my Polish church – not that I don’t understand, the only thing is I still meet the people that I knew for years days in and days out, and I like to meet these people, to be with the people, but this church is wonderful also. I met new people and they are willing to take me to this church here, but I prefer to go there because meeting the people that I knew, but the lady who are on the committee and they undertook the part to take me to church, I say tell the lady tell the committee on your report that I like you to come here for an hour, you know, and talk, because nobody talk to me, somehow I can manage go here and there as much as I go, I do my own shopping.
GB: Could you tell us a little bit, if you’d like to, about the day you got married? It would be really interesting to hear, at Faldingworth, the day you got married, you know, tell us about how the whole day went if you could please.
WS: Now, yes, we decided to get married. We went to the priest, and priest set the date when we going to marry. Actually I, I tell you something, I didn’t even think, there was, yes I was going to get married because I liked my husband very much, he was very handsome, it was not only love, but I think he was very handsome and so many girls said this, how handsome he is, and that made me think. I knew him from Poland, I know his family very well, so it all sort of fit together, but then I knew that I cannot be dressed in anything else because all I had was this uniform, okay but I even forgot that I had to have flowers and then one my girl: Wanda you never told about the flowers! I say no, I don’t know, do you have to have the flowers, they say yes, yes and they run out and got some wild flowers and they say you can make photograph or something if you want to see, so wild flowers and they brought me, gave me this bouquet! That’s right, and that was, oh and my husband was more sort of, oh you want to, men always know what to do and I think we went, no, we went to Lincoln for our, after the wedding for the honeymoon but not, just for three days and people in a hotel in Lincoln I think it was his job, and um, and then a girls talk, help, sort of told, I didn’t think, I just didn’t think what’s going on, I didn’t know where my parents are, I hadn’t been in contact with my parents, they were in Africa, in Rhodesia, but the girls were good again, I’ve got a lot of nice people I think I’m very lucky in a nice way [beep]. Yes, they made me a reception, they went to the canteen and the officers in the canteen said yes, and the little office near, there was a chapel and there was another part, a big room where they meet, I don’t know, the priest meet and somebody, and they make little reception for me, brought everything, I didn’t have to do anything [emphasis]. The girls brought me those flowers, gave me, and then there was tea and there was even a bottle of wine. Aha, how the wine was, I can remember now. Those people, they, the people who flew to Italy, to bring the service people back to England, at that time they could buy wine in Italy, I think, I don’t know if they was officially or they did something, so they brought the wine for the reception and again, friends of my husband, and probably he had a bottle of wine and there was wine and there was sort of all together we didn’t have a family, so been family, we just spoke to anybody as it was family. We didn’t know these things family or something, there was, everybody was the same.
GB: And who gave you away that day? Because obviously your father couldn’t be there.
WS: No, nobody gave me away!
GB: You didn’t have an officer to perhaps give you away, no?
WS: No! Nobody gave us away at all.
GB: No.
WS: We just came into the chapel, on our own, and a lot of people came to get the wedding because there was announcement on the tannoy that there is a wedding on and they came and I was not given away. I didn’t even know about giving, I didn’t even think about it. When I think about it, everything had to be so, we you have to do it because otherwise what’s going to happen? You have to.
GB: Were the people at the station, on the RAF station at Faldingworth, were they excited when they heard there was a tannoy that somebody was getting married?
WS: Yes, yes, they were excited about it: they came!
GB: Because you must have had a lot of friends, and your husband must have had a lot of colleagues and friends.
WS: Yes, yes, everybody came and just, just took it as a normal part, there was nothing you know, special, there was nothing could be any special.
GB: But you remember back now, and you think with a smile that it was a very nice day.
WS: It was beautiful day, yes, everything was done for me, and that was, but then my, my other, friend of my husband, he got married, but a bit later, about a year later, and she managed to get a, she was WAAF, my friend, but she managed to get a costume suit somewhere, in Lincoln. How did they manage there I don’t know but there was some way if you want. As I say, we made those scarves and how we did manage I don’t know. Somebody always got a way.
GB: That’s lovely. It’s nice to know that even in the war time that you could have, with very little kind of um, money and things, but you and your friends and your husband could make a lovely day for you both to remember.
WS: Yes, we had a little, because we had this little pay, I can’t even remember now, it was very little money because there was nowhere to spend the money! You didn’t have it. You went to cinema in the camp, you know, and you didn’t go anywhere out. How can I go out, to Lincoln or somewhere, unless I went to museum, or somewhere to the special play, but then you didn’t because you stay in the camp – you like how it was.
GB: Yes, it was like little Poland then, was it?
WS: Yes. Like little Poland. We had plenty books to read, as I say even now I like lot of [indecipherable]. I’ve got a few books, even little things about jokes, telling jokes, telling how it was, I mean there’s a lot of things that we could do.
GB: Just one more thing before we can perhaps finish it, you said your main, one of your main jobs as an admin clerk was to do, tell the aircraft when they came back which dispersal to go on.
WS: Yes, yes.
GB: Did you know which one they had to be on, or?
WS: Yes, yes, I knew, I had to know.
GB: Because the ground crew were specific to one aircraft were they?
WS: Yes, and often I used, I wonder if I was doing, there was a girl on the R/T who used to speak to the plane on the, when they flew, where they were she used to speak, and then I have to ring the caravan. There was a caravan standing at the end and there was a weather forecast and that, all this thing, and I used to ring them and ask for the weather, which is the wind and I had to pass it to that girl on the paper where she was standing there, and when the plane approach she used to say the wind is so and so and you take this and this runway from this, because plane have to come down not with the wind, only against the wind.
GB: Yes, against the wind, yes.
WS: Against the wind, yes. And then she told them and as soon as they touched the thing, so I said G for George you, you taxi to this dispersal and they did it, yes.
GB: Did you have, did you have numbers or letters for each dispersal? How did you know which one they were?
WS: We had a number to each dispersal and we knew the number of the plane. Every plane had a number like G for George, A for Anna or something, so every plane we knew.
GB: And this was like on a, was this like a board or a map in your office or something?
WS: Yes, it was like a board on a map yes, and also how they knew because when the plane was approaching, the plane approach and say the name of the plane, we are here or there and approaching, something like that, and there was one thing, one of the plane or this was, I even never got a disc for this one, from the, because we have got a cemetery, Polish War Cemetery at Newark, I don’t, you know about that? Right. And there was one plane who came and actually, not on the station but very close to the station, fell; everybody was killed, six. And then I had this interview, this Polish man, here, and then he took me to Newark, and he wanted me, to show this grave of those six men who was killed, but I didn’t know where they, because, where they been buried, I probably been at the funeral there but I didn’t know, so it took me two hours work all together when he, and I’ve got it all together on the film, I don’t know, he gave me a disc and I’m looking, I’m going each grave to find out. And I didn’t know exactly what the name were. So, by looking at every grave I saw those six grave together with the same date.
GB: Yes.
WS: And all other had different date, different things, and I found them eventually, and I look at that disc because this new thing you been saying, I’ve got all the apparatus for everything as you know, here, there and another upstairs and I’ve got all the discs, I can’t use it. I’ve got about forty tapes here and there is machine; can’t use anything, just can’t use anything. I can not get any young people who would help me, you see this is the trouble.
GB: There are companies now that will change video tapes.
WS: I know.
GB: They have a big machine with the videos on one side and DVDs on the other.
WS: Yes, but what good is it if I can not get into this, I can’t understand, but as I say, none of the young now, see the next door, seventeen and fifteen, young man, next door. Now in the, been the same as the people were during the war here and things like that, they would say yes, we pop you in camera an hour and when it finish, or when it finish press this button.
GB: Yes.
WS: No, no, not even my nephew, but he lives a little bit, probably twenty minutes to get here. My nephew. I ask him to be here today, this morning.
GB: Yes.
WS: I said who is coming and so on. Say work. No, I don’t know because they’ve got a big car, thirty six thousand pound, they have the caravan, they’ve got [indecipherable], they’ve got, they haven’t got time for me! They’ve got such a lot of money, well off, so why should they bother. He goes out, you know, meets a friend, they out for lunches, but I’m still very poor, I haven’t got very much money, I’ve got enough money, but on your own where can you go?
GB: But you’ve got your house happiness and your memories – and your health, which is quite obvious, I mean for a lady, dare I ask your age, how old are you?
WS: Yes, yes! I’ll be ninety two in January, ninety two in January.
GB: If I am as, if I am as well and as healthy as you when I am ninety two I will be extremely pleased, especially with the full life that you have had, and for good or for bad, and the happy and the sad times, for you still to be here talking to us: it’s wonderful!
WS: Yes, and I do my cooking, I do not buy any ready meal because I know that probably one day I will have to have the ready meal, so while I don’t have to I do my cooking. I love cooking, it’s very difficult to cook for one, but I organise myself so well that I cook. I love soup, I love this, so I cook for about four portion so I can freeze one, two and have one and two and then something else, so probably even if I go to freezer today I can have full completely different lunch today and full completely lunch tomorrow! So, and I, things I buy usually I’ve got everything for, at the house for two weeks’ worth of food, freezer, I got the freezer, you see I organise myself. I realise that one day I probably will not [emphasis] be able and what I do then? I’ve no relatives that can help me, so I organise myself so I’ve got everything there. Bread is also freezed instead, in case I run out and can’t go to shop and as I say, those people round here, only Peter, the one that you met, you see here, he is seventy eight, he is the only one who is a very, very good friend and he sort of, shall I use the word care, but in a manner?
Int: Yes, yes.
WS: But his partner, she is sixty three, she is not a, and Catherine be across the road on her own, she probably is about sixty but they don’t, I said hello, but say hello and go, you see, but Peter would talk to me, Peter would say how are you and what’s that and we talk about this, can I use your green bin because it is empty and I’ve got the waste, all little things like that and he gets all my keys and everything and the telephone of my nearest, my grandson and my nephew, he’s got it all there and the key to the house and even when I have got this alarm, talking alarm, you know, what you press.
GB: Yes, yes.
WS: I have to have somebody telephone number, that is the rule of this, they gave me this apparatus. So Peter said yes, I have your key because if I press it to get into the house they ring there, and they come here so I’ve got everything organised and even further than that, I’ve, you know that, a living will. Did you hear about living will ever?
GB: Living will, I’ve heard about them but I haven’t kind of, I don’t know the details of it. I tell you what I’ll just switch off the recorder now because that’s, especially when you’re talking about other personal things we don’t need to, hand me that, let me just see, there we are, switch that one off, lovely and switch this one off.

Citation

Geoff Burton, “Wanda Szuwalska Interview,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/34805.

Item Relations

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