Zosia Kowalska Interview


Zosia Kowalska Interview


After a challenging time being sent from country to country, Zosia Kowalska finally came to England and became a WAAF. After training, she was posted to RAF Locking where she met her future husband whilst she was working as a cook. The wedding was organised by local people and Zosia was most grateful for their generosity. A posting to RAF Ingham led to Zosia living in the local village where she had her daughter. Zosia and her family talk about the people she met, the history of her brothers and visits to Poland after the war. They were all interested in the work being done at RAF Ingham and are keen to visit again.

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Temporal Coverage




01:09:16 audio recording


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GB: The Polish Air Force um, and if you could perhaps just start by telling us a bit about how you arrived in England, and I’ll let you just chat on.
ZK: I was deported to Siberia with my family. My parents died. Then we moved to Tehran. From Tehran I got [indecipherable] no, Minsk sorry, and from Tehran we went to Africa: to Tanganyika. No first we went to India, then from India go to Africa, Tanganyika. From Tanganyika we signed, because it was um, Marshal Sikorsky want Polish, Polish girls to go to work in England, so we signed: five hundred of us. We left Tanganyika about 1943, ’43 that was, yeah. We came, we come to, we come to [pause] South Africa, South Africa, you know South Africa.
GB: Yes, yes.
ZK: Yeah, we come there, we stay there about two weeks, recuperated, and then we go again. We were sailing six weeks to England, six weeks on sea. Imagine: one thousand soldiers and five hundred women, Polish women. [Laugh]
GB: I won’t ask you any stories about on the ship then, we’ll move on from that maybe.
ZK: Some answers there! [Laughter] And we arrive in Scotland, I believe in Scotland, I can’t remember the place where we been to. Then we were loaded to train, we’re going by train to Redcar. You know Redcar, in Yorkshire? We was there during the winter, that was winter when we come to, about March, something like that. And we was issued with uniform, we stayed there two weeks, then we continue down to recruiting, er where’s that place, we were, they were teaching us English, English language. There was English man there, he said - there was Polish couple she who look after us and he said to her ‘why is it in Poland many, many people cannot read and write?’ She said ‘what did you say? Did you read, did you read the Europe history?’ He said ‘no’; she said ‘you must read Europe history, then you find out what happened to Polish people there.’ Yeah. And from there I was moved to, to [pause] Nottingham. What is this station you call Nottingham?
GB: Newton, Newton? RAF Newton?
ZK: Yeah, Newton, yes. I stayed there about two months, and before Christmas we were going to, they moved us to Weston-Super-Mare, RAF station Locking.
GB: Yes.
ZK: There, before Christmas. We arrive there late and we have nowhere to sleep, so we look in town, round to sleep. We find this erm, what you call this charitable place.
GB: Like the Salvation Army.
ZK: Yeah, yeah, that’s it, Salvation Army. They let us in, they give us supper, then we went to bed. Next morning we wake up and they give us some breakfast again and we continued on to RAF station Locking. We come by, no we didn’t catch bus, we were walking all way from Somerset to RAF station Locking, there. We come to there [indecipherable] it was two men standing there, guiding the people where to go. So these two men, was my future husband! [Laughter] And other man was his friend. They took us to this camp, and we stay there, we go for dinner and then for dinner, then there was so much to do, the writing and everything, and the next things, the next morning, they took us to, to er cookhouse, introduce us [laugh] to this big, big thing where you cook thing for the people: huge potatoes, carrots, parsnips, everything. They teach us what, how to make pastry, and there was an exam, we were taking exam every six weeks. The last thing I took I make er, I make [pause] pastry, puff pastry, puff pastry which was very good, [laugh] for first time, and something else for, I think it was like vegetable and meat, beef.
[Other]; Stew.
ZK: Stew that stew, yes. I make that and the colonel of the station come taste, taste with lady woman, she was officer as well. He taste everybody, the next day and the next day, he didn’t say me that I was passed. [Laughter] The next day my friend read in paper: ‘hey’ she said, ‘Zosia you passed!’ [Laughter] I did, and everybody congratulate me, so that’s the end of the cooking practice. And after it was Christmas time, Christmas, evening Christmas that was, we have supper in Poland, we have big supper there.
GB: On Christmas Eve.
ZK: Yeah, Christmas Eve, oh we make presents for boys, oh it was great [laughter], even my future husband got sausages because he like food! [Laughter]
GB: But he was happy with that, yes.
ZK: He like food. That was beautiful night, that. I never forget, it was lovely.
GB: Were you and your husband at that time, were you just friends, or did he like you at that point do you think?
ZK: I don’t have nothing to do with him during the, before Christmas, nothing, and that time, oh what am I saying?
GB: Christmas Eve and the presents.
ZK: Christmas dinner, Christmas dinner and next day officer [indecipherable]
[Other]: Who served you dinner?
ZK: The officer do job for the ordinary people, all the men, yeah, and that was, and the next day, no the next week, I met my husband in the, in the – oh dear.
GB: Was it like the club, or the institute?
ZK: Yeah, in the big room was where everybody was coming, airmen and everybody and he said, he went by and he said ‘can I ask you something?’ I said ‘yes’, he said ‘can you come to pictures with me tonight.’ [Giggle] ‘Today I’m not, I’m not going today, no today, no.’ The next Sunday, the next week again he ask me. I hear, I know that he had woman before me, that she was crazy about him and the next day he said, the next week, he said ‘you come today with me to cinema.’ I said ‘today yes, I come with you.’ And that woman spot him, she got iodine, she put his eyes, it burned his eyes, you know.
GB: Yeah?
ZK: Yes, she was bad woman! Oh dear. But nothing happened to his eyes, nothing, just went to the surgery and they cleaned it out, everything, yes, and since then we never hear of her.
GB: Good job I think.
[Other]: [Whispering]
ZK: She was married too! Before the war, yeah. The next thing is there was this wedding. Mrs, there was two girls with me in the RAF, Mrs Alexander’s daughters, and they invite, they hear about this coming wedding, and they invited us to their house in Somerset. So we went that Saturday, I didn’t speak that much English, and I was a bit shy, and they give, had a beautiful meal there, everything, and they arrange me everything there: wedding dress, beautiful, and after the, after the wedding I had civil clothes, coat and shoes, everything, everything, they gave me, those people. They were beautiful people and I thank them very, very much. And after this wedding, we, they say we going to move to Cammeringham. They told us we are going to move to Cammeringham, oh some time in May we moved there, I think, in May 1944.
GB: ’44.
ZK: Yeah, no, yeah, 1944. Oh dear. No, 1945 we moved to Cammeringham, yes, and um, oh God, [chuckle] something happened and we stayed there until, until the release from the RAF. We release in, it’s there somewhere.
[Other]: ’46.
ZK: Pardon?
[Other]: ‘46
ZK: Yeah. And we still stayed in that Cammeringham village. We got this cottage. This cottage was filthy, filthy, filthy, terrible! We clean, we cleaned, we painted, the cockroaches was singing during the night, my husband got poison, he sprayed, sprayed all over the rooms and everywhere there and in the morning you swept full of these what they call cockroaches and they went, they all die. And it was June, yes June, my brothers come from Italy, my younger brother from Italy came, but he stay in Coventry. The other, the younger brother was here, Janek, he was in the RAF Cadets, you know, and he come as well and um, Jan, Jan was in the RAF, Stacek was in the middle east, he was in school, he was cadet in school, he came, he came during the night, I was sleeping I didn’t hear nothing. He came in the middle of the night, I didn’t know that, he didn’t say anything: he didn’t write when he coming back, no nothing. He throw this stone to the window, to the bedroom window, I didn’t hear. In the morning she was crying, she was baby that time, she was crying. I come downstairs on this concrete, concrete steps, come downstairs, my brother was sleeping like that. I look down and around and: oh my goodness that’s Stacek! Oh God. He wake up, he said ‘I can’t [indecipherable] bed outside.’ [Laugh] Oh dear. And we had reunion in that June, before that, before they went to Matlock to work, my husband found a job there in Masson Mill, my brothers, three brothers and my sister came from Africa as well.
GB: Zosia can I just ask you a question about Ingham at this point because it’s probably easier than going back: did you and your husband have to get special permission to live out? Even though you were married, normally they would expect you to live in the barracks, wouldn’t they, separately.
ZK: Yes, yes. We had this party from camp come friends as well, we had full cottage and in the garden plenty people, I said to my husband ‘how can we provide with food?’ He said ‘don’t worry, I’ve got farmers friends!’ They provided, he went round and got eggs and everything. I bake cakes [beep] I bake everything. He bought some wine, some whisky as well. We had very, very nice time, the last time with some of my brothers. They went to, they went to Matlock, they stay in County Station Hotel there, you know Patrick where it is, yeah, County Station Hotel. They wanted muscle men, my sister and this man who run the County Station Hotel said ‘I don’t, I never understand this language’, [laugh] they were laughing! Anyway, he said, he told them that I manage, I manage, to understand this language anyway. So one by one went to Australia, another brother follow him after six months. The younger brother went to America, to Chicago, he’s still there, he’s still alive, and he got beautiful family, he married to American girl, she was descendent, German descendent she was, and we corresponded. I’ve been there, in Chicago, and then [sigh] I didn’t like my sister-in-law. [Laughter]
GB: Well they always say you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives. That’s very, very true, isn’t it I think, you know. Could you tell us, Zosia, a little bit about your time at Ingham? Your work and what happens day to day, on a normal day.
ZK: I’m coming to that, I’m coming to that.
GB: Okay.
ZK: In Ingham we were living in that, Mrs Franklin cottage, she was she was old lady, her husband worked on the council on the road and she very little, she read very little, she didn’t know nothing about Polish people. She said ‘I think Polish people were black!’ [Laugh] I said ‘no, they’re not black!’ She find out how lovely Polish people are, after that, you know. And we stay there one year, one year, and that time she find this cottage, this cottage we have to clean up. Oh, it was hard work, hard work and I was expecting [indecipherable], I still work, I still go to kitchen, to RAF, working there as well; it was very, very hard that time. We had no washing machine, no hoovers, we had to do washing like that! Now, then, oh what I say, she got, that lady she got three daughters. One was, two was married, the youngest was something wrong with her and she was going to marry, she married that man, we went to this wedding, to their wedding that was all right, was after the war, was nothing, nothing you can buy, yeah. And um, oh so much, so much to say, you forget. [Laugh]
GB: Where exactly in Ingham was the house that you lived, in the cottage?
ZK: It was behind the village, back of the village.
GB: Back of the village, a little cottage.
ZK: It was cottage there, beautiful, she kept ever so clean. She was ever so good cooking. Cook.
GB: Oh right, yes, yeah. So, so from your cottage, to the place where you worked, was just along the street, wasn’t it.
ZK: Yeah.
GB: Maybe two or three hundred yards? A little bit more.
ZK: More, more. Yeah.
GB: So when did your, what, tell us what would be a normal day for you? What time would you get up to go to work? Tell us a little bit about -
ZK: We wake up six o’clock, six o’clock in the morning and my husband went first to job and then I follow him after that. I went to cookhouse and there was these four girls with me, two English and three Polish women and we makes some, for tea. I ask what are you going to do for - I was in charge of the cookhouse then - and I said ‘well we going to do today platski’ – potato pancakes. [Laugh] So we had beautiful potatoes, we grate and put eggs, two, three eggs and flour and mix it and put in pan and fry it up, frying up there and keep them, when the thing come we have to keep hot this platski, and we gave them this and they eat it all [emphasis]. They say oh, what a beautiful meal we had today – they love it, they love it!
GB: And is platski, is that for breakfast or is that or lunch, or dinner?
ZK: Any time you can have.
GB: Any time, okay.
ZK: They ask, the next week ask me are we going to have this the same, this platski, I said ‘no, it’s hard work you know, it’s hard work. Unless you can do you help us, grate the potatoes and peel the potatoes then frying, you can have them!’ Ask but it’s too hard a job, too hard, yes. So, they give up and um, that time, my, I was going to, on um, on um, I finish with about that time, 1940 - 1946, 1945. Yes, I did. My husband stayed still two years there.
GB: So your husband was at RAF Ingham as well then.
ZK: Yeah, yeah.
GB: I know that you said that he lived in the cottage, I thought you said he was at a different RAF station.
ZK: No, we lived together, yeah.
GB: Oh right.
ZK: I have this paper and I stay in that cottage because I was waiting and it was big winter that time, 1947, remember?
GB: It was before I was born, but I do understand it was like 1963 was a very bad winter as well, but I understand ‘47 was bad.
ZK: We were going to Gainsborough, she was born in Gainsborough, during the night. It was snowing, we didn’t know where to go. I nearly have her in the car. Oh dear! Finally we arrive to that hospital, the matron, fat matron come, she was ever so good to me, she said ‘don’t worry lass, don’t worry’ [chuckle], she was wonderful lady, and the next day she was born and I stay in that hospital for one month because it was big snow, we can’t got to our cottage because it was snow up, my husband had to build a tunnel to be [indecipherable] and there was Queen and King going to Africa, with their daughters, that time and we say: ‘oh my goodness we come from Africa, should have stayed there!’ [Laugh]
GB: Wouldn’t it be nice to stay there, yeah, oh definitely.
ZK: And after month I come back home and the neighbours gave us beautiful dinner, Mr and Mrs Hayes, yes, they were lovely people. Everywhere I went I met good people, very nice people; they were very good to me.
GB: We, the only people that we know of that are still in the village of Ingham that have a Polish connection at the moment now, is Margaret Schmietster, she would have been there ’45, ’46.
ZK: Maybe, yeah.
GB: Jan was obviously her husband, he was Polish but she was a local girl, and she, obviously Jan has passed away a few years ago but she’s still, she’s the only person we found: Margaret Schmietster.
ZK: Oh.
GB: So you had the whole, about a year then at RAF Ingham, or two years, with your husband?
ZK: Three years!
GB: Three years!
ZK: 1944, no 1942 I joined the RAF, in Africa, I don’t know if you count that or not.
GB: If you joined, you joined!
ZK: [Falling object] Four years I was in RAF. Long time you know. I want to go to civil street you know, because well, you have enough of this marching and doing thing, oh dear, yeah.
GB: Did you only work in the kitchens that were down in the village or did you work at the kitchens up on the airfield at all, because we had the, I don’t know whether you remember, because the building that we are trying to renovate now is the airmens mess up on the airfield?
ZK: Yes, there I was, yeah.
Int; Oh, you worked in there as well?
ZK: Yes.
GB: Oh my goodness me!
ZK: It was an officers mess as well there.
GB: There is, there was an officers mess up there – a separate building – and a sergeants mess.
ZK: Because my friend, you know Marion.
[Other]: Yes.
ZK: He worked for officers mess there.
GB: Is your friend Marion, is it a he or she?
ZK: No, is a he.
[Other]: A he. He’s died
GB: He’s passed on has he?
ZK: He’s passed away, yeah, he was working there. [Sigh] Oh dear.
GB: It would be interesting for you to actually go back and see Ingham as it is now. A lot of it is still as it was, how you would remember, there are a few small kind of housing builds that have changed, especially, unfortunately, where your, where the Station Headquarters was and where your kitchen was, it’s just, it’s two streets of modern houses now I’m afraid. We’re struggling to find any photographs because most of the buildings there were there through to about the nineteen seventies, nineteen eighties, used for different things: for industrial purposes, there’s a scout hut, but then obviously the developers decided to flatten it, and build houses. So unfortunately we, we’re struggling to find, but on the airfield, the airmens mess on the airfield of course, the shell is there, the shell of the two buildings, so we are renovating that up, and it would be lovely perhaps um, either this summer, when it’s nice and warm, or maybe next year.
ZK: You’re going to finish that?
GB: We are: next year it will be finished. But you know, if you care to, there’s not a great deal to look at this year, but God willing, God willing, you’re obviously kind of like to come down perhaps next year and see the finished thing.
ZK: If I still live!
GB: You will, I’m sure you will, I’m sure you will!
ZK: I’m ninety two! Big age.
GB: I just hope that I am as fit and as well as you at ninety two, so. [Laughter] So, tell me a little bit about your husband if you don’t mind. Obviously, obviously the time that you knew him in the RAF? What kind of job did he do? I know you said he was service police, at RAF Ingham, did he work in the village or up at the airfield? What rank was he please?
ZK: In the airfield, in the, they have house there, Police Office,
GB: In the guardroom.
ZK: Guard, yeah, in Cammeringham. He was very busy. He go on, to Scotland very often, to search, to find out about, he was like um, detective.
GB: Yes, an investigator. Right, okay.
ZK: I don’t understand. He usually go to Scotland. I said ‘where are you going today?’ and he’d say ‘we’re going to Scotland, on business.’ He never told me.
GB: He probably wasn’t allowed to tell you, depending on what he did. In those days it was very, very quiet. What rank was he?
ZK: He was corporal.
GB: A corporal.
ZK: Polish, Polish rank he had, you know sergeant.
GB: Right, and when, when it came to the time of demob, when you came out of the RAF, did you stay in Ingham, or did you?
ZK: Oh yes! We stay, yes. We had chance to go to Canada, my, I have cousin right there, in Toronto, they say we must go there, but we decided, my husband didn’t want to go nowhere, and I think I like England as well, you know. I went to Canada, I been to America as well, see my brothers, and I don’t like America [laughter]. I said it’s best, best to stay in England.
GB: You think so.
ZK: Yes, he said I got relation in Poland where I have to go to see them, he have only one sister left, everybody was killed there. During the war.
[Other]: And his mother. His mother was alive.
ZK: Mhm. That was, that was terrible, terrible. And we stay, we decided to stay in England. I said ‘this is best country, I love England.’ I love Poland because it’s my country, that, you know, but I make lot of friends here, English people, I enjoy. I went, we went that first time, you remember, I was sad, sad story, first time, there was nothing there. Nothing. Oh, and um, what was going to say. It was, everything and Russian there: everything was, they have no clothing, they have nothing, nothing. Poor people; I feel sorry. We went to that camp, [indecipherable] People was looking at our car and I was crying, I said ‘oh my goodness, we have this car’ and they had nothing. Yeah. [Beep] It was bad, and we come back after months. We stay there months, we were going round big towns see the churches, cathedrals, beautiful. All bombed.
GB: All bombed.
ZK: Yeah. We went to Gniezno, where Poland become Christian - first time in thousand years. There were, outside the church there was figure from bronze, bronze, round beautiful monastery, and the Jerries took everything down, everything down for bullets to kill Polish people.
GB: Yes.
ZK: It was, then we went to Chopin, remember Chopin, we went to Chopin place, we went to Niepokalanow as well, where this Franciscan monk was killed by Jerry in Auschwitz. You remember?
GB: Yes, yes.
ZK: We been there. And where were we? In Krakow, Krakow, we come during the night, our car was, we didn’t, there was no light, nothing, it was dark, my husband took the road and there was hole in the road and the car plonk, in this hole. Oh my goodness, children was crying: we never come back to Poland! We never get back to England. About twenty people, Polish people, come and lift the car up. Oh, that was relief! [Laugh]
GB: Out of the hole. Would, would it be just a good idea just to give you a little break for a couple of minutes? Maybe like a drink of water or something?
ZK: Yeah, come on, make cup of tea.
GB: No! I meant from your point of view, just have that because you’ve been talking very nicely too us, but I think maybe.
ZK: I forgot lot, but you should come early I tell you more [indecipherable].
GB: No, you’ve been telling us tremendous stories already and luckily, with the camera here, we can record everything and what we’ll do is we’ll, when we’ve produced it, we’ll give you a copy, obviously give yourselves a copy, on disc, then at least you’ve got. It’s, it’s good to look back at it when you, because things you may forget about in a few weeks’ time you look back and then watch yourself on the television [laugh] and if you’re like me, you get very critical of yourself, and what, how you sit, how you speak to people, and that’s why I sit behind the camera you see! So if it’s all right with you, we’ll just take a short break, now and you can have a glass of water or what have you and then we can carry on again. If that’s all right. Okay?
ZK: [Indecipherable]
[Other]: I will do, yes. While we’re doing this, that’s mum when she was much younger. [Beep]
GB: Oh my!
[Other]: Your facility, the way you were able to say “Bast!”, [laughter], like that. You didn’t’ know English when you came to England. So when you went to Redcar did you have a medical?
ZK: Med?
[Other]: Did you have a medical when you came to Redcar?
ZK: Yes, we have.
[Other]: And what happened? What did the doctor say when he looked at you?
ZK: I don’t know! [Laughter]
[Other]: Oh, this one’s what?
[Other]: This one’s a?
ZK: No!
[Other]: This one’s a virgin. She had no idea what virgin meant!
GB: Oh dear!
ZK: There was a girl there, Rosalia, in Redcar, we were dressed up for morning’s attention, [beeping] I’m stood there and men working on the roof there and Rosalia didn’t put skirt on, [laugh] she was rushing, she was rushing and officers noticed so: ‘Rosalia, you have no skirt on!’ [Laughter]
[Background talking]
[Other]: My mum said that was at Ingham as well.
ZK: That was funny!
GB: Goodness me!
[Other]: With the English. That’s at Ingham.
GB: Oh right!
[Other]: Another one, police one, they had an adjutant at camp, Cammeringham, and when on parade he kept [indecipherable] didn’t notice but all the girls did and eventually Stefan, her husband, went and had a word and he didn’t do it any more.
[Other]: Do you want a piece of cake?
ZK: He chased me round!
[Other]: He said as copper I go tell him!
ZK: The boys: chase me round the cookhouse! [Laughter]
GB: So not a lot really changes in seventy years then, because that still happens! People still get chased round cookhouses and things.
[Other]: And corporal Miehalski, what do you remember about him?
GB: Might want to kneel down a bit Brendan, you’re right in the way of the lens, mate.
GB: That’s fine, for God’s sake, all these cameras.
ZK: We had fun, we had fun: we had good time.
[Other]: And so you should!
[Other]: Can you remember Miehalski?
ZK: Miehalski. Oh yeah, yeah, cook.
[Other]: What did he do?
ZK: He was, he wore big moustache. [Chuckle]
[Other]: And if you’re –
ZK: He, he look after me, he said ‘I will look after you, put weight on, don’t, you have nice complexion’, he give me some cream to drink [laughter].
[Other]: Ulterior motives!
ZK: He was funny man. He was from, where Stefan come from.
[Other]: Potsdam.
GB: Can you remember in the um, headquarters down in Ingham village where you worked, you obviously had your cookhouse, the canteen?
ZK: Yeah, I remember.
GB: But there were other buildings in there. We’ve looked at some of them and it looks like there might have been a shoemakers in, within the RAF?
ZK: Oh yeah, maybe, maybe there.
GB: Did you get a chance to look round any of the other buildings?
ZK: The clothing there, clothing as well.
GB: The Clothing Store was there, yeah.
ZK: Because my friend Stella used to work there.
GB: So did that mean you were able to get a couple of extra bits of extra clothing for the winter, yeah?
ZK: Oh dear!
GB: I’ll have a look at those photographs in a minute.
ZK: I did have the uniform, [indecipherable] I give you that, I don’t want it.
GB: But I presume obviously, working inside in the kitchens it was nice and warm anyway, even through the winter.
ZK: Warmer than Siberia! [Laugh]
GB: But then perhaps in the summer perhaps not so good, working in the kitchens.
ZK: No. Well, in Siberia, when we were deported, all my family, they gave us job on the river, on the river. They built edges, on the river, [paper shuffling] about four corridors, four corridors: A, B, C, D, wood, you get me, catch wood through that corridor. And I caught the wood and the wood, I went under water and I was hearing, and somebody was saying ‘she’s drowning, she’s drowning!’ My God! And I said, I go to that Commandant, our Commandant, Commandant and said ‘no, no, I’m not working on the river give me other jobs’, and for some men, they follow, for some men they gave us this cook, cookhouse job, they were cooking there and for winter we had to go to woods to saw the wood, wood, big wood, casting them for this river, and they send them, they bind them together and they send them in the river – I don’t know where they go.
GB: Probably to the big saw mills or something, yes.
ZK: Hard work. Hard work.
GB: With that many big tree trunks and logs, I imagine.
ZK: Long logs.
GB: Yeah, did people end up breaking their arms and hands and things?
ZK: Yeah, oh dear, I was in hospital there and I went out and that’s why I have that leg now.
GB: Because of the wood.
ZK: Yes, it was so cold.
GB: Can I ask you Zosia, when, going back to your time at Ingham, when you, you say that you were demobbed in 1946, but you and your husband stayed in Ingham, did you carry on working at the, in the kitchens?
ZK: No, I worked until I left RAF, since then I didn’t work ‘cause I was expecting baby and there was a lot of work at home – I had to clean out this house. It was terrible.
GB: And then how long did you stay in Ingham, in that house? Or should we say when did you move?
ZK: About eight months.
GB: Oh right, and then where did you move to after that?
ZK: We moved from that house to Matlock.
GB: Right, yes.
ZK: She was about -
[Other]: Matlock Bath.
ZK: Hmm?
[Other]: Matlock Bath.
ZK: Yeah, Matlock Bath, yeah. Come to Station Hotel and we stay there. All my brothers come with us, yeah, and we had this job and they love it, but they say that we’re not going to stay in England. They emigrated to Australia and since they emigrated I don’t hear from them nothing [emphasis]. Nothing. I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know. The brother from, after me, he was in Italy, he was in Monte Cassino he had something wrong with him; he always cry. Oh, it was terrible. He was telling us story, he was years falling down. Terrible. Didn’t mention only one word Polish, fighting there, thousands of Polish people that day die there.
GB: At Monte Cassino.
ZK: Yeah. I was watching cemetery this summer, they were, oh, [pause] they had big do there, religion, all religion, you know, different nationalities come together, and there was a mass there as well, I was watching and they say that the scouts, scouts come, about thousands of scouts come with roses, red roses; they lay each roses on grave, these soldiers’ grave. That was beautiful, beautiful ceremony. [Blowing nose] Young people, scouts.
GB: That’s lovely, yes.
ZK: I’m sorry. It’s horrible, horrible.
GB: No, no.
ZK: I remember. I watch everything what’s going on this war, this last war, I don’t want it to happen again, [loudly] it’s happening again!
GB: It does. I’m afraid. I’m afraid people never learn, do they. They never learn from other people’s mistakes, and other big wars, and they keep happening.
ZK: That bloody Putin, Putin.
GB: Yeah, he’s causing problems now isn’t he, yes.
ZK: He’s horrible.
GB: Can I ask you one question Zosia, we’ve looked at these photographs, and do you not have a, no, do not have is a wrong question to ask. Do you have a photograph of you and your husband on your wedding day?
ZK: Oh yes.
[Other]: I’ve got it, at home.
GB: Ah, right!
ZK: Yes!
[Other]: It’s being reframed. I don’t know if it’s there. We found it broken.
[Much cross discussion]
GB: It was just that, yes, I just remember you said at the time about the family were very good to you, they brought you, you know, the wedding dress and the civilian clothes afterwards and I just thought to myself, well.
ZK: Yeah, there’s, got one there. That one.
[Other:] Oh this one.
ZK: Yes.
[Other]: In fact it was the mayor of Weston Super Mare.
[Other]: Sorry.
GB: The brother that was in Monte Cassino. He went in fact all the way through the Italian Campaign and he got a, which is unusual for them, he got a Cross of Valour.
GB: Ah! There we go.
[Other]: On the one I’ve got it’s been sort of coloured, hand painted, so it’s you know, sort of life.
GB: I have to be honest, I do like the black and white ones, I really do. I often think that photographs these days are nice to be in colour, but so many photographs would be nice if they were just left, even nowadays, in black and white, ‘cause I think sometimes colour, colour can be a bit untruthful in a way, black and white is very nice.
ZK: When will that photograph be coming?
[Other]: It’s still at home, it’s still waiting to reframe it.
GB: That is terrific.
[Other]: I didn’t know about that.
[Other]: Very low down on my priority list.
[Other]: And we didn’t know about the naughty ladies!
[Other]: No we didn’t.
GB: Could we possibly just take it out of there? If you don’t mind, you wouldn’t mind if we took a photograph of that one as well would you? Because then it’s lovely seeing you and your husband, it’s nice to see a picture of you together, especially on your wedding day. Have you got any other particular memories of RAF Ingham or thoughts, thoughts that you can now remember about just the everyday things that happened at RAF Ingham, any funny things, ‘cause you’ve obviously, with people chasing you round the kitchens! [Laughter] And I notice in particular, one of the pictures here, this one here, in the dining room, purely because the decoration’s up, it must have been Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.
ZK: That was Christmas Eve. Dinner.
GB: That was Christmas Eve. At Ingham.
ZK: He is there.
GB: Yes. And would this, would this have been the dining room down in the village or up on the airfield?
ZK: Yes.
GB: Which one do you think this would have been?
[Other]: Which one?
ZK: I think that was Somerset, RAF station Locking.
GB: You think it was Locking do you? Right.
[Other]: You told me it was Ingham.
GB: Well, it’s difficult to say, we’d have to look at the building anyway, ‘cause that’s, we’re really sad, Brendan and I, but we immediately look at the building.
[Other]: Oh no, you’d get some anorak coming and saying that’s not.
GB: Exactly, the windows of, most of the expansion period RAF buildings that were done in the ‘30s, 1930s when the RAF built up all of its stations, there were nice big concrete and brick built permanent stations. It’s only the ones that were built during the Second World War in particular that are all single story, with an apex roof and Nissen huts and things like that. So immediately we start looking at the windows and the size because they obviously had much bigger windows then we did, so our first question was going to be we wondered, we knew it was obviously Christmas purely by the amount of the food that’s on the table.
ZK: Good do, Christmas Eve.
GB: Yes, and all the decorations.
ZK: Yes.
[Other]: The one about the English chaps eating the Polish food, that was definitely Ingham.
ZK: Oh they love it, they love it! Our food is good!
[Other]: Zosia would have called that Cammeringham of course.
GB: Yes, because it was Cammeringham from November ’44, they changed it. Funnily enough they found that there was a small village in Suffolk, also called Ingham, and through most of the war years they found a lot of stores were going – there wasn’t an airfield at Ingham in Suffolk – but a lot of stores were getting sent there by mistake. The problem was, in March of ’44, that’s when the Polish bomber squadrons moved to Faldingworth, just across the other side of the A15, so RAF Ingham then reverted to being a training camp – there was still some flying still going on - and then the Air Ministry decided in the November of that year, after the operations had all finished, to change the name of the airfield to Cammeringham.
ZK: Yes, there was Faldingworth, remember Faldingworth.
GB: Faldingworth, yes, yes.
ZK: Was stationed there. My friend was there.
GB: Who was that? Can you remember who that was? At Faldingworth.
ZK: Well she died, long time ago. Mrs Bonner, you know.
GB: Okay.
[Other]: Oh yes, Mrs Bonner, yes.
GB: Because obviously everybody that was at Ingham in particular, with 300 Squadron, they moved over to Faldingworth, on to Lancasters, flying Lancasters, and they had obviously concrete runways there and that’s where they, most of them, spent till the end of the war and after until about ’47 or ‘48 when they kind of demobbed everybody. And obviously just round the corner, we were looking on the map, the site, I think it was number nine site, then became the Polish Resettlement Camp. Each of the Nissen huts had internal walls built, so from what was just basically a long tube they created a little house: two bedrooms, a living and a cooking area and a bathroom, and they were very, very basic and I was half wondering whether you and your husband had lived in there but obviously not because you were in the cottage.
ZK: In private.
GB: Did you [beep] find that, obviously you had food stores next to the kitchen. There must have been small huts or buildings.
ZK: Oh yeah, we had, in that kitchen was special pantry, that was there, we had food there. I arrange what we having next day to cook. I was in charge there. I didn’t wanted the job, but -
GB: And –
ZK: I have to do it! [Laughter]
GB: Obviously you had to be careful because I imagine some of the things, some of the food, was kind of, fairly kind of valuable or scarce. So did you have to make sure you always locked it up so that people didn’t pilfer it?
ZK: Yes, yes, yes, very careful. Yes, ‘cause they’re selling it on black market: coffee and tea.
GB: There’s bars on some of the store windows, there’s still the bars on the windows, so we assume there was something valuable in that area.
[Other]: There would have been vandals?
ZK: I wondered -
GB: Up at the, up on the airfield where the airmens, the other airmens mess is, obviously you had one down at the bottom, the one up that’s up there, there are two or three of the small buildings left around. One of the buildings we found the original drawings for it, and it shows that part was a meat store, but it didn’t have any refrigeration like we have these days, no.
ZK: Didn’t have, no.
GB: There were just, there were bars on the windows and the vents had just got a grill over them obviously to stop flies and things coming in, and then another area within a building was all like for bread and things. The other building we’ve now found, which has been knocked down unfortunately, it says Local Produce Store. So we presume that was all the vegetables and things out of the fields. It goes into quite a lot of detail. When you come down, we’ll show you one of the maps, and it was a copy of the original drawing of the airmens mess. It was a standard thing that they had on all RAF stations, you know, a standard build so you’re probably going to look at it and think oh yes I remember standing there at the cookers, you know. And there are little offices right at the back like catering offices.
ZK: Aha. When my husband was alive we used to go to Peterborough, we go through Lincoln and we go to Cammeringham that camp as well and I said ‘this is where we stayed here’, he said ‘yes, yes, it was’ [laugh].
GB: Well if you would like to come, you know, if it’s possible, and you’d like to come maybe in the summer when it’s nice and warm, we’d be delighted to kind of show you round a little bit of the village as it is now and up on the airfield. It’s up to you all but if you’d like to come we’d love to show you what we’re doing.
ZK: I don’t know who I choose driver!
[Other]: I heard that! [Laughter] I think it must have been what fourteen years ago when we took, when we took the photographs of the cottage.
GB: Jubilee, yes, yes.
[Other]: When we went back with Zosia there and we didn’t [emphasis] look at Ingham at all. Very roughly, that plan there, it’s based like that, where’s the airfield in relation to it, no, just which way?
GB: Right, if the thing’s like that, the village is here, and then the escarpment comes up here, at the side, so it’s over to the immediate east.
[Other]: What, on top of the escarpment?
GB: Yes.
[Other]: Or is it, is it?
GB: If you have a look on, in fact if you -
[Other]: It virtually abuts the airfield, Scampton.
ZK: [Indecipherable] [Background chatter]
GB: The airfield is between - have you looked on our web site at all?
[Other]: Oh, no.
GB: Right, if you have a look on there we have pictures on it.
[Other]: I just wondered where their relation to the map there, so that’s up on the thing.
GB: Oh right. Let me just draw it quickly.
[Other]: If you look on – on our site there’s actually a google map which shows you where it is. You can go out, you can see the fields and the wood and you can actually see just below our site is where the bit where the open fields were, the runways, the A runways, were over that end, on top of what she was saying was the cliff that she used to cycle up to, to get to the top.
GB: Do you have a piece of paper, I’ll just quickly draw it for you.
GB: Is all up on the top there. Down at the bottom of the hill, was some buildings half way down, but the rest was in the village, right the way to the other side of the village so everything was dispersed. So the WAAFs quarters were right over towards Fillingham.
[Overlapping conversations]
GB: So that’s the A15 there, that goes north.
GB: Then you’ve got the top of the village and then actually the bomb dump, before what is now [emphasis] the end of Scampton runway. About a mile or so apart.
GB: [Indecipherable] Do you have a piece of paper and I’ll draw it.
[Other]: That’s to say they were virtually abutting, weren’t they. Absolutely.
[Other]: We went onto an airfield, didn’t we; we went up there.
[Other]: What happened was we were at the back, we were at the back, um, door of Scampton.
[Other]: Oh right.
GB: There is, yeah, a couple of tracks.
[Other]: The Red Arrows were there – a full practice. Several practices. [Chuckle]
[Other]: Just for you, do you remember the Red Arrows laid on a display for you, when we were over there?
[Other]: When we all went over there, when we took those photographs. Do you remember the Red Arrows.
ZK: Yeah, yeah.
[Other]: Frightened us to death, didn’t they! [Laugh]
[Other]: Frighten themselves to death!
GB: There we go, right. Might look a bit complicated. That is the A15, if you think north is to the top of the page and this is the B1398.
[Other]: The cliff road.
GB: The cliff road.
GB: Middle Street, yeah.
GB: That’s the edge of the escarpment which then goes down into the village. This was the airfield basically, this area here.
[Other]: Oh right, right.
GB: It had the longest runway, went over Ingham Lane through the war years, to about there, although they were grass. There’s a shorter one which went about there, like that, and then the other one, believe it or not, went that way, so that was over the grass area. Right back in the middle was a – was it called Cliff House?
[Other] : Yeah, that farm, farmhouse.
GB: It was a big old house, and that’s where the air traffic was as well, [loud noise] slap bang in the middle.
[Other] : Which is strange in itself.
GB: So, obviously you come up the road here, which is the Lincoln Road. At this corner here is where we were talking about the Sick Quarters: there.
[Other]: Yes, yes.
GB: And Zosia’s, the camp, where she was, was down there in the village, there’s obviously buildings and this, this really here is the whole of Ingham village.
[Other]: Right.
[Background talking]
GB: The cottages, Jubilee Cottage is there.
ZK: I remember!
GB: The little church just above it there, and then this is Church Lane, that comes to the top.
ZK: The church is there.
GB: And if you ever drive to the top, you do a quick right and a quick left, no more than ten metres, and that was, I say I’ve offset this so it’s not, that should be down there.
[Other]: There, yeah.
GB: And the main guard hut was there.
[Other]: Oh right!
GB: Which is probably -
[Other]: Where Stefan was.
GB: Where Stefan would have been based, because that was the main thing. Now our place, there’s a wood here.
[Other]: Right
GB: And then there’s a driveway in. Because obviously during the Second World War they had dispersed sites, in case there were German strafing, so, whereas a normal RAF station these days have everybody in and around the parade square or the barrack blocks, everything was dispersed, so there was an accommodation site down here, there were two or three dotted all over. So if that’s the B1398 that goes due north, our site is here. There’s a little guard, a tiny guard hut that’s left, we’re renovating, and then our mess building is literally on here, around the edge of this wood with lots of other, there’s a sergeant’s mess here and the chap, and the farmer keeps his chickens in there, so, but if you have a look at the web site.
[Other]: Yeah, will do.
GB: We have got quite a few pictures on there just to give you, and there is an old aerial photograph isn’t there I think, on the web site somewhere.
[Other] : Should be.
GB: Of 1944, which really is just that kind of picture of the airfield. That really just shows you from this point down to that, the escarpment drops by, I don’t know, is it about fifty feet, or a bit, but it’s a long drop down, it’s about as deep as it is wide, isn’t it. That’s the best way to describe it.
[Other] : It’s got to be, if you’re talking about five metres contours it’s gotta be five metres minimum [emphasis], which is you know, which is twenty five foot plus.
GB: ‘Cause going down, when you go down Church Hill or Cow Lane, either one, you’re going downhill at quite a rate of knots in the car and that one’s obviously a lot more than twisty but. So that’s just a quick artists impression of who it is and what we are.
[Other]: Absolutely!
[Other]: Thank you.
GB: But um, oh fantastic.
[Other]: That’s just for the hell of it, that’s his full name, the fellow whom you’ve come across who was stationed there at that time, that’s the full name spelled out. He later became a friend of the Kennedy’s apparently.
GB: Oh right!
[Other]: Ingham by the way, there’s also one in Norfolk.
GB: Is there really? Well there you go.
[Other]: And you may have seen, you will [emphasis] have seen, Wikipedia or something, refers to, to provoke confusion with RAF Ingham in Suffolk, as you’ve said that there was.
GB: That was, when we first started doing all the research we thought oh well there’s a, but no, unfortunately Wikipedia is good for some things, but!
[Other]: You use your own knowledge and you decide what is right and wrong.
GB: Well, thank you very much. Is there anything that we, we’d love to come and chat to you again some time but we’re aware that obviously it is quite tiring, having us here and strangers and obviously looking back over it all, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Ingham that we wouldn’t know about but you might well remember?
ZK: No, no, I think I too old, I forget now, you know. If you’d come about five years early I would tell you lots! [Laugh]
GB: It’ll probably be after we’ve driven off down the road you’ll think oh, I should have told them about that or what have you. So RAF Ingham you were not only a WAAF, a Polish WAAF, but you were a married woman and then a mother while you were at Ingham, so that in itself is a lovely story – and here’s your daughter to prove it!
ZK: My daughter and my son in law, yeah, I think they will give me a lift to.
GB: Well that’ll be lovely, well on the back of that –
ZK: Yes Patrick!
[Other]: Sorry?
ZK: You give me lift?
[Other]: If you pay the petrol.
ZK: [Laugh] I pay!
[Other]: That chap may [emphasis] just be of use, again, you have the emails.
ZK: [Bang] Show him this book!
[Other]: Just looking.
ZK: There’s a book here.
[Other]: He is going a bit weird at the moment, that chap, but he was a bomber chap early on, Wellingtons, and was, it is a very interesting story, that’s him.
GB: Yes, we met him. I think that was the gentleman that we met before Christmas?
[Other]: Oh, you might have done, at the thing.
GB: At the Polish.
[Other]: Oh, you spoke to him? Oh good!
GB: We did, and his wife, he’s got a Scottish wife.
[Other]: That’s right. Absolutely!
GB: Yes, we spoke to him, but our conversation was wandering in and out of English and Polish and his wife was having to explain to him.
[Other]: Absolutely. He is a bit wandery now.
GB: Yeah, and the, half way through a sentence he would obviously start speaking in Polish and his wife just had to remind him he was speaking to English people.
[Other]: That’s sad, that’s happened, of course, in the last five years or so.
GB: Yes, but two hundred and sixty six missions I think, he himself said.
[Other]: Do you say missions? Missions? Tsk, tsk.
GB: Can’t I say missions? I’m allowed to say missions. Operations.
[Other]:[Indecipherable] In fact could be fighter sorties, but in fact he was a bomber chap so nowhere near as many as that.
GB: Yes, he did start as that.
[Other]: And it’s a good Polish story, well worthwhile. His early stuff, when he was on Wellingtons.
GB: He was in 304 Squadron?
[Other]: I can’t remember.
GB: I’m sure it was 304 he said he was.
[Other]: Just, and he had rather a disastrous crash early on, and subsequently, that was the -
GB: That’s the gentleman, yes.
[Other]: Absolutely, a very [emphasis] nice character, and his wife is nice as well.
ZK: He’s poorly now.
[Other]: Unfortunately he’s just going a little -
ZK: He’s very poorly.
GB: Yes.
[Other]: But, again, the basis of what you get from him, and the rest, is in there. Absolutely great.
GB: [Pause] Fantastic.
[Other]: And who was this man you spoke to this morning? Remind me what his background was.
GB: He was an armourer with, a ground armourer, with 303 Squadron. Lech -
ZK: Lech.
GB: Lech, and er, yes, he was very interesting. Obviously he’s not, he’s not directly connected with RAF Ingham, but being a Polish ground armourer, very interesting to get his point of view.
[Other]: Well worthwhile. Like [indecipherable], he wasn’t at Ingham.
GB: His perspective was nice.
[Other]: Of Zosia’s three brothers, the youngest one, he was stuck in a, like a Young Army School in Palestine; he was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. The sort of seventeen, sixteen year old, once they left Siberia, which was Archangel, the forests of the north.
GB: Yes, yes.
[Other]: Not Siberia, he went to Halton as RAF Apprentice, where they were doing the two year course, and he joined the RAF, having finished, as an armourer, and her elder brighter, eldest, was the one who went through the Italian Campaign and as I say he got a, I forget what he bloody got, but it was most unusual for the Poles, more unusual - Cross of Valour, Cross of Valour. And I am almost certain just reading about him and having seen his picture, nowadays they’d call it post traumatic stress. Zosia was saying, that on top of his Polish emotionalism, he was also very troubled. Fascinating character but unfortunately, he went to Australia and people lost touch with him.
GB: Touch with him. Did you get a chance to photograph all the pictures?
[Other]: I’m not sure if I got all of them, I certainly got quite a few of them.
GB: What about this, this one from Zosia in er, civilian attire?
[Other]: When the camera started to go.
GB: Oh did it? Is it not working right? Or is it?
GB: It’s on a, what seems to be a mode, but it’s still taking a picture.
[Other]: [Chuckle] Have you suddenly discovered a new mode after all this using it!
GB: No! Actually, to be honest, to be honest all of this kit is brand new, you’re the guinea pigs today, of using the kit. We have to kind of own up to that.
ZK: Ah!
[Other]: Oh that’s interesting.
GB: Which is why, although we’ve had the kit for about a week or two, this is the first real live, yes, today is a live kind of um, [cough], you know, a live outing with it. So we’re hoping all has gone really well. We did have a quick playback from Lech this morning and everything had recorded on it, which was a bonus.
[Other]: Oh good.
GB: If it hadn’t we were going to be messing around at lunchtime trying to get the whole thing working, so.
[Other]: I’ve got that one, but I haven’t got this.
[Other]: Where did you, where have you been in the last few years?
GB: Oh crikey, in my RAF career?
[Other]: You haven’t been doing anything else have you? You haven’t been moonlighting!
GB: [Laugh] I’d never get the chance! Where have I been, well, if you’re talking about ordinary stations that I’ve been stationed at, I started at Marham, Kings Lynn. I then went to Rheindahlen in Germany, for four years. I then go in to Coningsby in Lincolnshire. After Coningsby I went to Northern Ireland, to RAF Aldergrove, did Northern Ireland, oh crikey.


Geoff Burton, “Zosia Kowalska Interview,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/34806.

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