Interview with Jan Black. One

Title

Interview with Jan Black. One

Description

Jan Black flew operations as an air gunner with 300 Squadron. He was badly burned when his aircraft crashed on a training flight and he became a member of the Guinea Pig Club. He underwent ten operations at East Grinstead Hospital.

He describes his early life in Poland and Argentina; enlisting; training as an Air Gunner and being was posted to 18 OTU, RAF Bramcote; his plane crash and being burned.

Whilst on a return stay at hospital, the crew he had flown with were shot down on a bombing mission. After the end of the War, he spent three years at RAF Andover and then was demobbed at RAF Dunholme Lodge.

He talks about the relationships between Poland, Russia, Germany, Austria and England before, during and after the War. He talks about his opinions of Wellingtons and Lancasters and describes his first mission over Europe. He describes his crash landing again.

He talks again about his treatment and time in hospital and about his plane crash and mentions Archibald McIndoe. He describes taking photographs of aerial bombings; the German defence of targets and night fighting against Messerschmitt 109s.

He talks about shrapnel damage to aircraft; bomb drops; ‘Bomber Harris’; the Holocaust; anti-Semitism; the ‘Uprising in Warsaw’ and the Battle of Britain.

He talks about the Munich Agreement and the Yalta Agreement; learning English; his training in identifying aircraft; the bombing of Dresden; his medals; take offs and landings; briefings and morale.

He talks about the entertainment they devised, the popular songs, speaking Polish on the intercom when on ops. On D Day was outside Buckingham Palace, dangers over the target, Bomber Commands bombing campaign.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-07-10

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:31:57 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AStangryciukBlackJ160710, PStangryciukBlackJ1701

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

TO: Right. Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, whatever the case is. This interview is being filmed for the International Bomber Command Centre and the gentleman I’m interviewing is Jan Black. My name is Thomas Ozel. And also in the room we have —
DB: Danuta Bildziuk.
AB: And Artur Bildziuk.
TO: And we’re recording this interview at the Polish Centre in Hammersmith on the 10th of July 2016. Now, could you please tell me what year you were born?
JSB: Yes. I was born 18-4-1922 in Eastern Poland. Chelm Lubelskie. And after having fourteen years my father emigrated to South America. To Argentine. When we arrived in South America my father bought land and started a plantation. I went to school in Argentine to learn English and the rest of my education. After five years the Second War started in 1939. September. After hearing the destruction in my country and the suffering which my country was involved I was very, very upset because I had very patriotic feeling for my country and my people. In English newspapers in Buenos Aires were advertisement want some volunteers can join and enter into British armed forces. I applied to such invitation and I was asked to come over to Buenos Aires, to the capital city to have interview. I did travel to the capital city. Had interview. And after the interview I was asked when would I like to be ready for my, for my, for my journey to join the armed forces in Great Britain? I told them what that’s after arrangement what they could provide. After two weeks I received a letter and they told me, you know I can come to the capital city and I will have accommodation provided before the boat which will be sailing back to England. I arrived in mentioned location in Buenos Aires and had accommodation in hotel as it was arranged but we never knew when the boat would be sailing as it was strict secret but we’d been told we must be ready on short notice. And we received that notice that in four hours we must be ready and we would get transportation from the hotel to the very big boat called Highland Monarch. That boat was twenty six thousand tonner. Big one. And the most of his supply to England was meat for the nation in England. When we start our voyage our boat, to avoid German location of German submarine was not going on the straight course. He was doing zig zagging to avoid German’s location of German submarine. That journey took us much longer to enter Belfast in Northern Ireland because the boat was always in danger to come to the main ports of England. So the location between Argentine and Belfast was arranged for those four big liners which were doing the important supply of food between England and Argentine. The name of those boats was Highland Chieftain, Highland Monarch, Highland Princess. The fourth one I don’t remember. And after arriving in Belfast we’d been arranged — arranged accommodation in hotel for two nights. And afterwards we’d been, at night shipped to Scotland and we found ourself in some military barracks. After one week we had to pass medical board. And we’d been asked in what unit of armed forces we would like to serve. Of course I was young and I thought the most exciting unit I wanted to join — the Royal Air Force. During that time Polish Air Force start to be formed in England and I asked the commanding officer in English station if it is possible for me to be serve in the Polish Air Force. And I received permission and I had ticket arranged for me to travel to Blackpool. In Blackpool it was the first Polish Centre where the Polish Air Ministry was based. In Blackpool after having another interview about what profession I would like to serve in the Polish Air Force once again I wanted to fly. And they told me the only, at that time vacancy for training would be as a air gunner because to have a, have a permission to train as a pilot would be taking much longer time as we had special amount of people who only they could afford to train at such time. I accept my position as a rear gunner. After finishing all my training I had posting arranged for me to go to the 18 OTU. operational [unclear] where we start to be trained flying and having different night flights and earning more experience about future commitments which we will be engaged. Beginning of such training we had training to drop leaflets. Propaganda leaflets over Vichy France to promise French people what liberation will be coming for them in near future. During my return from such a mission our Wellington bomber received defect and we crash landed before we reached the aerodrome. During that impact in the crash I lost consciousness. When I recovered my consciousness I knew what I must try to get out of my crashed plane. But I, before deciding to look exit out I decided to try to see what’s happening to my pilot. From the rear turret I crawl to the front of the plane where the pilot was sitting. I tried to, to get him out of the burning plane but I couldn’t untie his belt what he was tied with it and the plane was increasing of the burning. I covered my left side of my face with my left hand and with my right hand I looked for the exit from my burning plane. Then I noticed skylight exit. As my plane was broken in two pieces, during that exit I scrambled to get out of the plane with burning my kombinezon flying suit as the petrol was already, already full of petrol. During my crawling and from the plane I received help from local farmers when they came and took my burning kombinezon out of me. But I was already very badly burned. My face and my hands. Ambulance came and been notified of the accident in about half an hour. And I was taken to Cosford Hospital. RAF hospital near Wolverhampton. During that hospital, receiving first treatments for one week I had a chance to meet very famous doctor. Doctor who came and inspect the RAF hospital in Cosford. The name of that doctor was Sir Archibald McIndoe. He was one of the great plastic surgeon doctor based in Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex. He told me he was going to transfer me to his hospital and asked me if I will be happy to go there. I told him what I leave the decision to him as he was the person knowing better my situation. On the next day the ambulance took me to East Grinstead Hospital and in that hospital I found lots of, lots of different, my friends from the RAF. They were Canadians, Poles, Czechs, English and I felt I found myself like in a big family. I started my treatment under that plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. He was to us airmen what from different accident, from different type of injury what we receive we treat him he was not only our big doctor but he was our friend. And we could not give them the greatest recognition how he try to do whatever possible to bring our disfigurement back to better future. After spending four months in East Grinstead I received quite a good improvement of my recovery and the hospital was very under big pressure. New cases were arriving day and night. Hospital for giving some burning airmen quite [pause] quite bigger recovery had to send them back to their units as they were short of beds. I receive that notice what I will be sent back to my station. When I received that notice and when I had my ticket, train ticket provided I arrived at my station and I had to report to my commanding officer. When my commanding officer saw me he asked me what I want to do. I looked at my commanding officer and I said to him, ‘Sir. What I want to do. I want to do what I’ve been trained to do. I want to fly.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘Warrant officer, in case you ever will be involved in some, in some type of possibility shot down over Germany you will be very unwelcome with your profile.’ I turned to my commanding officer and I replied, ‘Sir, maybe my future flying will not always be such an unfateful.’ Then I had to pass certain tests if I was fit enough to fulfil my professional responsibility in flying. And I was sent for two hour test with two doctors onboard on my plane. After having two hours flying we returned to base and the doctors told me what they will leave. They will leave the rest of the, of the, my experience and test of my flying with my commanding officer. On, after two days my commanding officer met me again and he said after seeing the report from my flying he said he has full confidence of giving me to continue my duty. I received my job as a, flying as a spare gunner in my station. And I continued to fly. I made eighteen operation over Germany and I was recalled to hospital to finish my treatment. When I returned to hospital, after three days my crew what I was flying went on bombing mission and were shot down. The pilot what I remember his name he was Squadron Leader Jan Konarzewski was killed and the navigator was killed. So many years I cannot remember the navigator name. The rest of the crew escaped from the German concentration camps. I’ve heard two of them, after when war finished they went to Canada. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the crew. When I finished my treatment in East Grinstead war ended. I was transferred to still serve in my service in station — Royal Air Force Station Andover in Hampshire. I was there on responsible duty to keep the aerodrome not be some time taken for training courses as local training courses some time were coming to the aerodrome and they were problem for the landing planes. We’d been doing, as I say guarding the aerodrome in Andover. So the aerodrome was always free for any landing plane. After three years I’d been asked to return to Dunholme Lodge Discharging Centre. I went to Dunholme Lodge from Andover Station and after two weeks I received my discharge. My demob suit, my demob shoes, two shirts and some compensation money. And that’s how I ended my service in the Royal Air Force in 1948. That’s about the end of my story.
TO: Is it ok if we just pause there for a moment?
DB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
TO: When you were growing up in Poland were people quite afraid of Russia?
JSB: Yes. The people were in Russia yes. Will you ask me, tell me again please?
TO: Were people worried about Russia and Stalin?
JSB: Yes. Very much so because Stalin and Hitler made treaty between themselves and they arrange already partition of my country between Germany and Russia. So the Russia really was beginning cooperating with German when war started in Poland. Afterwards it ended quite different because instead of keeping such a friendship between those two countries they start to fight between themself because they knew sooner or later they are danger one to another. And we became also big saviour for the Russians when the Russians were invaded by the Germans. We gave them all our help to stop German such a big advance overrunning that big territory. Thanks to our supply with whatever armament we’ve been able to do it that stopped the German’s big blitzkrieg to make Russia become their occupation big land. Winter also came at the right time when the German advancement not succeeded as were planned. Russia, after the war received big recognition for in the end fighting on our side. But it also, they also should be thankful what they received. Very big help from us. And that’s why today are such a big nation with such a future ahead of them. We still feel now what the Russia could be much more helpful with us. Remembering the days when we all save big danger to overtake that burden. We succeeded together and the Russians should also remember what they must remember and be with us not against us. Yes.
TO: And when you were at school had you been taught about the Polish War of Independence?
JSB: Yes. Very much so. I’d been taught and I had very big patriotism for my country as my country being occupied by, for so long by the three superpower Germany, Russia and Austria. When we regained our independence after the First War we had only twenty years freedom time to rebuild our almost zero economy. War came too soon and we were grateful to have ally like England and France far away because we’d been surrounded by very unfriendly neighbours. Russia. Germany. That’s why today we Poles remember that England was one country when in the end they decided to tell Germans what if they invade Poland the war will be declared against them. That’s what England did and I think what England and Poles took that difficult decision to fight together and we today change Europe for the example to the rest of the world. I hope the people should remember the difficult days and try to remember how Europe today benefitting from our freedom and prosperity for seventy six years. Whatever young generation decide from now on that will be their decision. But I think they are capable more to continue to go in the same direction as we left after 1945.
TO: And what was your favourite plane in the RAF?
JSB: Yeah. My two favourite planes I think up to today, in early day, the Wellington was super bomber. But afterwards we’d been able to build much bigger, much more faster, much more superior plane, Lancaster — and I think Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane they were the planes that should be remembered for a long, long time to come.
TO: Could you tell me about the conditions aboard a Wellington?
JSB: Yeah. Wellington had the same, I would say a good name because the structure of a Wellington was very practicable, what — it was very outstanding to certain damage to it because the aluminium structure what was built in the Wellington structure was very practicable. And I think as the war started the Wellington will also leave good history for himself.
TO: Yeah. Could you tell me about the, what it was like inside a Lancaster?
JSB: Yeah. Lancaster was very manoeuvrable fast plane and had three gunners. Germans knew what he had quite a good defence for himself. They always knew to attack Lancaster it was also a risk to themself and the Lancaster was our saviour I think. And we had confidence in him what he always took us over the German sky and always we been happy when he brought us back.
TO: And could you — what was the first ever mission you did over Europe?
JSB: Yeah. The first mission what I made it was the most diverse experience what I had over the Gelsenkirchen because in our briefing we’d been told that the Germans had big factories what were producing lots of military hardware in that place. That was my first bombing mission and I had to face my first [pause] first my lesson how it look to be over enemy territory.
TO: Can you tell me what you saw?
JSB: Yeah. I saw lots of explosion. Lots of burning down below. Lots of searchlights. And it was hell. I was happy when we returned over the Channel. I felt it was like halfway to be home. Yeah.
TO: And I’m sorry to ask this but did you ever find out what the defect was in that Wellington that caused the crash?
JSB: Just, I don’t know but I know the one thing what during the early days sometime our planes were not hundred percent to be airworthy. But we could not always make complaints because if we complain sometime for some small what it was defect we be probably be treated as we are not happy to continue our responsible mission. Yeah. You see from in early day sometimes plane because it was such a big demand in continue training and the plane probably didn’t receive a hundred percent service capable under the pressure. But we did fly them because it was such a situation what we had not enough time to keep this plane in a hundred, hundred percent. And planes were under continuous very big pressure and small repairs and defects needed to be done. It was not to blame the people who serviced the plane but it was only because it was in such a hurry time that we had to do everything in short time. Yes.
TO: I’m sorry. I know you’ve told me this before but there was a lot of background noise at the time. Could you, could you please give me the full description — like what target you were going to on the mission where the crash happened.
JSB: Yeah. Just before we went over the leaflets it was just normal briefing we received to drop these leaflets over the France. And the different people were probably reading these leaflets and hoping their liberation will come soon. But defect what was in the plane — no. We had not notice no defect before we took off. It just happened as we’d been returning to base.
TO: And I’m sorry again but could you please tell me again what happened during the crash? Was the — please.
JSB: Yeah. When before we crashed the pilot give us signal what the one engine receiving defect and we must prepare for crash landing. We, being near the aerodrome and we had not altitude to bale out but we had to crash. And during that crash that’s what happened. I came out and my crew was killed.
TO: And other than the pilot who else was aboard the plane? Who else was aboard the plane other than you and the pilot?
JSB: The pilot notify us on intercom what we will be committed to crash land. And that’s what happened. We’d be near to the base but we could not reach the aerodrome and we crashed before the aerodrome.
TO: And how did you feel when you woke up? You regained consciousness —
JSB: Yeah. When I recovered the consciousness I was still dazed. Yes. After that terrific impact you know what we receive. But I quickly came to [pause] to break my memory what we have to get out of that burning plane as soon as possible. And myself, instead of looking for exit I went to save the pilot hoping that he was still alive. I don’t know if he was still alive or he was half dead but I couldn’t take him from his seat because I think he was still tied up with the belt. Yes. I could not see it because you know I had to cover my face with my hand because the flame was all over it. The plane was engulfed in the fire and when I found that exit, the broken exit I was already my kombinezon was burning and the people who came because we’d been near the aerodrome and those people were professional because they always been expecting sooner or later some crashes do happen. You know what I mean. When they live close by. They had courage to come quite close and help to undo my burning, you know, flying suit. Yes. But I was already then my helmet was thrown out you see during the impact and I was already all my hair, my head was badly burned. And my hands up to, up to here you see were all badly burned, yes.
TO: When did the ambulance arrive?
JSB: In about half an hour. An ambulance took me to RAF Hospital Cosford near Wolverhampton, but I was in terrific pains. And thanks to the different morphine what I was given to ease my pains I was put to sleep but the pain continue for many, many days. But after each day I notice that I was recovering slightly and we were given from the hospital staff always their great encouragement what you will in the end become as more as we were before. Probably we make improvement but the small marks always will be left for the rest of the life. Yes.
[recording paused]
TO: And did the plane actually explode?
JSB: Yes. After the still petrol what was inside plane did explode and I was lucky to be little distance from the plane because if I would be still inside that was the end. So they got me still on my side after the crash. Yes.
TO: And when did you first meet McIndoe?
JSB: Yeah. The doctor McIndoe, he used to inspect different hospitals in different parts in England. And at one time he visit RAF hospital in Cosford. When he saw me he told me he will ask for my transfer to his hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex because he told me in that hospital they have much bigger, much better facilities for big burns and big damages to different parts of the corpse. And he asked me will I like to go to that hospital. I told him, ‘Dr McIndoe, I leave it to you. And I hope your advice will be more than me deciding what to do.’ And I was very happy when I arrived in East Grinstead Hospital because I met so many boys with the same. With the same burns and different damages in our life. I was feeling like I am in big family. And the people in that town, East Grinstead, they were so friendly to us what we are always we remember that town as it is our very friendly town when people never stare at us no matter in what condition we did look they accept us. And we will be grateful to them what they treat us as we were part of that little town.
TO: Did you have a girlfriend during the war?
JSB: Yes. Yes. I did meet a girlfriend. And after some few days during my holiday when I met her we became friends. And she asked me what happen to me when war ends. I told her this is big story. I cannot tell her. If I can tell her because I told her the war always bring very unexpectedly changes. But then were small question. If ever war end if we will continue our friendship. I had no alternative. Only thinking what such a promise probably can be given. And when war ended and my wife in the end came to visit me when I was in hospital I was so grateful because I had no family, no really friends to come and see me in that hospital. And when she came and visit me in hospital I was so proud of myself and of her what I had somebody who came to see me. At one time I asked her, I said to her, ‘Look. You came from London to see me in East Grinstead. I said that was lots of problem for you to came that distance.’ She looked at me and she told me if I want to listen to her why she came to see me. I said, ‘Yes. Do tell me.’ She said, ‘Look. On your next bed you have your friend also. English pilot. He has his father and mother with him.’ She said, ‘There further on you see another, your friend have some other friends.’ And she said, ‘You are in your bed. You have nobody.’ And she said, ‘That’s why I felt I must come and see you because probably your family is far away. And that’s what made me to come and see you.’ Those words I will remember for the rest of my life. Now, I’m old man. I can’t go to Poland. I can’t go to my sister in Argentine. But I bury my wife in Gunnersbury Cemetery, west of London and I promised her if ever anything happened to me I will be buried with her. And that’s why I’m living in London. Because I know my history is here. What we did during the war. How we fought the war. How we ended the war. And I think for that reason I call England as my most, most, the first place where I want to end my life. That’s really truth you know because that’s I buried my wife and I promised her I would be buried with her and that’s what it will be because I think if I go nobody will look her grave or nobody will bother. You see that was during the war. How it brings people sort of together you see. But people today war long time gone and don’t remember those days. Yes.
TO: When you’d come back from a bombing mission did you ever find out how successful your mission had been?
JSB: Yes. Yeah. Because we had to take photo during the mission. From beginning it was not such a demanding responsibility. But as war start to continue we had to bring much more, much more improvement in our missions. What we had to bring better results of our bombing and we had to bring the photographs. Where we bombed and how near we’d been able to bomb the targets what it was in demand. So, it was very, very important what to drop whatever our mission was to do it the most effectively. In the right spot. And that’s where in the end we were so proud what we’d been making such a great bigger direct hits in the spots what needed to be destroyed. Thanks to the new improvement in our recognition and in our new invention of bombing.
TO: And were you ever involved in attacks on Hamburg?
JSB: No. No. I never. I’d been on Essen, Dusseldorf, Gelsenkirchen and many others what I probably now don’t remember you see after so many years. But we had different targets and different targets we knew were much more heavily defended. So we always during the briefing we knew what targets were more difficult than the other ones. They were all always danger because, because the Germans had very superior defence you know and they always, always been trying to give us very hectic time over their sky, over their city and over their land. But whatever they did they never could close door against us. We’d been always telling them whatever superiorities they had in the past but we will be still coming over their sky, over their city and over their land and they were not able to stop us.
TO: Did you ever see any night fighters?
JSB: Yes. I saw once and I thought he was going to attack us. Yes. And I was giving pilot instruction what the German Messerschmitt 109 is probably trying to shoot us down. I don’t know for what reason he kept certain distance as I kept him in my sight. And I was thinking when he come closer I will give pilot instruction to make different movements to get off his gunsight because as he was following us I knew he would try to catch us in his gunsight. But the distance was still far. We continued the flight and I was hoping what probably soon I would have to give pilot my instruction. I don’t know for what reason he didn’t commit his attack. Maybe, I don’t know, he felt or he had certain also risk to do it. I don’t know. Or maybe he wanted to return to base because sometimes they were short of fuel you see. And that’s also probably you saw but they were probably already thinking how to come back to base. So the fighters, not all the time they come and determined to shoot you down. You see probably, probably they think what they also taking certain risk when they come because whatever defence you had you always had also difference you see. They had superior because they had much longer distance to open the fire and what would be effective. And they were much more manoeuvrable. Yes. But also depends. You don’t know who was flying in them. Because some were more determined to do, proceed with their action. Some probably thought they already made enough, you know, success during that night. That’s difficult to be sure you know what some but they also had pilot more determined to do their duty and they had some pilot probably who thought different way.
TO: And what kind of anti Aircraft guns were the Germans using?
JSB: Oh they were bad. They were bad. They, they used to catch us in the searchlight and when they catch you in searchlight you have so difficult to get out of them you see because they catch you from different direction. And when they catch you in you are blind you see, in it. So what you do? You do whatever manoeuvre you do. You turn your plane left, right just to get out of escape from those and during that time the fighters if they are in the near area they also see you from the distance. So they at the same time have terrific advantage to come and finish you off you see. When even you escape from the searchlights you see they afterwards will continue their attack. Searchlights was very, the very ones they catch you, you be really in trouble to get out of the searchlights and many times, many times you you’ve been tried to avoid when you saw them on the sky. You’ve been always trying somehow to dodge them but not every time, you know you’ve been able to dodge them. And some targets were much more equipped with the defence of searchlights than the other. We’d been usually try to avoid on going on bombing mission because we had good knowledge different places what had bigger defence than the other places and sometime we been even changing courses you know [pause] our journey so put the Germans always more uncertain of our direction of our mission. Yes. Yeah.
TO: Could you see anti Aircraft shells exploding?
JSB: Anti Aircraft — ?
TO: Shells exploding.
JSB: Oh yes. Yes. I, I have had sometime, or brought small shrapnel holes when they explode in the air. Yes. Many times we almost, when we came and saw the shrapnel just damage in certain parts of the plane we were almost kissing the plane what he was able to bring us down and still capable to come back. And they were soon quickly repaired if the damage wasn’t too serious here. Sometimes you see when this, they explode they will touch with big force and do big damage. Sometimes smaller shrapnel explode it will make hole but luckily depends where it touch you see. One sometimes it make hole but not manage to damage your fuel supply or something you see. The plane will continue [unclear] Yes. It depends. Sometimes they explode. When they explode in bigger, bigger say pieces and such a big piece you know when he hit you it almost you have nothing else. If you have chance to bale out or sometime the plane is going without any chance to survive. Yes. But the Germans had very strong defence because they had for so many years of well train the people you see because the bombing was continue night after night and during all those nights of experiences it gives much capability to be such effective. Yes. Yes.
TO: And what was the procedure for when you reached the target and bombs were dropped?
JSB: You just, when you drop your bomb you think you are half home because there’s nothing more danger when you are going on the target with full load. Because even if you are attacked by fighter during that time you cannot do sharp manoeuvring with your plane because your plane is very heavy when loaded. So when you go to the target is always the most danger journey. Once you drop over target you just put full throttle and get far from the target as possible and afterwards hoping for the best. Yes. To your way home.
TO: And what did you think of the RAF leaders?
JSB: I think what our Bomber Harris, the leader from the Bomber Command I think he did the most recognition for succeeding. Such an effective bombing as he taught to us what all will be one of the most destructive weapon to make German to surrender. Because from beginning the Germans had always better equipment. Better [pause] I don’t know better, always system what we could not face to their superiority but the Bomber Command always dictated the terms. And whatever Germans did against us they never could stop us going over their sky, over their cities, over their other well defended parts of the country. And Bomber Command, without Bomber Command there would be very difficult to win the war. We did the biggest damage to their industry. To whatever defence they thrown against us. They couldn’t stop us to succeed. Our superiority.
TO: And what year or what years were you doing bombing raids?
JSB: 1943. Yes. ’43. That was some time in, in November. November. Yes.
TO: Do you want to take a break for lunch at all?
JSB: No. No. No. No.
DB: How much longer do you want to —
TO: Well, I’m really enjoying this so —
DB: [laughs]
TO: I have about another half an hour left of battery on here so —
DB: Ok. So shall we just —
TO: If I have more questions after that would it be ok to take a lunch break and then have another chat this afternoon.
DB: That’s up to —
TO: Would that —
JSB: Yeah.
TO: We have another half an hour on here.
JSB: Yes. That’s alright.
TO: Would it be ok if I have more questions to speak to you after lunch?
JSB: Yes. Yes.
TO: Ok. Did you, did you hear about the Holocaust?
JSB: Yes. Yes. I did hear about the Holocaust because it was obvious what Hitler regained his super power in Germany and we knew by always telling to the German people what in the First War the Germans lost the war because the very rich Americans industries was Jewish big people — involve America in defeating the Germans in the First War. And he, after the war always blamed what the rich American big Jewish businessmen were the one who made that decision to defeat the Germans because they already notice what in Germany was certain building anti, anti-Jewish feeling. And he continue with that always. I would say complaints. What the Germans should never accept the defeat in the Second War and by doing so he gained very big popularity. And that’s how he start to build his recognition in Germany. What he will try to do something that just would never happen again. And after such a lot of promises what he start giving to the German people he was heading for the second preparing German nation for the Second War. Yes. And as he did prepare the German people they refused to pay their compensation for the, whatever was enforced on them after the First War. The German anti-Semitism start increasing. They start doing lots of unnecessary damage to lots of Jewish population in Germany. And of course it was obvious what those anti-Semitism was increasing. Poland received before the war certain amount of Jewish population what had been forced to leave the Germany. And we received lots of Jewish population because they were very helpful to my country. They were business people. They brought economy quicker recovery. And we knew what in Germany before the war anti-semity start to increase. So I did believe in Holocaust during the war because I start somehow getting information from Poland what’s happening. Not only to the Jewish people and to the Polish people and we had sympathy. We Poles had sympathy for the Jewish people and Polish people in reverse you see. So I didn’t from beginning never thought of gas chambers when they start to modernise such a barbaric destruction. But I knew what the Germany anti-Semitism did exist. I was young going to school. In my school in Poland we had different nation. We had German. We had Ukrainian. We had Polish. We had Jewish. But at school in my days there was very strong discipline. I could not be unfriendly to any of those different nation because it was severe punishment for it. And I thought whatever in Poland in short years freedom we had very strong democratic system. And I’m only sorry that that freedom didn’t lasted longer. But still Hitler was very unfriendly man and he is to blame for the suffering what he give to so many people. What today the Europe should remember and never go back to those days again.
TO: Did you hear about the uprising in Warsaw?
JSB: Yes. Yes. I’ve heard. I’ve heard you know what was there was Jewish people whatever they had they’d been defending themself because they knew what they had to unite themself. And how bravely they did unite and start doing their uprising and what, what consequences they paid for it. But they knew they had no alternative. Only the last resort it was to fight. Whatever they had to arm to fight with. The Jewish people should never because they in every country they helpful because they are business people. They bring business and help to the economy and I’m I, I think in Poland if we today would have more Jewish population my country probably would make better prospect. But still so many Jewish people from Eastern Europe being murdered and small amount what survived went back to liberate their country.
TO: Did you hear in 1944 when the Polish Resistance took over Warsaw?
JSB: Yeah. Yes. I remember that time. And I knew already what that resistance, what had happened would be no good to the Polish nation. But it was too late to stop the people because they went under so much hatred towards the Germans and they wanted to be liberated after so many years occupation destruction. But we already we could have won the War without uprising in Warsaw but the people were prepared to liberate themself soon as possible. They just couldn’t wait no longer. And they paid heavy price for it. And that’s how some time when people take decision what it doesn’t bring much success but probably oppression what they suffer for so long they had to as they started they decided to go and they not receive from our ally — Russians at that time, help, you know, what should have been given to those poor people what fought same as people fought in Stalingrad. Yes.
TO: And what do you think was the most important battle of the war?
JSB: Yes. Most important battle of the war. I think the most important battle of the war it was Battle of Britain because that was our first big success. But it wasn’t a victory in my, as a military man I knew what the Germans still had so much power. And they really from my, whatever little knowledge I had what the Germans always wanted somehow to pressurise England to come to some treaty because they knew if they would invade England they would involve themself in very, very serious occupation. And they knew that that occupation probably will destroy their victory. They were going different turnings against England somehow. Not to invade because invasion would put so much responsibility of keeping, you know the victory over England. So I would say the biggest, our victory in battle it was to stop invasion of this country. But the Germans had many other plans still in their pocket. Blockading what was very effective. On the same sort America was involved in conflict. But it became our great help to win the war. So I think the Japanese forced America to come to war what helped us a lot to win the war. And I think we must remember that from the beginning we fought alone and it was very difficult war. And we must always still remember what Europe always been fighting and even we don’t know what if we are not continue our peace as we up to now holding. What could happen afterwards. Because you see I really think what America probably in the First War came to help us to win the First War because it was also very difficult war. We remember how many people we lost in the first war. In the Second War American people been warning President Roosevelt they don’t want to be involved in the European war and America been supplying us with lots of essential help what we needed. Yes. That’s true. Because that was great also help to us. But without America we would probably found it very difficult to continue. And I think the Japan who attacked America that’s when the victory start slowly to change on our side because Americans give us lots of things what we’d been needing to continue the war and to gain the victory.
TO: Shall we pause there for a while?
DB: Yeah.
TO: Yeah.
[recording paused]
TO: How did you feel when you feel about Chamberlain signing the Munich Agreement?
JSB: I felt what Mr Chamberlain was very badly always promised by Hitler during the previous meetings. And in the end Mr Chamberlain, our prime minister noticed that Hitler was not fulfilling his promises as it started. And in the end I must give the prime minister my full recognition what he did the right decision what, knowing what he no longer believed Hitler future promises. And in the end when England, France and Poland had not aggression treaty arranged Mr Chamberlain, Prime Minister of England decided what he would no longer will believe and tolerate the German expansion. And when the Germans attacked Poland in 1939 Mr Chamberlain had promised Polish people if such thing happened then England, France and Poland will enter into the conflict with Germany. He did. And whatever may be certain mistakes were done before the invasion I’m grateful what Mr Chamberlain made promises, kept his promises and took those very big, big decision to don’t believe Germans no longer and only declare the war on Germany. I think that was the right decision in the right time. Without those decision we probably would be not in the same Europe as we are now.
TO: And how did you feel when you heard about the Yalta Agreement?
JSB: Yes. Thank you. Yes. Yalta Agreement. I give full recognition for Mr Churchill plan and decision but I think during the Yalta meetings the Americans and the Russians play bigger parts of the deciding how Europe should be divided. I think England in those days should have had much bigger saying in that decision. But the Russians was already made big European power. Stalin demanded very big concession in Europe and Mr Churchill was incapable to be against those Yalta plans as they were mostly decided by the America, Russia and England. That’s why lots of Eastern European countries instead of being free and maybe much sooner in the part of Europe they been given to the Russian domination, Russian exploitation for more than forty years after the war. That’s why Europe is still today not united probably. Not more prosperous as it should have been if the Yalta Agreement was not made with some mistakes. But during those big decision which took part in Yalta the Americans thought they were still playing the biggest part in the world decision by having already super superpower in their atomic weapon and hoping that with that weapon they will be able to continue the future superpower in the world without believing what soon or later the Russians will be able also to get closer to that super atomic power. And this happened. When this did happen Europe was still under big military threat from the Russians part. And it took so many years to pay heavily for mistake what been committed in Yalta Agreement.
TO: When you were, first came to Britain from Argentina did most of the Poles you were with already speak English?
JSB: No. During that time I had little edge over my countrymen because as we were sailing towards Argentine and I was young at that time we’d been told that if we speak English when we arrive in Argentine it will be quite the bigger help for the future to have better jobs and to have some better position in life. I started to learn English on my voyage toward the Argentine because I was young and I knew the time was changing and I have to learn the new life in the new world. So when I came to England beginning of the war I was lived more advanced in my English than lots of my countrymen who start arriving from different parts of Europe to this country.
TO: Can you tell me about the training that you went through to be a gunner?
JSB: My training started in Blackpool. That was our Polish RAF centre. First we learned recognition of different German planes during at night on the cinema screens. Knowing when sometime we will be bombing Germany, flying over Germany not to shoot down our planes because sometime at night is very difficult to recognise the aircraft between British aircraft and German aircraft. But we’d been specially trained at cinemas at night so we always could recognise the shape of the plane. How the shapes of the planes look of the German construction and how the shapes looked of the English construction. And in the end, even at night we learned those thing. How to be careful sometimes. Not to shoot on our planes.
TO: Did you ever have to fire the guns during a mission?
JSB: Did I fire the gun?
TO: Fire the guns during a mission.
JSB: I, no I never, never had the chance of shooting down German aircraft because during my eighteen operation we passed through lots of difficult times of searchlights, shell exploding from anti-aircraft. Many other incidents. But I never had chance to opening the fire on none of the German planes because I was lucky probably. But during my operational tours we not had that engagement with the Germans night fighters.
TO: And how do you feel about the bombing of Dresden?
JSB: Yes. Dresden was bombed in two nights in succession and during the day by the, also American they bomb it. I think Dresden was bombed because in Dresden the Germans had still big amount concentration of German special units which were very bad. Very much, very much prepared to take part in contra-Russian advance and I think that’s was probably the reason why Dresden was so badly bombed and destroyed. Because the Germans concentrated in that part of the country still unexpected big amount of military units which were endangering — endangering our, our advancement in our [pause] our entering into lots of territories in Germany. Without destroying the Dresden Germany still had very big unexpected for us probably their plan which we destroyed those reserve what they had this plan before the Germans could draw them into the action.
TO: Could you please tell me about the medals that you have there?
JSB: Yes. Medals what I have. First is Polish Cross of Valour. Second is Polish Air Force medal. Third is Aircrew over Europe. Fourth is King George. Sixth is Lancaster Bomber medal what was awarded to us after the war.
TO: Were you given the Cross of Valour for the Wellington bomber crash? Why were you given the Cross for Valour?
JSB: Because that Polish is when you prove that you committed some great honour defending your country and your own honour.
TO: Could you describe the procedure for taking off in the bomber?
JSB: Procedure?
TO: Taking off procedure.
JSB: Yeah. Taking off, it was always the most danger part of our, of our journey. The pilot will come to the starting point, test for the last minute all his four engines and getting permission to start from flying control. During that time if any defect could happen the plane is almost in the most dangerous situation what you could find yourself. After take-off, once you regained certain height, altitude, you feel the pilot can lower the throttle of his engine because the plane already give the big strength to lift the load what we had to take to our destination.
TO: Can you tell me about the landing procedure?
JSB: Landing procedure was always the happiest point of our journey because we were believing that whatever happened in those times we are in our home close to our accommodation. And that was the happiest part of our journey and happy to come and talk about our mission what we went through that night.
TO: Can you tell me about the briefings? The briefings you would have.
JSB: The briefing always was to us very partly scary because we’d been always told what journey is ahead of us and we always knew that during that journey anything could happen. So before we took off we always give ourselves hand. Whatever happened we will always remember each other. But the biggest happiness always happened when we returned and talk of our successes. Returned home.
TO: How would you describe morale amongst the crew?
JSB: Morale with the crew was always high because we knew that we were making progress in closer to our victory. But sometime when we returned from our mission and sometime we lost almost one or two crews it was very depressing days for few days. Seeing the tables when previously people sat having their food. Lunches or dinners. And that depressing mood sometime lasted for the quite a few days. But that was the war. We’d been prepared to have and face happier days and much more depressing days.
TO: And what did you do to entertain yourselves?
JSB: Yes. Thank you. Entertaining days always were happier when sometimes we could not take off because it was foggy or sometime the meteorological weather not possible for continue to do our missions. Some of us were playing bridge, some of us were playing snooker, some of us were having nice happy pint of beer discussing the past experience that we had. And hoping what we achieve soon victory and we would be able to celebrate the victory and sometime visit our families at home and tell them about our past what we had to serve during the war.
TO: And what’s your happiest memory of the war?
JSB: The happiest memory of the war. It was in May when it was declared of the German surrender. During that night I got myself so drunk that I don’t remember how I got home but I was brought by my friends. My friends were older than me so they could withstand the more spirit which they drank. I was younger and not such experience. I got myself so badly drunk I don’t remember how I got home. But the next day I got so happy with very, very sore head. And I only drank cup of tea the next day. That was the truth.
TO: Were there any particularly popular songs that you liked?
JSB: The most popular song we had a lovely girl who sang to us this song that, “One sunny day we will meet again.” And that song when I hear even now it bring me back. And I, I am old now but I still feel that I am young because that song gave us so much spirit. The beautiful memory, melody and the beautiful words that were in that song.
TO: On board the, when you were on a mission did you speak to each other in Polish?
JSB: Yes. Yes. We spoke completely in our Polish. We were under British command but the crew were all briefed in Polish and we had better, better understanding speaking our own language than probably not a hundred percent what we could speak English in those days.
TO: How did you feel when you heard about the D-Day landings?
JSB: D-Day. D-Day. I land myself outside Buckingham Palace. And I will remember those days also to my dying days because the crowd was so much outside Buckingham Palace. The King George, the Queen Mother and the rest of the royal family had to come on balcony and also show people that they still with the crowd outside. This happened in my memory about four times. What they used to come on balcony and wave to us. Go back inside in to palace and the crowd was still without moving from outside the palace. Then again people start to demand what they want to see the royal family. Again the doors on balcony were opened and the royal family will come on balcony. Acknowledge that they were still with the crowd. That would continue to the very early hours of the morning. That live, memory also for the rest of my life. Yes.
TO: What films did you watch during the war?
JSB: Film. I watch. The most film what I will remember when I land myself in RAF Hospital Cosford and film was Bing Crosby, “White Christmas.” It was Christmas Eve and I was in, in a small room in that hospital with dim light. And it, that memory overcame and I start to cry. And two nurses came and they talked to me and I was feeling ashamed that I cry because that song overtook me for some reason. Maybe because I was far away from home. I don’t know. But that song I will remember also for a long time to come.
TO: Was it very cold aboard the bombers? Was it cold aboard the bombers?
JSB: Yes. It was cold before the bombing but we’d been always dressed up to stand up the cold high altitude. But we could plug our electric contacts what we were connected to our flying suits. So we’d be more, more always warm from be prepare for what we meet over enemy territory and not thinking much about the cold. But the cold always was on high altitude. If anything could have gone wrong with the heating would have been very severe danger to the human life.
TO: Could you see much on the ground when you were on a bombing mission?
JSB: Yes. At night when we used to fly over enemy territory when it was moonlight it was mostly danger nights what we had to face. We always knew that during those nights we face much more danger than in some nights when they were slightly over clouded. So we always, in case of emergency having unexpected meeting with the Germans fighters we could without hesitating hide ourselves inside. Into the cloud when even the Germans will avoid to follow us because they knew they would face just as much danger themselves as they could inflict on us.
TO: And on missions were you part of a bomber stream? Were you in a bomber stream on a mission?
TO: Was I in the mission on a bomb —
TO: Were you with a lot of other bombers when you were flying? Were there other bombers around you on a mission?
JSB: Yeah. Oh yes thank you. Yes, yes thank you ask me that question. The most danger part was when we’d been approaching the bombing target and the bomb airman was directing pilot right on the target. During that time some time were incidents when the close one of our plane was approaching slightly from small different direction. And you had to avoid. Continue straight course and release your bomb because it would involve you in collision with near approaching our own plane. So what you do? You making the turning and during that turning you lose lots of distance to turn back and do return approach to the target. During that time is most dangerous to collide with another approaching aircrafts coming on the same target. Or delaying your return from the target when lots of German fighters during that time hunting for last returning plane. This is the most danger part. If during your approach on target something happen what probably you have to turn and make second approach because you’re losing your return home. And during that time lots of Germans fighters still in the area what you are victim of return.
TO: And did you ever feel any animosity towards Germany?
JSB: Yes. Yes. Yes. I felt very much so. Because not only because I disliked the Germans but I didn’t like their new approach. What they felt, that they had superiority over the other people. I thought we were, whatever nationality we all were able to do the same as the Germans did. And for that reason because the Germans they inflicted in your generation that they were superior to the other nation. This I didn’t believe and this I didn’t like. And I thought what they must never think for the future of the same superiority than the other nation.
TO: And how do you think today about Germany?
JSB: Thank you. Yes. Today I think the Germany change. Very much so because in the last two wars they knew what the military, military involvements never bring good result. I think Germany pass lots of changes since the old days. They had much more understanding leaders since. They have, I would say the most outstanding chancellor lady Merkel recently and I think also having their [pause] their Pope in Rome what brought to Germany more recognition of the Catholic religion. Germany make terrific understanding that Europe is more united today and more friendly as it was in the past.
TO: And do you think Bomber Command was treated unfairly?
JSB: No. I think Bomber Command we partly adopted the lessons from the Germans. What they badly used about some very incapable countries of self defence. And in the end we learn those tactics that they were brutal and very effective on to destroy people morale and destruction but we used them not starting those methods. We use them as a self defence because we learn from the Germans. But in the end we had superiority of that most super power of Bomber Command because we built more planes for the right time and we used those bombing because by using that strength we speed up the end of the war. Without having Bomber Command I think the war would continue for many years to come.
TO: And how did you feel when you heard that Russia had occupied Poland?
JSB: Yes. I thought to myself, I felt to myself when the Germans invade Poland how the Russians stabbed my country in the back. If the Russians would invade Poland soon after the Germans invaded we probably still fought Germans for longer time because eastern part of Poland there were more difficult for German blitzkrieg armed division to move forward. We’d been capable to defend the rest of our country for quite a few more weeks to come. But the Russians came and helped them. So we had no chance to fight against two superpower. And the Russians been always to Poland same unfriendly nation as the Germans.
TO: Is there anything else about your time in the air force which was important to you which you’ve not told me about which you would like to say?
JSB: If —
TO: Anything important that you’ve not mentioned that you want to talk about.
JSB: No. I think that’s all that I could tell and what I experienced and remember from the war. I think when I joined as a volunteer I’m happy what, how I started and how I ended because my country today is free and I’m happy that my country have recognition and the honour in the world. Thanks for England what England had courage to have treaty with Poland and during, at such danger days the England came in defence of the Poland with France and I think that’s why today we have free Europe and the rest of the world. So Europe is example to other nation what they must live in peace and to do the same as Europe did in 1939.
TO: Thank you very much. It was fantastic hearing about your story.
JSB: Thank you. What I’ve been able I’m not politician. Only part of military men. I’ve been trying, you know to tell you that.
TO: Thank you.
JSB: Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Tom Ozel, “Interview with Jan Black. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 13, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3494.

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