Interview with Wanda Szuwalska


Interview with Wanda Szuwalska


Wanda Szuwalska was sixteen years old when Germany invaded Poland. The family was deported to Siberia by the Russian army. They travelled for several weeks to the Arkhangelsk region where Wanda then worked as a logger. When war intensified between Russia and Germany, they were freed and she went to Uzbekistan where General Anders was forming a Polish Army. She joined up and travelled to Pahlavi, Persia, now Iran, and then on to Tehran where she trained in an Army camp. She then joined the Royal Air Force, came to England and was allocated to 300 Squadron where she served as a clerk, directing aircraft on the ground and was a driver. Wanda married Jan Gawel who was also in the Royal Air Force and they had a family. After the war, she worked in a clothing factory in Nottingham. After her husband died, she married again. She is a member of the Polish Air Force Association and has been awarded medals and honours for her involvement in Scouts, Girl Guides and social organisations.




Temporal Coverage




00:48:43 audio recording


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ASzuwalskaW150910, PSzuwalskaW1510


SC: Make sure that that’s — This is now recording. So, I’ll start this by just introducing both of us. We’re conducting this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre Archive. The interviewer is myself, Steve Cooke. The interviewee is Mrs Wanda Szuwalska.
WS: Szuwalska.
SC: Yep. And we are at your home in [redacted] West Bridgford on the 10th of September 2015. Can I ask you then to start wherever you want to, even before the war started and tell us what your memories are of going into the RAF.
WS: Yes. Poland was, until the Occupation, four hundred and twenty-three years and when the first war started, in 1914, which we celebrated in this country, hundred year anniversary of this war. Poland become, in 1920, a free country. And there was a lot of lands left, not used, whilst Poland was under the Occupation because the people did not want [unclear] lands, went out from Poland and live in France. So what happened when Poland became a free country, descendants of those people came back and tried to obtain their land and sell it. And my grandfather with his six brothers and one sister, bought land, a lot of land and divided it before — because all of us. And we built a little village. There were seventeen houses because there was somebody else and we lived at a farm. I’ve been born on the farm. And we’ve been working on the farm. The life was wonderful. School was [unclear], to got to school, [unclear] and happy – we were very, very happy there. And in September 1939. 1st of September. From ‒ suddenly the worries. You see, the communication wasn’t at that time like it is now. Internet, telephones, anything. We had a paper and some had a telephone. And not telephone only, radio which — a little one. Not the sort of thing that you can hear, only, but — The war started. Hitler attacked Poland and completly ruined [unclear] little town. And then, all our army moved from west to east because we had a pact with Russia that they will not invade us. And all the Polish Army went to the East. I shall never forget — seventeen of September 1939, about three o’clock in the morning, we heard a lot of something noise. We woke up. Looked through the window and there was Russian tanks. Going on the road, because we lived very close to the main road there. And we found out that Sovietin, which was Stalin, dictator, invaded, invaded the Poland. Just made the pact with Germany. Invaded Poland. So. All our army was taken by Russia. By the Russian soldiers. And they’d been taking to prison, to Russia, Katyn and there was hundred and — I believe, there was hundred and twenty thousand Polish Army killed in mass grave in Russia. Now. On the 10th of February 1940, suddenly two o’clock at night, knock to the door, Russian soldiers come, and say, ‘You’ve got a half an hour to get ready and we are taking you somewhere that you have better life.’ And there was a sledge outside with the horses and we had to — The officer told us what we have to do and two young soldiers, not more than probably eighteen, nineteen, left in the house to, that we don’t escape, that we —. And I was [unclear] and these two young men told us what to take with us. They knew better that where we’re going that we knew. There was five of us. I was the oldest at sixteen. My youngest brother was only seven or eight. My mother completely lost it. Think she didn’t know what to do, but father kept it calm. So these two young men say, ‘Take the flour. Take some meat what we had preserved. Take blankets.’ Take, you know, everything like that. ‘Warm clothes because you’re going somewhere that’s —.’ If it wasn’t because of them, I don’t know how we will back. Anyhow, they took us to the station and put us in a wagon. A cattle wagon that was separated and eight people into one. Sort of like a platform and another one. And we started — we left our station on the 13th of February and we travelled for about four or six weeks, north, to Russia and we came to Kotlas, River Vychegda, and there, there was Arkhangelsk. Right to the North Sea. And then when we get from the train, we get into the sledges driven by horses and for three days we were going through frozen river and so many people were left in some barrack on the riverside. It was a barrack built and we’d been left in the barrack. In those barracks then, twice as long as my home and my room here. And they had only about half a metre for each person. And there was built, like a platform, so much away from the, from the ground. And we didn’t know why we’d been left so many in each place. But what happened. When they — April — spring came — start coming. All the, all the side of the — there were plenty of woods. They’d been chopping woods and putting them down the river and they were going to a place where they cut them and make the — something of this wood, sort of — So what happened, when the winter came very quickly, some of those big pieces of wood, you know, old trunk, were frozen into the river, so we had to dig them out from the ice because if they move with the ice, they would do a lot of damage to the riverbank. So that’s what we work. We all had to work. I was sixteen, already seventeen because I was born on the 18th of January 1923, so I was already seventeen and I had to work. And when we work, we got one rouble and a pound, one, one kilogram of bread, who works. But only twenty grams when the people, they don’t work. So my father work and I work so that was we could get some bread. And we get a little money to buy some soup. [sighs] The soup usually be made with the dry fish, which you never know what it was. [laughs] But it was very good, very salty and very tasty, so my mother could put more water to it so we could share for everybody else. And we just lived there. We didn’t know what’s happening in the world but we got sometimes some news from the boat that was travelling up and down the river. And of course I was young and flirt with everybody and see the boat and see somebody. We found some news. And then we got news that there are some Polish soldiers in Katowice, into one city. And then I was, well I was the oldest one and I had to do everything because my mother wouldn’t let my father to go in case he disappears or he lost his way, so I was — It doesn’t matter if something happened to me. So I, I went there, with one friend of mine, a young boy, my age, quite clever and we find out that we, that war started between Germany and Russia and officers came a few days later to our barrack and say, ‘You are free. And you can go wherever you are.’ So going the other way, we had a convoy, we had — We be looked after. But then we’d been left there on our own. You’re free. No money. Nothing. Not knowing that at all. We have to make our way. Find out that in south of Russia, Uzbakistan, the Polish army is being formed by General Wladyslaw Anders, and we have to go there because there is a big camp for all the people who came from Siberia down to south. We’d been travelling wherever we could walk. That’s why I see some people on the television now, how we walk, how we got on to some train. How we had to sleep on the station. And you sell everything what we had. Or simply begging for some bread. But I must say that the Russian people themselves, just people on the street, they were very good. They were sympathetic with us. And we travelled thus. So we found out, then, when Hitler advanced on Russia, Stalin wasn’t prepared for it. So he asked Mr Churchill to help. So Mr — Our diplomats here in, in London, the diplomats who escaped from Poland when the war started, said to Mr Churchill, ‘Tell Stalin to release all those Polish people from the prison camp and they’ll be the best fighter for Hitler.’ And Stalin went for it. That’s why we’d been released. Free to join the Polish Army so we can fight. Fight Hitler. Which which Polish Army proved that they could be — That they fight. So we went all this to this, to this, travel. Some people got lost. One lady lost her arm trying to get onto the train. Fell. It was tragic. It was always like you see in the war story. But now it’s better organised I think. And we got — I managed to get to the Army because I was already nearly eighteen. So it was. My youngest brother went to little Cadets, also. And we got into British uniform, and we serve and Russia wanted that we fight from the East together with the Russian. But General Anders was — He was in a Russian prison camp. He knew exactly what the Russia is. So he insisted that we travel to the Middle East, join the British, and American, and we were in a British uniform, because British — Britain gave us uniform and food. So. So we travelled. So of course he managed to get us and we travelled to the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi , to Persia. Which is Iran now. And then from there we travelled to Tehran and there were camps and we prepare, all the drills and things like that to get into the war. Now. I can remember very well, we’d been approaching on the 1st of April, to the Pahlavi, to the Persia, and we’d been so happy singing all hymns and different patriotic song, that, that we are free now. That we’re out of Russia. And somebody — We stood there — Because looking — Getting into the port, and somebody said, ‘Look. What are you singing for? This is the 1st of April. April’s Fool.’ And everybody went so quiet. We were frightened. And maybe it is April Fool. We don’t know where we were approaching. Where we were going. Maybe we were going to another prison or something. And then somebody started laughing, ‘No, no. We are going in the right place but it is April Fool.’ 1st of April 1942.
SC: Three.
WS: No. Two.
SC: Two. That’s fine.
WS: I joined the army in ‘42. And we train. All we do in the Middle East, we train to be prepared. There was different courses of everything and driving for the women and all sorts of special learning. English. Many languages. And in 1943, suddenly appeal came from Royal Air Force to, to our — Everywhere. If anybody would like to join air force because Battle of Britain which absolutely, now as you know, even — Then. So many forces, air force was damaged. So my cousin, who was there in Polish Army, advised me, ‘You go to Britain because there is quicker from England to Poland, than wherever we will be when the war finish.’ And I joined. And I came to England. Straight away I started to learn, language, and of course all advice. I must say this, this is a bit funny but I must say it. We learned, what, that Britain is very intelligent, well-educated country. Industry. Everything like that. You know Britain was always on top of the world. And we’d been told that all the British ladies are slim, tall, sophisticated. Always hair done. And we came from Russia. We ate everything. We’d all been a little bit podgy, you know, so, ‘Don’t eat too much.’ All the time. And you know what? We even got a lipstick, free. In forces, we got a lipstick, so we must use lipstick because that is how this English ladies look like and so we haven’t got to look any different. Okay. We just arrived to, in the port, into Liverpool. Liverpool. Five o’clock in the morning. So we all went ready. All lipstick. All saying, ‘How does English ladies look very, very sophisticated?’ [laughs] And suddenly, you wouldn’t believe it, we saw the normal ladies, going in overalls, having the curlers in the hair and with a bucket and mop, because they were coming to clean the ship, where we arrived to. And we laughed and laughed and laughed because, because that’s what we were told was completely different. [laughs] But it wasn’t different. It was just like normal. We travelled to so many countries, we knew all people that were sophisticated, well-bred, in the yard there were working people. I mean for us, it was normal how the world is. Anyhow, that is by-the-way how it is. And then we came from Liverpool to North Berwick near Edinburgh to be there before they allocate us. Naturally while we’d been staying here and there, always learn English or some typing or whatever. And then we were sending to Wilmslow near Manchester. There was a big camp. That we changed our khaki uniform to blue uniform. And, on several, on some interview, somebody asked me, ‘Why did you wanted to change khaki uniform to blue uniform?’ And I say, ‘Because it’s nicest. Better thing.’ I didn’t mean only because I wanted to be in air force, I was just saying, as a woman that it’s nicer, nicer to wear blue than khaki. And that was a laugh and I got a lot of applause because that interview was with a lot of people. I think it was in Faldingworth. And then after Wilmslow course I was allocated to 300 Bomber Squadron. That was a Polish Squadron. Ziemi Mazowieckiej. And I was there as the Clerk GD, Clerk General Duty. And I work on the flying control but not talking to the planes that they were going away. There was [unclear], a lady who spoke, but my duty was to get information about weather, because on every aerodrome there was a caravan standing there and getting every hour, a weather. Because the planes, the Lancaster were there. The biggest plane. The nicest plane there is, Lancaster. And it was very important. Yes I forgot to mention. Yes. And then you see, because they had to know. Usually, usually six or seven people in that plane. And I usually do General Duty there. Getting the information about the weather. When they came down, then it was take-over by me. ‘You go to dispersal.’ So and so. And what the section was advised to go to their dispersal because after a plane landed, they usually, drivers were going, usually women doing this work. Going to dispersal. Got airmen into car, well it was a little sort of lorry, and took them to the Briefing Room and that was my duty. And I was there serving ‘till the end of the war. Meanwhile my, I met a young man who actually I knew from Poland, and he was trained to be a radio operator on Lancaster, my husband, Jan Gawel. He flew seventeen operational flight, bombing, bombing Germany and two, another — I don’t even know how to say the other place. Well he done nineteen flights altogether. He was — The Gawel family, they all had a heart problem, that is the Gawels got a heart problem. He is a Gawel, yes. And he died very young, just as I say. Not even aged sixty. We got married in Faldingworth in a chapel. The air force chapel. Faldingworth is in Lincolnshire and there is something going on and I will be there in Faldingworth on the 26th of, 26th of this month. I’m going there, I’ve got an invitation to be there. And, I’ve been several times to Faldingworth. That is my station. So, then we had to — Now. We’d been demobbed and also we’d been left almost on our own. And there was no such a lot of organisation like it is now, they help. You can go somewhere. There’s a service centre here, here, here. Nothing. And we were left. So what are you going to do? Where are you going to live? English people were very, very good. When you walk in and say, ‘Have you got a room to let?’ I remember my husband was still flying in Thirsk and we walked to one house and it was a council house. Mr and Mrs Heal and with a son, and we say, ’Have we got a room?’ I had already a little girl, Jadwiga. And she looked at us and you know, I cannot I cannot believe to — Now, they had a two bedroom and one room downstairs and a very big kitchen-diner and they let us to have a bedroom and a room downstairs and they, two of them with the son, lived in that kitchen and the son had put a small sort of, like a settee-bed, so he slept in this kitchen. At that time, it didn’t mean anything to me, but when I think now, how those people was helping us, I just can’t believe — I’ve got quite a big house for me and I live here alone and a lot of people are coming to this country and there is [unclear] to take them, as you know.
SC: Yeah.
WS: Would I do anything like that? You know, it’s terrible how the church — How the world change. Anyhow, then we had to move. So every airman who was de-mobbed, got a suit and a raincoat, something like that for the civil life and fifty pound. Well fifty pound was lots and lots of money, because my husband had three more friends and they all put this fifty pounds together. For two hundred pounds and paid deposit for a house. 120 Blue Bell Hill Road in the district here in Nottingham and they lived — And they all moved. We had a three-bedroomed house. Three bedrooms. So. We lived in a small bedroom with a child and then in one big bedroom, two gentlemen and one attic bedroom, one room. And they lived — And the agreement was, at that time, I’m telling you, accommodation and food for one week was two pound. Two pounds. [laughs] Best we stop and sell up. So they agreed that instead of — They were paying me. Asked one pound a week. And I should, they should live there and I should cook and feed them for one pound and that another pound, a cheaper way. So after a year, they get their fifty pound back. That was all agreed. Well to earn a little bit more money, instead of them taking, the kitchen was very small, there was no washing machine, like it is now. Then they were taking to the laundry, good money to small house like that, and they had the socks to, to darn, so I darned each hole for tuppence and I used to say, ‘I will wash for you. And dry and press.’ And they’d be, instead of paying to the laundry, taking, that’s what I earned the money to keep this going. And that was our life. Then my daughters went to school, I had two daughters, Jadwiga and Alicja, and they went to school in that very poor district and what happened, at that school, they got the lice. You know what the lice are? In their hair and I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t believe it because we had these lice in Russia and everywhere. And that was terrible. So I used to sort of save money as I could. I can cook very well. Not like my sister, like his mother. As, very good. I cook sort of very cheaply and I fed those people, those men. They didn’t mind because two — For whatever we went through, anything was good enough. A little bit better, it was something. And I managed to send them to private school. It was two pound. I think it was two pound a month, two pound a week. I forgot. Something to this private school, because of these lice. I couldn’t bear any more lice, what they went through in Russia, things like that. And, but that is, that is my story. There is nothing more to say because life in England was completely different. We got the job [unclear]. When I wanted the job, somebody advised me, ‘Go to the factory where they make clothes.’ And there was this small factory. A private — And Mr Davis ran this factory and I came to this factory but of course there wasn’t like this you have so much weeks to learn. You had to know. And I said to this manageress who gave me a job, that I can machine. Never never seen an electric machine in my life but I knew how to — [laughs] I knew how to use the lockstitch machine but that was probably with the treadle and things like that. So when I put my foot on this treadle on the electric machine, even if it was moving, I would be miles away [laughs] really, but again, in a factory, the girls was marvellous. They help. You know. Especially when they see there is a foreign girl, they help. In no time, I was earning quite a good money. Piecework. Everything was piecework, which I agree, piecework absolutely. And, at the end of the day, I worked there thirty-three years, so, at the end of the day —
SC: What’s the name of the factory?
WS: Davisella. And it’s still building there, on the, Davisella Ltd. Mr Davis was the owner. That was a small place. We didn’t have more than about two hundred people. And we had all department. We had the design room, samples and machine room, finishing room, dispatch and all this they used. An absolutely marvellous business man, I must say. The only thing is, he didn’t have the private pension scheme and at the beginning I didn’t know why, but then I found out that the private pension scheme run like this, if I declare that I want to put two pound a week for my private pension scheme, the firm had to put the same amount of money and he was such a — He didn’t want to do this private thing because he didn’t want to pay the money. Which of course. I don’t know how else could have done. Anyhow, at the end of this, my career there, I was the factory manager and Head of Production and the funny thing is, we had a manager before me, Mr Fiat. He was well-educated, he was also Jewish. Speak very nice. And the girls on the floor, they understand me better although my English probably weren’t. And I remember Mr Fiat said, ‘Girls, if you’ve got a surplus of shuttles, give them back to Wanda because you should allow, only have six, no more.’ When he spoke, ‘Wanda, what he mean surplus? What does —‘ There were some girls couldn’t — didn’t know what surplus [unclear] ‘If you’ve got too many. If you’ve got more than six.’ ‘Okay.’ They understood me better with my broken English than that man, but that was, that was very funny. You know, I loved, I loved my girls. And I’m still in touch with those girls after we finished work. How many years ago?
Other 1: Twenty.
WS: Yes. And I — On the telephone. And sometimes we meet here. We are trying to meet here again, that I cannot manage very well, so here is my nephew. They can help me, you know, and bring something to give [unclear] or something like that. [laughs]
SC: Right.
WS: So, because I’m not, as you know, I’m ninety-two, be ninety-three in January, so for me it’s a bit difficult, you know, to get running around. I think I have told you everything. At the end of the day.
SC: You’ve certainly taught me a lot. You’re a very, very good communicator.
WS: I don’t know what else to say. That’s all.
SC: Did you go back to Poland very often?
WS: Oh yes. I went to Poland, I — We couldn’t go, we couldn’t go to Poland because Poland wasn’t a free country after the war finished, without an agreement in 1943, Poland was — that was Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, they sold Poland. Yes. To Stalin. Churchill believed Stalin, whatever Stalin said, he believed Stalin. He never found out what Stalin was anyhow. So, to go back to Poland, you have to take the British Nationality. And, I took it, of course we had to pay for it. I took the British passport and I went to Poland first time with my daughter, it was in 1962, I believe.
Other 1: Two daughters.
WS: Pardon? With my two daughters. 1962. I had some problem on the border. They didn’t like us who lives abroad. They didn’t like us. On the board things. Polish part. And say, ‘Why did you come from, to Poland?’ So I said, ‘I came to show my daughters beautiful country, my part of the country.’ And then I done something, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. Oh, I went in car and I — We had to buy the vouchers for petrol, and I didn’t know anything about it and I, I run out of the petrol and stood near the petrol where people were very good — they go, brought me some petrol, so I get to Vrotslav. And then I bought a lot of, enough vouchers to last me for this petrol. And when I’m leaving Poland, they stopped me because I had too many vouchers and I say, ‘Oh you wouldn’t believe it.’ I said, ‘Well I — why I’d done it. I cannot take it.’ I say, ‘Well then I will rip it.’ ‘You cannot rip it.’ And I say, ‘What do you do?’ ‘You shouldn’t have them.’ He wrote a — Silly question. And I, I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with them? How am I going to do it?’ So I just, I remember the bribe, yes, bribe you say. I just had some dollars and as I put some dollars inside this voucher and I say, ‘Well you get rid of it.’ And so he see there are dollars and he took this. And he said something to me. ‘Didn’t your government advise you of everything, that when you go to Poland, how you have to behave, what you have to do? ‘ And I remember, I was so, it was terrible, I was absolutely — I say, ‘You mean my government, no, my, British government, because my government should be here, free government in Poland.’ I don’t know, but they didn’t arrest me because what do they want with the women? I mean they — the men didn’t go to Poland for a long time. They were frightened because one of very good pilot of 303 Squadron, of the Battle of Britain, Skalski, Stanisław Skalski, he is famous. He is everywhere in things like that about this fighter. And he went to Poland for his mother’s funeral and he was arrested and he was kept for six years in prison because he flew here, for the Battle of Britain. Oh there is, there is books about it, I mean he is famous. So, but I was so mad, but they didn’t do anything wrong to women. They didn’t want a woman to keep in the prison. What women are. And that’s what I, going to Poland, to Krynica [?], I’ve got a lot of family in Poland, about, all together about thirty-three people. But I’m forgetting now all the younger, but I’m still in touch with my cousins in Krynica [?] and in Nowy Sącz.
SC: Whereabouts in Poland is that? North?
WS: Krynica, [?] Górska, is in a Polish mountain. Right on the east, er, south of Poland. Krynica [?].
SC: Okay. South-east.
WS: It’s very famous. At the moment something is going on there. And then Nowy Sącz is not very far from there but — and very close, there is a Polish, there is a salt mine in Poland, that is, the salt mine is on the register of UNESCO. Yes, I’m saying right thing?
Other 2: Yes.
WS: I must say this one. Now. One King of Poland married the Hungarian Princess. And her name was Kinga and when she came to Poland, she, she bought to Poland her dowry. Her dowry was, so she took her ring and wrote to the mine and say, ‘I bought you a salt. Dig there and you’ll have a salt.’ And that is the salt which you which you dig and you have got to think, ‘I’ve got even [unclear]’ [speaks in Polish] And salt. And what happened, when my great-granddaughter was born, that I have got four picture there, I have only one great-granddaughter, and when she, when my granddaughter told her husband, he’s German, and my granddaughter is living in Germany, she’s — she said, ‘What name?’ And she was telling her husband this little story about Kinga giving Poland this salt mine, this village [unclear] and my granddaughter’s husband says, ‘Kinga. We name her Kinga.’ And I was over the moon. You know, that he just brought this name from the little — is it a story or, sort of, I don’t know how you call. You know I’m forgetting some. I don’t —
[Wanda speaks with other people]
WS: So, you see that’s a little, again what I’m adding to my life. My life is —
SC: Yes.
WS: So full and I’m working and I’ve got a lot of medals and a lot of things like that, because I work in social, in every organisation, Scouts and whatever it is, you know. Always doing something. Is there anything else? I think I told you everything.
SC: So you’re working in lots of organisations now.
WS: Oh yes, I mean there is — you see, again, we had a lot of organisation. By being taken to Russian prison, coming and being together, service being together. We like to be together. So when we came to the civil life and started, we got all, and we started to have organisation. There was Scouts, there was all the military, there was Polish Air Force Association, there was Combat — you know, Combat Association. There was a lot of — and we’d be always together. But what happened, our children never join us. Now they could be two story. We didn’t encourage our children to opt to join us because we were full of spirit, we are doing everything, but I think we started from nothing and we’d been about twenty-five, thirty, and we manage. Or even forty, sixty. We managed to get together. I don’t know why our children cannot do it. I’m doing everything in my power to sort of say, ‘Join us. Join us. And see what we’re doing.’ But I’m afraid, the life is everybody is very well-off. They can manage to go for a holidays. They can have car, caravans. They can they can go all over the place. Even my grandson, he goes to, first, three weeks to America. We didn’t. We didn’t have any money. So we were happy to be together. We build a Centre. We bought two very good house to share with the [unclear] and we didn’t get any help. We build a church from all our money. And we’ve been very — for instance, I can give you [unclear]. We built the church, and I was earning that time, twenty pound a week. I give hundred pound to build a church. So that was my five weeks’ wages. Can you imagine anybody who earned at least two hundred and fifty pound a week, that is approximate, can you imagine anybody giving one thousand two hundred and fifty pound for any donation. Nobody. They’d rather go for a holiday. You see this is the difference. And nothing can be done about this so we haven’t got any organisation at all. There is only Scouts and Girl Guides, but also not, we had a very, very, very big jamboree about four weeks ago. There was five hundred and forty-seven Scouts and Girl Guides there. And believe me or not, but I was the only one there with this generation.
SC: Gosh.
WS: I managed to get a lady who had the children there and I said, ‘Look, I give you so much money, take me there and bring me back.’ And she did. And it was unforgivable. Unforgivable to see those people, young people there in uniform, marching and things like that. And about a thousand visitors came here, so we had fifteen hundred people in that place, near Northampton. I forgot the place. That was a British Legion place. They rent it us for three weeks for this camp. So I go everywhere. And I’m going to be in Faldingworth next weekend. And then Air Bridge. Saturday Faldingworth, Sunday Air Bridge.
SC: Yep.
WS: In York.
SC: And in October, you’re definitely coming to the —
WS: Yes. At the end of October, we also have a ceremony in York cemetery. There is a Polish war cemetery in York, as you know. And I’m going everywhere, wherever I can. And even if I have to pay, I save somewhere else. But even if I have to pay the full money for somebody to take me there. Sometimes it could be fifty pound.
SC: Yep.
WS: Sometimes they say, ‘I take you for thirty pounds.’
SC: Yeah.
WS: Some say, some more, then I get somebody else or something like that. I have to pay a lot of money. I can’t have a car. They took my car away. They took my licence away. And —
Other 2: Last year.
WS: Pardon?
Other 1: Only last year.
Other 2: Last year. She has —
WS: I mean, went to hospital —
SC: Let’s not go there. Right.
WS: Nothing happened. They told me that my heart condition doesn’t let me to drive and I feel the same. As you know. Am I different since last year?
Other 1: No, but you can’t see it. It’s there, but you can’t see it.
WS: Oh, I, I —
Other 1: It’s an aneurysm.
WS: I, still it’s a year and I still — I cannot. I cannot forget it. I haven’t got a car. Since I had a car, since 1956. And now suddenly I haven’t got a car.
Other 1: It was before ’56.
WS: No I think I bought it —
Other 1: Oh no, no. Pascha was eighteen months. Yes, ’56.
WS: I bought my car in 1956 and I remember it very, very well.
SC: It was when I was born.
Other 1: 375 Consul. Black.
WS: Yes.
Other 1: I remember it well.
WS: Yes. That was my first car.
Other 1: Red seats. Bench seats. Column change. Yeah. I was four. I was five.
WS: I don’t know, but since then, but that was something to have a car over — but since then, I had a Morris 1,000. I had a Mini. I never had —
Other 1: A Morris 1,000 Convertible.
WS: Convertible.
Other 1: They went to Poland in it. Two, three women.
WS: Oh yes.
SC: Wow.
Other 1: In 1963.
WS: The, the, the boot was open and I had some cushions there and my youngest daughter was lying there keeping her legs on my, on our seats. Older daughter was — Oh what have you been doing? And some boys, little boys going on the pavement and we’re going, ‘Daddy. Are they going to build like that in Poland?’ You know, there was something for everyone. [laughs] Alicja was sitting there with her legs up on our seat.
Other 2: You had a Volkswagen.
WS: I also had a Volkswagen. Everybody said Volkswagen is a very good car. I went to Poland in my Convertible. I didn’t think if I went in Mini, I can’t remember.
SC: No.
WS: I go to Poland. And my Convertible, Morris 1,000 Convertible, was alright. Everybody —
Other 1: 558RMU
WS: Yep.
SC: Gosh.
WS: And milkman is coming. Milkman is coming. And say, ‘Have a nice holiday. Where are you going?’ I say, ‘To Poland.’ ‘With this thing? Aren’t you frightened? My goodness.’ I don’t know. We went to Holland and they say, ‘Welcome to Holland. Where are you going to stay?’ ‘We’re going to Poland.’ With this, you know, they called it because it was Morris 1,000 Convertible. And you know, we went there and came back and nothing happened. We were going to Poland in my Volkswagen 1,300. And my, what do you call, [Polish word]?
Other 1: J563011
WS: Oh [speaks in Polish]. So. I managed to get to Poland, to Vrotslav and I say, ‘Can you repair this?’ And they say, ‘Yes.’ But I knew how much it cost because I asked somebody there. But they didn’t charge me. Only about, how they charge Polish people. They charged me the same as I would pay here in England. And I say, ‘Why?’ And I quoted the name of the gentleman who has got the same thing. And he said, ‘Now look. If you went to the hotel and you waste of two days’ holiday and it cost you much more. So if that happened in England, you pay this hundred pounds so you have to pay hundred pounds.’ And they will say, ‘We’re going to work all night to get it ready for you, so tomorrow morning, and you can sleep in our house and tomorrow morning you have a car ready.’ And it was ready. When I came back, even you told me that they’d done a very good job.
Other 1: They re-wound it.
WS: They re-wound it.
Other 1: Completely.
WS: They done a very better job than [unclear]. So you see there’s such a lot, a lot of things. Oh.
Other 1: It — No, you had the Morris 1,000, then you had the grey Mini C567BR8, ‘cause I had it afterwards. Right. Then you had the Volkswagen. Then you had the blue Mini. But I don’t remember the registration.
WS: [laughs] The funny thing is my daughter from Germany say, I say, ‘I’ve got a new car.’ ‘What car?’ I say, ‘Blue. Blue.’ And Jadwiga, again. ‘I want to know what car.’ ‘I told you I’ve got a blue car.’ And she said, ‘Mama. I never believed that you could say silly things.’ And I say, ‘Ah, I got it blue because I wear blue suits.’ I was talking about everything I wear. Always hat. Blue hat, blue car and that’s nice.
Other 1: All she wanted was the name.
WS: She wanted — and I didn’t, I didn’t think it matters, as long as it’s a blue car. [laughs]
SC: Blue. Yes. These, these journeys must have been easy compared to the journey you’d made from Poland that you’d described all the way through to Iran and —
WS: Yes, that was a pleasure journey where I was going. I mean I enjoyed every minute. Even something gone wrong, I never was — I never even worry when something gone wrong. I remember, in East Germany, there was still East Germany, Communist, and my car gone, that was a Volkswagen. And I stopped. ‘You can’t stop here.’ I say, ‘Well I can’t go, I haven’t got — My car doesn’t go. Something wrong.’ And this soldier. German soldier. ‘You can’t stop here.’ And I say, ‘Well what can I do? I just, just had a drink of water and I can’t move.’ So, because I had a rack, roof-rack, yes, because that was not very, not very big thing. So. I was thinking, ‘My goodness. Somebody can come and steal something.’ But no. I had about three or four soldiers round the car. All mad. Standing there and I never been so safe in my life, in East Germany because they thought I may be a spy.
SC: Gosh.
WS: So they guarded me. And that was good for me. I say. [laughs] You know it’s such a — and I never was frightened of anything at all. I don’t know how I got through it. I just don’t know.
SC: You have some inspirational stories and you’re obviously very resilient and resourceful.
WS: I never thought anything can happen to me, you know.
Other 2: I don’t think you do when you’re younger.
SC: No.
Other 2: You don’t have any fear really. As you get older you see things. Dangers.
SC: Yes.
WS: Yes and you know, I don’t know how it’s going now. I don’t think it’s the same. For instance, my nephew. You know, since he was about fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, he knew everything about, about motorbike, Lambretta. How to put it together. How to take all — into the pieces. A lot of round here and I sometimes looked at him and say, ‘How do you know where to put them?’ And he knew everything. You know. He knew better when he was younger than he knows now, I think. [laughs]
SC: Yes.
WS: Wasn’t it like that?
Other 1: [laughs] Yes.
SC: I’ll stop the machine now.
WS: Okay.



Steve Cooke, “Interview with Wanda Szuwalska,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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