Interview with Mieczysław Stachiewicz


Interview with Mieczysław Stachiewicz


Mieczysław describes his military training from his Polish secondary school before volunteering for the Polish Air Force. He was evacuated to Warsaw but the railway lines were cut by the Germans. His squadron reassembled on the Romanian border before spending some time within Romania. Escaped across Europe and crossed into England, entering via Liverpool. Housed in Liverpool where him and his unit were taught English and retrained on Tiger Moths, Halifaxes and Wellingtons. Despite his Polish nationality, Mieczyslaw was fed, paid and ranked the same as a British pilot. Flew thirty operational flights with 301 Squadron, and was involved with mine laying, bombing of Essen and the thousand bomber operation to Cologne. Describes the badges worn by each aircrew member. Following completion of his operational flying, he was posted to the Polish School of Architecture in Liverpool University and spent the rest of his life in England.




Temporal Coverage




01:41:47 audio recording

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CB: Right, my name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 19th of January 2017, and I’m in Acton with Mr. Stachiewicz and we’re going to talk about his experiences both in Poland and then coming through France –
MS: [Unclear].
CB: And into the RAF. So what were your earliest recollections?
MS: Well first I finished my secondary school –
CB: Yeah
MS: In 1937 [doorbell rings]. Oh that’s probably Artur.
CB: Right I’ll stop just for a mo.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
CB: Right so we were talking about your secondary school.
MS: Secondary school. Do you want details?
CB: Yes.
MS: My [speaks Polish].
AB: Subatory [?] school which was a –
CB: A military school?
MS: No, no, no.
AB: No this is a normal primary school, yeah.
CB: Right, okay.
MS: And then all the corporals [?] come in.
AB: And join the core [emphasis] of cadets.
CB: Yes.
MS: That was a military school but we had full training at secondary school.
CB: Right.
AB: Yep.
MS: Plus military training.
CB: Yes.
MS: My –
CB: Like, like in –
MS: And then after that, when I, I [speaks in Polish] final examinations –
CB: Yes.
AB: O levels, like O levels.
MS: That was in the school, that was nineteen, oh dear, thirty-seven.
CB: Yes.
MS: And then I had one a year national service.
CB: Right.
MS: On that your first three months were in the infantry –
CB: Yep.
MS: For [speaks in Polish].
AB: Yes.
MS: And then I volunteered for the Air Force –
CB: Right.
MS: And for the rest of the year was spent in the Air Force. First couple of months was the theory and general Air Force talk, and what is it about –
CB: Yes.
MS: And then we started flying training in [Polish area] –
AB: Yep, [repeats place name] it’s a famous area for training, still a training camp [?] –
MS: Well we spent the first few months in Demlin [?] –
AB: Demlin [?].
MS: Which was Air Force training and schooling centre and some –
AB: Yes, it’s the equivalent to Cranwell.
MS: Sorry?
AB: It’s equivalent, equivalent to Cranwell here in England.
MS: Yes, that’s correct.
AB: Yes.
MS: And then I spent less than a year training. First simply training and then more advanced.
CB: Yes
Other: [Quietly speaks Polish to AB].
AB: [Quietly replies].
MS: Yes, so we started first on, erm, teaching plane Bartor [?]. Each was already withdrawn from the Air Force, but somehow they got [unclear] between [Polish place name] and then you went to more advance training [?] and then [pause] –
CB: Can you remember which type of plane it was?
MS: Just trying to remember –
AB: He’s just thinking –
MS: PWS. P, W, S.
CB: Oh yes.
AB: PWS [speaks in Polish]. PWS-20?
MS: Yes, the twenty and then twenty-six.
CB: Right.
AB: They’re, they’re very good planes, they’re –
MS: Yes, very good planes.
CB: Right.
MS: Twin, single engine but –
AB: Biplane, yeah.
MS: So that’s – and then I qualified as a military pilot.
CB: Mhm.
MS: [Speaks in Polish] –
AB: Yes, so –
MS: Where we had our flying training.
AB: Eradone [?].
MS: Eradone [?]. And then what – the war was approaching. All the [?] reservists I was mobilised to my unit.
CB: Yeah.
MS: Which was the Fourth Regiment, ‘cause in Poland the whole Air Force, the main, main groupings were regiments –
CB: Yes.
MS: [Someone prepares food in the background] same as any other military thing.
CB: Same as the army.
MS: Same as the army.
CB: Yes.
MS: And then I was called to my unit when I joined Rzeros [?] Squadron. Apart from taking some planes to [Polish town] aerodromes, non military, no Air Force flying at that time. That was September 1939.
CB: Yes.
MS: Then when Germans were approaching we evacuated from [Polish town]. Went by goods train, general direction of due west, because the Germans were approaching from the, from, in the direction of the east. The Germans were approaching from the west [?]. The first by train then we were cut off by some German troops so we simply left the train and walked the last sixty, about sixty kilometres to Warsaw. And after waiting for our group, or our squadron, we reassembled in Warsaw, and after a few days waiting we were given [speaks in Polish].
AB: They got, erm, they got – when the army takes over something they –
MS: Yes.
AB: Confiscate, try to –
CB: They requisition.
AB: Requisition [emphasis]. So requisitioned the cars and the vehicles.
MS: So we were put into requisition the cars, and went further west. At first in the, each car [unclear] and then reassemble not far from the Romanian border.
CB: Oh right.
MS: And the Germans still advancing so we got finally to the Romanian border, and when the news came that the Russians joined the Germans and crossed the border not far from us. The, the supposed to be Russian armed unit. We’re just at the border, so instead of waiting to be taken either by German, prisoners of war, either by Germans or Russians we crossed the border to neutral Romania.
CB: Right.
MS: When our unit was, now what would that be?
AB: [Speaks in Polish].
MS: [Pause, then speaks in Polish].
AB: They were interns I think, interns?
MS: Yeah interns, yeah, yeah.
AB: Yes.
CB: Interns, yes. You were interned there, yeah.
MS: Interned there.
CB: In Romania.
MS: Still they ask the unit. It was military papers and civilian papers with us so we interned there. Germany were watching the Romanians very carefully. They were afraid, very afraid of Germans, so escape from the camp was organised and in small groups we got first through Bucharest and then Polish authorities, Polish embassy and so on. And then we got civilian papers, and with civilian papers we officially left Romania. Single group or single person and then through Yugoslavia, Greece to France. In France the Polish forces were already been reorganised, including Polish Air Force, but [emphasis] also came to France at that time, we just put in the waiting counts [?], reserve any duties so assembly, assembly air camps. And there, when Germans attacked France and at the first month at the end of June 1940, when German troops were approaching the place where we were, we crossed to England [emphasis]. Actually there was small – we went first to Mediterranean of course, [unclear] boats there, and then again by train to a small port, French port [gives name]. It was just on the border to Spain, and then already there was – we arrived into England on the last day of June, but already there was passenger ship, British [unclear] escorted by one Destroyer. We were all loaded there, embarked there, and we crossed to Liverpool. So it was at the beginning of the, about the third of July 1940, forty-one.
CB: Forty, forty.
MS: Oh no, forty.
CB: Mm.
MS: And we landed at Liverpool. They put us into several – also several hundreds of us, ‘cause the first Polish Air Force men came in 1939, and first training started I think in early 1940.
CB: Mm.
MS: But most of us were just in assembly camps and we crossed to England at the very [emphasis] end of June, June 1940, June [unclear] 1940. So we landed at Liverpool I think of the first or second of July and we were put into several camps in mostly in Blackpool origin, standard camps. I think they were built there by RAF for training personnel, so we got one camp there. And well, it started with some English lessons and basic training and what the Air Force, Royal Air Force looked liked. And, 1941. After some time, we were one of the first groups which started training on Tiger Moths, and [unclear] Polish Air Force and RAF. And my number, RAF number was 1625, I don’t remember Polish name, number, and then of course there was the usual training. We training – we’re mostly in my groups reserve pilots. So we’ve – but we’re retrained from the very beginning. So we had a course on Tiger Moths. I can’t [?] remember the name of the aerodrome and the camp, somewhere near Blackpool. Then we went secondary course and after that I got my commission, Polish and British as a pilot officer. And in 1941, I found myself being trained on Wellington one in eighteenth OTU, operational flying, operational training unit, and there we formed crews because I was training, I was retrain [emphasis] again as a pilot but then all the other members of the crew were trained separately, so we assembled there and start assembling crews. So I had second pilot, I was in the, in the crew. The first pilot in the cockerman-dral [?], or the crew. I had second, second pilot, navigator, radio operator and two air gunners. And after training there we were posted to 301 Squadron. It was the, in November 1941, to 301 Bomber Squadron as a full crew. The only difference was ‘til then, the crew consisted of two pilot, first and second, and I was the only one directed in commanding [unclear] of the crew, because they changed it. There was still the crews flying with two pilots, first and the second, usually one with the new crew without any training or any experience in all flying, the first pilots they are the second pilots, and a experienced pilot [unclear] the crew or just commanding as on our first flying. So that was the end of nineteen – it was in December, November I think, 1940, 1941. So we were training at the OUT, eighteen OTU as a crew and then in, in December 1941 we qualified as fully trained crew and joined a couple of other crews training with us, 301 Squadron. [Pause] and then it started. Our first flight was in my book, Stuttgart I think it was. But then I was flying there as a second pilot with a very experienced first pilot, and inexperienced crew. So we started with Stuttgart and then our second flight must have been [?] Cologne, thousand, thousand planes on Cologne. I think it was thirties [?].
CB: The thousand bomber raid.
MS: Sorry?
CB: The one thousand bomber raid.
MS: One thousand – well the first one thousand bomber raid. That will be in my logbook.
CB: Mm.
MS: I think that was the first day – December nineteen – and then after that we, few others. Another one was the, oh [pause, papers shuffle]. I got my, in my logbook –
CB: Yep.
MS: There was Cologne. Still, still when we entered all the duties in the book, we’re told we must not put the name of the target, so my second, second flight was without naming Cologne, and then I think the next one was Essen which was really beating up severely [?] ‘cause Essen was one of the industrial parts of Germany, so most of Essen was very heavily defended, and we had the biggest losses during our raids on Essen. And I was still flying as second pilot. My first flight after the first one – shall I have a look at the book?
CB: Yeah, we’ll just stop for a mo while we look at the logbook.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
CB: So let me just put that in. So the service flying unit that you were on to convert to twins was number sixteen SFTS at Newton. Then you went to the OTU where you crewed up, is what you said.
MS: Yeah.
CB: You finished at the OTU in April –
MS: Something like that [?] –
CB: April forty-two and then you went to 301 Squadron.
MS: That’s right, that’s correct –
CB: Right, okay. And the whole crew –
MS: Actually, we went to at the end of 1941 to the squadron because we’re –
CB: Ah.
MS: Because we were already November –
CB: Right, okay. So –
MS: And then we train crew –
CB: Yep.
MS: And our first operation was I think there must be a date there under the name of the target.
CB: Yes your first operational bombing at Stuttgart [emphasis] –
MS: Stuttgart, yes.
CB: Was on the 4th of May 1942.
MS: Er –
CB: Operation, May forty-two, operational bombing.
MS: May forty-two?
CB: Mm. The operation bombing, it said [papers shuffle].
MS: My memory is [unclear]. Because we didn’t start operational flying immediately after –
CB: Right.
MS: Transfer to forty-two [unclear].
CB: Right. And then you went to Saint Nazaire.
MS: [Unclear.]
CB: And your alone trip was the 30th of May.
MS: [Unclear].
CB: Yeah.
MS: I think the thirtieth of –
CB: Yeah, 30th of May –
MS: May
CB: Yeah, 30th of May 1942 was your Cologne bombing, thousand bomber raid.
MS: Yeah, yeah.
CB: Okay, good.
MS: That was the – experienced [?] pilot as a first pilot.
CB: So –
MS: If you wanted the names you find them –
CB: So we’ve got the names here, and –
MS: That was Freschinski [?].
CB: Yeah, Freschinski [?]. So you did a, an operation bombing raid on Dieppe [emphasis] –
MS: Yeah, yeah.
CB: That was the port was it?
MS: Yes, I think – I don’t know the exact place, you’d have to take –
CB: That’s the 3rd of June.
MS: You’d have to take it from my logbook.
CB: Yes, 3rd of June.
MS: You’re not allowed to put the name of the target.
CB: Right, yeah.
MS: So sometimes I put the name of the target after [emphasis] –
CB: Oh right.
MS: In –
CB: In red.
MS: Mostly in pencil.
CB: Yes, okay.
MS: And then there sometimes my area [?] target was Essen –
CB: Yes.
MS: We were very badly beaten up but survived that and got back to our station.
CB: Was the aircraft damaged?
MS: It was damaged.
CB: By flak or fighters?
MS: All flak.
CB: Yep.
MS: We were caught in safe flight [?].
CB: Yeah.
MS: From twenty or more stations at the same time.
CB: Right.
MS: And then I don’t remember what the next one after Essen. We’re quite – were experienced [emphasis] by the Essen raid.
CB: Then, then you went onto Emden.
MS: Emden, yes. Emden was mostly mine laying –
CB: Ah.
MS: Because apart from bombing our squadron did a lot of sea mine against [?] the U-boats mostly near the end after the port. And that was called – the code name was gardening [emphasis].
CB: Oh yes. And what height did you drop the mines from?
MS: Under, under one thousand feet.
CB: Phew, so did you get hit each time by flak?
MS: Not really but sometimes – in one occasion I wandered [?]from there across by land and they’d got [unclear] big operational defence of Germany, on the ports. But we got through alright.
CB: So by now you are the first pilot, but you’re, are you flying with a second pilot or was the –
MS: Always. Never flew with one pilot.
CB: Okay.
MS: So even flying somewhere as the first pilot, and in the logbook on the page where all the crew on that operation was mentioned, the first of us, the first pilot and the second pilot and the navigator and so on.
CB: Yes, right.
MS: And then we flew every few nights. We had one crash but I don’t really remember the exact date.
CB: Were you flying as the pilot on that day?
MS: I was flying as the pilot –
CB: Yes.
MS: But I had engine trouble, and we called, came back to – dropped the bombs into the sea, came back to this country calling ‘mayday’ and for a long time had no help at all. Then they switched the flare path for us. We followed, I followed the flare path to aerodromes and to the rounding [?] point, and at the moment, when I was, touched the ground, they switched off [CB laughs] all the Air Force, and the station lights, including the flare path. So I landed, yeah I landed blindly [emphasis] into darkness and crashed the plane.
CB: When you said you crashed it, did you land it heavily or overshoot the runway?
MS: Well I was trying to land and it was quite a heavy landing, so I broke the undercarriage and the plane was badly damaged by dragging [?] on the ground.
CB: Did the undercarriage collapse?
MS: Undercarriage collapse.
CB: And which – one of the engines was faulty was it?
MS: One of, one of the engines was faulty. That was our first experience of flying Wellington four. It was Wellington with the American engines.
CB: Right.
MS: Which we ended up with a lot of trouble from those engines.
CB: So it hadn’t been hit by flak, it was that the engine had failed.
MS: No, no it was not hit by flak. It was just simply the engine had collapsed.
CB: Right, right. And was anybody injured in that?
MS: No, not really. Slight injure –
CB: Mm. And could the aircraft be recovered or did they have to scrap it?
MS: No, I don’t think so, I’m not really – but I just know my first crash.
CB: Mm.
MS: And from then on, flying on, on ordinary bombing raids –
CB: So on that particular operation had you had to turn –
MS: [Unclear].
CB: Pardon?
MS: We were but not the plane.
CB: Yeah, yeah. And did you have any other crashes?
MS: I had another crash with the, started with the undercarriage. Late on, and that was the end of my tour.
CB: Yes, and what went wrong then?
MS: As far as I can remember, there was a collapsed under, grounding gear.
CB: As you landed?
MS: Mhm.
CB: So you didn’t know that it was faulty?
MS: No, well there was some, some irregularities. So broke all my trip and dropped the bombs into the sea and came back.
CB: Mm.
MS: Grounded [?], grounded [?] without doing my duties but, but crashed the plane.
CB: And this was all at Hemswell?
MS: That was, well, all my flying, operational flying was from Hemswell.
CB: It was? Right. So looking at your logbook then, you went to Bremen, what was that like as a target?
MS: Well, which one?
CB: Bremen.
MS: Bremen, it was quite a heavy firing but not the worst one. Always the one which really frightened everybody was Essen, ‘cause that was the centre of troops –
CB: Yeah, the crocks [?] works.
MS: Yeah, the crocks [?] works.
CB: And what sort of height would you be bombing from in a Wellington?
MS: Usually about seventeen or eighteen thousand feet.
CB: And this is –
MS: So normal bombing was at about eighteen thousand feet, but mine laying was under one thousand feet.
CB: Right. And going to Essen, were you more likely to get damaged by flak or was that a hazard everywhere?
MS: Well, all depends on the target. Some were very heavily defended, like Essen, and all the industrial towns in the Ruhr district. Remember which ones [pause]. Then I did, twenty-nine – at the end I did thirty operational –
CB: Thirty ops.
MS: Which was the – that was the one was supposed to do in one go.
CB: Mhm.
MS: In the Turin [?].
CB: Yes.
MS: When I landed again I had some trouble, engine trouble. Going to Italy to Turin and started from one of the aerodromes at the very, very south of England and when I had to drop my bombs into the sea, came back on eighty-one [?] engines then and when I landed I was surrounded by my friends, say ‘oh, that was your last operational flight, you are posted to Liverpool University.’ And that was my last flight ever.
CB: So what did you do there?
MS: From there, they posted me to Liverpool University and what happens, I think was some arrangement between British and Polish government. Polish authorities were worried because there was no professional training in Poland under general probation. So they were trying to – they opened few schools which were essentially attached to one of the British, like, but I was posted to Polish School of Architecture, Liverpool University. But the same time there were medical schools at Cambridge, actually that was the London, London School of Medicine at London University, evacuated to Cambridge. And then I spent a couple of years of being a student, ‘cause my – they didn’t call me back to the Air Force duties. I was released after I done all my duties, posted to Liverpool School of Architecture where I qualified in 1940, forty, forty-four I think.
CB: Well you went – the end of your tour was 21st of November 1942 according to your logbook when you were flying on that trip out of Tangmere going to Turin –
MS: And then, then –
CB: Then you were posted to Liverpool.
MS: Posted to Liverpool School of Architecture –
CB: Yes. So two years from there.
MS: Spent two years –
CB: Yes.
MS: Then I got my full Polish architecture qualification –
CB: Yep, so that’s the end of forty-four.
MS: That was forty-four. And then, then I married another student from the Polish School of Architecture, and we stayed together after we got our qualifications we moved to London looking for a job [emphasis]. And then changed one job after another [?].
CB: So the war was still running when you qualified –
MS: Yeah.
CB: What did you do because you were still technically in the Air Force?
MS: Well I was, I don’t know whether I was officially, I was released [emphasis] from the Air Force.
CB: Okay.
MS: [Unclear].
CB: And did they give you a particular role?
MS: Sorry?
CB: Did they give you a particular task [emphasis] after you were released from the Air Force, because of course London was badly damaged at the time.
MS: No but – although some, yes but there was not very much work.
CB: Right.
MS: ‘Cause most of the work at the time, especially in London was war damage.
CB: Yes.
MS: There was few offices where they could offer me there – most of it war damaged. Few buildings – married in forty-four.
CB: So who was this lucky lady who you married at the end of 1944?
MS: Alena [?].
CB: Right. And you met her at the university.
MS: At the university, and we qualified around the same time –
CB: She, yep.
MS: Actually she lived in Liverpool at that time because her father, medical doctor and consultant was working for the Shipping Federation.
CB: Oh right.
MS: So she, she lived with her parents.
CB: So what job did you get in London?
MS: [Unclear] sometime I worked for NCC [?].
CB: Mhm.
MS: For housing. Several other jobs, some connected with the Festival of Britain.
CB: Mhm. This is all for London County Council?
MS: For London County Council.
CB: Festival of Britain –
MS: I didn’t stay there very long, up there on the County Council. I found more interesting work in a more private firm.
CB: Mhm.
MS: And then there’s changing form the usual thing – when you wanted to have more interest in work, or firm you’re working for getting more jobs, you look for another firm where there is better pay.
CB: Yes.
MS: And we were just at the end of the war, I think I was generally released from the Polish Forces in forty-three, or forty-four.
CB: Mm.
MS: And that was the end of my war service, and then worked as an architect for a different firm, different firm, and one of them [unclear] new town, which was quite a new thing, and then at the year 2000 I retired completely because I started losing my sight.
CB: Mhm.
MS: And of course, nobody wanted to employ an architect, blind architect [CB laughs] so that’s –
CB: Difficult isn’t it.
MS: The end of my professional work.
CB: Right.
MS: I did some jobs from time to time but – then in 1940 – when I was fifty, seventeen –
CB: That’s only seventeen years ago so you’d been going a pretty long time.
MS: Yes, my wife died three years ago.
CB: Right.
MS: We had three children, and from the end of nineteen –
CB: 2014.
MS: Yes – from January nineteen, what was it, forty.
CB: 2014, yeah.
MS: That’s about all.
CB: Now when you were a student, people used to have secondary roles outside their jobs or their studies. Did you have to do fire watching or –
MS: No.
CB: What sort of jobs did they give you?
MS: Nothing at all, no.
CB: Right.
MS: We were full time students, and that was all.
CB: Was there a Polish military association in Liverpool for Army, Navy and Air Force?
MS: No, no, there was nothing down [?] there, we just members of the Polish School of Architecture.
CB: Right, and –
MS: And then I about the time I finished my studies there I was released from the Polish Armed Forces and the same time from the RAF.
CB: Yes, mm. And in the later years, did you have any links with the Polish Air Force or the RAF associations? Squadron associations or other?
MS: I, yes I was a member of the Polish Air Force association for sometime even in the in the, in the governing council.
CB: Mhm.
MS: And that’s about all.
CB: And now you’re in the Polish Airman’s Association –
MS: In the Polish –
CB: ‘Cause that was the successor of the Air Force Association wasn’t it?
MS: No, I don’t know – Artur will be able to tell you more –
CB: Okay.
AB: There –
MS: Actually there, are you registered anywhere else, association?
AB: We essentially have taken over, but the Air Force Association was turned into a trust –
MS: Okay.
AB: And then the trust was closed down. We’re what remains from that.
CB: Right, okay.
MS: But then you have just friendly relationship.
AB: He automatically becomes a member. All [emphasis] the veterans automatically become members.
CB: Right.
AB: You don’t have to register you on the system.
MS: I, I joined the Polish Perskewsky [?] Institute which was a, the historical [emphasis] association, and when you joined us as members –
AB: Yes, certainly.
MS: When, well –
AB: Ooh –
MS: Polish, when they were one Polish, Polish Architecture Association Awards [?] as well.
AB: Yes, well I, I joined several years ago, yes.
MS: Yes.
AB: About seven, eight years ago.
CB: Right.
MS: So they was a few of them, hidden [?] in the corner of some office.
CB: Yes, always need an office.
MS: That’s about all.
CB: Let’s just stop there for a mo, thank you very much.
[Tape paused and restarted].
CB: Question –
MS: That was the question for us coming from [emphasis] –
CB: Poland.
MS: Poland, directed towards here.
CB: Yes.
MS: Because our all war service, and when you were, the war stopped, we were more or less, not in prison here, but unable to go back to Poland –
CB: Yes.
MS: To Communist Poland.
CB: Right.
MS: For sometimes, in some cases also a bit dangerous. I [unclear] carrying on.
CB: So did some Polish people return to Poland, or was the fact that –
MS: Some went back to Poland but very few.
CB: Yes, because of the Russian takeover?
MS: Because of the Russian takeover, or new system, new government there. And there, I think that there were more Poles from Poland coming here –
CB: Yes.
MS: For work than the other way.
CB: Right. Now when you came to Britain, into Liverpool –
MS: Yes.
CB: You were being, you were then put into training on the Tiger Moth and then the Oxford and then onto the Wellington [clears throat], you were trained by Polish people and British people, where you?
MS: And British. We were doing – I joined – I had one year training in architecturary in Poland before the war.
CB: Oh did you, right.
MS: I started on my second [emphasis] year here –
CB: Yes.
MS: Until I qualified.
CB: Right.
MS: So the – but as I had no experience of civilian British life.
CB: Right.
MS: Expect for the time when we were at the School of Architecture, and then that’s simply getting on.
CB: So we’re, so we’re talking in Acton [emphasis], is that, is this where you started your married life here? Or did you live somewhere else?
MS: I first, no, I first started simply staying in digs –
CB: Yes.
MS: When we were studying in the university there and then my wife then was my wife joined Polish School of Architecture, because Polish School of Architecture was becoming very well known in the architectural world.
CB: Right.
MS: Because we were probably the most modern school, architectural school, where most of the, the university faculties were still in the eighteenth century [MS and CB laugh].
CB: Right, were the instructors, the professors, were they Polish?
MS: Only Georgian architecture and so on.
CB: Yes, but –
MS: But we, we were – the training important, and later here [emphasis] in modern architecture. But we had for the first and second year here, we had to join all the lectures for full time students of the, of the first year and second year of the London, er Liverpool University.
CB: Right. And the instructors, were they, the teachers, were they Polish or were they British or what were they?
MS: Well we had, we had to attend all the lectures –
CB: Right.
MS: Or the second, and first and second year, but we had also our Polish lectures, so our main and most important lectures were Polish, and on the much higher level, than for our English friends who were working under the –
CB: Right.
MS: English professor.
CB: Mm. Now when you came over, you had, to Britain through Liverpool, you said that you went into English classes. How long did that take and how easy was it to learn English?
MS: I think it wasn’t very easy but it was our first time learning English while waiting for our training [emphasis] in the RAF in 1940.
CB: Yes.
MS: So I think us, we, our camps were mostly near Blackpool –
CB: Yep.
MS: So all, a lot of my friends got the girlfriends [CB laughs] in Blackpool, and also some business say some higher school were ever created from London to Lancashire, so we had good contact, especially with the girls.
CB: Ideal [laughs].
MS: Friend of mine, when we were together in France, he was simply unable to learn any [emphasis] beginning of French, but when we were associated [?] into this country, still in this period of our being near and in Blackpool, he got the girlfriend and learn very good English [CB laughs] in very short time. He only died – then they married and he died about two or three years ago.
CB: Oh.
MS: Completely living English life.
CB: Mm. So after – how did they decide that you knew enough English for you to go onto the training? Did they set you an exam or what did they do?
MS: Do you, do you mean the RAF?
CB: The RAF, yes.
MS: Well, I think we were trained in groups or squadrons, and we had a series of lectures and also examinations. More or less, some run by RAF, some additional Polish one. So when we finished the one training on Tiger Moths, we transferred to the next one –
CB: Mm.
MS: And most of us had some training of flying before the war.
CB: Yes. So then you got onto the OTU and the squadron. As it was a Polish, they was Polish units –
MS: Those were, that was actually completely Polish unit.
CB: Yes, and so –
MS: 301.
CB: Yeah.
MS: But we were under the Number 1 Group, Bomber, Bomber one –
CB: RAF, yeah, Bomber Command, right. And what was it, what were the living conditions like? Did you have Polish food or, how did they feed you?
MS: No we were simply normal – I was already officer so I lived in the officers mess.
CB: Yes.
MS: Was fed the same as our English friends.
CB: Yes.
MS: Our – at that time our link with the British people were mostly during our holidays, because the squadrons were completely Polish.
CB: Yes. And when you were flying –
MS: Oh yes flying – the only thing we had to communicate was the instructions, and then communicate with the ground but that was part, part of our training, to be ready for operational flying.
CB: So your radio communication when you were flying would have been in English –
MS: In English, yes.
CB: But did the crew, did the crew speak to each other in English or in Polish?
MS: No, most cases were in English, but in the squadron, some staff in the communication section spoke Polish –
CB: Right.
MS: And some Polish [unclear]. The thing is [?] my Wellington, we have, probably can see on photographs, was recognised by the letters written on the plane.
CB: Yes.
MS: My squadron was I think RG and then my plane, personal letter was O [emphasis]. The one you reported which was any, any RAF station, not necessarily our [emphasis] station, you know emergency calling wasn’t, it was ‘mayday.’
CB: Mm.
MS: So you could ‘mayday’ calling and then in our case, I don’t remember –
CB: Did you use Oscar or Orange?
MS: Sorry?
CB: Did you – to say O did you say Oscar or did you use Orange?
MS: I think – I [unclear] tell you, Orange [emphasis].
CB: Right.
MS: But sometimes when we were known in our own squadrons and all the people, that was my area [?] I started calling – I don’t remember the first letter, the squadron letter, I think RG or something. And then instead of calling Orange, I started calling it Ola [CB laughs]. It’s the Polish girls’ surname.
CB: Right.
MS: [Unclear] the girls, English girls operating the radio on the ground answer me calling me Ola on my plane. [Unclear] you can run [CB laughs]. And that’s what it’s all told [?].
CB: And there were a lot of people who came from Poland, but the ground crews in the squadron. Were they Polish or were they a mixture –
MS: Mixed.
CB: Or what were they?
MS: Mixed, very mixed. In my squadron the ground crews and mechanics were all Polish.
CB: Mhm.
MS: Evacuated from Poland during the war.
CB: Mm. But the rest of the people on the station would have been British, would they?
MS: Sorry?
CB: The rest of the people on the station would not be Polish?
MS: No not necessarily, but mixed.
CB: Yeah.
MS: They were mixed. Sometimes we had some sections like radio, radio sections and whatever else, parachute section were mostly run by English.
CB: Mm.
MS: So we had to use our limited, limited English, but it was good for our girlfriends [CB and MS laugh]. You had to be good for [unclear] our squadron. But I said, at the time when we beginning our training when we first got near Blackpool, and Blackpool’s holiday place for people in Lancashire, all some [?] ever created from London, so some of our people learn English very quickly and very soon by getting girlfriends in Blackpool.
CB: [Laughing] right.
MS: Other than that, it’s about all.
CB: So you did thirty operations –
MS: Sorry?
CB: You did thirty operations. When you got to the end of the tour, how did you feel?
MS: I felt – I didn’t realise. I knew that soon, quite soon I finished, and then when I landed after the last trip which we didn’t complete because we were called back of the operation, it was second operation in Turin. So I was getting out of the plane, there was a group of my Polish friends, they said ‘oh that was your last operation, you are, you are posted to the university.’ We lost life in the squadron, I did feel that, but on the other hand you felt safer because less young people were lost in the university than serving in the RAF.
CB: So the crew was six, how well did they get on?
MS: Well the crew – somebody experienced first pilot took over my crew, but at that time there’s quite a lot of interchange between different crews because some were wounded or killed.
CB: Mm. How many crew members during your tour were killed in your plane? Or wounded?
MS: In my – none, nobody was seriously wounded or killed din my [emphasis] crew, but when I joined the squadron we had I think fifteen crews. When I, during the time I served in the squadron in, we lost sixteen crews. We were losing old crews, new crews were coming, we’re losing them as well. So the losses were quite high.
CB: So what we’re talking about is a tour before the heavy bombers really started to be important in the RAF wasn’t’ it, you were in the lighter bombers, the medium bombers.
MS: Well when I got to the squadron, the squadron was fully operating as a bombing squadron for perhaps a year.
CB: Mm. What was the most dangerous position in the aircraft to be flying in?
MS: About the same, ‘cause if they’re not shooting [pause] person, person but shooting plane. So simply we were flying, one night we were flying full crew, sometimes this crew didn’t come back for something. It was known, there was some communication, radio communication, either badly damaged or simply – one of my last operations was port mining, dropping sea, sea mines against [?] the U-boats, and that night there was only three, three crews were sent for that operation, mine was one of them. Each group had six members of the crew, so there were altogether eighteen, eighteen crew members, and when we came back after operation when we landed, we learnt that one of our crews was missing but they managed to send a signal that they were badly damaged and ditching in the sea. And then it makes sense [?] the first pilot and the commander of one crew and another one of the three and of the three crews two came back.
CB: Right.
MS: So we pressed our squadron commanding officer to let us go and search the sea, because one of the first could simply send a signal that they are badly damaged and there are ditching in the sea.
CB: Yep.
MS: And they have no dingy, been damaged. I said to the commanding, or the other remaining crew, we pressed our squadron commander to let us go and look for that crew. He said, first he disagreed because he said ‘you will go there and you will be lost.’ After all they allowed our two crews to go and search for the third one which signalled that they were going down to sea, and we didn’t find them but another time I found two members of French crews in the dingy [emphasis] and we were flying over them until they rescue unit came to fish them out.
CB: You just circled the down, the dingy did you?
MS: Sorry?
CB: You flew round in a circle above the dingy?
MS: Yes, well all the time I was warning the gunners over [?] the sea and over [?] the sky.
CB: Mm.
MS: Because that part of the sea was in the reach of the German fighter planes.
CB: So it was a dangerous thing to do?
MS: All of the work we did [?] was dangerous.
CB: Yes.
MS: But out of three crews, two came back and one was missing.
CB: Mm.
MS: After all, they were our near friends and crew.
CB: Yes.
MS: So we didn’t initially like leaving them alone there was a possibility that they were in the dingy or some parts of the plane floating in the sea.
CB: Mm.
MS: And I found two in the dingy and the flying around them for a few hours until they were fished out by the rescue unit, and then it wasn’t our crew.
CB: [Laughs] oh. Was the rescue unit a flying boat or was it a launch?
MS: For the rescue?
CB: Yes.
MS: They used the ordinary plane that came to look for the ones that we found. The plane was had some [?] which was a passenger plane –
CB: Yeah.
MS: And then they, they used the, what they called? The boats that are normally used by the Navy.
CB: Yeah.
MS: [Unclear].
CB: To rescue them? Yes. Changing to a brighter note, when you went on social events, was there – did you go out to local entertainments or was it all on the airfield?
MS: Well it depends where we were at the time, ‘cause when we were, during the training when we were near Blackpool there was a lot of entertainment in [emphasis] Blackpool.
CB: Yep.
MS: But then, then there was one or two Polish theatre groups in the Air Force.
CB: Mhm.
MS: And they visited one camp after the other [sneezes]. So after we came back we ended up out of this room [?]. Three crews, one was missing, and when we finally got permission from our commanding officer to get on looking for it, missing crew, there was a Polish theatre in military [unclear] performing in our, in Hemswell. So from time to time we were visited by professionally run and professionally group theatres.
CB: Mm.
MS: But when we had a day off, used to go to different places in Blackpool, like Liverpool. And I, after one of my crews – nobody was even wounded but very shaken and we needed a rest, and I had visit the central medical Air Force station in London and the doctor there. Well, ‘you need some good holiday now to break from your duty. I suggest I send you for one month to the Polish Air Force resting house in Scotland.’ I protested, ‘I can’t leave [emphasis] my crew entirely [?].’ So finally I got two weeks holiday. It was a place in Scotland. What it was, directly under the Polish Air Force I don’t know, but it was run by two Polish ladies and they went there [?], so there were some places where you could rest. Also you all have some English friends whose home you can stay. Also sometimes Polish family.
CB: Now you were commissioned as soon, almost as soon as you landed here. How did your rank change during the ops? You were a pilot officer then what happened?
MS: Well I was – when I was in the squadrons I was, I got flying officer, the rank of flying officer, and that was all.
CB: And did you have an equivalent Polish rank at the time?
MS: Yes, actually we were completely commanded by RAF, same ranks, same duties.
CB: Right.
MS: And same pay of course.
CB: Right, yeah, okay. What would you say was the most memorable part of your service during the war?
MS: Probably at the squadron.
CB: Right.
MS: Sometimes we had very dense periods of flight, flying a few days apart, but I remember a time when we were flying operations twice during three nights, you know what I mean.
CB: Mm.
MS: We did two nights, one after a night –
CB: Yes.
MS: Then one in bed.
CB: Mm. And then off again.
MS: And then off again.
CB: Now, navigation aims were, aids [emphasis] were pretty rudimentary at that stage. How accurate were you able to be in your bombing raids?
MS: How, how we managed to do – first we have all the information we needed from our briefing before the raid.
CB: Mhm.
MS: When all the – special crew room and we were told there was an operation tonight. They released, released all the crews to be used on the operation, and all were briefed by a first station commander or citizen [?] by our own officer, and given all the information there before flying. I think we were quite – as we were informed about our duties and we would be performing them, equally were as our English friends which most of them we don’t know them because the stations in different squadrons and different stations. Did you get your tea and coffee?
AB: We did thank you.
MS: You did?
AB: Yes, yes thank you.
CB: Okay I’ll stop there.
[Tape paused and restarted].
CB: Couple of other things –
MS: Yes.
CB: Here you are, in a country that has been invaded by the Germans and you are able then to contribute to the war effort against Germany.
MS: Yes.
CB: How did you feel as a crew, and yourself, about what you were doing?
MS: Well we were quite pleased or proud [emphasis] of having some practical fighting –
Other: [Speaks in Polish].
MS: Against our occupier.
CB: Yeah.
Other: [Speaks in Polish].
AB: [Whispers in Polish].
CB: So when you went on the raids how did you feel? On the operations?
MS: Er, normally always feel that something might happen to us but it wasn’t the [unclear].
CB: Right.
MS: ‘Cause sometimes using evasive [?] action like spent about fifteen minutes in the reflector [unclear] over Essen. That was very hot then. And then after we got out of the reflectors and the guns we went ‘phew.’
CB: Mm. A sigh of relief.
MS: Exactly [?].
CB: So when you had dropped the bombs, which way did you turn?
MS: We were simply went one way or the other, mostly in the direction leading us later to our base [emphasis]. But simply even right there that one before even dropping the bombs I was using avoiding [emphasis] action.
CB: Mm. What type of evasive action would you use?
MS: Change, change, changing the course, the direction.
CB: Mhm.
MS: So I, one minute I was staying, flying at one direction and then action, action turn ninety degrees or something
CB: Right.
MS: Just not too big because if you were flying on the same course, we were measured by German radio.
CB: Mm.
MS: So they were not aiming at us at that moment – they were – they expected us to be –
CB: Yeah.
MS: In – it was about twenty seconds for measure our position, loading the guns, aim and then sometimes for the shrapnel to leave the, after, after firing from the gun to reach the position of the aiming hut [?].
CB: Mm.
MS: So my opinion was always not [emphasis] to be there in the point in the sky on which they’re aiming or they’d be aiming at me twenty seconds before.
CB: Mm. Did you vary your height much, or was it just direction?
MS: Well changing direction and height as well.
CB: Right.
MS: Trying to mixture everything.
CB: So you’re in a bomber stream here, rather than formation. To what extent was there danger also from your own aircraft?
MS: Not really, not really because they’re not flying near each other, but from the moment takeoff at the station, each crew was completely independent. So we would recommend [?] the type of the aircraft you can see [emphasis] somewhere over Germany.
CB: What was the night fighter activity like? Was it quite intense or very –
MS: In some fire in sometimes yes. Sometimes find [?] the night fighters more dangerous than the anti-aircraft [?] guns.
CB: But when you got into the flak area, the night fighters would not be working there would they?
MS: Not there, no. When you go into the fire, down fire [?] – their own fighters were trained to avoid to be there.
CB: Right. To what extent did the flak find your height effectively?
MS: A rate [?], a rate [?] to measure. Same as the navigation to a great extent, depending on the radio navigation.
CB: Mm.
MS: We simply during – when there was quite a dense, we were in a dense defence, we were not to be in the point of the sky, which according to an enemy gun measure or calculation when we were flying without any avoiding [?] action, to be there.
CB: Mm. Right, thank you.
[Tape paused and restarted].
CB: Just one final question. The losses in 301 on Wellingtons was exceptionally high.
MS: Very high.
CB: And the squadron was disbanded in the end as a result, so what was the reaction of the crews to the high loss rate?
MS: Taken for granted.
CB: Right.
MS: ‘Cause we had no influence of the losses. I have to show you some photographs.
CB: We’ll have a look, thank you.
[Tape paused and restarted].
MS: His stole [?] my squadron.
CB: American researcher?
MS: Sorry?
CB: Did you say an American researcher?
MS: I said Polish researcher.
CB: Oh it was Polish researcher?
MS: Yes, not America. Where are all of my papers? Are they there?
AB: There are some papers, there’s some books or whatever. I’m not sure, we have all –
CB: Mm.
AB: The time [?] books.
MS: Is, is one book which is simply called “301.”
AB: I’m not sure –
[Tape paused and restarted].
MS: There’s near Hemswell there was a pub.
CB: Yes.
MS: Large pub. And one day I invited all the members, flying members and ground, and we went to the pub there. And we went – in the pubs you had usually all the rooms you have in the pubs, in the main drinking room –
AB: And so on, yeah.
CB: The main bar.
MS: So I got with all my flying and ground crews there and they refused to serve us because there were non-commissioned airmen in between us.
CB: The NCOs, they wouldn’t serve?
MS: Not the NCOs, ordinary airmen.
CB: Yes just the airmen. What was, just tell me again would you? What was the relationship between you, the aircrew and your ground crew?
MS: Good. Friendly, but not, but not meeting them too often when they were taking over the plane or after landing, they’re taking the plane from us, and of course whatever went wrong whether it was our fault or not –
CB: So they weren’t too pleased if it had holes in it?
MS: Mm, sometimes very –
[Tape beeps].
MS: The pilot’s badge.
CB: Yes.
MS: But then you, you got green –
AB: Wreath underneath –
MS: Under –
AB: He’s [?] holding it so it’s –
MS: After, after you had two operational flying. So there’s –
AB: So there’s, there’s clutching a wreath in its beak.
MS: The same, the same eagle was carrying the green –
CB: So the, the flying badge is an eagle is it?
MS: [Unclear].
AB: It’s an eagle, there’s –
MS: Anybody had a –
CB: Coming into land. I’m recording again.
MS: There’s –
CB: But there was a clear difference between the flying badges of the other crew, how different were they?
MS: Well the, the pilot had a clear [emphasis] badge.
CB: Right.
MS: Now, the navigator had a badge with a green things and [speaks in Polish] –
AB: Oh lightning, lightning.
MS: And the lightning.
CB: And the wireless operator?
AB: He had the lightning –
MS: I don’t remember exactly what, what, when [unclear]. But they had either clear badge which was pilot.
CB: Yeah.
MS: But there was a green thing that was after that was for operational flying.
CB: Right.
MS: But the navigator had a badge with the flower [?], flower [?] –
CB: Forks [emphasis], sticking out.
AB: Arrow.
CB: Oh arrows, yes.
AB: Yes, arrows.
CB: And the wireless operator had the lightning.
MS: He had the same, he had two lightning.
CB: And what did the air gunners have?
MS: I think they had, they have one. Anyway, you could recognise faction [?] of the member, but how many writings [?] they had to the badge. And only the pilot had a clear badge.
CB: Right, so you had two flying awards. The highest award for bravery is the Virtuti Militari. How did you wear that as a badge on your uniform?
MS: Here in the –
CB: Underneath the wings or –
MS: In the flap [?].
CB: On the, on the collar, right, okay.
MS: On the collar.
CB: Okay.
MS: And the same with the other, other one. There only difference was a different number of lightnings.
CB: And when you had the RAF wings you said were worn later, where would they be worn?
MS: On the, on the other side.
CB: On the right hand side?
MS: On the right.
CB: Okay, good.
MS: But I’m not quite certain how legally we are wearing them.
CB: [Laughing] right. Okay.
[Tape paused and restarted].
MS: Have to avoid going all the way round the peninsular, had to end [unclear] ‘cause all the fire they had, I don’t know how many guns, machine guns [unclear] and the searchlights [?].
CB: This is on the raid to Saint Nazaire.
MS: [Pause] Saint Nazaire, I don’t think I can see very much.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Mieczysław Stachiewicz,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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