In Malta over the Easter weekend I stumbled on one of the thousands of World War II grave sites that are tucked away in every corner of the world. This one, the Kalkara Naval Cemetery, like many, contains the remains of a few Polish servicemen. There are also German, Italian, British, French Japanese(!) and, of course, Maltese graves here, but it was the Polish memorials that caught my eye.
I snapped a photo of one of the graves, adorned with a flower that my wife happened to be carrying, and thought little more about it – just two more Polish airmen among the thousands of fallen. It was only when I got home and looked at the photos that the dates struck me. Both men, A. E. Kleniewski and R. Wysocki, died on the same day – December 17, 1942. This immediately suggested to me that they must have been crew members on the same plane – so probably a bomber or a night fighter.
Kalkara Naval Cemetery, Malta
Anyone with any interest in World War II knows that the battle for Malta was one of the longest and most desperate of the entire conflict, but it was won by late 1942. The siege had been lifted by the middle of October and the Allies had gone on the offensive in the Mediterranean (Rommel was on the run in North Africa, Operation Torch started on November 8th). Airfields on Malta were being used to provide air cover in North Africa, but you would expect aircrews lost on these operations to be buried near their targets, if they were found at all.
I googled A. E. Kleniewski. It turns out he has his own Polish Wikipedia page. A decorated and commended airman, Alfred Edmund Kleniewski (born 1918) escaped to France and then England following the fall of Poland where he joined the 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron (307 Dywizjon Myśliwski Nocny “Lwowskich Puchaczy”). By 1942 he was serving in No. 138 (Special Duties) Squadron – the chaps who flew SOE agents, covert radio sets and other Nazi-bothering paraphernalia across the length and breadth of occupied Europe (including into Poland).
Flight Sergeant Alfred Edmund Kleniewski died when his Halifax (DT542 NF-Q) crashed near Żejtun, Malta, shortly after takeoff on the second leg of a flight from Egypt to the UK. He was wireless operator on the flight. Five other crew members (Krzysztof Dobromirski , Stanisław Pankiewicz , Zbigniew Idzikowski , Roman Wysocki , Oskar Zielinski) and 11 passengers were also killed.
Five of the six Polish aircrew (clockwise from top left): Fl/Sgt. Alfred Edmund Kleniewski, Sgt. Roman Wysocki, F/O. Stanisław Pankiewicz, F/O. Krzysztof Leon Dobromirski, F/O. Zbigniew Augustyn Idzikowski.
One of the passengers was Major (Lord Apsley) Bathurst, whose World War I citation for the Distinguished Service Order reads, in part:
Near Kadem Station he was held up by a body of the enemy, whose strength was double his own. He charged, killing 12 with his sword, the remainder being put to flight.
Lord Apsley was MP for Bristol Central at the time of his death (as well as serving in the Arab Legion). His wife, Violet Bathurst (Lady Apsley) took the seat after his death in a 1943 by-election.
In 2003 Lord and Lady Apsley’s son, Henry Bathurst, 8th Earl Bathurst (then 76) was involved in a brief car chase with Prince William (then 21) that got him on the front page of various newspapers. According to the BBC:
The spat happened when the prince’s VW Golf overtook the earl’s Land Rover on a country dirt track in Lord Bathurst’s 15,000-acre estate in Cirencester, Gloucestershire.
It was on Lord Bathurst’s property and so he hit his horn and gave chase. He wanted to overtake the police car but, instead, it stopped him.
Prince William drove on but the police officer had strong words with Lord Bathurst.
… and so the world goes round.