Tag Archives: WWII

From Polish airmen over Malta to Prince William

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.

Tagged , ,

Oddest photo in Polish history?

Another gem turned up in my search through the excellent Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archive). This photo was taken in Krakow in 1941, according to the notes that accompany it. The wartime date and the city are confirmed by the destination plate on the back of the tram: Adolf Hitler Platz was the new name given to the Rynek Głowny by the occupying Germans. That’s all clear enough. What I don’t understand is what the hell is going on here. The more I look at it, the weirder it gets.

Click for a larger version

A number of questions spring to mind:

1. Why is nobody helping these people?

Possibly the guy who has come off his bicycle is dead, but the guy in front of the car isn’t. Why isn’t somebody at least helping him up? At first I though perhaps the accident had just happened when the photo was taken but:

a) there is no driver in the car;

b) a crowd of onlookers has gathered; and

c) a police officer is already on the scene (under the tree with his back to the camera).

2. What happened?

I’m fairly sure that’s the back of the tram, not the front: I see no driving position and there is a hitching coupling visible. If so, the tram must have been heading to the right, out of the frame of the picture. How did that car get there in that orientation? It looks like it’s come directly off the pavement.

3. How likely is it that there was a photographer right there?

Cameras were expensive and rare things in the 1940s, especially in occupied Europe. It’s an amazing coincidence that there should have been a photographer on the scene, with a loaded camera, within a short time of this incident. The photo looks much more like the kind of thing you would see taken today with a phone camera than the kind of thing you might expect from 1940s photography. Could the whole scene be staged? Is it part of a film set?

These questions and many more will undoubtedly be answered by our indefatigable readers. Or not.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Krakow's WWII 70th anniversary ceremony: A spectator's-eye view

I attended the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II yesterday in Krakow. It was an understated but moving event.  Attendance was low and seemed to consist mainly of people who happened to be walking past at the time plus a gang of frenetic photographers. As we know, Poles have something of an aversion to parades and marching bands for entirely understandable reasons. This is a little movie I put together of a spectator’s-eye view of the event and the lead up to it. Apologies for the occasional wobbles, it was all hand-held.

I wanted to capture the reality of the day rather than try to recreate a TV-news style glossy representation. I sought out and left in details such as the ragged heel-clicking discipline, the giant confused orange woman, and the creaking flag pole not because I wanted to make fun of the event but because I felt it made the whole thing more real and human. By the way, there’s a very interesting article about events in Krakow during the first six days of the war by William Brand on the Krakow Post website.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Incident on Łobzowska Street

This is a follow-on from my previous post about Poland’s scars of war.

Every morning I walk down my road, turn the corner at the end and head down Łobzowska Street. As I turn that corner I always glance across to the building on the opposite corner and wonder what happened there. Once, somebody stood on the very corner that I walk past every morning and fired a couple of dozen shots at a window across the road. I wonder why. I wonder who it was. I wonder who he was shooting at, if he found his mark, and if he lived to tell the tale? Once, probably 60 years ago, there was an incident on Łobzowska Street.

This is what the corner looks like:

This is what the building opposite looks like, including a close-up of the target area:

I have little doubt that I will never find out the details of what happened here. I assume it happened during the war. Just another brief violent episode among a hundred million other brief violent episodes. In my favorite version a fat corrupt SS officer is standing in that window, hands clasped behind his back, looking out on his conquests when a brave and foolhardy partisan pumps six rounds into him from across the street. In my least favorite version a drunken soldier wending his way home decides to loose off a few shots at the window of a girl who refused his advances. There are a million variations in between.

I look at other Krakow building in unnecessary detail on Wyspianski Unwinding

Tagged , ,