The remarkable story has been revealed of a courageous Polish RAF pilot who avoided the advancing Nazi army and murderous German submarines on his journey over thousands of miles to sign up and fight from England.
The Atkinson in Southport has released details and photos of Podporucznik (Pilot Officer) Michal Drzazga, who managed to escape Poland after it was invaded by Germany and Russia in 1939 at the start of World War Two.
The venue, on Lord Street in Southport, is currently hosting its ‘Courage and Devotion’ exhibition, which pays tribute to the brave Polish airmen and aircrews who fought from RAF Woodvale near Southport and other airfields in Britain in the fight against Hitler during the six-year conflict.
Podporucznik (Pilot Officer) Michal Drzazga’s story is one that was replicated by many of his compatriots during this time. The information is taken from his diaries now in the possession of his son, Andrew Donaldson.
The first entry is dated the 1st of September 1939 and records Poland at the outbreak of World War Two. By the 19th of September he was in Romania. He spent a couple of months in Bucharest before continuing to Bulgaria. He eventually boarded a ship on the 17th of December which was bound for Beirut.
After spending a short time in Beirut he joined a French ship called the Explorataur Grandidier which headed to Marseilles. His diary records that on the 6th of May 1940 he was in Paris and had a Polish Army (en France) ID card.
However, on the 10th of May, the Germans invaded the Lowlands. He moved on to Lyon by the 23rd of May, and then to Toulouse and eventually made it to Bayonne by the 24th of June.
He departed Bayonne at 6.15 pm on the 24th of June and arrived in Liverpool on board the Arandora Star at 8 am on the 27th of June 1940.
Michal’s luck was certainly with him during his journey to Liverpool. France became occupied during the trip and the ship that brought him to this country then sailed on, unescorted, and in the early hours of the morning of the 2nd July, she was torpedoed about 75 miles off the coast of Ireland.
Once in the UK, Michal became one of the Polish Airmen fighting alongside members of the RAF. He was based in Blackpool and was billeted soon after arriving in England at 7 Howard Street, North Shore.
In November 1943 he joined the Polish night-fighter squadron 307 where he flew the Mosquito fighter-bomber throughout the rest of the war.
During the war, he was promoted several times and reached the rank of Squadron Leader by 1944.
He was awarded four British medals and two Polish medals – the Polish medals were the Krzyz Walecznych and the Medal Lotniczy – which translate loosely as the Cross of Combattants and the Medal of the Airforce.
The bravery of the Polish RAF crews who served alongside the British in World War Two is currently being highlighted in the Courage And Devotion exhibition at The Atkinson in Southport. The display particularly focuses on all those who served at the RAF Woodvale airfield near Southport.
RAF Woodvale was originally conceived as a fighter base for the protection of Liverpool and the surrounding areas, which had been so heavily bombed during The Blitz in 1940.
It opened in 1941 with 308 Krakowski Squadron. Conditions were harsh in the early days, even for battle-hardened airmen, some of whom described facilities as being worse than Tobruk.
A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution.
By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF.
During World War Two The Atkinson held numerous events to help fund the Polish servicemen including music concerts and exhibitions of work by Polish artists.
Along with the stories of the airmen and objects to help illustrate the story The Atkinson has commissioned an incredible replica scale model of a Spitfire Vb AB273 from paper artist sculpture Suhail Shaikh.
The Courage and Devotion exhibition is at The Atkinson on Lord Street in Southport until 12th March 2022. Admission is free.
Author: Andrew Brown
The article has been firstly published on standupforsouthport.com on August 20th 2021.Poles in UK