Nottingham Post article

Wartime pals in tearful trip back to place where they found love and prayed for heroes’ return
 
In the dark days of the Second World War,
two young women fled Poland
to serve together against the Nazis and build new lives in thewest –
one in Nottingham, the other in America.
More than 60 years later, they have been reunited.
Words: Andy Smart. Pictures Dustin Michailovs
 
 
HARD rain driven by a cold westerly wind
 sweeps across the crumbling Second World War runway.
Through every crack in the concrete, clumps of weeds and grass add to the image of desertion
and neglect.
But through the eyes of two elderly Polish widows, a very different picture emerges.
They can see RAF Faldingworth,in Lincolnshire, as it was in 1944.
They can look into the nervous faces of the Polish airmen of No 300 Squadron as they
climb aboard the huge black Lancaster bombers for another perilous night raid over Germany.
They can hear the thunder of the Merlin engines
 as they lift the 16 behemoths into
 the darkening sky.
 
 
And they can remember the prayers they said for the brave
warriors’ safe return.
Eugenia Kaminska, of Tollerton,
and Jozefa Solecki ofBuffalo, New York,
had last stood on that spot 67 years ago. 
 
Now, thanks to loving family and friends, they were reunited with their memories at the end
of an incredible journey that began in their beloved Polish homeland in the winter of 1940.
Eugenia and Jozefa did not know each other back then but were to follow very similar and traumatic destinies.
Poland was caught between a rock and a hard place: Hitler’s army advancing from the west,
the Soviets from the east,greedily carving up the conquered land between them.
Awoken in the middle of a freezing night by Russian soldiers, the two families, like
thousands of others, were given a few minutes to gather up what belongings and food they
could carry and were driven at gunpoint from their homes.
“My father was still in his pyjamas,” said Eugenia, a sweet and gentle 87-year-old
who, despite nearly a lifetime spent in Nottinghamshire, still
has difficulty with her adopted
language.
“They took us away to station and put us in cattle truck. Three families, not much room.

They took us to Siberia,six weeks on that train.“No heating, little food. A very old couple died ... their bodies were thrown out intothe snow.“I remember father got some soup. It had maggots in it. ‘You must eat’ he said. So we ate.”

While the Russians plundered their land, the Polish families were transported to the frozen depths of Siberia and forced to work on farms and in forests, often in sub-zero temperatures. They suffered for two years,until Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of Russia. Granted amnesty, hundreds and thousands of Poles – soldiers, women, officials, priests and children – began to make their way towards centres where a new Polish army was being gathered.

 Separated from her parents, Eugenia joined a human stream of refugees heading south.

Her incredible odyssey led first to Uzbekistan and on to Iran, Iraq and Palestine. “I told authorities I want to go to Italy...so they sent me to England.”

It was here that 21-year-old Eugenia was given the chance to do her bit in the fight against

Hitler, the man who had destroyed her homeland. She joined the Polish air force and was posted to the technical wing at RAF Faldingworth,home to

No 300 (Polish)“Land of Masovia”Bomber Squadron.
And it was here she met another young recruit named Jozefa.

Jozefa (second right) and Eugenia (right) with wartime colleagues

They were together for a few brief, dramatic years at Faldingworth; years in which both
met and fell in love with Polish airmen. Eugenia married Tadeusz Kaminska, who later
built a career in the Notts textile industry, settling in Tollerton 54 years ago.
Tadeusz, a former NottinghamPolish Club president well-known among the city’s
Polish community, died 11 years ago. The couple raised a daughter, Anya, 44, who now
lives in Yorkshire.

Eugenia Kaminska’s husband,

                  Tadeusz                                                     Jozefa Solecki’s husband,  Zbigniew,

 

Jozefa and husband Zbigniew Solecki emigrated to  America in the late 1940s, raising a family of four children in Buffalo, New York, where Zbigniew died in 1986

The two refugees had met once since the war, briefly, in 1992 at a Polish army reunion,
but Jozefa’s determination to visit Faldingworth and return to Poland once more made an
emotional reunion possible.

With Post photographer Dustin Michailovs, I waited in Eugenia’s homely Tollerton
bungalow for her old friend to arrive. She was nervous, busying
herself preparing plates full of Polish kanapki sandwiches
and honey cake.
Then came the special moment.
Jozefa arrived with three of her four children –
Richard 64, Helena, 61, and Barbara, 55 – and immediately
the tears began to flow.


we meet again: The moment Jozefa (left) and Eugenia met outside
Eugenia's house in Tollerton.

Emotional, excited, the two white-haired exiles embraced, kissed and cried. 

They spoke ina mesmerising fusion of Polish and English as their painful pasts merged with the
present.
“She was very bright,” Eugenia recalled, smiling towards her friend. “We packed
parachutes. I was her boss. She was good friend, always smiling.
“But she never put her hat on properly. I put her on report.” Jozefa, 85, laughed. “I am so
happy, so very happy. I was with her all my young life, in the same squadron. Eugenia took
care of all us girls.”
 
Comrades: Women of 300 Squadron, including, back row,
Jozefa Solecki (fourth right) and Eugenia Kaminska (third right).
 
 
 
They talk about meeting two
handsome Polish airmen. Eugenia’s Tadeusz could not fly
because of injuries he suffered when his ship to England was
torpedoed and he spent five days, covered in oil, in the sea.
Zbigniew, who married Jozefa in 1947, became a radio operator and completed 39 missions.
“Eugenia was the last to marry, because she was too busy looking after the rest of 
us,”
said Jozefa.
 
 
 
 
Airmen of the 300
Squadron Polish Airforce including Jozefa’s husband, Zbigniew Solecki (fourth right).
 
 
 
 
 
 
On her daunting two-week trip from the US, Jozefa, 85, had flown to Poland to see her
91-year-old sister, and the family home which was stolen from them.
 
Happy day: Eugenia and Jozefa with, from left, Jozefa's son Richard, and daughters Helena and Barbara at Eugenia's home in Tollerton.
Now came the final step of her pilgrimage, to travel with Eugenia back in time to
 RAF Faldingworth.
“We are closing the circle,” said her son Richard. “We have grown up with the stories.”
And so they came to that flat, windswept site and paid their
last respects to the heroes from their homeland.
“How many times we stood and prayed
‘come home safe, come home safe’,”
 said Jozefa, as she and Eugenia walked through the rain along the old runway.
“We were always waiting for them to come back,” added Eugenia
.
“But there were always some missing.”
Thanks to Faldingworth enthusiasts
Colin Mitchell-Smith and Kevin Troop,
the legend of 300 Squadron is being kept alive.
A striking memorial which contains parts of several wrecked 300 Squadron aircraft,
has been erected on the site and a stained-glass window in the
village church commemorates the sacrifice of more than 230 Polish airmen.
Tearfully, their’ all-too-brief reunion coming to an end, the
two friends read the inscriptions and remember.
 

At the memorial to the 300 Squadron Polish Airforce at the former
Faldingworth Air Base, Lincolnshire.
 
Squeezing Eugenia’s hand for perhaps the final time,
Jozefa said:
“They were young men, such good guys.”

 

WE WISH TO THANK ANDY SMART FOR CAPTURING THE SPIRIT OF THE DAY IN SUCH MOVING WORDS AND DUSTIN MICHAILOVS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS ALSO THANKS TO NOTTINGHAM POST NEWSPAPER FOR ALLOWING US TO USE THIS ARTICLE
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