The Polish Airman — Update

A few days ago, someone named Grzegorz left a comment on the posting I have on “my” Polish airman, Alojzy Dreja. He told me that he could provide me with a little more information about Alojzy. This morning, he sent me information which fills out Alojzy’s wartime biography. Much thanks to Grzegorz!

Alojzy Baltazar Dreja was born on 1st of Jan 1918 in Przyszowice (small village in the vicinity of Katowice, south of Poland).

After he had passed his secondary school examinations  in Rybnik he joined The School of Air Cadets (Szkoła Podchorążych Lotnictwa) in Dęblin which he graduated from as Air Observer in 1939.

In the September Campaign of 1939, he flew several sorties in reconnaissance flights as Air Gunner. He managed to get evacuated from Poland and via Romania, and from Beirut he got to France. In Andresieux (France) he was attending The Observers School between April and June 1940.

Then again he had to get evacuated to Britain.

Having completed his training as pilot in 18 Operational Training Unit he was posted to 300 (Polish) Bomber Squadron in September 1941. He managed to take part in 35 operations before completing his first operational tour.

Then, in July 1942, with the rank of Flying Officer he was posted to Bomber & Gunnery School in Pembrey where he had the chance to rest from operational flying. In April 1943, he started to attend Polish War Air Staff College which he graduated form in February 1944. From February to October 1944, he was a staff officer in Polish Air Forces Headquarters in Britain.

In the period between November 1944 and May 1947 he served as the teacher of Bombing Tactics in Polish War Air Staff College.

After his demobilization he finished studies on the London University. He lived in London [Surbiton, Surrey] where he died on 18th of Feb. 1986.

Pathe newsreels

“General Sikorski”

Various shots of General Sikorski inspecting Polish patriots who have joined the army and are now serving in Gibraltar. A few hours later Sikorski was to die. Polish destroyer arriving at British port. Various shots of the flag-draped coffin of General Sikorski being carried from destroyer. Several shots of the coffin laying in state at the Polish Government Headquarters in Kensington Palace Gardens – wreaths are laid.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Battle Colours for Polish Airmen”

Location unknown, somewhere in Britain. The camera pans across the first Polish squadron of the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force) a year after they were formed. Polish Prime Minister General Sikorski and Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal walk past them saluting. M/S as Sikorski greets an injured airman who is on a bed in the parade ground with his colleagues. M/S of Polish crest. Various shots as the Colours are handed over. Women take photographs of the bomber squadron. They march off with it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Fighter Pilots Meet Bomber Crews”

Polish Club, London.Various shots of a reception given for the pilots of the Polish Fighter Squadron and the British and American bomber crews. Words of thanks are exchanged between Flying Officer Todobinski and Colonel Anderson (natural sound).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Bomber Squadron Of Our Allies”

Location of events unknown. M/S of RAF (Royal Air Force) men marching past. Various shots of a Polish bomber crew just prior to boarding their aeroplane. A British officer with map briefs them. GV Bomb train crossing the airfield. Various shots of the Polish crew climbing into their Wellington bomber. Various shots of pilot and gunners inside the plane. Panning shots of two Wellingtons taking off.Panning shots of group of Czech airmen. Narrator explains that many of the men were craftsmen in famous Skoda works. Various shots of bombs being loaded into a Wellington bomber. Various shots of crew climbing into their Wellington. C/U of the forward gun turret. Various shots of Wellingtons taking off.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Polish Christmas Cards

One of the many family keepsakes that I value are two beautiful hand-made Christmas cards.

As some people will remember, during the war, my mother and her family became friends with a young Polish airman who was serving with the Polish air force with the Allies. Alojzy Dreja corresponded with my grandparents until near the end of the war when my grandfather died and my grandmother and mother had to move from the Manse. Presumably, his letters were not forwarded to their new address.

For years, I wondered about him and wondered if he survived the war.

The cards also contained a letter from Alojzy, as well as a Polish Christmas wafer. That latter sadly, though for years was intact, has been crushed. We still have it wrapped in its original paper envelope.

Envelope with Christmas wafer

Alojzy did survive the war, settled in England and married.

I managed to track down his son… Chris Dreja of The Yardbirds who very kindly sent me  a photo of his father, taken on the day he married.

I will be taking the cards and wafer to my friend Krys’ house tonight for her traditional Polish Christmas celebration.

The Polish Airman (belated…) update….

Back in March 3, 2007, I put up a posting about “my Polish airman” and how I had always wondered what happened to him. I THOUGHT I had added the update to the story which came in the form of an email on the morning of March 4, 2007. In fact, I didn’t and I was VERY remiss not to have done so.

In fact, that morning, I received an email from Chris Dreja who some will know as a member of the very famous band, The Yardbirds. I think, at first, he thought I was some long-lost love-child of his father’s by a girl he met during the war. I think he was relieved to find out I wasn’t and interested to know how I, or my mother, anyway, knew his father.

In any event, Chris Dreja informed me that Alojzy Dreja was, indeed, his father. I was over the moon to have received this news as well as a photo of Alojzy and his wife on their wedding day in 1943.

Kindly sent to me by Chris Dreja

Kindly sent to me by Chris Dreja

Alojzy left the Polish Air Royal Force ( as a Major) at the end of the war and had a successful career in aviation. He was well liked and very much loved by his 3 sons. As I mentioned, he died in 1985.

You can see on his chest the medal, the Virtuti Militari, which was one of the medals given to members of the Polish Forces.

Alojzy may well be somewhere in one of the photos, here, during ceremonies. I have looked through many photos but can’t pick him out.

For the background to the story, click HERE.

— from Parke Puterbaugh liner notes to Rhino’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, 1964-1966

— from Parke Puterbaugh liner notes to Rhino’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, 1964-1966

That’s Chris Dreja on the far right… I think you can see a resemblance, in spite of the presence of the dark glasses.

The Polish Airman

For many years, ever since I was little, really, my mother has told me the story of how, during WWII, her family met and became friends with a young Polish airman, serving with the Polish Air Force, under the auspices of the RAF.

In about 1940, my grandfather was recovering from an illness and was sent by his doctor to recuperate at the seaside.

Since many hotels were reserved as billets for servicemen and women and other people whose jobs were deemed “important for the war effort”, one had to get special permission to stay at these hotels. As my grandfather was a clergyman, he was given a permit to stay at a hotel, likely in Blackpool (I have to verify this with Mom). It was at this hotel that my grandfather, grandmother and my mother met Alojzy Dreja, a young Polish airman and his captain whose name is forgotten.

They became friends and exchanged letters for some time after. The captain was killed sometime later, in action.

Eventually, however, they lost touch with Alojzy. They never knew what happened to him.

Since my grandfather died between VE Day and VJ Day, and my mother and grandmother had to leave the Manse, any letters which came may have gone astray. My grandmother died shortly after the war and my mother left Scotland for Canada in 1950.

All that remained were my mother’s story and two New Years cards, and accompanying letter dated Dec. 27, 1940, and a Christmas wafer enclosed in a piece of folded writing paper. All these years later, I still have them all, including the Christmas wafer which is now broken in a hundred pieces.

This week, I was reading an article by Stan Oziewicz in the Globe and Mail about his father receiving a medal from the Polish government for his wartime service with 300 Squadron of the Polish Airforce, in England. Information about the squadron spurred me to look again for Alojzy. I had tried a few years ago but found not a mention of him.

This time, however, I found a few tantalizing details using Google… details like his being awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honour, the name of his squadron other details, and that it appeared that he had written a book on another Polish airman (I think… the book is in Polish). However, I found little else.

I did come across two people with the same last name but nothing more about him.

Just clutching at straws, I even emailed one of the two men with the same last name as him. The other one is Chris Dreja, one of the founding members of The Yardbirds! Hardly likely to be related…. I simply passed him over. However…. his name kept popping up so I had a closer look.

Chris Dreja was born in Surbiton, Surrey in 1945. I was born in 1956. My mother said that Alojzy was “a few years older” than her, possibly 22 or so when they met. Was it possible that Alojzy is Chris’ father? It certainly warranted checking, just on the off-chance.

After tracking down the name of his booking agent, I emailed him with the question of whether he knew or was related to Alojzy.

Today, it occurred to me to do a search of the telephone directories in the UK, including old directories. Unfortunately, you couldn’t simply do a search for the name. You had to put in a town or county. Not having any other starting point, I put in Alojzy Dreja and Surbiton.

Lo, and Behold…. Alojzy Dreja was listed in the early 1950s as living in Surbiton, Surrey! Sadly, in doing a subsequent search using the same database but searching other records, I discovered this:

Name : Alojzy Baltazar Dreja
Birth: 1 Jan 1918
Death: Dec 1985 – Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

I cannot tell you how my heart sank when I read this.

My one hope is that my query gets to Chris Dreja and that he is, as I strongly suspect, Alojzy’s son (or at least a relative).

I have to say that it wasn’t until I began this search just a few days ago that I began to feel as though the 1930s and 1940s is fast falling into history (with a capital “H”). I have lived with my mother’s stories of her wartime service, with my father and step-fathers’ stories. Now it strikes me that they are like sand falling through my fingers…. It makes me very sad.

For the UPDATE, click here

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