At the beginning of World War 2, 3 Polish navy ships came under the jurisdiction of the British Royal Navy (The Peking Pact). One of these ships was the destroyer ORP Blyskawica. In Jan 1942, a young Polish sailor called Wincenty Pieczonka joined the ship. Here he is, the middle of these 3 sailors.
After the war, Wincenty stayed in the UK, and married Marjorie. They had 3 sons, Robin, John and Maurice (my husband). They anglicised their name and Wincenty became Vincent Pierce, although he was known as Wicek for all his life. Sadly he died 11 years ago, aged 82. He did make return visits to Poland but not until 40 years later. We went with him in 1988, and met many of Maurice’s Polish aunts, uncles and cousins!
In May 1942, ORP Blyskawica was in Cowes on the Isle of Wight for a refit, back at the shipyard, Samuel White, where she was built. During the night of the 4th May, the Luftwaffe launched an attack on the town and the shipyard. The Blyskawica defended the town, laying down smokescreens and firing anti-aircraft guns. Although there was a lot of damage to the town, and 70 people lost their lives, it is evident that it would have been much worse without the brave acts of the sailors on board the Blyskawica.
Yesterday, the town of East Cowes commemorated the 70th anniversary of the air raid. We had a family outing to the Island to join in!
From L-R, Mark (John’s son), John, Janice (Robin’s wife), Maurice and Robin.
We started off at East Cowes cemetary for a wreath laying ceremony. Here are some present day Polish sailors giving their salute.
The local heritage centre had put on a brilliant display in their shop window and in the town hall.
Then we went on a guided ‘air-raid’ walk, around places where the worst damage was inflicted. There were people who had actually lived there during the raid and it was fascinating to hear their stories. One sad story was that one of the bombs – destined for the Blyskawica – hit a communal air raid shelter killing 20 out of 23 people sheltering in it. One lady on the walk was the daughter of one of those 3 survivors! As you can see, the weather wasn’t great! It was bitterly cold and drizzly rain.
After watching some traditional Polish dancing, and studying the original plans of the ship (did you know that the space was planned right down to where they were going to store different types of provisions, one area for mates potatoes, and a separate area for officers potatoes!)
We wandered around and went to West Cowes, where they have named a square after the Captain of the ship – Francki. His daughter was present at this weekend’s commemorations.
The ship now resides in Gydnia in Poland and serves as a floating museum. Wicek did visit the ship during the 1990s on one of his trips to Poland.
I’m linking up with Sian’s Storytelling Sunday