FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
the poplar woodlands along the road from Nederwetten to Nuenen (the Broekdijk), close to the intersection with the Evert de Vriesdreef.
For many people in Brabant, it was the Polish who were the real liberators, as well as the British, Canadians and Americans. What was less well-known then, as now, is that many Polish men were also involved in the battle in the air. Just after midnight on 28 August 1942, two of them floated down on parachutes above the darkness of the Brabant countryside, towards an uncertain future.
Kassel was the target
The Vickers Wellington, registration SM-D, from No. 305 (Wielkopolska) Squadron of the Royal Air Force had left England a few hours earlier to bomb factories in Kassel. They missed their target. The twin-engine bomber was hit above the Netherlands, and just after midnight, the crew had to abandon the burning plane not far from Eindhoven. Only gunner Sergeant Frankowski and Flight Lieutenant Kiewnarski, who was the navigator and also the commander, managed to do this. The other three, Flight Sergeant Jan Pytlak, gunner Sergeant Jozef Janik and radio officer Sergeant Feliks Gawlak were all killed when their plane crashed onto houses in the Woenselsestraat in Eindhoven. In the crash and the ensuing fire, five civilians lost their lives and seventeen were injured. Meanwhile Frankowski and Kiewnarski landed several kilometres from each other.
Kiewnarski, known as ‘Tony’, landed next to the road from Nederwetten to Nuenen and was found there by the local police. He was unfortunate to have been wounded in the face and on his left hand and he had broken his ankle. Escape was therefore not an option. The 43 year old Pole was in every sense a veteran. This was his third war, after the First World War and the Polish-Russian War. He had been injured before, but now fate was not as kind to him as it had been the first time round. After being treated by the local doctor he was handed over by the military police to the German authorities. He ended up in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the prisoner of war camp for British and American airmen close to Sagan (now the Polish Zagan) as prisoner 42801. Because of his (relatively old) age he became the leader of the Polish community there.
The Great Escape
It would seem that Kiewnarski’s spirit was not broken, because he was soon involved with various escape attempts. On 24 March 1944 these attempts resulted in the legendary ‘Great Escape’, which was later made into a film, in which 76 men escaped. ‘Tony’ Kiewnarski was in the first group who managed to escape along the long tunnel they had dug themselves, and they reached the station disguised as workmen. The men managed to get aboard various trains. The Polish lieutenant and fellow countryman Kaz Pawluk got as far as Hirschberg (now: Jelenia Gora), where they were immediately detained. Hitler was furious at the escape and demanded revenge. In total no fewer than fifty escaped prisoners were added to a list to be executed by the Gestapo. One of those was Kiewnarski. The executioners captured him on 30 March 1944 and he was shot dead. After the war his ashes were buried in Poznan.
Compared to his commander, Frankowski had more luck. He landed uninjured just outside Woensel and with the help of civilians, he managed to get across the Belgian border and come into contact with a ‘pilot line’. Two months later he was back in England. The story of Kiewnarski and his crew is made even more tragic because ultimately the Polish were the great losers of the Second World War. Unlike the rest of Europe their country was occupied again in 1945 by the Soviet Union. Despite this, the Poles who had served with the Royal Air Force did not harbour any resentment. They remained true to their motto: ‘I fought the good fight, I did my duty, I kept the faith.’
305 Squadron during a parade at the airfield in England.
The two main characters