Then out of the blue, about the end of May 1943 I and the other lads who volunteered to join the Air Force were called to the office, given railway warrants and told to report to the school in Heliopolis. About three weeks after arriving in Heliopolis I received another letter from my family forwarded from the Cadets School in Palestine. My family was in Karachi in India (now Pakistan), but they were not sure how long they would stay there.
At the end of June the school closed for the summer holiday. All the boys (about two hundred of us), teachers and all the other staff went to Alexandria. We stayed on the outskirts of the city, not very far from the sea where we went bathing nearly every day. We also visited a lot of ancient monuments around Alexandria.
This is a true story about the life of one of many thousands of Polish families taken from their homes, from their country and forcibly transported deep into the Siberian forest by the Soviets in February 1940.
CHAPTER 8 – I just kept saying Rajah, Rajah - PALESTINE AND EGYPT
If my memory serves me correctly, it was 8 May 1942 when we arrived at the little settlement of Gedera in Palestine, as it was then known. We stayed in quite a big building, sleeping on a concrete floor. I became ill and ended up in a field hospital in a place called Rehovot several miles away. After three or four days I was back with my unit. Sometime later we were moved to a camp pitched on a sandy slope just across some fields from Gedera. The camp was called Bashid. There was a little Arab settlement not very far away under the same name.
Soon we were divided into classes and started having lessons in Polish, maths, history and geography. To start with we used to sit on the sand in a circle with the teacher in the middle and talked because we did not have any books, pens or pencils; but later the situation improved somewhat.
In between square bashing, lessons and sports time, time was flying past, but I still had no news about the rest of my family. At the beginning of June representatives from the Polish Red Cross visited the camp. After a short talk everybody who wanted to find the whereabouts of their families was asked to complete a form, which most of us did and then they left the camp taking all the forms with them. It must have been the end of June when I found out that my father was at a camp somewhere near Rajah [Ed. note: Rajah is not documented. According to the author’s account it is probably located in the Negev desert east or south east of Gaza. See map - sources do not record a camp in that area].
One Sunday morning I got a pass from the company office and went looking for Rajah. I could not speak any English at that time and I only knew the name of the place. I did not even know if I was going in the right direction. Thumbing a lift I got to Gaza and there I stood by the main road not knowing which way to go when an army car pulled up. The British officer who was driving it said something to me. Seeing an officer I saluted and said "Rajah, Rajah" and he opened the door and beckoned me to get in which I did; and we set off leaving Gaza behind.
We travelled for quite a long time and then he stopped at a road junction. Using sign language he explained that he was going to the right and I had to go straight ahead. Then he pointed to a nearby bus stop and as far as I could make out he was telling me to wait there. I got out of the car, saluted, and then he was gone. Very often I wonder if this kind gentleman is still alive.
After waiting for several minutes an old bus arrived full of Arabs. When I boarded it they were asking me all sorts of questions and I was just saying Rajah, Rajah. After paying the fare the bus pulled away. Soon the proper road ended and we were going through like a semi-desert eventually arriving at a little Arab village where the bus stopped and everybody got off.
I stood in, like a village square, with Arabs all around me asking questions and I just kept saying Rajah, Rajah and I felt completely lost. Then a big car appeared with three or four Arabs already in it, the door was opened and I got in. One of them showed me some money, so I took all the money out of my pocket and he took some for my fare, gave me some change and soon we left the village travelling through sheer desert.
I had the feeling of being completely helpless and the car just kept going deeper into the desert. I do not know how long we drove through the sand, but then we came onto a proper road again for several minutes and then the car stopped. One of the Arabs pointed to the narrow road on the left and said Rajah. I got out and they went straight on. I breathed a sigh of relief now I was on my own.
After walking a few minutes I saw a camp which was hidden by some sand dunes. I was near the end of my search for Rajah. When I got to the camp I asked the first soldier I met if Mr Hajkowski was in the camp. He looked at me in disbelief and then took me to where my father was.
My dad was even more surprised and there were tears when we greeted each other, for we had not seen one another for more than six months. Then we sat down and talked about our family from when we had not received any news at all, and then we were telling one another which countries and places we had been through before coming to Palestine.
It was early evening when I realised that I had to get back to the camp before midnight, but the question was, how was I going to get there? My father eventually took me to his company office and explained the situation. The sergeant who was there looked at my pass and said ”Young man, there is not the slightest chance that you will be going anywhere tonight”, but he said there was a lorry going my way in the morning for some supplies and it would take me back to Gedera. On the back of the pass he wrote: “Through lack of transport this pass is extended by twenty-four hours”. Then he signed and stamped it, gave it back to me and said: “Have a good night’s sleep and do not worry, you will be back with your unit tomorrow”.
It was about mid-morning the following day when we arrived in Gedera. Walking back to the camp I saw my Company Commander walking toward me. I saluted, he stopped, looked at me and said: “Good Lord, where have you been?” I told him what had happened and showed him my pass. He glanced at it and said: “Hurry back to the camp as you have been classed as a missing person, and a search party is being organised to look for you”. I did as I was ordered and the search was called off.
One night soon after my escapade, we had torrential rain and strong winds. Tents pitched on a sandy slope started collapsing and everything was floating. It was a terrible night. At first light we started looking for our belongings and everything was very wet. We were very busy that day. We had to put the tents up again and dry everything out. By the end of the day we were completely shattered.
I think it was the end of July when I received a telegram from the Polish Red Cross informing me that my family was in one of the transit camps in Teheran. They also gave me their address. I was very happy that my family had managed to get out of Russia and hoped that one day we would be together again. I wrote a letter to my mother and from then on we stayed in contact. I also wrote to my father and told him the good news.
Soon after we were moved to another camp near a place called Quastina. There we started having proper lessons and for the first time we started learning English. There also the Polish army cadet school was opened, to which I was assigned.
It was autumn 1942. One day a group of officers from the Polish Air Force arrived at the camp. They were looking for volunteers to join the Air Force. A lot of lads volunteered and I was one of them. After passing a medical examination the first group left for England. Sometime later a second group left for R.A.F. Station Heliopolis near Cairo in Egypt, where a new Polish Air Force boys training school was being opened. I and a few other lads stayed in Quastina in Palestine, and I lost all hope of ever joining the Air Force. While in Palestine we visited a lot of interesting places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, and Nazareth. One day we even went to see the Dead Sea.
My family meanwhile remained in Teheran for several months. Just before Easter 1943, I received a letter from my family. My sister wrote that they would be leaving Teheran in the next few days, and asked me not to write until I got their new address.
The summer holiday was soon over and it was back to Heliopolis. The school was divided into eight classes, and later into three groups. Besides studying general knowledge, we were also learning about aircraft engines, airframes and aircraft instruments. I was learning to be an instrument mechanic. Our days began with reveille at 05:45, then physical training, washing, making beds and breakfast. The first lessons started at seven, a break for lunch was at twelve-thirty, then back again at two-thirty till five. There was a short break before tea, and after tea we were back in the classrooms from seven till nine in the evenings. It was very hard especially as it was very hot. We even had lessons on Saturday mornings.
On Saturday afternoons and Sundays we used to go to Heliopolis to the swimming pool or to Cairo to the cinema, but mostly visiting museums, ancient Churches, Mosques and the place called City of the Dead just to mention a few. Then we had organised trips to the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, and later a little further afield to Memphis where there is a huge statue of Ramses the Second and we also saw the stepped Pyramid at Saqqara. In later years we visited places like Tel-el-Amarna, Karnak and Luxor.
In the Autumn I received another letter from my family. My sister wrote that they were about to leave Karachi, destination unknown. Then a few weeks later another letter arrived. My family was in a camp near a place called Abercorn in, as it was then known, Northern Rhodesia, in Central Southern Africa. They remained there until 1948.
Between studying a little square bashing and sports time was flying by. Sometime in late 1944 my father was transferred from Palestine to Egypt to a camp at Qassasin [Ed. note: Renamed El-Kasasin or Al-Qassassin] between El-Qantara and Ismailia about sixty or seventy miles from Heliopolis. I used to visit him from time to time. Our camp at Heliopolis was next door to the R.A.F. station. The Station Commander at the time was a Group Captain Horsley. He was like a father to us and was known as Papa Horsley. Very often he used to come to the camp early in the morning, usually before reveille. He stayed for a while, watched the lads doing their morning exercises and then slipped quietly away and none of us except the duty officer knew about it.
I remember one day we were assembled outside the school offices and the Staff Sergeant was asking everybody who was their next of kin. A lad standing next to me when asked answered “St Peter”. “Do not joke about it” snapped Staff. “I am not joking” was the reply. “You see Staff, I have nobody, all my family died in Russia and there is no one else”. There were tears in his eyes as he turned his head and looked down. The Staff Sergeant mumbled something and moved on.
One day in the summer of 1945 the sky turned a dusty brown colour and then a sandstorm hit the camp. After it blew over everything was covered in sand (for me it was the third experience of a sand storm).
Life at the camp-school was great. Although we did not have much free time, we enjoyed every minute of it and we grew closer and closer together, like one big family.
I was in Heliopolis for nearly four years. During that time some very distinguished guests visited the school. At the end of May 1943 General Władysław Sikorski, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces in exile, spent a few hours in the camp. He was killed a week later in a plane crash in Gibraltar. By the end of the year, we entertained General Kazimierz Sosnowski; he succeeded General Sikorski as Commander-in-Chief. With him came General Ludomił Rayski who was Commander of the Polish Air Force in the Middle East. He, like Group Captain Horsley, used to come to the camp early in the morning, unannounced, wander through the camp and then leave quietly, back to the headquarters in Cairo. In 1944 General Władysław Anders with a group of high ranking officers visited the school.
One night in late spring 1946 our camp was flooded, the water just came from nowhere. Between our camp and the airfield was about a six-foot high sandbank and the water could not get away. At the lowest point, the water was nearly four foot deep. It did a lot of damage to our belongings and equipment. After several days the water subsided and it was more or less back to normal, but a lot of equipment was damaged beyond repair.
Then came our final exams, the presentation of certificates and the summer holidays.
This time we ended up about twelve miles from Alexandria just outside R.A.F. station Aboukir [Ed. note: now known as Abu Qir]. About halfway through the holiday we received very bad news. Our camp and the school in Heliopolis were being closed down. We were to remain at Aboukir until further orders, and only a small group of boys was sent back to collect and pack the remainder of our belongings and bring them back to us.
At the end of September 1946 an order came for us to be ready to leave the following day. Most of the lads had left Aboukir by the end of the next day, and on 2 October they sailed from Port Said for England.
I and a few other lads stayed behind to look after the camp. We remained there until the beginning of January 1947 when we received an order to travel to Port Said where we boarded a ship, said goodbye to the Land of the Pharaohs and set sail for England. We were at sea for I think eleven days,