Thank you, Chairman Andrzej
For your welcome and kind words of introduction, as well as your invitation to once again lead this service. Good morning friends — it is so nice to see you all again. I like to think that I stand here as a representative of my wartime colleagues of 31 and 34 SAAF squadrons and I am sure they would wish us to focus special honour and attention on a number of others who were involved in the Warsaw Uprising.
We pay homage to the men and women, boys and girls of fighting Warsaw and we express our profound thanks to the local Polish community for the honour you bestow on us and your generous devotion in keeping the spirit of Warsaw alive by arranging and sustaining these memorial services for so many years.
Friends, the Warsaw Uprising took place 59 years ago and I marvel at the fact that these memorial services are still so well attended — you must each have your own personal reason for being here. For some it will be duty. Some are here to remember a loved one. Others are maybe just curious with little knowledge of the event.
I am going to briefly share with you FOUR events / happenings of the past 12 months which have kept the Warsaw Uprising very much in my thoughts.
In Nov/Dec came the publication of the book The Men Who Went To Warsaw for which we need to congratulate: author — Lawrence Isemonger who served on 31 Sqd ground staff; publishers — Winston Brent of Freeworld Publishers; Jean Urry — who so ably typed the text from the original manuscript.
The book traces the story of 31 & 34 Sqds from the time of converting to the Liberator B 24 four engine heavy bomber at Lydda, Palestine then moves on to Formation at Kilo 40 in the Egyptian desert and early strikes against shipping & harbours in eastern Mediterranean.
The scene transfers across to Celone / Foggia Italy for the long range attacks deep into Hitlers European fortress heavily defended targets such as Ploesti Oilfields Bucharest and Budapest — on moonlight nights low level laying of mines on the Danube River to impede the flow of oil barges to Germany then on to the horrors of Warsaw and beyond.
This book provides a nostalgic travel guide to The Musky Bazaar and Almaza Camp in Cairo, Sorrento Isle of Capri, Italy.
I particularly appreciated the narrative being from the perspective of Ground Crew and it filled in my lack of knowledge on what happened after we so abruptly left the Sqd. on 13 Aug 1944.
Understandably, this book is about the two South African Squadrons but we hasten to acknowledge the gallant part played in the Warsaw raids by RAF 148 & 178 Sqds, the Polish Special Services Flight 1586 and United States 8th Air Force Group.
I warmly commend this publication to you it is a fairly long read so I give you a tip: if you need a quick summary of the WHY & HOW of the Warsaw Uprising, start at the end Chapter 52 which contains a stinging rebuke and condemnation of the duplicity and political intrigue amongst the Allied leaders.
The Book ends with these words: The Lesson to be learned from the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and its tragic consequences is very clear. It is that big powers always betray small powers. It is a Law of Nature of which South Africa may well take heed.
LEST WE FORGET
The second incident, which jogged my memory, occurred in March when Hollywood included the film The Pianist in its list of Oscar winners. My wife & I saw this gripping 2 hour film and also read the book The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman.
It is a grim account of what happened to a middle-class Polish family and their Community whose only offence was that were born Jewish. This appalling story of mans gross inhumanity to man is tempered for me by the brave compassion of a German officer, CAPT Wilm Hosenfeld who discovers the fugitive pianist living in the ruins of the Warsaw uprising, clothes and feeds him but he himself then perishes in the cold wastes of a Siberian prison camp.
Friends for this alone I am glad I went to Warsaw for the unwitting rescue and encouragement of many unknown pianists and Captains Hosenfeld who must have thought the whole Western world had abandoned them.
LEST WE FORGET
The third event occurred end April when the Press reminded us that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was being celebrated by our Jewish community.
Mr Chairman at the time I had in mind suggesting that a group of us should join them in Remembering that other heroic uprising but am sorry to confess it remained just another good intention. But what it did do was to cause me to re-read this book entitled Those Who Helped given to me by that wonderfully humble man Jerzy Piotr Sliwczynski President of the Polish Society for the Righteous Among The Nations — an organisation dedicated to honouring the Memory of people who, during the Holocaust, risked everything and gave their lives by sheltering or befriending Jews.
Ladies and Gentlemen I need to remind you that throughout occupied Europe such action resulted in imprisonment — in Germany it carried the death penalty. But in Poland any help rendered to a Jew carried the death penalty not only for the would be rescuer but for his / her entire family including aged grandparents and babes in arms.
This book appears to record that up to the year 2001, some 5,500 Poles had been so honoured.
LEST WE FORGET
Do I hear the drone of approaching aircraft?
I hurry to tell you about my fourth and most powerful reminder: through the initiative of Dr Charles Nel of the ALPINE 44 club, I recently received a copy of an SABC tape recording made by 31 Sqd personnel in Foggia on the 23 August 1944. You will recognise from the date that they were in the middle of the Warsaw Crisis — the Squadron had already been decimated. Whilst I appreciate they were censored and restricted in what they could say there was not a hint of the drama being experienced. Speaker after speaker came across with cheerful greetings such as Hullo Mum & Dad. I am fit and well thanks for your letters — keep the beer on the ice, Ill be home for Christmas.
These messages were mostly from our very able Ground Crews and Admin Staff who also played a vital role in the Warsaw Flights. I noted these fine young men came from all over the country small dorps and towns as well as the big cities and I am proud to have served with them.
Then followed greetings from many aircrew friends including the strong voices of the late Keith Haywood and Boyd Varty both of whose families have been long-time supporters of these services and may be here to-day. I was deeply moved to hear the cheerful voices of several aircrew colleagues who had already survived Warsaw, but within a few weeks would perish in the Italian Alps on that dreadful night of 12 Oct. 1944 when we lost 48 wonderful men whilst dropping supplies to Italian Partisans. There was an encouraging word for relatives back home from Padre Jenkins and the tape ends with Col. Dirk Nel giving strong praise and commendation of his men.
LEST WE FORGET
Dear Friends you can imagine that after all these years listening to this tape was a most emotional experience I found myself in an imaginary face to face conversation with my long-lost friends. were they satisfied with the way in which we had managed the interim years? Had their sacrifice been worthwhile? What message, if any, was I hearing from them?
Yes as I sat deep in thought I believe they did approve because despite all our errors and selfishness, there has been worthwhile meaningful economic, social and political change for the better in both South Africa & Poland.
And friends, as a Christian pastor I need to say that I am not into crossing over and other similar programmes of contacting the dead. Just hearing those familiar voices took me back over the years to an animated discussion in the squadron mess and I imagined they were encouraging us to continue the process of reconciliation and forgiving each other on a PERSONAL, a COMMUNITY and an INTERNATIONAL level. Maybe my thoughts are still influenced by that great occasion in 1994 when the German President, addressing a large crowd of over 100,000 people in Krasinski Square Warsaw, asked whether the Polish people could find it in their hearts to forgive Germany for the destruction of their Great City. You may also recall Martin Luther King stating that Forgiveness is not an occasional act it is a permanent attitude.
Mr Chairman you have asked your committee for new ideas of how we could best celebrate next years 60th Anniversary Service and I suggest we do something different if protocol allows it let us make a special wreath in appropriate colours and design, and invite a Senior Air Force representative perhaps Col Dirk Nel together with the Polish and German Ambassadors, to lay the wreath at the foot of this dignified Katyn Monument which silhouettes the Cross the supreme symbol of the Christian faith which stands for Gods own Great Sacrifice Gods Love His forgiveness and healing. As we do so let us remember the words of our Lord Jesus, Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends. — For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
I believe our fallen airmen would approve of such a Symbolic Act.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to stand and remember.
Ladies & Gentlemen Please remain standing and join me in a closing prayer:
Dear God we now pause to Praise and Thank you as our Heavenly Father.
Surrounded by all these signs of Spring and New Life
we worship you as our Creator and say:
Oh Lord our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth
Thank you for this time together for the memories
that have come flooding back.
We are so grateful for Your love and strength.
We commit each other into Your care for the next 12 months.
We pray for Your blessing and protection on the officers,
men and women, of our Air force as they continue to serve the country.
For ourselves we ask that we may truly be peacemakers.
Help us to be a source of peace rather than acrimonious discord.
Keep us from agitating arguments, hostile conflict and contention.
Use us to bring reconciliation between people
who are separated by hurting memories or current conflict.
Please give us and our land Your Peace.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God our Heavenly Father
and the Blessing and fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you all now and always.