Good morning friends — Dzień dobry
Thank you Chairman Andrzej for your words of welcome, and also for giving me the honour of yet again leading this memorial service. I have been asked to be different on this occasion so I will briefly tell you of some personal highlights from the four visit I have been privileged to make to Poland.
I do this in the hope that my comments will sharpen the focus of your thoughts and prayers when we come to stand in silence, to gratefully remember and to lay wreaths of honour.
My first visit to Poland…
…took place at rather short notice on Sunday night the 13th of August 1944. We were asked to deliver some urgently needed supplies to people we had never heard of in a faraway country, and to make sure we delivered to the correct address, we were required to fly rather low.
The route was long and zigzaged over a sea and six hostile countries — navigation aides were poor even non-existent — the weather was foul — we were heavily ladened with high mountains to cross — but our reliable four-engined Liberator B-24 J G for George — we took it in her stride and as we dropped down to the plains of Southern Poland we had no need for sophisticated navigation as the dull red glow ahead beckoned and warned us that our target was in flames.
At the controls of our aircraft that night was Bob Klette our pilot — a fine gentleman and gallant airman — Bob died in April this year and the family gave me the great honour of leading his memorial service in Somerset West. Now, as a further tribute to him I am going to read this typically modest extract from his account of our distinctly unfriendly reception in Warsaw. Bob writes:
Warsaw was unforgettable sight. Flames illuminated the buildings and streets, whilst searchlights and flak criss-crossed our roof-top run-in to the dropping zone. The noise was deafening as flak thumped against the Liberator and our guns fired back. Number two engine was hit and spluttered to a stop and then number three wasalso hit and stopped. Laying on his stomach in the nose of the aircraft, our navigator talked me into position and after our load of canisters had been dropped, we were down to 500 feet when I turned for home. Soon we were in complete darkness with no sight of an horizon, the artificial horizon and other gyro instruments had been shot away. Suddenly we felt a severe jarring and scraping under the Liberator’s belly. I tensed myself for inevitable death and took a quick look to the left and couldn’t believe my eyes. Our Lib had made a perfect belly-landing on a grass surface with practically no help from me. We had landed, it seemed, on Warsaw airport.
OK — we are now suddenly clipped of our wings and on the ground — an unfamiliar and scary experience for airman and I seem to recall the little boy inside of me wanting to cry — Hey ma — look at what these guys are doing to me! But my mother and squadron base were a long, long distance away.
Soon airfield floodlights and machine guns opened up and we scattered — running and crawling in different directions before being captured. Most unfortunately one of the our courageous gunners, Herbert Brown, was mortally hit in that crossfire.
Later that night we were thrown into a civilian gaol and next day transferred to a country house prison. I discovered Bible in my Battle dress pocket, given to me by parents when I joined Air Force. It had been overlooked in security check on take off.
About a week later we started our journey westwards to Luftwaffe Interrogation Centre in Frankfurt. Whilst passing through the city of Lodz we were put aboard streetcar crowed with civilians, I noticed young girl making her way through the passengers, until she stood in front of me and pressed money and parachute silk into my hand — the first indication that Poles are a generous and courageous people.
Second visit — July/August 1994
My wife and I travelled to Poland via London with members of the Warsaw 44 Club. On board of our aircraft were the ashes of late General Bor-Komorowski — AK Commander during the uprising. His ashes were being brought home in honour for burial with Poland’s military heros. We made many new friends and very much enjoyed the 50th Anniversary Celebrations.
Those of you that were present may recall:
— the intense heat, relieved by boy scouts supplying water;
— the precision marching of the Polish troops Guard of Honour;
— the visit to Michalin Monument built at great personal risk andcost by Bronek Kowalski to mark the spot where Jack van Eyssen’s aircraft had crashed.
On the way south to Krakow our bus stopped at Lysa Gora and those who volunteeredwere invited to make cross-country hike over rough terrain to a learing in the forest where we found a neatly kept grave surrounded by a wrought iron railing and the tombstone bore the names of our own Cpt. Gordon Laurie and crew who had been shot down at the spot.
In the quietness of that place, with only birds happily chirping nearby, I was asked to lead a short time of remembrance and thanksgiving. We noticed that a young lady had joined the party, and learnt that she was a primary school teacher who twice a year brought her class to weed the area and plant new flowers and to hear the story of brave young men who came from a far country to help Poland in her time of need.
Thank you Poland for honouring our fallen comrades with such care and dignity.
Third visit — August 1997
Three survivors — Bob Klette crew and wives present for dedication imposing plaque exit main terminal of Okecie Airport (replica in SAAF Museum Swarkops).
— Thank you Poland for this generous act by Warsaw Veterans Association.
— As I looked into the faces of those brave old men I was reminded that Poland is the nation that never surrendered but rallied to fight at every front in Europe and Africa.
Fourth visit — May/June 2001
Possibly the best, most memorable, and another demonstration of how generous our Polish friends are. Col. Dirk Nel — Commanding Officer of 31 Squadron during Warsaw uprising and I were invited to attend highly successful concert in Atheneum Theatre in Warsaw to rise funds and stimulate interest in need to refurbish Michalin Monument, which has become known as a little bit of South Africa.
Well-known artists gave time free of charge and played to packed audience including many Polish South African citizens and friends.
— Next day we attended reception with local civic authorities at Michalin, and there we were enrolled as Honoury Members of the Robert Hamilton Boy Scout Troop.
— We then flew to Krakow — a must-see-city for any visit toPoland.
— We visited the Military Cemetery in Krakow, where 50 allied airmen lie buried, surrounding lawns/gardens still trim and neat but the tombstones, having been exposed to severe weather and grime from neighbouring factory, have deteriorated and are in need of refurbishing. But there they proudly stand, row upon row, one metre tall, half metre apart, except in case of Cpt. van der Spuy’s crew, which are touching in close formation, as if symbolically saying “shoulder to shoulder together we are going into the holocaust for the rescue of Poland and the glory of the South African Air Force.” In tears, Dirk and I moved up and down the rows, reading the names and epitaphs to our former friends most of whom were in their late teens or early twenties. We noticed they came from all walks of South African life. Some were permanent force airmen, but also: lawyer, farmer, schoolmaster, SA high jump champion, a minister of religion, bank clerk. Most were university students and recent school boys, all had willingly volunteered to risk their lives for freedom, justice, liberty.
Jesus said Greater love has no-one than this — that one lay down his life for his friends.
Friends, let me read some of the messages inscribed on those thumbstones in faraway Poland:
We miss you so much dear son.
Keep me safe o God — in you I take refuge.
Vaarwel my seun — jou plug wel gedoen.
Ons is baie trots op jou.
He asked you for live — and you gave it to him length of days for ever and ever.
Under that for another colleague, merely the words Kom ek wag. And I pondered the theological significance of those three words.
Your duty nobly done. Remembered always your loved ones.
Sy plek is leeg, sy stem is stil ons sal berus, dit was God’s wil.
Before we left Andrzej suggested that I say a prayer. Built with the emotion of the occasion, I am afraid, I was not too eloquent. Sensing the situation our four Polish South African friends took hold of us in a strong arm to arm embrance as if we going down asa front row in a rugby scrum. I do recall saying that the glorious Christian hope is that death is not the end but the entry into a marvelous new life, and I quoted two verses which are cornerstones of our faith:
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it entered into the heart of man or woman, what God has prepared for those who love him.
Then that well-known promise:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only gebotten son that who so ever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
And today we add:
Lord Jesus — Thine be the glory — risen conquering son — endless in the victory — the o’er death has won.
Please allow me to make three more points.
Friends, I have felt very privileged to have 3 of my grandsons standing with me, not only to hold my papers nad give me moral support but they are here to honour the memory of the valiant role played by Polish Scouts and Guides during the uprising. I am pleased to say that our First Union Scout Troop has formed a partnership with their Polish counterparts and are in email contact. Visitors to Warsaw often ask to see the statue of the Little Insurgent, which depicts a young boy wearing a huge military helmet and carrying a gun far bigger than himself.
The invitation to 1994 50th Anniversary Celebrations came whilst my wife and I were visiting our children in Chicago. We went to Polish Embassy to apply for visas. We filled in papers, joined long queue, summonsed to consul’s office — to find great welcome. The consul cancelled all calls and offered us tea, coffee, vodka. He had been a boy scout supporting the AK on the ground whilst we were flying overhead. It is said that outside of Warsaw, the biggest concentration of Poles is to be found in Chicago. That meeting lead onto a most memorable evening spent with the PAF Veterans Association.
We were part of the crowd of over 100000 gathered in Krasinski Square for speeches and wreath laying by visiting Head of State. As the German President was speaking a sudden gasp and ripple of amazement swept over the huge crowd and we asked the Polish lady sitting in front of us what he had said. She replied I can’t believe it, he has just asked the Polish people whether they canfind it in thier heart to forgive Germany for the destruction of 85% of Warsaw.
It was dramatic and without drawing any parallels I merely suggest that is the same initiative, we so badly need today in the many trouble spots throughout the world, confession followed by forgiveness is the starting point that leads to true reconciliation. I recall the words of the late Martin Luther King: Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.
Now please join me in a closing prayer:
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.
Rev. Bryan Jones