The family of Jan Kuśmirek and the Trilogy ‘Chronicles of Honour’
The Engineer, Stolen Lives and
White and Red
Mine was a political family. Socialist by inclination and practice. No one taught me Socialism, it was a tradition in the family. I am a Conservative and my brand of socialism was always probably Conservative!
My father was a Polish Socialist, my mother a trades unionist. My paternal grandfather (an engineer) was a Socialist, my grandmother (an aristocratic Countess) also a Socialist. My mother was Anglo Irish and her family were Michael Collins followers.
So I was taught tradition and revolutionary spirit which were, in Eastern Europe, bedfellows.
Much of the early life of Tadek Labycz would be found in my experience. In particular the concept of Polishness which flows through Polonia, the diaspora of Polish exile and/ or emigration. This revolutionary culture, one of fighting for freedom, has little in common with Marx and Communism. Social justice and personal freedom is part of the Polish spirit and is not necessarily a Socialist ideal alone. This is borne out by the turmoil of the Polish republic in the interwar years whereby the Army played more than a prominent role. Polish romantic militarism was part of the picture that should not be overlooked.
My life began in England, in Aylesbury, a very different place then to the present modern town. Uniforms were my earliest recollections and stories of going home. My earliest memories are also of stories of my mother being told of factory lavatory walls covered in graffiti ‘Polish shits go home’ etc.
At school I hated my name which set me apart as a foreigner. My father did not want me to learn Polish; he wanted me to become British. He warned me of the dangers and atrocities of the Polish Communist Government. Nevertheless, I was attracted to Poland and the magazines I read apart from the print quality looked fine. I applied to the Polish Consulate when I was eighteen to go to Poland and take up citizenship. Fortunately, he must have buried my application. Later of course I realised the implication of being told I would go to University and then to military special school.
I was raised in an atmosphere of fear. Fear of reprisal by the Communists against my father. I was not registered as a child of my father until my 21st birthday. Up to that point I suppose I could not be argued to be a Polish citizen. This would protect me from any kidnap attempt to be used against my father.
I never questioned until too late what we were frightened of. It was just a normal presence. The family had police protection until the sixties. This meant that if you went to the Police station and asked did they know where we lived you were liable to end up being questioned for a long time! One of my uncles found out about this by experience!
Grown up and at work in the business of high vacuum technology, due I am sure to my name, I worked at contacting quite legitimately scientists and researchers in the Planned Economy Countries a Labour euphemism for Communist dominated countries. I was good at my job and corresponded via translators with a variety of Institutes often inviting them to conferences or to correspond etc. I remember cooperating with a UK company in this work. One day after Greville Wynn was arrested as a spy I heard o the BBC radio that he could not be, as for example the UK Company he worked for did not exist. Well I was in contact with this Company on a regular basis. I left that job soon after. I have always been surprised by my own naivety. Taking a large jump backward – how did my family end up in Odessa? It goes like this. My grandfather under the pseudonym ‘Sowa’ took part in an assassination attempt in Warsaw against a Czarist official in 1905. He was a member of the Polish Socialist Party, their fighting arm organised by Pilsudski. I do not know what happened as the tale varies but I do know that a number of people went to jail. My family then became involved in an attempt to spring some revolutionaries from the jail. The attack failed and much of my family centred around Blonie near Warsaw ended up in exile Niemorów and then in Odessa in the Ukraine where my father was brought up.
After the establishment of the Second Republic my father with his brother, sister and ailing (TB) father and mother returned to Poland through the mess of the Ukraine. He was at thirteen in the uniform of the Polish Legion. He told me stories of those times which will feature in the last book of the trilogy. Attacks on the train by Anarchists. Executions of Communists. The White armies advancing and so on.
At the outbreak of WW2 my father was an engineer at the PZL factory in Warsaw. He escaped the invasion into Romania and some of his experiences are part of my book The Engineer. He joined the Polish Air Force in France and was assigned to bombers whereupon he was shot down. On orders his unit went south and ended up in North Africa. From there he went to Scotland and after more accidents such as taxiing before takeoff and hitting a fuel bowser, he ended up in technical training in Halton, Aylesbury.
His rank was Flight Sergeant as he apparently turned down officer status. This did not coincide with my early experiences which included in my early childhood visits to the ‘London Poles’ where he seemed well known at the Polish Air Force club. Such a low ranker seemed inordinately well known!
It must be remembered that Polish forces remained on a war footing. They almost expected to be called to the colours at any time in a new war or uprising. Doubtless this was not to the liking of the British. These early years were ones of tension between British intelligence and the Polish community. The Communist Polish secret police were very active in Britain.
My father never naturalised as this was seen by the Polish Government in exile as treasonable. The Polish Communists took away Polish nationality from Poles who remained in the West in effect treating them as traitors. So most Poles remained ‘Stateless’.
At his death my father confessed to me that he had worked for the Polish Underground State here in England. His work was to sort out the sheep from the goats in other words looking for Communist infiltrators. He had on his conscience sending back two Poles who on arrival were to be executed by the underground. So my family has been one of intrigue and violence in an uncertain world.
My uncle a writer of crime novels (Kenneth Royce) had been in British Intelligence and his character appears in my book The Engineer. He encouraged me to write fiction. I have always written in some form i.e. advertising copy, extensive articles in the specialist press and two non fiction books. He asked me on my travels to collect for him all manner of trivia from bus tickets to menus. In other words his work was based on possibility and accuracy. This is what he taught me. I hope this attention to detail is reflected in my work.
In 2008 I applied for my Polish citizenship which was granted. I felt I owed this to my father and my ancestors. It was a debt of honour.
June 07, 1946 in Aylesbury, The United Kingdom