Secret wartime heroism of a Lancashire farms chief

Thousands of Polish people settled in Lancashire after the Second World War. More than three quarters of a century on their descendants are learning about their ancestors’ heroic efforts to rid Europe of totalitarianism as Anthony Coppin reports

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 4:55 am
Jan Kozicki
Jan Kozicki

Humble hero Jan Kozicki is one of the numerous Polish-born heroes who stayed in the UK.

His war record shows his bravery and gallantry in the Battle of Britain and in Lancaster Bomber raids over Germany. But after settling in Preesall with his English-born wife Joyce, he rarely spoke of his war-time achievements to his children, Janice and Richard.

Janice recalls: “He did not talk about it to me or my brother, only providing a minimum of information on the type of planes he flew.”

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Jan Kozicki is awarded the Polish Cross of Valour. He is pictured shaking hands with a senior Polish officer in 1945

Neither did Jan speak much about his background as a member of an aristocratic Polish family, being known in Britain simply as John or Johnny among friends.

Jan was born 1916 on the family estate near Stronibaby, eastern Poland. His parents were Lladislav and Bronia, Count and Countess Lubicz-Kozicki.

His studies for a master’s degree in agronomy at Lwow (now Lviv) University were overshadowed by the growing Nazi menace in neighbouring Germany.

In 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, prompting Britain’s entry into the war, Jan’s efforts to fight for his country took him through Romania, Yugoslavia and France.

Henryk Drozdz’s air crew. Jan Kozicki stands behind the crouching WAAF, while Henryk is at her left shoulder

Early in the journey he was captured and handed over to the Russian Secret Police, somehow managing to escape and eventually fleeing to France, from where he was evacuated to the UK, arriving in Liverpool in June 1940.

Later that year he was drafted into the Allied Forces, serving as a pilot for 303 Squadron flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. He took part in the Battle of Britain and was awarded his first Polish Cross of Valour. In 1944 as a flight lieutenant he joined 300 (Polish) Squadron (Bomber Command), piloting Lancasters until the end of the war.

From 1945-46 he was with 301 (Polish) Squadron. He then received a commission to join the RAF. His war service brought him many medals, including the Polish Cross of Valour (three times), the Croix de Guerre, the ribbons of the Airforce Cross and the Medal Lotniczy za Wojne.

After leaving the RAF in 1947, Preesall eventually became home to Jan and his wife, who he married in 1945. Returning to civilian life and conscious of the impossibility of a return to his native Poland, now under Russian domination, he joined the UK’s National Agricultural Advisory Service as an advisory officer for the Fylde, working with farmers in the North West and also south-west Scotland.

Memorial to Polish airman at Faldingworth

Daughter Janice recalls: “A few years on he became a technical adviser for Twyford Pedigree Seeds. Together with the late Benjamin Bee, a Fylde vet, he formed a farming consultancy covering the Fylde. His knowledge and advice was highly esteemed amongst the farming community and he came to be acknowledged as a trustworthy friend for many.”

Though the auspices of the Lancashire Post Janice has been put in touch with Gregory Drozdz and made aware of the diary of Mr Drozdz’s father and the online information on Polish servicemen…..

Janice said: “My admiration and respect for my father has no boundary and the more I am learning about his war experiences through research and recently through Mr Drozdz’s diary, fills me with such pride. I feel that it is so important that future generations are aware of the heroism and sacrifices that the Poles made in World War Two.”

After his first night mission from Faldingworth, Lincolnshire, (bombing Karlsruhe, Germany, in early December 1944), Henry Drozdz, accompanied by Jan Kozicki and other airmen in the Lancaster bomber) wrote: “Curiosity is coupled with quite a dose of fear -instinct of self-preservation in the face of death. The flight seems monotonous. Sometimes we pass by another Lancaster, or one passes us by. We are not flying alone but part of a large group so we have to be careful.

Polish airman Jan Kozicki's Second World War logbook

“We are getting near the target. Artillery blasts away, in front of us and below through the clouds. There is a sea of fire—the target. Karlsruhe is burning. We dive down, left, right, steady! and ... “bombs gone”. Bang! bang! Have we been hit? No, it is only the bombs going down. Now it is lighter, duck to the right, duck to the left, God save us! Beneath us the fire is awful. It is light as day.

“We are going quickly away from the target, but the fire glow remains the same, enormous, sinister patch of fire and light through the clouds. Even after an hour’s time, while already over France, the glow of burning Karlsruhe was still visible. Again with God’s help we return safely. No trouble with landing. We return together to crew quarters in a happy mood as if from the altar. After changing we go for debriefing by the intelligence officer. Afterwards tasty egg finishes off the six and a half hour flight.”

A diary kept by a Polish airman during Lancaster bomber raids on Nazi-occupied Europe is helping descendants of Polish families in Britain understand and experience the bravery of their ancestors.

Flight Sergeant Henryk Drozdz of 300 Polish Squadron, was based at Faldingworth airfield, Lincolnshire, in 1944 and 1945.

Settling in Britain after the war he had intended to translate his diaries from the conflict into English, but never got round to it, so after his death in 2008 his family arranged to have it translated.

It is now a valuable resource, available on-line, along with other research tools which are helping the grandchildren of post-war Polish immigrants to the UK learn about their families’ roots.

Henryk’s son, Gregory Drozdz, has researched both the diary, on-line lists of Polish airmen and the National Archives, and made contact with the families of some of the aircrew who were involved in the bombing campaign.

One such family is that of Jan Kozicki story who settled in Lancashire after the war (See adjoining column). Gregory said: “Jan Kozicki and dad would have shared the cockpit of the Lancaster aircraft as they flew over enemy territory.”

The Lancashire Post has recently been able to put Gregory in touch with the daughter of his father’s colleague Jan Kozicki. She is now studying the diary to learn more about her late father’s bravery during the war.

To learn more about the diaries contact Gregory Drozdz on [email protected] or on 07415 518088

List of Polish Second World War airmen here