P-2725 Borowczyk Jan Stanis�aw 11.05.1919 por. /
F/O Pilot 315DM 1975 Ottawa Ontario Kanada
Soldier survived chilling encounters in battle to free Poland during WWII
Immigrating to Canada in 1952, Pole was bitter that the Allies abandoned his
country to the Soviets
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 15, 2009
OTTAWA -- Fighting the Germans on both the land and in the air during the
Second World War, Jan Forester experienced hair-raising adventures straight
out of a Boy's Own Annual as he battled to liberate his beloved Poland from
occupation by Nazi Germany.
Surviving the chaos of the war's first month, Mr. Forester went on the run
to escape imprisonment and possible execution by the Soviet Union. Moving
through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia in early 1940, he joined
Polish forces in Syria and trained as an artilleryman.
After fighting with the British 8th Army in North Africa, where he was
decorated with the first of two Crosses of Valour, Mr. Forester was en route
to Britain aboard the troopship Empress of Canada when it was sunk by an
Italian submarine on March 13, 1943.
Surviving a 24-metre jump from the deck to the Atlantic Ocean, Mr. Forester
then fought off two Italian prisoners who tried to use him as a human life
"I knew I had to fight for my life, but I realize I did not have enough
strength to get rid of the attackers who fought to preserve their lives at
my expense. With that sinking feeling of impending defeat, I turned again to
my God asking Him for a helping hand because I did my best yet could not
save myself," Mr. Forester wrote in his 1990 autobiography, In Search of
Mr. Forester, a devout Catholic, was rescued two days later. Once in
Britain, he earned his pilots' wings and flew P-51 Mustang fighters on
operations for the last six months of the war.
Despite his heroic efforts over six bloody years, Mr. Forester, a fierce
patriot, ultimately lost that country when the Allies sold out Poland to the
Soviet Union at the end of the war.
Angry and bitter after all he had sacrificed, he decided to stay in Britain
and study engineering instead of returning to Poland. He immigrated to
Canada in 1952.
Six years later, he changed his surname from Borowczyk to Forester - it had
been his code name with the Polish resistance - to commemorate his new
identity in his new country. The prewar life he had enjoyed with his two
sisters and parents was gone forever. Now, he had a new life to build.
Still, like the thousands of Poles who had dispersed all over the world
rather than live under the iron yoke of communism, he never forgot his
country, said Mr. Forester's wife, Regina. "He was very bitter and it was
very difficult [for him]. He never talked about it."
Jan Forester grew up in Nowy Sacz, then a city of about 35,000 in southern
Poland. His father, Szczesny, a lawyer and judge, came from an
upper-middle-class family and his mother, Janina, was from the Polish
aristocracy. Mr. Forester, a straight A student who skated, skied and swam,
graduated first in his high-school class in 1937.
Aware that his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and study law,
Mr. Forester elected to complete his compulsory military service before
After spending a year training with the artillery, he entered the faculty of
law at the Jagiellon University of Krakow in September, 1938. A year later,
Mr. Forester and Poland were at war.
An intellectual who had a gift for languages - he spoke English, French,
German, Italian, Latin and classical Greek besides his native Polish - Mr.
Forester survived a heart-stopping encounter with the dreaded Soviet NKVD
five weeks after Poland surrendered.
Eager to rejoin his family, he needed to cross from the Soviet-controlled
zone of Poland to the German zone. On Nov. 5, 1939, he was in Przemysl when
he saw that crossing the San River would get him to the German zone.
"Being very naive in those days, I sometimes used very unconventional
approaches: Not knowing Russian nature and since I had no identification
papers, I decided to stop at one of their military posts to ask how I could
obtain a pass for crossing the river," Mr. Forester wrote.
No one helped him so he went to another post, where an officer interrogated
him. It didn't go well. "The officer [seemed] suspicious that I did not have
any papers, then [said], 'You were an officer, you fought against us.' "
Mr. Forester's interrogator was a member of the infamous NKVD, the Soviet
secret police. A few minutes later, the supplicant simply walked out, but he
was still no closer to crossing the river. Fortunately, the Soviets decided
to commemorate their October revolution by allowing those with a pass to
cross to the German zone.
Now all Mr. Forester had to do was obtain a pass. The precious document was
selling for up to 1,000 zlotys. He had 120.
After praying for deliverance in a church, Mr. Forester met his saviour: a
Jewish boy who offered to sell him a pass. "I asked how much he wanted; he
said 100 zlotys. I stood for a while with mist in my eyes after the boy was
gone: I had just lived through another experience how God responds to an
ardent prayer," he wrote.
Back home, Mr. Forester joined the resistance and helped to guide refugees
through the Carpathian Mountains to Czechoslovakia. On one occasion, he was
almost captured by a German ski patrol, but a sudden snowstorm saved him. He
left to join the Allies on April 12, 1940.
His six-week race to freedom, which included giving the Nazi salute with his
right arm to avoid detection ("I had a bad taste in my mouth for quite a few
hours") followed by outrunning a search party complete with baying dogs,
ended on May 21 when he reached Syria.
Transferred to North Africa, Mr. Forester and his artillery unit shelled
German and Italian forces across the western desert in several battles.
During one dark night, he had to crawl out of a minefield on his hands and
knees under enemy fire.
Commissioned as an officer in October, 1941, Mr. Forester volunteered for
pilot training a year later. In November, 1944, he was posted to the Royal
Air Force's 315 Squadron and flew 24 combat missions.
Mr. Forester joined Canada Post in 1960 as a systems engineer. In 1977, he
moved to the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. He retired
Described as a dignified gentleman of the old school, Mr. Forester was "very
energetic, a perfectionist who expected that from everyone. He was very well
organized. He planned vacations like a military operation," his wife said.
Passionate about astronomy, philosophy and law, Mr. Forester visited his
homeland twice. On his first visit, he was saddened by decades of neglect
under the communists. Things looked better in 1992, he wrote. "Open talk,
smiles and laughter [had] returned among the people who no longer had any
reason to be intimidated by [an] occupying power."
Jan Stanislaw Forester-Borowczyk was born on May 11, 1919, in Nowy Sacz,
Poland. He died on March 22, 2009, in Ottawa of natural causes. He was 89.
He leaves his wife, Regina, his son, John, his daughters, Alexandra, Joanna
and Elizabeth, his sister, Halina, and eight grandchildren.
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