From Slave To Pilot
During the war Feliks Chustecki was forced to work as a slave in a Russian
labour camp. When Hitler attacked Russia he became a pilot in the Free
Polish Air Force and arrived in Britain.
For many more stories of wartime suffering please visit
My name is Feliks Chustecki and in my life I have been the following:
Schoolboy. Slave labourer. Refugee. Cadet. Trainee Pilot. Teacher.
I was born in Poland but now I live in Coventry in England. I am on the
panel of Elders because at 14 I was sent with my family to a slave labour
camp in Russia.
In 1939 all the newspapers were full of the possibility of war. In Poland
there were manoevres of the Polish Army as early as May 1939. I can remember
watching a big parade of our Polish Cavalry. The sight of 300 horses made a
big impression on me.
My schooling was interrupted at 14 when the Russians invaded Eastern Poland
at the same time that the Germans invaded Western Poland.
The Russian soldiers came on 10th February 1940. They woke us at 2 am and
told us we have one hour to get some things on the sledges and pull it to
the station. My father was guarded by a soldier while my Mother and I
collected what we could. We knew that we would all be shot if we tried to
run or resist.
Of course now children are supposed to be protected from everything, but at
that time we were just part of the game. There was no-one there to counsel
us. We were pushed into cattle trucks with many other families and then the
trucks were locked. There was no privacy, no food except the little bits we
had brought. We could not get out for anything at all even if people were
sick or died, and there were guards there to shoot us if we tried to escape.
Our journey would last a whole month. Every few days we were given water and
for the first week we only got that, then after the second week we were
given salt fish soup and some bread.
In the labour camp we heard nothing of the outside world, only rumours
brought by strangers and of course they told us only that Poland was
destroyed. We were in that camp for two years.
When Hitler attacked Russia an amnesty was declared and we were allowed to
travel to southern Russia where a Polish army was forming. There were about
500 of us and first we travelled on barges drawn by tugs for hundreds of
miles, then train - we had 1,000 miles to travel. During the journey we had
little or no food - many died - until we arrived in Kazakhstan where Polish
forces were forming. Sick and starving though we were it was a joy to see
Polish soldiers and flags again.
I was to become a Cadet and have the honour of joining that army to fight to
re-create my lost country. Cadet School was based on Military Discipline. We
had visits from representatives of the Polish Air Force and the Army. This
was to recruit us to one or the other. We were all eager to get into action
after all the suffering we had been through and seen. We wanted to
contribute something to the effort. I was recruited to become a Pilot in the
Free Polish Air Force and so I came to Britain.
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