Polish World War II pilot Flight Lieutenant C A ‘Tony’ Rogers, who adopted the English surname of his screen heroes Roy and Ginger, passed away on 15 January at the age of 91 at Hyperion Nursing Home in Fairford, Gloucestershire.
Fellow aircraft enthusiast, 85 year old Gordon Scott-Whale of Fairford, remembers the incredible life story of his best friend and hopes that he will not be forgotten.
Originally wanting to become a doctor in 1930s Poland Tony, whose Polish name was Czeslaw Sienkiewicz, was attracted to a flying career by a friend of his brother who was part of the pre-war programme to strengthen the Polish Air Force.
Recognised for their excellent training, thousands of Polish airmen were welcomed with open arms into Britain to fight with the RAF after the outbreak of war; many played a significant role in the Battle of Britain. However Tony’s own journey to Britain was particularly arduous.
Poland became a target for oppression in 1939 following the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, and Germany’s invasion of Polish soil resulted in Britain and France declaring war.
The Luftwaffe decimated the Polish air fleet and pilots like Tony were handed machine guns and told to fight on the ground – against German forces invading from the west and Russian soldiers from the east. Taking up the story Gordon said: “In Krakow Tony and his comrades hid inside graves at a cemetery. Can you imagine firing at Russian tanks from inside a grave? One of his friends was killed but Tony escaped and managed to make it back to his village.”
He was later arrested by the NKVD secret police and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, deported in a cattle truck which took three days to reach a prison camp in Siberia.
Reflecting on what Tony had told him of his experience Gordon said: “There were women and children in the trucks and whenever a child died en-route they just had to throw their body out into the snow.”
After Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 Stalin allied with Britain and America against the Germans. Prime Minister Winston Churchill requested the release of Polish nationals from Siberia.
Remembering what Tony had told him about escaping from the gulag Gordon said: “They opened the gates of the camp and told them to go. At first they thought it was some trick and that they’d go out and get shot. But off they went in groups of ten, on especially made sledges. In Tony’s group only he and another airman survived, the others just collapsed in the snow. But Tony and his companion trekked 830 miles on foot before they could smuggle themselves onto a train heading south, and they finally make it to India, from where he got passage to Britain.”
Joining the RAF in 1942, with his new anglicised name, Tony met Nan, a WAF driver, who would become his wife and mother of their two children.
He flew Spitfires with 302 Squadron with whom he completed over 50 fighter sweeps. He then transferred to 300 Polish Sqn as a pilot on Wellingtons and Lancasters.
In 1944 Tony piloted Halifax or Stirling bombers with B flight 138 Squadron on Special Operations to make parachute drops of arms, explosive and radio sets to Polish partisans fighting the Nazi’s in Warsaw. The missions were flown at low level and there was heavy loss of crew and aircraft and the flights before they were stopped.
In the early 1950s Tony and his family moved to Singapore, where Tony became the personal pilot to General Sir Gerald Templer, British High Commissioner in Malaya during the Communist insurgency. Sifting through some of Tony’s photographs Gordon said: “Tony would fly light aircraft such as the Auster to spot terrorist activity in the Malayan jungle so that the ground troops could move in and flush them out.”
Gordon commented: “In later life Tony would always be guest of honour at Battle of Britain memorial dinners at RAF Brize Norton, and sit at the top table with the Commanding Officer. He also met the Duke of Kent in 2002 at Fairford Air Tattoo, and last year met the Queen in London at the unveiling of the bomber command memorial.”
Later in life, Tony was immobilised by a stroke and the RAF Benevolent Fund stepped in to provide a mobility scooter. He was so inspired by this that he went on to become a keen supporter of the RAF Benevolent Fund.
In memory of his friend Gordon said: “There are not so many of these chaps left now. Tony was a perfect friend and a wonderful man. I hope his story is not going to be forgotten.”
See a short video of Tony in his RAFbf wheelchair reacquainting himself with a Spitfire and talking about flying Lancasters, as well as his support for the RAF Benevolent Fund at www.rafbf.org/1-2801/sad-loss-of-polish-wwii-pilot.html
Family and friends of Tony gathered to say their farewells at Swindon Crematorium on 1 February 2013.
Copyright Juliet Platt and Swindon Publications Ltd