Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Polish Airman

For many years, ever since I was little, really, my mother has told me the story of how, during WWII, her family met and became friends with a young Polish airman, serving with the Polish Air Force, under the auspices of the RAF.

In about 1940, my grandfather was recovering from an illness and was sent by his doctor to recuperate at the seaside.

Since many hotels were reserved as billets for servicemen and women and other people whose jobs were deemed "important for the war effort", one had to get special permission to stay at these hotels. As my grandfather was a clergyman, he was given a permit to stay at a hotel, likely in Blackpool (I have to verify this with Mom). It was at this hotel that my grandfather, grandmother and my mother met Alojzy Dreja, a young Polish airman and his captain whose name is forgotten.

They became friends and exchanged letters for some time after. The captain was killed sometime later, in action.

Eventually, however, they lost touch with Alojzy. They never knew what happened to him.

Since my grandfather died between VE Day and VJ Day, and my mother and grandmother had to leave the Manse, any letters which came may have gone astray. My grandmother died shortly after the war and my mother left Scotland for Canada in 1950.

All that remained were my mother's story and two New Years cards, and accompanying letter dated Dec. 27, 1940, and a Christmas wafer enclosed in a piece of folded writing paper. All these years later, I still have them all, including the Christmas wafer which is now broken in a hundred pieces.

This week, I was reading an article by Stan Oziewicz in the Globe and Mail about his father receiving a medal from the Polish government for his wartime service with 300 Squadron of the Polish Airforce, in England. Information about the squadron spurred me to look again for Alojzy. I had tried a few years ago but found not a mention of him.

This time, however, I found a few tantalizing details using Google... details like his being awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland's highest military honour, the name of his squadron other details, and that it appeared that he had written a book on another Polish airman (I think... the book is in Polish). However, I found little else.

I did come across two people with the same last name but nothing more about him.

Just clutching at straws, I even emailed one of the two men with the same last name as him. The other one is Chris Dreja, one of the founding members of The Yardbirds! Hardly likely to be related.... I simply passed him over. However.... his name kept popping up so I had a closer look.

Chris Dreja was born in Surbiton, Surrey in 1945. I was born in 1956. My mother said that Alojzy was "a few years older" than her, possibly 22 or so when they met. Was it possible that Alojzy is Chris' father? It certainly warranted checking, just on the off-chance.

After tracking down the name of his booking agent, I emailed him with the question of whether he knew or was related to Alojzy.

Today, it occurred to me to do a search of the telephone directories in the UK, including old directories. Unfortunately, you couldn't simply do a search for the name. You had to put in a town or county. Not having any other starting point, I put in Alojzy Dreja and Surbiton.

Lo, and Behold.... Alojzy Dreja was listed in the early 1950s as living in Surbiton, Surrey! Sadly, in doing a subsequent search using the same database but searching other records, I discovered this:
Name : Alojzy Baltazar Dreja
Birth: 1 Jan 1918
Death: Dec 1985 - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey
I cannot tell you how my heart sank when I read this.

My one hope is that my query gets to Chris Dreja and that he is, as I strongly suspect, Alojzy's son (or at least a relative).

I have to say that it wasn't until I began this search just a few days ago that I began to feel as though the 1930s and 1940s is fast falling into history (with a capital "H"). I have lived with my mother's stories of her wartime service, with my father and step-fathers' stories. Now it strikes me that they are like sand falling through my fingers.... It makes me very sad.

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