Wladyslaw Wojciech Chciuk, my Uncle Wladek, was born on June 6th, 1915. He grew up in Drohobycz. This was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire known as Galicia, until Poland gained independence at the end of World War I. Wladek graduated from Jagiello High School (Gimnazjum imienia Krola Wladyslawa Jagielly) and was also an Eagle Scout and a member of the Gliding Club.
After graduating from high school, he was accepted at the Polish Air Force Academy in Deblin, which he completed in 1939 as a fighter pilot with the rank of Second Lieutenant. (This would correspond to the rank of Pilot Officer or P/O in the RAF.) He regaled me once with a story of how he "buzzed" his picnicking family one afternoon, flying so low over the treetops in his canvas-skinned trainer that he returned to base with several pine cones inside his wings! His first assignment was to the 121st Fighter Squadron (Eskadra Mysliwska) of the Krakow Division, stationed in Balice, with whom he took part in the fighting during September, 1939, when Poland was invaded by the Germans and the Russians. He was flying a Polish fighter called a PZL P7. After that, he and a group of Polish pilots made their way to France (via Rumania, Yugoslavia and Greece) to join the Polish fighter pilots of the Montpellier Division. He flew a French plane called a Morane in the Groupe de Chasse III/1 where he shot down three German planes (read more about this unit).
When France fell to the Germans, Wladek made his way to North Africa, where the RAF were looking for Polish pilots.
He sailed to England and was assigned to RAF Fighter Squadron 308, "City of Krakow." Flying a Spitfire II, he took part in
the Battle of Britain, where he distinguished himself as an exceptionally aggressive and fearless pilot, for which he was
awarded the Virtuti Militari (Poland's equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor) and the Cross of Valour.
To read more about the Polish RAF Squadrons, click here.
Single-handedly taking on a formation of Messerschmidt Bf109s on July 24th, 1941, Wladek shot down their leader in flames, but got tagged by the wingman, caught fire himself and had to bail out, suffering severe burns. He was taken prisoner by the Germans. It is known that the Luftwaffe pilot he had shot down also survived his crash, and the man visited Wladek personally in the Oflag (Officers' POW Camp) VI/B in Warburg. That kind of thing doesn't happen any more in modern warfare, that's for sure! Wladek was subsequently transferred, along with other Polish officers, to Oflag X/C in Luebeck and then to the infamous Stalag Luft III in Zagan (Sagan) in occupied Poland. With the Soviets advancing on the Eastern Front, the retreating Germans made all the captured officers go on a forced march westward all the way across Germany , which lasted until they were liberated by British forces and transported to England. He finished his RAF service with the rank of Flight Lieutenant (F/Lt).
In 1951 Wladyslaw W. Chciuk married Krystyna Pisarska, who was herself a decorated veteran of the war, having run guns to the underground resistance in Warsaw as a teenage girl. The next year, they emigrated to the United States, with their infant daughter, my cousin Zosia. They settled in Milwaukee, where my Aunt Stasia (his older sister) was already living with her husband, Leopold Sklenarz and their two children. Two more daughters (my cousins Malgosia and Basia) were born in Milwaukee. Uncle Wladek worked as a journeyman machinist for Allis-Chalmers and as a locksmith for Rambler. He was actively involved with the Boy Scouts there as well. On trips to the States with my family, we visited them in Milwaukee.
Wladek moved his family out west to San Francisco in 1965, and that's where he lived for the rest of his life. He worked for Link-Belt until his retirement in 1983. I visited the Chciuks in San Francisco lots of times. Aunt Krystyna was the driving force behind the Polish Dance Troupe "Lowiczanie," and all three of my cousins are college graduates with families of their own. Uncle Wladek was always an avid athlete and outdoorsman -- I remember that in 1986, when he was 71 and I was 31, he totally demolished me on the tennis court, and it's not like I wasn't trying! Ten years later he was still playing tennis, and he didn't like losing. What a guy.
Uncle Wladek died in San Francisco on the 7th of October, 2006, aged 91. He was the last of that generation of Chciuks.
updated October 7th, 2010 by Jan Chciuk-Celt
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