17/18.08.1944 No. 1586 ESP Liberator VI EW275 GR-R Fl/Lt Zygmunt Pluta
Operation: Special Duties Unit (Supply drops Warsaw uprising)
Date: 17/18th August 1944 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 1586 ESP (1)
Type: Liberator VI
Base: R.A.F. Brindisi, Italy
Location: Gorlice, Southern Poland
Pilot: W/O. Brunon Malejka P-782328 P.A.F. Age 27. Killed
Obs/Commander: Fl/Lt. Zygmunt Pluta P-76658 P.A.F. Age 31. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Tadeusz Jencka P-1708 P.A.F. Age 27. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Józef Dudziak P-703905 P.A.F. Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Jan Florkowski P-782375 P.A.F. Age 24. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Bernard Wichrowski P-794153 P.A.F. Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Jan Zdzislaw Marecki P-781707 P.A.F. Age 24. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Article researched and written by Christopher Bruno Mackey (Son of Brunon Malejka)
“I was born on 27th September 1944 in Wrexham, North Wales to Vera Trevor Roberts and christened Christopher Bruno Roberts. My father Brunon Malejka had died on August 17th 1944 a month before I was born, but more about him later.
Vera could not support me so her only choice was to put me up for adoption, there being no Social Services at that time. The adoption agency contacted George and Barbara Mackey who had miscarried and could have no more children. Vera lived with George and Barbara for about six months, and they adopted me on 12th April 1946. Unbeknown to Vera, George and Barbara wrote and sent photographs to my natural grandmother, as Vera was forbidden any contact by law. I was educated at Bayston Hill C of E Primary School and later at Adams Grammar School, Wem, Shropshire. I did a teaching Diploma at Culham College, Oxfordshire and had jobs as a P.E Teacher in Crewe, Cheshire and Much Wenlock, Shropshire. I married in 1966 and had two children Carolyn and Ian. I remarried in1996.
I became aware of being adopted at the age of 8 and was told that my father was a Polish Airman who had been shot down during the War. No other details were given and although I wondered about him and what he was like and my natural mother, I did not pursue any more details as the law stated that I could not get in touch with my natural parents.
January 17th 2001 changed my life. My next door neighbour called around just before 5pm asking if I would ring a number as soon as possible (I was ex-directory so not listed in the phone book)! So I rang the number and a lady called Lynda Greenbanks asked me a series of questions to verify who I was. She had been contacted on 15th January 2001 by Vera to see if she could find me. As it happened I was living in the same village for the third time that I was brought up in and they found me on the electoral register! The lady told me I could ring Vera if I wanted to. I told her that I would ring Vera in an hour so that I could take this all in. And the rest is history as they say.
So on 19th January 2001, 56 years after I was born, I went to see Vera and met her sister Beatrice. I learned that there were a number of coincidences in our lives. Vera had worked in a Sports Centre, so had I. She had been a special in the Police, so had my son Ian. I had an aunt on my adoptive side called Beatrice!
Left: W/O. Brunon Malejka
I then learnt about who my father was. Brunon Malejka was born on 10th May 1917 to Józefa and Marii (maiden name Krawczyk) Malejka in Śrem near Poznan. He then fled from Poland in 1939 and made his way through Romania and Hungary to Lyon in France. In 1940 he came to England and was based in Kirkham and Blackpool. He went to Operations Training Unit in 1941. He had learnt to fly in Poland in the late 1930’s so he joined Polish Bomber Squadron 305. He survived an earlier incident, when he was shot down in a Wellington Bomber over the North Sea near Cromer, Norfolk, coming back from a bombing mission over Essen on 11/12th August 1942 . (See “HERE”) He was moved about the country and I know he was in Farnborough and near Doncaster, unfortunately I have not been able access his records as yet.. In the early part of 1943(?) he came to Borras near Wrexham and met Vera, and at Christmas time she became pregnant with me. In April 1944 he was in Palestine, training with the Heavy Conversion Unit 1675.
Brunon was transferred to Special Duties Unit in June 1944 and in August 1944 he was in Brindisi, Italy. He was on special operations flying supplies into Warsaw during the August Uprising when he was shot down on August 17th 1944 somewhere near Gorlice (Southern Poland). Vera also told me he was buried in Krakow in the Military Cemetery.
This was all the information she could give me. She then handed me a photo album that belonged to Brunon, containing many photographs of him and other Polish airmen many of whom had black crosses marked on them who had obviously been killed. Unfortunately it is impossible to identify them as no notes were included.”
Christopher Bruno Mackey at Krakow Commonwealth War Graves cemetery
“My wife and I went onto the Commonwealth graves website and located where he was buried and in August 2001 we travelled to Poland and visited his grave on the anniversary of his death and took a video for Vera. A very moving experience for me. This was the first time she had seen his grave as she refuses to fly. We also hired a car to go to Gorlice in the hope of finding some reference to his being shot down but found nothing!
Christmas 2001 Vera and Beatrice met my children and my 4 grandchildren, Barbara my adoptive mother, Sheenagh, my wife, and her mother Bet. A very emotional meeting for everyone.” Back row: Bet, Sheenagh, Ian, Beatrice, Steve and Vera, Front row Barbara, Holly, Lucy, Carolyn, Joshua, Lesley and Sophie
“We went to Krakow twice more, visiting his grave on his anniversary.
On 17th August 2009 Sheenagh went on the internet and “Googled” my father Brunon Malejka’s name and came up with an account of what happened on the night of 17th August 1944. This is the information I got! The power of the internet!
Brunon was one of seven crew of 1586 flight, flying a Liberator to Warsaw full of supplies for the Polish people during the August Uprising. They were attacked by a night fighter and his plane was seriously damaged when one engine caught fire. They radioed back to Brindisi that they were in trouble and asked what they should do next. They were told to drop their supplies for the Partisans. This they did and then 5 of the crew bailed out including Brunon. Alas they were too low and their parachutes could not open in time and died instantly. The pilot and an engineer who was wounded carried on but crash landed and the whole plane burst into flames and they too died. This occurred near a place called Olszynach, near Gladyslow south of Gorlice. The Partisans got the supplies.
The next day, 18th August, the Germans arrived to see what they could salvage and would not let anyone near the site. The local people were told that they could not bury the dead by the Germans and their bodies were left for a week. The plane was on fire for about four days. The Partisans knew the Germans would arrive on August 19th and had set a trap to ambush them and killed 23 including the Pilot who shot them down, in retaliation. The Partisans asked the villagers to bury the Polish aircrew and the villagers marked the grave with one of the propellers from the plane. This information was gained from local eyewitnesses including a boy of 10.
There was another article from someone in Banica about 35 km away from my father’s crash site, which mentioned his crash. So I decided to e-mail Aleksander Gucwa who wrote this article and was promptly invited to the 65th anniversary of this event and the unveiling of a new monument. I flew out on 27th August 2009 and I did not know what to expect but Aleksander Gucwa invited me to stay with him and join in the celebrations. He would send a car for me to be picked up from Krakow Airport and would take me back me back as it was 130k away.”
Postcard celebrating the event and right my invitation
“What a weekend! Not long after I arrived a lady called Frances from Sydney Australia came to the house with Aleksander and Jan Widacki a member of the Polish Parliament who was a professor. Both of them had lost their fathers in the crash that the 65th anniversary which was being organised by Aleksander. Frances like me had only found out about her father in 2001 when just before her mother died she had been told who her real father was. And like me, she had set out to try and find out as much as she could about him.
Friday 28th August. 9.45am I attended mass at a small wooden church to celebrate this event, not far from the monument.”
Left: Monument at Banice, Right: the local Wooden Church
Veterans at memorial and right the Fly past
“At 11am the monument was unveiled in front of over 200 people including Veterans of the Polish Army, Air force and Navy and Partisans. Just before the wreaths were laid a small plane flew over very low and dropped a wreath on the field where the plane had crashed! After the ceremony we went to lunch, where I learnt that you could never have one shot of Vodka you had to have one for the other leg as well! It was here that I met a 23 year old man who from the age of 15 had been researching polish airmen from World War 2. His name was Wojciech and he was very interested in my Fathers Photo Album which I had taken with me and could identify some of the people in the photos. He has promised to find my fathers records and do some research on my father’s family as I do not know if he had brothers or sisters or if he has any living relatives. He wanted a copy of my album in exchange!
At 3pm we were taken to a school where there was a conference being held. The reason for this is that two bodies from this crash site had been wrongly identified as the pilot and engineer from my father’s plane which was a Liberator. A lot of research and digging at the Banica crash site revealed that the plane was in fact a Halifax which was presumed missing in the Adriatic. A lot of evidence was assembled on tables at the rear of the hall. Various people got up and spoke including a man of 81, Jacek Popiel, who turned out to be a Partisan who had found my fathers body and had a photograph of my fathers ID card! What an emotional moment when I was introduced to him later. Aleksander then introduced me to the audience and surprisingly asked me to tell them why I was there. Fortunately Michael who had been interpreting the proceedings for me got up and translated for me.”
Saturday 29th August I was taken by Aleksander with Frances to my father’s monument near the crash site. We were directed to cross the valley to a farm on the hill by an old lady who came to see what we were doing at the monument.”
“When we arrived the family greeted us and an old man who would have been 6 or 8 at the time of the crash came to greet us. A photograph of the crash with his mother and father by the wreckage was produced (see black and white photo). Then the family took me down to a field where the crash site had happened. They explained the angle of the crash and pointed to house a hundred yards away that had been rebuilt because it was originally a timber house which went up in flames at the time of the crash and 3 people had lost their lives.”
Crash site of Liberator VI EW275 GR-R
“We then went back to the monument and the old lady invited us up to her house. We entered a room and she opened a trap door in the floor. Down we went and entered a small passage and came to cellar full of potatoes! She then pointed to the roof of the passage and holding up the ceiling was a piece of the Liberator, my father’s plane! I had not expected any of this. I was then taken back to Krakow and flew home to Liverpool.”
The fuselage used as a cellar
“I also found out Brunon was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour 3 times in all. I think I must have experienced every emotion you could have on this journey so far and I’m sure there is more to come.
I cannot thank Aleksander and his family enough for the way they looked after me, their hospitality was second to none. Sixty five years on and they still care about their heroes who gave their lives for their country. I am proud to be half Polish. All this from one e-mail! Far different from The Media Communications Officer at RAF Northolt, London who I wrote to, requesting a visit to photograph a plaque with my fathers name on a Polish war memorial and they still haven’t had the decency to reply!
On my return I went to see Vera and she did not know half of the information I found out. This has provided some closure for Vera, however it could open up a lot more questions for me as I know nothing about his family or relatives.”
Researched by: Christopher Bruno Mackey (Son of Brunon Malejka)
(1) Eskadrę Specjalnego Przeznaczenia (Special Duties Squadron)
With some great work by Alexsander Gucwa who, with the assistance of the C.W.G.C. finally on October 16th 2013 the crew have been provided a correctly inscribed grave.
Placed in the Military section of the Rakowicki (also known as Rakowice) Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.
Mr. Aleksander Gucwa
has written a book describing the events of the loss and the memorial to this and other crews in a publication written in Polish. Alexander also produced this commemoration video, shown below: