Born: 14th April 1921
Date of interview: 30th July 2006
I was born in the middle of Poland not far away from Lublin. My, my, town was Kraznystaw and I was born in a village near there. My father was a, well at the moment he wasn't a farmer but then gradually he got himself a farm. We had a big family, seven of us, five girls and two boys. And, well, we were quite happy.
Did you always live in the same area?
No. All over the Poland and then last one he was in eastern Poland, now it's in Ukraine but then it was in Poland. And from over there all the trouble started. Anyhow, when I finished school I just only, I went seven years to school and after that I didn't want to be a farmer; somehow it didn't appeal to me.
Did you help your father on the farm?
Oh yes yes.
What sort of things did you grow on the farm then?
Well, see I was a youngster only fourteen, fifteen so whatever the father asked me to do I used to do. Looked after the horses, do a bit of ploughing in the fields and things like that. But not a lot. But, as I said, didn't appeal for me and my friend, I had a friend, and he brought me in touch with the army band up north of Poland near the German border. He wrote to me once, he said 'Would you like to ... join the army? The band?' because I mean if you ask fourteen or fifteen you couldn't sort of go into the army but as a musician, so that's what I did. I applied for it and I went into the army.
Which battalion was that?
It was thirty third er how do you call it - it was never battalion - it was bigger than battalion - unit - infantry, thirty third infantry.
Had you had any musical background at all?
No I didn't really, no.
Did your brothers and sisters or you parents have it?
No no. See my mum wasn't very keen me going into the army. But, I didn't want to be a farmer. Really I would rather be a painter because I'm painting now different things. But the painting school was far away and we weren't rich, we were pretty poor. Our father couldn't afford it, sending me to the, you know, the school.
Could you tell me a little bit about your mother?
Oh, my mother she was a religious lady.
Countrywoman. Very good with the children but, she - in those days we didn't have a radio or television so the people had a lot of children. No cars, no electricity, nothing like that, those days you know it was very, very primitive. So my mum used to go to church on Sundays and I don't think that she could read, she couldn't read or write because I never ever remember writing to me a letter or reading anything. What I used to do in the winter, mother used to do that, I don't know what, somebody who could read - they used to gather together in somebody's house and somebody read their - mostly the life of some saint or something - that's how it was. But, she was a lovely lady and going back.
See when I was arrested, my mother cried. Arrested by the Soviets, my mother cried and he said to mum 'Don't cry, we not taking away, he only going to show us the way because we are strangers here.' But my mum knew better. And I was arrested and I was away for twenty-two years.
Why were you arrested by the Soviets?
I was, I joined the underground, you know.
This was during the war?
Yes, well, during the war, the war, well Poles were finished. We'd been occupied by Germans and Russians. I was on the town where the Russians were.
So, after twenty two years, Stalin was dead and we decided, well we could have a little bit of money, my wife and I, we decided to go to Poland. I wanted to show her and we go to where my mum used to live and she was w.., she knew we were coming, she was waiting at the station all day. And when we came, my wife said 'Look! That's your mum'. She recognise her from the pictures. So, I ran to my mum and I said 'Mum, I showed them the way.' Even after twenty two years, because we said to me 'No, we not arresting him. He's going to show us the way.'
To where? Where did they want to go? Where did they want you to show them the way? The Russians.
Well, I don't know, that was their sort of excuse.
For arresting you?
Did they arrest other people as well or was it just you?
Yes. There ... Because we all, we had a group, ten of us, see there was organised in ten so it would come out, so you couldn't tell about anybody else only your ten.
OK. Well we can come back to that.
That's fascinating, that's really interesting. Can we, you - you're 15 years old, you want to become a musician in the army.
On the German border?
Yes, Prussian really, it's Prussian.
It's Prussia. Can you sort of tell me what happened from then? With your army career and music etc?
Well, I, eventually you know I was, from the beginning I was homesick, you know, but because it was my own doing - I wanted to go. So I said I'm going to stick it. And I learned, er instrument, trombone; trombone and I was very happy until the war started during 1939. I was just eighteen at that time. War started, of course as you know maybe we never had a chance, we keep retreating, retreating and I was retreating to the eastern Poland because Stalin, he was keeping quiet, he didn't move. We knew there was something happening but - so I said to friend of mine that was other musician 'Listen, I reckon our war is over, we'll try to get to the Romania' because it was still free country, Romania, and from over there you know you had a chance to go to either to France or to England. But half way through on the 17th of September Russians went, you know from their side and they blocked the way to Romania. So I said to my friend 'Well we haven't got no chan.. choice.' Because my father had a farm not far away, I came home.
And after a while of course it started, getting arrested, the intelligentsia, officers and whoever. Eventually I don't know whether you heard there was a massacre, oh, so many Poles, thousands of them. A friend of mine said that 'Well we have to do something'. He said 'Why don't we form the band?' That was it, in Russian occupation, he said that there was the Germans and they went back to Germany and they left instruments. So we took the instruments and I went to the Russian headquarters I said 'We are going to, we would like to form the, form the band.' 'Oh, that's lovely' you know they said its lovely because you know they like a lot of propaganda. And so we get some Poles, some Ukrainians, local fellows who can play or are willing to learn. And we formed a band.
It was just before the first of May, first of May. And 'Oh' they said 'goody goody. Can you play when we are marching?' I said yes, but we didn't have the music. I did find the book, music book, and it was a march over there but that was a march was composed for the 1920 when the Poles defeated the Russians. It was a very patriotic. I said 'Well, there was nothing else.' So when it came the first of May, those Russian soldiers formed and started to march and we started playing the very, very patriotic Polish song. I was playing and I was, I couldn't stop, you know inside I was sort of, I said 'Well that's my first victory over you Russians.' But they, they didn't know.
Did you, did you play at different venues to entertain the Russian troops or German troops at all?
No no we only Russians.
Yes. I never had anything to do with the Germans because I was on the side of the border which did belong to Russians. Well ...
Also I think you were in the Polish Resistance as well?
Yes. Well I was in the Polish Resistance. Yes and now, see so happened our commander, district commander, he was a double agent, he worked for us and he worked for the Russians. See and one day it was, we been sort of arrested hundreds, even the priest because we had a priest he used to give us a, you know, when we joined the resistance. And of course there was the interrogations, interrogations for two months, beating and kicking and goodness know what and eventually we had a -what do you call - trial. Yes. And I got fifteen years hard labour. See because they all the resistance they wanted to know whether I had any arms or something, rifles. And I said 'Well I haven't got one but if need be I'll find one.' So that saved my life because all this from the resistance from my ten, huh, admitted they had a rifle, they been shot. Five, six of them had rifles and you know they had, they shot them. I know that, because after the war when we are released from the prisons, from the camps, none of them came back, because they'd been shot.
Anyhow that commander who was double agent, eventually 1943 or something Polish Resistance did find out that he's a double agent. He had a trial and he was shot. In Poland. So, because never knew, we said 'how did come, how did they find out about us?' See? But then when I read it in a book after the war that he was a double agent, I knew. Anyhow, so I spent two years in a labour camp.
Whereabouts? In Poland?
Ach no, ach no in Russia, in Siberia. It was terrible. I don't know I weigh more than about seven stones at the end, skeleton.
Now one day, you know because the war started between Hitler and between Stalin, and one day when the Germans were advancing they were near Moscow so Stalin decided to let us out, it was an amnesty. See, so one day one of the commandant of our camp, he used to call us the Polish goodness know what, he spoke to us he said 'Citizens of Poland' I couldn't believe my eyes you know he said 'You're going to be free' the Polish government is in London, Sikorsky, General Sikorsky he had a chat with Stalin and they arranged it and they let all the Poles, ex-soldiers, let them out.
So were you let out to join the army to fight against the Germans?
There was a Russian army or a Polish army?
No there was a Polish army. Because we said. And as you see from the beginning we didn't have uniforms but English you know their convoy, north convoy they brought all the uniforms, so we did have a uniform, and Stalin wanted us to fight he said 'Well, why don't you fight over here with us in, against the Jerries?' And we, but we said no, see we didn't trust the Soviets. So eventually we left Russia, I went to the Middle East, see that's our chaps in the Middle East.
Whereabouts in the Middle East did you go first?
Iran and then from there to Iraq, up north we were. From over there we moved to Palestine.
Were you fighting through ... ?
No. No we been still, we been all skeletons, we did have to learn, well get some strength.
Then we got a British armament and with training, and at the end they send us from Egypt to Italy, and we started to fight and we did fighting all the time to the end of the war.
Where did you first see action?
Before Monte Cassino.
Yes. Yes. It was terrible. I mean we had our own band, we had sixty-two men. When the marshal who was our commander, eighth army commander came to see us after the Cassino we didn't have anyone, it was only twelve of us, so our commander he said 'I'm not sending you fighting any more'? That's Cassino, terrible. And I was very lucky I wasn't even wounded at the Cassino, bruised and goodness know what but survived it.
Did you meet any of the other troops at Monte Cassino, the Indian troops and the American troops?
Oh that's all the troops were with us, yes, French, Americans.
See because I, on the desert I didn't have nothing to do I tried to learn English, from the book, but I never sort of heard any Englishman talking, so I don't know I used to say something in English, but did it sound like the English, I don't know, see nobody spoke English.
See. So they used to send me, they said 'You go and interpreter to the French army.' I go over there, they are French Moroccans, ha ha, I knew few words in Arabic you know so but that's all. That was the same when we came to England, later on, see when we came to Liverpool.
After the war
So you went through Italy, helped with the liberation of Italy
Yes. Well, see what it was really, yes. Churchill and Roosevelt they didn't want to upset the Russians so they said 'Right we are not going any further we are not going to Poland or Austria and Poland because there'll be a trouble.' See, so we stayed in Italy all the time and after the war we came to England, 1946.
All right, what by ship?
Yes, by boat to Liverpool, all our army. And from Liverpool they again, my commander said 'Well, you speak English, you supervise to unload our boat.' We had instrument there, armies and all that.' I said 'Right' So after that when we supervised and we put everything out, my commander said 'Right you finished. now you go from Liverpool, you go to Wallingford', gave us the tickets, train tickets, because I had twelve men with me. Liverpool, Wallingford, where the hell is Wallingford? I didn't know anything. 'Oh, yes' they said 'You change at Bletchley, and later on at Didcot and you stop at, well, near Wallingford there's a little station' 'All right'. So Bletchley, Bletchley, when the train started I kept looking, I don't see the Bletchley, I see Bovril, I see Biro I say 'No, it's not Bletchley yet' because my men was asking 'is it Bletchley?' I said 'No'. So we got out at the next station we stop, I looked through the window because during the war, I don't know whether you remember, there were only little names of stations because there was a, you know, Jerries. And I see again Biro and Bovril and Lux. Well, that's a funny country, they got all the same name.
Adverts. Why Wallingford? Why were you sent to Wallingford, was it an army camp?
Yes. There was all, our unit was already there. See so you go to Wallingford.
So you got ...
So I said to myself 'Well there must be something funny,' I've seen the train conductor and he said 'No, no, no, it isn't, the Biro and Bovril isn't the name of the station'. He said 'I'll let you know when it's Bletchley?' So I said to my men, I said 'That fellow, he's going to tell us when we get to Bletchley'. When we got to Bletchley, we unloaded and eventually we got near the Wallingford, a little station, forgot that little name, funny. We waited and waited, mind you from there it was only about six miles to Reading, to Bletchley, to Wallingford. And there was only about two trains a week, a day. We waited and waited and waited and there was only one fellow at the station because it was a tiny little station. They said, my men said, 'Go and ask that chap, when is the train coming to Wallingford' so I go and in my broken English I said 'Could you tell me what time the train comes to Reading, to Wallingford?' And he must have been the local one, he spoke Berkshire accent, a burr, you know so fast I couldn't understand a blinking one little word of what he was saying. I said 'Pardon' so he said again. I could see he was getting sort of bitter. I said 'Are you talking to me in English?' and he blew his top. 'I'm talking English, what about it, I'm talking English, why can't you understand what I'm saying?' I still couldn't understand anything. My chums said 'What did he say?' I said 'Don't ask me I don't know'.
After the war, after years, I met a girl from the station, I told her this story, she said 'Do you know, that chappie, he was local one, he died a few months ago, he was ninety-four.' I said 'If I knew I would like to meet him again'.
So you were demobbed at Wallingford?
No, I wasn't demobbed, we were there and that was our headquarters.
So you had, your headquarters were.. and you were still playing in the band, yes?
Yes, and then they started demobbing people. But I stayed in Nettlebed, Wallingford.
OK. What was at Nettlebed? Was that camp or..
What, for demob soldiers?
Well. That was a used to be a American airmen, used to live there.
See, so after the Americans left we just went there. Still a soldier, over there. And from over there we start forming a small band, you know because a lot of our chaps went to Poland, or somewhere else, you know the band wasn't the band any more. So we formed, sort of like a small dance band.
What sort of music did you play, mainly American or Polish or ... ?
Well, see, music, it's international, see whatever it was in England we played.
Yes. Whatever it was. And so from that we went with the Polish theatre all over England, Wales and Scotland. So we travelled and because there was Polish camps everywhere, civilians, army camps and all that. Yes, that's me. And eventually I was demobbed in 1946.
After I was demobbed they gave me clothing and I got a job at Huntley Palmers in Reading.
That was your first job in Reading?
So you got the job. What do you do at Huntley & Palmers? Tell me something about Huntley & Palmers
I was just ordinary labourer.
Right. What sort of things did you do?
Biscuits. First of all I was mixing the dough and then in the oven and goodness knows what and that's when I met my wife. See I was on the first floor and hanging on the rafter, just like a Tarzan, and she was just passing by because she used to get the different paper to different offices all around - it's a big place - over 2,000 people used to work ...
And you know I started to talk, I said why it's a nice little girl, I know that, started to talk and talk more and that's what it started, you know. And I knew her and I liked her, she liked me, I was her first man and let's hope the last one. And I'm very, very lucky, I couldn't wish for any better wife.
This went on?
It did. She is so good. I did have a Polish girl, in Russia, you know when we were in Russia. There were, because we had the soldiers and we used to have army families with their children and we had schools, you know they used to go to schools and goodness knows what. And there was a little girl Vanda, I fancied her, you know she was a nice-looking, she was very young, fifteen, no more. And her father was a sergeant and her mother was in Poland because she was taken to Russia on her own as a little girl. And so when we moved from Russia to Persia we stayed at the Caspian Sea - very romantic and I said to Vanda I said 'Listen', first time I never, we never had any sex or anything you know, I just loved her. I said 'Listen' to Vanda 'I love you. I don't know where I'm going to be, what's going to happen, where we're going to fight, but I shall wait for you' and she said 'I'll do the same' because she was with her auntie, civilians. And they stayed in Tehran, and one day I had a letter from her saying 'John, Jonny honey or something, we are moving from Tehran to ... ' because everything was censored so I don't know where she was going but I believe she was going to the East Africa, because there was a lot of Poles over there, in East Africa. You know, our families. And that was the last letter. And I didn't, I waited and waited and waited and still waited for her, you know that little girl. Till I met somebody and he said 'You know, that's the one, that's Vanda'
Have we got a picture of her?
Well that's a Russian she took it in Russia. And she said, we were on the way from Persian Gulf, we were going to Africa, East Africa, Uganda or Kenya, somewhere there and she said she developed dysentery, very bad dysentery and she died on the boat and they buried her at sea. So that was the end of it I never heard any more about it.
Yes, but there again I wouldn't meet Dotty, my wife.
So. I see. Kismet isn't it?
Could you just tell me a bit more about, you know, when you came to Reading, how you, you know how you saw Reading, what it was like, etc, you know, working at Huntley & Palmers?
Well, I still lived in the camp.
All right, so you travelled?
But how much did you earn when you went to Huntley & Palmers?
Five pounds a week.
And what year was that?
That's when you first started work there?
Yes. And that was ordinary. If you were lucky you earned a little bonus but sometimes I didn't earn any bonus, you know the. And I used to have a letter from Poland that said 'Jonny, we haven't got such a medicine, could you send us,' so I did, I'd go short but luckily I was in a band, so at the weekends very often we used to play so there wasn't much, I used to get perhaps two pounds fifty or three pounds for my band, for dance.
Whereabouts in Reading did you play with your bands?
What venues? Can you remember the names of any of the venues, where they were?
Yes. Well, we used to play the Town Hall, that was Police dances mostly. And then different organisations, you know we used to play different bands, different places. And our piano-player, he was an Englishman from Henley and he knew a lot of it, so we used to play Benson airport, you know for the airmen, and Polish dances for all these camps, and everywhere, we used to play there. It was a good band, very good band we used to have.
Was there a favourite piece you played?
Well, not really. We used ... In the Mood, you know American Patrol and all that.
So you settled in Reading and had a family, yes?
What hours did you work at Huntley & Palmers, what were the hours?
Well, we used to work seven days, six days, Saturdays as well.
What time did you start?
We used to work eight o'clock to six I believe. We used to work all day.
That was a picture of your band.
Yes, that's our band ...
Is that you on the trombone?
So how long were you at Huntley & Palmers for?
I must have been there about ten years. See our son was born but it was not enough money for here so I got myself a job at the power station, Earley power station there used to be. Oh it was work, hard work, hot, dirty, but the money was much much better. See I worked there, then I moved to the Caversham, we used to work, cork factory.
On the river?
Yes and after there I loved swimming I was everyday, dinner time used to go swimming.
So was the cork factory, was it like a mill? Because they had ...
Can you describe it to me?
Well, there was a mill where they mixed the rubber and cork everything because cork used to come from, not from Spain, from other countries and then when it was all mixed and pressed we used to bake it, you see you have to bake it. and then when it was done they used to cut it and slice it whatever they wanted for the cars. That was very good but again very hot, see. So I worked there and they got fed up and I went to Theale which was refrigeration, we used to make the fridges and things like that.
Prestcold, that's right. And I worked there till I was retired, till I retired. And I retired at sixty-five and my wife got herself a little job at Marks and Spencers and I was getting fed up being at home not doing anything so she said 'Why don't you apply?' I applied, I was sixty-five then, I applied and they and I got part time job. It was lovely.
So, coming to England and living in Reading, I mean making a life in Reading?
Yes. I mean we did travel to the Cornwall and good knows what, Scotland, but I still I like this place the best. I said to my wife 'If I won any millions on the lottery I wouldn't move from this house because we've got lovely neighbours' and its quiet over here as you can see. What else do I want?
Ok. Well, Jan thank you.
I am very very pleased. I tell you my life. I experienced, seen so many different countries so many here and there, so if I died today I'd die a happy man because all my dream came true. Now really when I had a heart operation you know I was so bad I didn't want to live really but my wife came to hospital 'Don't give up, Jonny don't give up. You always keep saying to the grandchildren that Patyra's never give up' and she was crying. I said to myself 'I'm not ready to give up' and I survived. See, so I don't know how long we going to be together but I love it. See if we belong to the Marks and Spencers retired lot, we go in different places. Now we've got a millennium, Polish millennium it was very very nice. So we are in a choir, we sing, my wife sings in Polish with a Berkshire accent. Ha ha. but she's very good, you know.
Is that the church, Polish church?
Yes, near the hospital, yes.
In Watlington Street.
Lovely. It was ruined when we got it but we got it. I mean that was my wife's church, Church of England and she was christened there and goodness knows what, but one day she said 'Do you know, I want to change to the Catholics.' I've never pressed anybody to change their religion, no matter what you are; they're all the same, really. I said 'Do you really?' We knew the priest very well, so he used to give her lessons. They used to argue and I said to him, I said 'I wonder who is going to convert who Catholics or [inaudible] Church of England?' but she wanted. I said 'I know what you wanted because you want to be the same, once I'm dead, to go the same place.'
Zapraszamy do POLSKI!!!!!
Adam Patyra, 31 August 2009
Hi My Father worked at the Cork Factory in Reading. He came to work there in July 1952. He and my Mum relocated there from the London factory. I was born in the September of that year. My fater worked there until he retired in 1976 in a tide cottage next door to the factory. When he retaired he was able to buy the house. As fare as I can remember he first worked in the gloue department and then in after queite a few years he worked on the lorry delivering. My Mum also worked there in the canteen, so I grown up living next to the Cork Factory.
Sue Breadmore, 21 August 2009
My Grandad worked at the cork factory in Reading. I was trying to find out more about it and when I Googled I found your interview with Jan. It was nice to read the short paragraph about working at the cork factory. My Mum's Mum who I never knew used to work at H&P!! Thank you!
Natalie, 3 May 2008
Yes my 'Uncle Johnny' is still around. That was a really lovely and especially interesting interview. Thankyou.
Adam Burton, 7 October 2007
My Uncle Johnnie and Auntie Dotty both still live in Reading.
Sue Mackay, 3 October 2007
I also worked at earley power station and knew Jan. is he still around?
Philip M Carlini, 17 July 2007