University of Oxford
10 files

Separated by War: Reunion in 1973

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 19:46 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My stories are about my father Leon Henke (born 13/8/24). For the record, his father, that is, my grandfather, was Gottfrid Henke and his mother was Matilda Henke.

My mother, BarbaraLillian Henke (nee Whalley) (born 28/1/26), was born to William and Beatrice Whalley and lived her whole life in South Wales. At the time of the war, she was living on a hill in a village called Llantrisant.

Dad left Janowice in Poland the day following the invasion of his country by Germany, told by his father to make his way to England where he had a letter of introduction to a General, who was a friend of his father. He was to take a number (I believe approx. 30) of the young men from his village to fight the war and join the army. They joined the Free Polish army division.

He was only 15 years old and did as his father bid. He never saw any of his family again until 1973.

He refused to attend Sandhurst and joined with his men the Free Polish Army as an infantry man. He fought throughout the war, being demobbed in 1946, when he was given his English/Polish dictionary as he was staying in England.

It is with this background that I have a few tales. My father never spoke of the war to me or my brother and the tales I have are from my mother and she shared little but would say he wanted to put it all behind him as it was his way of coping.

I have no idea how he came to England, but I know he fought in mainland Europe and Italy; he was for a short period a prisoner of war in Italy.

He was for a time a motorbike courier on the front, when or where I have no idea, but I was told this story as I had wanted a motorbike and was told NO. So, he was in constant danger as a courier, but escaped uninjured only to be on a motorbike in London during the blackout, where he hit a curb and was unconscious for 2 or 3 days, so the real danger was in normal life as far as he was concerned so no motorbike for me.

He was badly injured in a field and the Germans were moving among the dead and finishing off the dying, he never knew why he was saved that day.

They played cards a lot and, with the absence of money, they played for weekend passes and pieces of kit including what they had liberated from the enemy.

He was given a Polish/English dictionary and the inscription on the last page is in Polish and translates as 'eat and drink your fill after leaving washes and sleeps'. That’s the best I can get and it makes no sense to me.

He also had an Evangelical songbook and prayer book. The inscription reads 'Your singing a song to the lord In memory of DS Isolt Kapel 1945'

He also had a single sheet showing order of services.

My mother's stories are that she remembers someone taking away the railings for the war effort. This meant that, as they surrounded the village allotments, there was an increase in the amount of grown food disappearing to 4 and 2 legged thieves.

She used to talk about standing in front of the family home, watching the bombs land on Cardiff, Barry and Roose and St Athens airport.

She was engaged to an airman who was killed when his plane was hit. I know so little about
her, when these were her formative growing up years. She left school at 15, two years into the
war and worked in a local haberdashery owned by a Miss Silkstone.


Item list and details

(1) - (2) Leon Henk and pals (3) - (5) Polish - English dictionary (6) - (10) Evangelical songbook and prayer book

Person the story/items relate to

Leon Henke and Barbara Lillian Henke

Person who shared the story/items

Phillip Henke

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

They are his parents.

Type of submission

Shared at West Meads Community Hall, West Sussex on 11 November 2023. The event was organised by Bognor Regis u3a.

Record ID

107788 | BOG075