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Needham Funeral Service

520 Dundas Street, London, ON

OBITUARY

Leonarda "Lola" Czerwinski

May 22, 1926August 14, 2019

Leonarda ‘Lola’ Czerwiński née Beneś (22 May 1925 – 14 August 2019)

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Leonarda ‘Lola’ Czerwiński.

Lola was a brave young teenager, who made the decision in 1942 to join the Polish Young Soldiers and serve her country during World War ll. This decision would shape not only her life, but also, that of her sisters.

Lola’s story

Lola was born on 22 May 1925 in the hamlet of Maciejów, Miechów, Kielce, Poland. She was baptized ‘Eleonora’ and her parents were Franciszek Beneś (1872 -1942), a farmer, and Julianna Kowal (1895 – 1933). Lola had eight siblings – Marysia, Kazimierz, Anna, Helena (Hela), Zofia, Elżbieta and twins Piotr and Janusz and two step-siblings – Joźef and Katarzyna.

It was shortly after Lola’s birth that Franciszek and Julianna moved the family to the eastern territories in Poland known as the ‘Kresy’. Franciszek took the opportunity to buy low cost land and start a new life in village of Międzyrzecz, in the county of Wołkowysk in the province of Białystok. The village is now known as Mižeryčy, Zelva, Belarus.

In late 1933, Lola’s mother and twin brothers died within hours of one another. Lola was just 8 years old when her mother died and from this moment on the family muddled together to get by.

Lola was 14 years old when the Second World War began and on 10 February 1940, she was deported by the Red Army along with her family to Siberia. Lola would later write about her experience and this document is archived in the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, USA.

‘I lived in the village of Międzyrzecz, Wołkowysk district, Bialystock province. I was taken away from Poland on 10th of February 1940 together with my parents because my father was a settler. We were taken to Karabash, Kyshtym in the Chelyabinsk region (Russia). I lived in a small room together with 10 other people. Conditions were very poor: if you worked your bread allowance was 800g, if not only 400g. Food rationing meant that you could get only 200g of butter and 1 kg of flour or groats a month with a ration book. Both men, women and children were forced to work. I was only 14 and I was working in a brick works; I was working 8 hours a day from 8am to 4pm. I was paid 50 roubles. Black bread cost 1 rouble and 5 kopeks and white, 2 roubles and 60 kopecks. We were not allowed to sing any polish songs. They were trying to persuade and ingrain in us that Poland would cease to exist and that we need to forget about God and the only way forward was to submit to Soviet Union (Soviet Authority). To achieve that regular meetings were held and attendance was mandatory.’

Lola witnessed the death of many people from malnutrition, accident and disease, including her father, Franciszek, who died on 13th April 1941.

When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, Lola and her siblings were released and they made their way by train to the southern Russian republic of Kazakhstan. They settled in a collective farm near the village of Czokpak. Their fight for survival continued over the winter in this barren and hostile land. A garrison of the Polish Army was close by and in March 1942, Lola’s brother, Kazik, joined up. Kazik’s enlistment enabled Lola and her sisters to exit Russia with the Polish Army under British command. Kazik later perished when the destroyer ORP Orkan was torpedoed.

The Beneś sisters arrived in Pahlevi, Iran in the summer of 1942 to the news that their eldest married sister, Marysia, had not made it out of Russia. It was in Iran that Lola, aged 17, took up the offer to join General Władysław Anders Army and the Polish Young Women Soldiers’ School and transferred from Iran to the military base at Quastina in Palestine, now known as Israel. She was part of the troops inspected by General Władysław Sikorski prior to his death in July 1943.

Her sisters took on the care of Marysia’s son, Przemek and moved first to Tehran and later to Rusape in the former British colony of Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.

Once Lola had finished her schooling she enlisted in the Polish Auxiliary Service in Palestine and in February 1944 she was assigned to serve in the United Kingdom. Her first posting as a Flight Mechanic (Airframe) with the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Air Force under British command was at RAF Wilmslow, Cheshire and she arrived in April 1944. As the war came to an end and after several UK postings she arrived at RAF Melton Mowbray in November 1946.

RAF Melton Mowbray personnel trained aircrew, received and prepared aircraft to be ferried to combat airfields overseas. There had been around 2,000 personnel at the base but by the time Lola arrived the activities of the airfield had ceased and most of the staff had left. Across the country, as the troops were being de-mobbed, the vacant military bases were chosen by the government to house the displaced people and in October 1946, No 9 Polish Resettlement Unit was formed at RAF Melton Mowbray, which was the only base purely for ex-Air Force personnel.

In December 1946, Lola was officially discharged from the Polish Air Force and enlisted into the Polish Resettlement Corps, a unit formed by the British Government to assist in the transition of personnel from military to civilian life. The official Polish Resettlement Act was passed in 1947 and allowed Polish military personnel to remain in the UK if they did not wish to return to Communist Poland and for their family members to join them. Lola decided not to return to Poland and made a request for her sisters in Africa to join her in England. Lola’s conduct in Air Force was noted as being 'Very Good' and in due course she was awarded two medals, Polish Air Force Medal and the British War Medal 1939-45. In the summer of 1947, Lola was released from the Polish Resettlement Corps and found work in a shoe factory in nearby Sileby.

On 4th May 1948, Lola and her sisters were reunited in Melton Mowbray. They had been apart for six years. Lola did her best to help her sisters settle in the camp but there was little she could do about the chilly English spring weather.

During her time in the Air Force, Lola met Bolesław Czerwiński, known as Bronek, a highly decorated fighter pilot. Bronek was born in 1921 in Puszczykowo near Poznań, Poland. They married on 4 June 1949 at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Melton Mowbray and remained married for over 50 years. Bronek chose not to return to Poland after the war and transferred from the Polish Air Force under British Command to the British Air Force. This meant the Czerwiński family would be posted to several UK and overseas posting throughout his career.

Lola and Bronek had four sons; Janusz, George, Stefan and Ryszard, four daughters in law, Kathleen, Angela, Adriana and Chantalle and seven grandchildren, Suzanne, Stefan, Sarah, Laura, Julia, Christopher and Lola.

When Bronek retired from the RAF, they lived for many years in Washingborough, Lincoln, working at the Smiths Crisp factory and then in various homes in Melton Mowbray. In later years they moved to Canada to be close to three of their sons. After Bronek’s death in 2000, Lola remained in Canada, moving to the Dearness Care Home in London, Ontario, when her health failed.

In 2018 Lola and her sisters were awarded a Polish State decoration - The Siberian Cross Medal, in recognition of their sufferings in Russia and Kazakhstan in World War ll.

Lola’s funeral service and mass will take place at Our Lady of Częstochowa, Sandy Lane, Melton Mowbray, followed by interment at the Thorpe Road cemetery.

Siân Truszkowska

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Leonarda "Lola" Czerwinski

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