Zenon Przybylak - WW II veteran and Div 301 pilot.
In November 2018 CPC BC President Iwona Swiatczak had a pleasure to visit Mr. Zenon Przybylak in his home in Surrey BC. We talked about his life and the difficult road to Canada. Today at 96 years old Zenon is an active senior who still on many occasions participates in Polish community events. Here are the pictures from this visit as well as the story of his immigration to Canada.
We are inviting you to read Zenon's Biography in English and also we are including extended version in Polish language.
Pictures : I. Swiatczak, K. Woloczko
Biography text/editing : E. Kuc-Schneider
The Canadian Polish Congress in Vancouver is proud to present to our English readers a short biography of a Polish pilot-veteran and a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II.
Zenon Tomasz Przybylak was born on January 4, 1923, in the Polish city of Łódź to a patriotic family of four. Father Stanisław, who was injured in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet war, used to work as a police officer in many places close to Poland’s eastern border with the Soviet Union. Forced to escape to Lithuania after the beginning of World War II, he would never again reunite with his family, although he survived the war.
The remaining three members of the family – mother Jadwiga, sister Marychna and 17 years old Zenon – were deported by the Soviets to Sibiria. This happened within the scheme to deport Polish citizens into forced labour enacted by Stalin, then a trusted ally of Hitler. In accordance with the Stalin–Hitler treaty, this “disposal” of Poles scattered over one million Poles across Russian labor camps at the very beginning of the war. Zenon recollects: “Life in the kolkhoz was primitive for everyone. […] It was not life but a torment.”
The situation of Polish prisoners in Russian camps changed after June 22, 1941, when fascist Germany, in violation of the Stalin–Hitler treaty, declared war on Russia. This removed any reason for Stalin to keep Polish citizens imprisoned. In order to get rid of them as soon as possible, he agreed on establishing a Polish Army. “Free” Zenon thus immediately set off for Uzbekistan, the base of the Polish military forces in the making – his next odyssey but far from his last!
Having survived typhus in Uzbekistan, Zenon embarked on his next long journey – from Uzbekistan to the Caspian Sea, and from there to Mumbaj in India. Here, he boarded a New Zealand warship by the name of “Avetea” that brought Polish soldiers, alongside fighters from different other nations, to Cape Town in South Africa. From there, only one last lap separated them from Scotland and from active fight against the hated enemy. On Scottish soil, at St. Andrews on the North Sea,
Zenon Przybylak received training as a war plane pilot.
His first independent flight as a member of the Royal Air Force, in the RAF’s uniform, happened on May 20, 1943. It was what Zenon calls his “big day”. He remembers: “My first impression of flying a plane was wonderful: That was my actual true dream!”
From this moment, Zenon would fly on a regular basis. He joined No. 577 Squadron in Sealand near Chester. In July 1943, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and became a commander of the five-people crew flying the biggest bomber of the times, the four engine “Sterling”. All flights were carried out from the Italian RAF base in Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea.
As a member of the Np. 1586 Squadron, Zenon Przybylak conducted 30 supply flights to Poland in 1944 for the fighting Polish insurgents during the Warsaw Uprising. In recognition of their assistance of the Uprising , the squadron was awarded the title “Defenders of Warsaw” after the war. Mr. Przybylak personally was decorated with several medals for bravery.
Towards February 1945, the operational flights of WWII came to an end. Zenon Przybylak returned from Italy to Great Britain where he would flight cargo planes for another five years, from 1945 to 1950. Due to a serious illness he had had to spend a year in hospital which he left as a disabled war veteran. He retrained as a watch maker, a profession in which he would work for another five years. Then, in 1958, he left for Canada with his English wife, Joan Beaks.
In his new country of choice, he worked for Peoples Jewellers in Windsor, Ontario, for the next 13 years. In 1977, Mr. and Mrs. Przybylak, with their two daughters, Jennie and Susan, moved to West Vancouver in British Columbia. Retrained once again, Mr. Przybylak become an expert for immobility pricing, a profession he performed up to his retirement.
Today, Mr. Zenon Przybylak is ninety-six years old. He lives with his second wife, Jadwiga, in Surrey. He had married again in 2004, two years after his first wife had died. His Polish wife shares his love for their native country. The staunchly patriotic couple would cherish Polish cultural and culinary traditions. Since 2005, the couple has also regularly visited Poland.
Mr. Przybylak has every reason to be proud of the long, rich and heroic history of his life. So are we, cherishing him among our Polish community here in Vancouver.
Please read Zenon's Biography in Polish language
By E. Kuc-Schneider