Veteran Interviews – Lech Solecki

Lech Solecki was born on his family farm outside of present day Minsk in 1924. At the time this area was part of eastern Poland. During the September campaign he was too young to fight. Shortly after the shooting ceased the Soviets occupied his town. As with so many others, his village was awakened in the middle of the night on February 10, 1940. At 2 a.m. the Solecki family consisting of father, mother two brothers and younger sister began their journey into exile in Siberia. They ended up just north of the Ural mountains along a major river to be used as manual labor for logging. Due to his age Lech was tasked with gathering firewood for the barracks. What money he was paid went back to the work camp administration for the internee’s meager supply of food. As was common for so many in Siberia, Lech contracted frostbite and was sent to a hospital outside of the camp. During this time his nurse mentioned in passing that she thought he would soon be leaving due to the amnesty that was declared for the deported Poles. This was a a revelation neither Lech nor anyone in the camp had heard about. It just so happened that as this conversation was going on, the camp commandant overheard and knew his secret could no longer be kept. So approximately two months later on December 24th the remaining two families and 12 other men of varying ages packed a sleigh pulled by two horses and started heading south. Their mission was to attempt to find a train to transport them to Tashkent where the army was forming. Between fighting snow storms, looking for food and waiting for trains the long and arduous trip took over on month.

Once at the mustering center the family’s future was uncertain. lech’s father attempted to enlist immediately but was initially turned down for being too old. that decision was soon overturned and Mr. Solecki joined the 5th Kresowa Division and was assigned to the heavy artillery. Lech and his older brother joined the 14th infantry regiment on February 13th. Almost immediately Lech contracted typhus and took two months to get back on his feet. Mrs. Solecki and her daughter meanwhile were being evacuated to Uganda in the newly formed Polish displaced persons camp there. The men of the family were on their own.

After their exodus from the USSR the troops of the II corps found themselves training in present day Iraq. During this time volunteers were sought for the Polish Air Force fighting in England. Both Lech and his brother volunteered. having already received basic radio training the older Solecki brother became a wireless operator in the 300 bomber squadron. Lech wanted to follow his brother and volunteered for flight training. Unfortunately some of his frostbite wounds were so severe that he could not continue with flight school. At this time he requested transfer to a combat unit.

As luck would have it, the Polish army was recruiting for a secret and dangerous mission. Lech and 42 others volunteered to join the elite “cichociemni” translated as “silent and unseen.” The mission of these men was to commit acts of sabotage, gather intelligence from occupied Poland, coordinate with the Home Army and report back to London. the train first began with paratrooper qualifications at the famous “Monkey Grove.” Then onto Manchester for airborne jumps. He made a total of 13 jumps for qualification first from towers, balloons and then Whitley bombers. Three of them were at night.

After earning his jump wings Lech was trained in escape and evasion maneuvers. Map reading, intelligence collection and commando style tactics were also learned. During this time Solecki also learned to construct and repair specialized radios. Many were made to fit into civilian suitcases so as to look unobtrusive. hard gold currency as well as apre parts and medical supplies were be delivered to Poland clandestinely. During the Warsaw uprising Lech manned a radio station at HQ in London receiving and transmitting messages from the beleaguered city. This was a very frustrating time for all Poles around the world who could only stand helplessly by as Warsaw fought on. The allies did precious little to help the city and the Soviets purposefully blocked aide to the Home Army. After Warsaw was retaken by the nazis the Soviet advance renewed in Poland heading westward. This frustrated much of what the members of the cichociemni were trying to accomplish. Now reports came from Poland about the abuses of Soviet occupation. The news fell on deaf ears in Washington and London.

At war’s end Lech was blessed to be reunited with his entire family in Scotland as they transferred out of the PRC. After waiting for several years they were able to secure a visa to America where they immigrated as soon as they could. Lech has built a successful life in the U.S.centered on hard work, his family and civic organizations.