Operation Wildhorn

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We, the Harrod family, have long been aware of this epic flight undertaken by our father/husband/grandfather, which could have contributed to his tragically shortened life and untimely death, and the awards he earned in its execution.  We also knew Polish partisans had perished playing their part, so some other lives had been affected other than ours. Ted Harrod, however, seldom spoke of it during his life and it is only recently that we have come to appreciate the significance of his efforts and, indeed, of the whole operation, by being exposed to the other end of the action in Poland.

The family interest was piqued again as a result of Jonathan Harrod undertaking his first ever business trip to Warsaw on 24 April 2007 to attempt to start a relationship with the Polish Airport Authority, which owns all Polish airports including Warsaw. 

 

At the first meeting he met the translator, Ewa Kubarska and, at the end of this meeting, told the group that the last time a Harrod from our family landed in Poland was in a beetroot field in 1944 to evacuate the Polish Chief of Staff, for which he was awarded the Virtuti Militari.  Afterwards, Ewa came up and asked more about it and, in short, this cemented the relationship with Ewa around Operation Wildhorn and inspired in Jonathan the thought that we could at least see the place where this all happened and at best start the long and arduous journey to find people who might have remembered that night and might just have known something about that Dakota landing in the field on 15 April 1944.
 

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Communication via e-mail continued and Ewa’s husband’s cousin (Jacek Ryba) from Lublin became involved and expressed great interest.  Further communication ensued between Jonathan and Jacek, through his son Wojtek as Jacek could speak no English.  It transpired that Jacek and Wojtek had actually driven out to Matczyn and found out there were both a monument and a remembrance plaque at the local church.  They had also been talking to a Lublin TV journalist, Adam Sikorski, who had created a ‘Wildhorn’ documentary some fifteen years previously, and also to an aircraft historian Tadeusz (Ted) Chwalczyk, who was in the process of writing a book about the events.  Jacek had made contact with the local priest in Matczyn, who, a few days later, coincidentally met with Zdzislaw Bednarczyk, a Lieutenant in AK who had been present on the night of Wildhorn 1.

Thus the circle was completed and we were now in a position as a family to make a meaningful trip to the site of Operation Wildhorn, which we duly undertook in July 2007.

 

On Saturday 28 July 2007, Patricia, Helen, Jonathan and Stephen Harrod flew to Warsaw and were met by Ewa and Jerzy Kubarscy, whom we then followed by car to Lublin.  We checked in to the Grand Hotel and enjoyed a brief chat and refreshment before they took us on to a local restaurant to meet the rest of the group, consisting of:

 

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Wojciech (Wojtek) Ryba (26) a recently qualified software engineer working in the telecoms industry;

 

 

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Jacek Ryba ,Wojtek’s father - lives in Lublin.  Jacek took most of the photographs of the events the following day;

 

 

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Adam Sikorski the TV journalist from TV Lublin, who gave us the DVD of his TV programme about MOST 1 made 15 years ago;

 

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Tadeusz (Ted) Chwalczyk, aviation historian and author, who is researching and writing the book he intends calling Midnight Bridges (Nocne Mosty), about the Wildhorn Operations;

 

 

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Zdzislaw Bednarczyk, code named ‘Ant’, AK Lieutenant.  He had turned 16 on April 4, 1944 and was sworn in to the AK only to be summoned to action the night of the 15 /16 April.  He was given a gun (presumably) and told to guard the perimeter of the airfield closest to the northwest corner on the main road through the village.  He also held one of the coloured flares identifying the end of the runway, preventing the aircraft from landing in the ditch running alongside the road.  ‘Ant’ is the local head of the International Union of Soldiers of the Polish Home Army. 

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After an evening of great exchanges of information we arranged to meet the following day at the memorial in Matczyn, which we duly did only to find Zdzislaw Bednarczyk (‘Ant’) in full military uniform and accompanied by Stanislaw Zydek (81), another AK member who had been involved in Wildhorn 1.  Zydek had been abducted by the Germans in 1941 at the age of 15 and had promptly escaped from his captors in Germany and walked back to Poland where he joined AK.
 
 

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The monument stands on the northern side of the road, about 5 metres off and in front of the house of the farmer who owns the field on which the monument stands.  ‘Ant’ was the inspiration behind the monument, which he built himself, using a 3.5 ton granite boulder. 

The field opposite the monument was owned by Wladyslaw Pietras who, together with three brothers of the Pazdzior family and a 17 year old, Marian Madej who was visiting his girlfriend, was shot by the Germans the following day in retribution.  His daughter-in-law still lives in the farmhouse and was introduced to the party during our visit when we presented her with a photo of Ted signed by us all.

 

This field had been identified as suitable for aircraft to use in 1939 by the PAF who used it briefly, before the German invasion when they escaped to England with their aircraft intact.  The field fell into disrepair and was used again by the farmers for crops.  During the occupation half was sown to clover and half to beetroot, with the clover used as it was believed to make it firmer for landing, should it be required again in the future.  The field is large, rectangular and undulating.  It rises from the road in the north as one heads south and east and, as a result, it is hard to see what is happening on the airfield from the road, which was obviously a good thing.

The barn that was there has apparently disappeared though we found everyone a bit hazy on this point.  The field used to belong to ‘Ant’s’ Godmother and his family home at the time was only 300m off the field in the little row of houses to the northeast of the field.

 

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After selection of this field, AK spent months in preparation.  All the stones were collected from the field and the story they told the unsuspecting villagers (who were NOT let into the real secret) was that the Germans had told them to clear the field of stones.  So they were clearing away merrily since February!  They were also aware at AK of the requirements of the surface for landing a Dakota as detailed specifications had been provided from England (e.g: no more than 2 inches of snow).   Being in mid April there were many frosty mornings and there was the hope that the field would be hard and good.   Sadly the frosty surface cracked and collapsed with the weight of the Dakota and hence the enormous difficulty Ted Harrod had when taking off.

The AK troops had paced out and marked with sticks where the lanterns should be positioned the day before to enable them to find the spots easier at night with no light.

 

 

Once we had established the approximate location of the landing strip we took the opportunity to scatter some of Ted Harrod’s ashes in what we believed to be the spot at which he had landed in 1944 – The return to Matczyn was complete!

 

 

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