February 10th, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 6
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
A New Life in a New Land- Aniela Plonka's Story Part IV
Looking Back
courtesy Plonka family
Polish Reserve Officer Czeslaw Plonka
Read: Part I - Surviving the Gulags - Aniela Plonka’s Story
Read: Part II - Hardship and Release – Aniela Plonka’s Story
Read: Part III - A New Life in a New Land – Aniela Plonka’s Story

When we left off last week Aniela Plonka had arrived in England in January of 1944 and taken training as an RAF flight mechanic working on Lancaster bombers. They were the bombers that played such a critical role in subduing the German war machine. Aniela and Czeslaw (Chester) were married in England in February of 1945 and it was there, in Edinburgh, Scotland, that Aniela had the first of her six children. He was born July 30, 1945 and was named Jerzy Czeslaw Plonka, but we here in the Pass know him as George aka Doctor Cool.

In telling her story Aniela goes on to say, “When the war was over, my husband’s mother wrote us and told us not to come back home. “Stay where you are. If you come back, you will be sent back to Siberia,” she wrote. She also told us my mother was alive and had been ordered by the Russians to leave her home and go onto the Polish side of the border because her house was in newly acquired Russian territory. She also said in her letter that my brother was taken by the Russians, beaten and sent to a prison somewhere in Siberia. My two younger sisters were also taken to Germany for hard labour. When I heard the news I cried so much I thought my heart would break.”

Author’s Note: Aniela’s sisters were Stanislawa and Marcjanna were 18 and 16 when they were taken. And of course her older brother Jan, who was 21, was taken to Russian and never heard of again. Left behind with Aniela’s mother were a brother Tadeusz (12) and Helena (10). The heartache Aniela endured must have been unbearable.

Aniela stated, “We knew it was too dangerous to return to Poland. When my husband had been in Canada for navigation school, he knew how it was there, so we decided to come and live in Canada.”
continued below ...
Before I unfold the family legacy lets back it up a bit and talk about Czeslaw or Chester as he was called in Canada. If you have been following the story you will know that Czeslaw was also taken to the gulags where he undoubtedly endured the same treatment and witnessed the same horrors as Aniela. According to daughter Anna he almost died before his release from the forced labour camp. Czeslaw was in the Polish Reserve and was a teacher when he was taken by the Russians. When he finally wound up in England he was sent to St. Catherine’s Ontario where he took training as a pilot and navigational officer. And as was mentioned flew in those remarkable twin engine de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bombers. I was stunned to learn they were made out of mostly wood, plywood in fact. They were used in all kinds of roles but for Czeslaw is was night time flying, (night fighters) attacking German bombers over England. I recall reading that when the Polish pilots in the RAF heard that Churchill and Roosevelt had sold Poland down the river they were in angry revolt. Imagine how Czeslaw felt at this second betrayal of his country. British officers disarmed the Polish pilots of their side arms for fear of an escalating protest.
It was Czeslaw’s parents who warned of their peril in coming back to Poland. In 1948 they then considered their options which were Australia, Africa or Canada. Having been to Ontario where he took his training he remembered he was quite taken with our country and so it was that Czeslaw, Aniela and a three year old Jerzy (George) boarded the Aquitania at Southampton, England. Their destination was a place where thousands of immigrants landed in Canada through several decades. Pier 21 in Halifax.
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The ship they rode on had a remarkable history. The Aquitania was only one of 14, four stack ships built between 1897 and 1949. It served in both World Wars as a troop ship, hospital ship, and armed merchant cruiser. It hauled over 300,000 servicemen and had a capacity of 3,200 first, second and third class passengers. It made 443 voyages and logged over 3 million miles before it was scrapped in Faslane, Scotland in 1949. How appropriate that they sailed into Halifax on her.

From Halifax it was on to Toronto where they wanted Czeslaw to be a teacher of languages and arts but that was not for him. They made their way west to Vernon for a few months but shortly after that Aniela and Jerzy (George) followed Czeslaw to Fernie where he had begun work in the Coal Creek Mine He worked there for almost 10 years, eventually writing his fireboss ticket and his first class miners ticket at the same time, much to the surprise of his fellow workers. The racism was always there about the Polish. Too dumb to write the exam they said. George told me that Czeslaw even outscored a fellow by the name of C.L. Salvador who eventually had a school named after him. Top marks.

While in Vernon Aniela had her second son Stan in June of 1948. Aniela was expecting when she made the trip on the Aquitania. Through the next few years in Fernie Aniela gave birth to Tony in 1950, Alex in 1951, Anna in 1953 and Helena in 1956. Thus the family of six Plonka’s came to be. They lived in West Fernie and struggled through with a bit of small time farming on the edge of town to get by.
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In 1958 Coal Creek was shutting down and Czeslaw was working then to help seal up the entries and close down the mine. Work was only two days a week and money was scarce. Two years later Czeslaw said to George, “You are a smart kid, you could go far but I can’t afford to send you to university, it would take food off the table, so you need to find work.” George was about to turn 17 and the mills and mines were not hiring. So George signed up in Calgary for the Air Force.

While all six of Aniela’s children have had rewarding and productive lives, space precludes me expanding on it all. Instead I will just lead you through a bit of the journey of her first son, our local handyman Dr. Cool. A two year stint down east in Quebec (basic training) and a trade was what followed. George got trained in electronics but they could not place him once he was done so other options were offered (Aero Engine, Aero Frame, or Munitions and Weapons) which he declined until he asked about recreation/physical training. He trained in that at Camp Borden until he got a royal run around from the military and left in disgust.

What followed then was a mixed bag of everything from unloading freight cars, to instructing on Kelvinator appliance repair in Nova Scotia and eventually returning to Fernie to work in the Elko and Galloway sawmills where he learned just about every job there was. Like mining, the logging/mill industry has its ups and downs and George even did a stint running dozer at Kaiser Resources. He eventually found his niche in appliance repair, something he has done for decades and understands completely.
continued below ...
I wish I could tell you that all went well through to the end of Aniela and Czeslaw’s lives but there came a turning point in the early 1960’s that changed their lives forever. When Czeslaw was working in the Michel Mine as a fireboss in the mid 1960’s there was an incident in the return airway with a fire that exposed him and other workers to serious carbon monoxide poisoning. Czeslaw was never the same after that and the damage done to his lungs and heart was permanent. The company would not take him back, did not offer compensation or a pension. They turned their back on him. He was forced to go to welfare eventually who recommended he contact Veterans Affairs through the local legion.
What was offered was a pittance. Czeslaw did odd jobs like working as a handyman for the Catholic Church and priest’s manse. He struggled for years as did the family and he finally passed on December 7th, 1973 at the age of 62. His siblings all lived well into their 80’s, testimony to the family’s longevity, something he, a survivor of the gulags, was denied in the end. This broke my heart and angered me as a mining historian.

Aniela spent her last four years in Cranbrook with her son Stan and his wife Carol. She passed on January 21, 2009 at the age of 89. I have since learned that Aniela’s proper full name was Antonina Aniela (Pawliszak) Plonka. Has a lovely ring to it. “Antonina”. So Mumma and Tatus, as your children so affectionately called you, the world now knows what remarkable people you were and of the fine family legacy that has been carried forward because of your perseverance and will to survive. The legacy is 6 children, 15 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and 3 great great grandchildren. Aniela's youngest, Helen said of her: "You were a true mother and grandmother. There was never any doubt about her love for all of us kids. We always came first in your eyes."


Read: Part I - Surviving the Gulags - Aniela Plonka’s Story
Read: Part II - Hardship and Release – Aniela Plonka’s Story
Read: Part III - A New Life in a New Land – Aniela Plonka’s Story

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February 10th, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 6
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