Thursday, June 5, 2008

Polish war hero Jan found peace on Tyneside

Polish war hero Jan found peace on Tyneside

War hero ... Jan Zielinski.

By Andrew Hughes
TRIBUTES have been paid to a former Hebburn war hero who was among the last survivors of one of the bloodiest encounters of the Second World War.

Jan Zielinski, who was an 18-year-old cadet when Germans invaded his hometown in Poland, fought with the Allies at the Falaise Gap in Normandy – later known as the 'Corridor of Death' – where he pulled a comrade from a burning tank, despite being injured himself.

Mr Zielinski, 87, who lived in Marina View, in Hebburn, from 1990 to 1999, was awarded a medal for his bravery and later the French Croix de Guerre, with two laurels, for being twice mentioned in dispatches.

The dad-of-four died on May 27, in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, after suffering kidney failure and heart disease.

Daughter Maria Hall, from Blaydon, Newcastle, said: "We are all so proud of him.

"He was such a humble and quiet man.

"He didn't make a big fuss of all his decorations, but he always made sure that no one forgot what the soldiers did for their country in the Second World War.

"But as a father and grandfather, he was a very loving and kind man.

"He went through so much in his life and the whole family loved him very much."

Mr Zielinski was also the youngest commissioned officer in the Polish Army.

The war veteran wrote about his part in the 'Corridor of Death' in a rare letter.

In it he recalled returning to France in 1944 with the Allied invasion as part of the 1st Canadian Army under Montgomery.

However, pandemonium broke out when the Allies moved to trap the Germans trying to escape the Falaise pocket.

Mr Zielinski, who also spent 40 years in the pit, said: "We were exposed to German bullets and shells. Our tank caught fire but we got out. All except one.

"We went back to get Eddie and I was shot by a sniper as we pulled him out.

"Eddie was seriously wounded in both legs and he died through loss of blood.

"There was not enough soil to bury him in, so we put a helmet over his face to stop the flies getting into his mouth.

"I could not describe the stench from all the dead men and horses, the congealed blood on the road and the flies."

Mr Zielinski moved to North East England when he returned, "because people had once given us a nice welcome there", while transporting a tank by train.

On his first day off after VJ Day, Mr Zielinski met Mary Burrell, from Pelaw, who later became his wife. She died 12 years ago.

The couple had four children – Paul, 60, Peter, 55, Mark, 53, and Maria, 46 – and eight grandchildren.

His funeral service, to be attended by the deputy Polish military attache, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Adamski, will be held at St Joseph's Church in Blaydon, Gateshead, at noon on Wednesday.