After receiving many Likes and Comments from here and overseas to my 1 April 2020 blog "Going into family history lockdown" in which I referred to my father's eulogy on my LinkedIn profile, I have now decided to publish it here for you to read for yourselves. There are some happy snaps at the end. Maybe it will bring further reactions from Nottingham, UK, Poland and elsewhere.
May it bring back memories of your own families during this #VE75Day weekend. For those we have loved and lost, we remember you. Lest we forget.
Eulogy January 23, 2001, by Krys Cietak
It is strange that it is only after someone dies that others bother to reflect in any depth, the story behind the background and achievements of the deceased. I’ve been asked to say just a few words about Mietek who represented one of an increasingly small group of people left over from the mass influx of Polish and other East European refugees who came to England with nothing and through hard work and determination made good and touched the lives of many English people around them.
Mietek was born in the village of Janow on 5th July 1912, his father, Aleksander, was a railway signalman (after being a Sokol (Scout) in the Polish Cavalry). He was one of 5 children, their father died when he was young.
Mietek and his elder brother Zbigniew (Zbysz) studied engineering at the technical college in Lwow, which now finds itself in what is left of the Soviet Union (Ukraine) and it was following their studies that they decided to join the Polish air force together (Mietek following Zbysz two years later).
In 1939 when World War II broke out they, together with tens of thousands of other members of the Polish forces, escaped southwards and made their way through Romania to Lebanon from where they crossed the Mediterranean and ended up in the south of France which was still putting up considerable resistance against Hitler’s armies. John Zipser tells me that it was there that they probably first saw action around the city of Lyons. The Germans were closing in, the two brothers were trying to secure some French aeroplanes that were on the ground – the problem was that there was no fuel! They searched high and low and eventually found what they took to be a railway siding full of fuel tankers. Their elation was quickly dampened when they realised that the wagons actually contained hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine and so to vent their frustration they riddled the whole lot with machine gun bullets.
The journey continued and by the summer of 1940, in common with many other Polish combatants, they entered England through Blackpool, and for Zbysz it was love at first sight but I’m not sure Mietek was equally impressed.
The two of them entered the Polish arm of the Royal Air Force and joined 304 Squadron bomber squadron where they were responsible for the maintenance of the Wellingtons’ engines and safety – one in particular they named S for SONIA. They were initially stationed near Newark at Newton and Syerston and Zbysz was posted north to Carlisle where he subsequently met and married Paula, Mietek stayed near Nottingham where he met Sonia Nelson who was to become his wife and who subsequently bore him three precious children, John, then Peter and finally Marysia.
The war came to an end and Mietek and Zbysz were posted to Northern Germany with the Allied Forces. At that time hundreds, if not thousands of Poles were trying to escape to the
West before the fall of the Iron Curtain and my mother was one of these refugees. She would not have escaped if it hadn’t been for the two amazing Zipser brothers who miraculously orchestrated and executed her clandestine escape disguised as a Belgian national. If it wasn’t for them I certainly wouldn’t have been speaking to you today.
1947 brought demobilisation, and the time had come when they had to start and make a living. The Zipser brothers were able to turn their hands to anything that would go, making jewellery, furniture, luggage and the like. I’m told that it was through the skilful persuasion from Sonia and Paula that their handbags were sold through prestigious department stores both in Carlisle and Nottingham. But it was motor cars that really caught their fancy and they secured their first premises at Radcliffe Mount, Lady Bay, West Bridgford where they started buying and selling cars.
The business grew and in 1952 they bought some land and established the Lady Bay Motor Body company. They worked very hard. Mietek seemed to have the business brains with Zbyszek providing the engineering and mechanical skills. They employed many Polish craftsmen and very quickly the business attracted a reputation for honesty and quality. In 1960 Trent Bridge Garage (as Zipser Brothers Co Ltd) was built on Radcliffe Road and the business expanded and another garage at Larch Farm near Newstead Abbey in the Forest of Sherwood. I became fascinated by cars myself and remember many evenings spent at auctions with Mietek and Zbysz either in Measham or on the Loughborough Road, where Asda now stands, trying to understand the auctioneer’s vocabulary which shot out of his mouth like bullets from a Gatling gun.
The business was sold to the French Total petrol company in 1964 and the two Zipser brothers went their separate ways.
Whereas Zbysz dabbled in building, Mietek continued in the motor trade and established Zipser Motors next door to Trent Bridge garage on the Radcliffe Road opposite Nottinghamshire County Cricket ground. Peter joined him in due course and the business was handed over to Peter in 1982. But Mietek didn’t retire then, he couldn’t rest on his laurels, he was constantly on the go and continued to do business of various types from his house in Gamston, almost up to the time he died.
Mietek never forgot his Polish or family roots. In the post-war years, when life was very harsh in Poland under the Communist regime, there would be numerous parcels containing essentials to friends and relatives back home. In the fifties, he made strenuous efforts to re-establish contact behind the Iron Curtain with those he left behind. The political situation made this extremely difficult, visas were repeatedly refused but eventually effort was rewarded and he gained permission to visit Poland and also to bring his own mother, Kasia, back to England from Krakow. This was indeed an extraordinary achievement, so extraordinary in that, that it even managed to attract the attention of the national press.
As time went by, the children grew up, more and more visits to Poland followed. He then managed to go back to Lwow in 1964 and again in 1987. He always loved going home, his yearning for Polishness in his life increased and this emotion was answered when he married Hanna in 1976. He loved Polish tradition; he got more and more involved with Poland and with the Polish parish in Nottingham, Hanna being a key member of the church choir.
In retrospect the last years of Mietek’s life were really quite amazing. He made many journeys; maybe he had a premonition that they would be his last. He managed to visit friends in Paris and Canada. He went to the Holy Land; he went back to Poland with John, to the Battle of Britain celebrations at Duxford in Cambridgeshire and made a special journey to visit my father in his nursing home in Kenilworth. He also, for some incredible reason, reviewed many of the old 8mm films he had taken with his wind-up cine camera, almost as though he wanted to see for the last time the faces of all his friends and relatives.
Mietek lived life to the full, he could never sit still, and he lived in the fast lane right up to the very end and even continued swimming three times a week to keep fit. He and Zbysz had a certain Zipser magic, they were always a laugh when they came home to my Mum’s for a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade cake. They loved kids and they always managed to lighten the atmosphere with a joke or comment.
Mietek’s last journey was to celebrate Christmas and New Year in Tenerife with Hanna who, together with her children, had brought him so much happiness in his later years. His departure was sudden, it was unexpected, it shocked us and we shall all miss Mietek very much in our own particular ways. For my part, I shall miss him very much, for me and for my parents, he was a very special person, they chose him as my god-father and I was very glad and very lucky that he accepted the invitation.
Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK
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