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Mike Gorzula MiD. Pilot, 315 Squadron (Polish)

Article researched and written for Aircrew Remembered by Alan Scheckenbach of Canberra, Australia. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here today to pay our final respects to Mike Gorzula. His full name was a very respectable, Mieczylaw Stanislaw Wladyslaw Gorzula but we all knew him simply as Mike.

Before I really get going I’d like Mike to hear from those who could not make it here today.

His son, Steve, whom he unfailingly referred to as Stefan is in the US and couldn’t make it by today.

His good friend and former flatmate in Brisbane, Bob Van Der Zupp similarly wasn’t able to make it.

Kuba Bargielowski, formerly of 315 Squadron, now in Sydney wasn’t able to travel this far.

Kryzstof Tyszka, Franek Grabowski and Wojtek Matusiak, Polish air historians from Melbourne and Warsaw respectively also send their condolences.

Edward McManus of the Battle of Britain Historical Society and the people at Aircrew Remembered also send their respects and condolences.

I consider it an honour to have been asked to tell you all a little about Mike and his life before his body and spirit finally leave us. I will tell you about the several sides of Mike that I knew.

I was fortunate enough to meet Mike something like five years ago, while he was still working for the Jurkewicz canvas workshop. He was, a little down on his luck. 

We liked each other and he began to tell me some of his stories, which very slowly turned into his still incomplete autobiography.

                   

Mike’s two biggest passions in life, were flying and girls and not in that order. The stories he used to tell me about the sheer number of his girlfriends left me astounded and not a little jealous. Smooth talker is an understatement. Even in his old age, he really did enjoy having his picture taken surrounded by girls. He knew how to make ladies feel special and even my young daughter enjoyed the warmth of his real charm.

Mike is a small piece of the most significant conflict of the 20th Century and contributed to helping to stop the Luftwaffe from defeating the Royal Air Force in the air over England in the dire days of August, September and October of 1940. Mike was and remains, one of Churchill’s “Few”. Although he became operational only at the end of the “official” Battle of Britain he was there and worked hard defending his new country. He helped to bring about the country and world we live in now, and I am proud to have known him.

                     

Mieczylaw Stanislaw Wladyslaw Gorzula was born in a suburb in the Polish city of Cracow, on the 1st of August 1919. He was the son of Wladislaw and Apollonia Gorzula. He had two brothers, Stanislaw and Jan and a sister Helena. (1) His father was a senior guard on the Polish National Railways and would sometimes bring back oranges from his trips to places like Spain and Italy.

Even at an early age, Mike was interested in aircraft and he witnessed, from his back garden, sometimes barefooted in the snow, the famous early Polish aviators, the Janus brothers. He would tell his father that one day he was going to fly as well. His father always pooh-poohed the idea which never seems to have failed to raise indignation in Mike who always said that “I used to go against my father on that!”

When he was about 17, Mike went to the University of Warsaw to study international economics. Getting into university in those days meant that you were either very clever or your parents had money. Mike’s parents did not have a lot of money. Holding onto his dream, he seized the opportunity and joined the university squadron. He learned to fly on old training aircraft and his natural skill brought him to the attention of the regular Polish Air Force, who invited him to join the Air Force, as an officer cadet.

At that time, the Polish Air Force was only a shadow of what it was to become. Mike did the usual infantry training, which he didn’t like all that much before moving into flight training. He proved to be a good pilot and exceptional at aerobatics to the point where he was held back as a flying instructor at the cadet school.

It was here that Mike learnt the power a smart uniform has over girls and he took full advantage of the fact and it was at this time that Mike learnt to play cards, but, not all that well.

Mike was instructing when Germany invaded Poland. He was ordered to take his planes and students down to Romania. They flew to a Romanian airfield well inside the country and landed, surrendering themselves, their aircraft and weapons. By the time Russia stabbed Poland in the back and over-ran the eastern half of Poland, Mike and his cadets were in Bucharest and well on the way to being spirited out of the country. There was a bit of a scene at a railway station where pistols were drawn but there was some diplomatic chicanery that enabled Mike to get away.

He managed to get to Syria, where he found some big French African colonial troopers to be photographed with, before being sent to France, where he, like many other Polish fliers became part of the French Air Force as part of the “Detatchment Polonais”. As France collapsed, Mike escaped from the Germans by getting to Cherbourg and taking a ship to England.

Soon after, making it to England Mike was inducted into the Royal Air Force. He was not allowed to go operational until he was able to speak English well enough to be understood by the ground controllers and had satisfied RAF requirements that he could fly high performance fighters that were well ahead in performance compared to what Poland was flying in September 1939. That was frustrating for many Poles who had arrived in Britain ready to get into fighters and take the war back to the Germans, with a vengeance, especially when England was holding on by the skin of the RAF’s teeth.

Mike was very proud to have been posted to 615 “County of Surrey” squadron, flying MkI Hurricanes in early October 1940. Winston Churchill was the squadron’s honorary Air Commodore and 615 was considered Churchill’s “personal” squadron. Mike became operational in 87 Squadron protecting convoys from the very fast Ju88s becoming one of Churchill’s “Few” who fought in the Battle of Britain.

Establishing himself, Mike then went into serious combat, flying high, cold patrols over Maidstone, fighting the deadly Messerschmitt Bf109E. There were several narrow squeaks and even he noted that a couple of times in his logbook that Lady Luck had swept him up in the folds of her cloak.

In the middle of December he went back to 615 and they began to strike back into occupied France, escorting bombers to hit the invasion barges the Germans were building up. He had a lucky escape when a flak burst flipped and peppered his aircraft, the shrapnel narrowly missing him. 

                                   

When “Tin Legs” Bader was shot down and a pair of spare legs was to be dropped to him, Mike was flying as one of the escorts in the three Hurricane formation.

By now the Poles had set up their own squadrons and Mike went into 302 Squadron, still flying Hurricanes and then they shifted him back to the English 87 squadron but now as night fighters trying to counter German night bombers. During this time, Mike displayed how really good he was in the cockpit of an aircraft.

While there, I received the fright of my young life. I was up at ten or fourteen thousand feet, at night, over blacked out England when my engine stopped. This was a very serious situation as there was no power to light the instruments and no horizon to refer to but I managed to glide to the airfield and after almost hitting a hangar on approach, got it onto the ground, where after coming to a halt at the far end of the field, I passed out from the strain. When I recovered, if found it was a long walk back to the crew room at the far end of the field. 

That was a pretty piece of flying.

         

1942 was taking the fight back to the Germans over France and Mike picked up skid marks in his underwear a couple of times when narrowly escaping from aggressive German pilots. Mike was active flying Rhubarb ground attack harassing missions over France, hitting trains and German transports. He was always sad that on one mission, the cost of it was brought home to him when he shot up a locomotive and saw that the French driver had been blasted out of the cab and was lying dead beside the track. On the other hand - on one mission, a man, who might’ve been German, was driving a horse and cart, which had a green tarpaulin over the back. As Mike flew over, the man pointed a stick like thing at him. Mike got really irritated at that, turned his aircraft around and machine gunned the man without mercy. That frame of mind might have come from watching your comrades being shot down in flames in front of your eyes. Mike did many low level missions against the V1 Flying Bomb sites the Germans had set up in France and it cost him a couple of friends.

In late 1943, Mike was transferred into 315 Squadron, arguably the most famous of the Polish fighter squadrons. Kaz Kijak and Kuba Bargielowski were both there at the same time as Mike.

In the latter part of 1944 Mike did a lot of train straffing which was costly to both the Germans and the Allies: Late in 1944 we often chased German trains and strafed them, denying the German troops on the Western Front vital supplies. I remember one mission where the whole wing, thirty-six aircraft, were out hunting. We found several trains and one fellow went in very low, maybe ten metres off the ground. He was hammering away at the train when something on it exploded almost under his aircraft blowing off one wing. As he was cartwheeling away he had the presence of mind to thumb his radio button and say to us, “I’m going to Heaven boys, goodbye.” Then he hit the ground.

                     

Towards the end of the war, Mike performed a feat of arms that few others managed. He was flying his Mustang as part of the close escort to a daylight bomber raid when the Lancaster heavy bombers were mauled by a flight of German Me262 jet fighters. These aircraft were frighteningly fast for the day and packed a huge punch that could knock down bombers without too much trouble. Mike spied this particular Me 262 heading away from the bomber stream after making a gun pass and dragged his Mustang round in pursuit. Mike’s aircraft was going flat-out in pursuit of the much faster Me262. The Mustang was vibrating so much that a seat mount broke, giving Mike a fright but bringing his mind back to the pursuit saw that the German had made a fatal mistake. The German banked allowing Mike to cut the corner and try a couple of short bursts. Mike fired a long burst and filled the air in front of the 262 with bullets. The 262 was raked from nose to tail. It exploded, the wings and engines falling away. The pilot baled out of the remains and pulled the ripcord. The parachute opened but was on fire. That was the cost. Shooting down an Me262 in air to air combat is something that few men have done. At the cost of a life, it was still a very good piece of combat flying.

For all the flying that Mike did during the war, he still had time for girls, and how many there were. In fact he was so taken with one girl named Jean that he painted her name on his aircraft. That Jean didn’t last long but soon another was on the scene and in his gallant fashion he told her it was in honour of her. Later he created a new piece of art that reflected how pretty she was and how good she was at using the phone. He married her. They had a baby, who was named Stefan. Mike was devoted to his boy as one of his maps from the time had the town on the English coast where Jean and Stefan lived marked with a circle and a big ‘STEFAN’ next to it.

The wife of his son Stefan (Steve) held a Buddhist funeral in Vietnam where she lived for Steve’s father.

After the war, Mike wanted to keep flying so he stayed on and eventually was seconded to the Royal Pakistani Air Force where he enjoyed himself for a year, with a few other former Polish Air Force pilots teaching cadets how to fly.

The way he told it, after a year in Pakistan he had wanted Jean and Stefan to move there with him or maybe to Australia but she refused and as Mike wasn’t going back to England as that would have been a backward step, the result was divorce and it was close on twenty-five years before he and Steve met again.

It seems that Mike’s bad habits were not left in Poland. As his family and squadron comrades can attest to, Mike was a gambler and later a very good drinker. He continually borrowed money from comrades to finance his love of gambling. It made him no friends and it cost him promotion and at least one marriage.

     

Above and below the Buddhist funeral service held in Vietnam. Arranged by the wife of Steve who was unable to attend the funeral in Australia.

     

In Australia, his sweet nature, charm and good looks meant that he never seemed short of girlfriends. Mike was good with numbers and worked for a couple of firms in their accounts departments but the excitement of flying couldn’t match working with numbers and he started selling insurance, I think, to work with people. Anyway, he didn’t like it much and as he had recently married Mary, a very capable woman, who had just been offered a senior nursing job in Cabramurra in the Snowy Mountains, decided to go along. Years later Mike and Mary divorced. Mike found himself a job as a security guard at the Mint and to his credit stayed there for the next 15 years before moving to a security firm.

After retiring from security work he learned to sew pretty well while manufacturing tents and canvas equipment. That was a pretty happy time for Mike. When he retired from that, he lived at the Queanbeyan Hotel where he was well known before it got to the point that he needed some extra help because of his heavy drinking. He moved into an old people’s home, where he was helped and he met Margaret, his lady companion of the last few years. Mike’s physical and mental health picked up markedly when their relationship began.

The Second World War was the biggest event in Mike’s life. After he stopped flying he was unable to establish himself in another profession that gave him deep satisfaction. He really missed flying and his friends from the war. His photos of that time were his most treasured possessions and he liked to have them close by all the time to look at and tell stories about to any one who would listen.

     

(1) The niece of Mike Gorzula, Aneta Jasiolek from Poland recently contacts us and advised that Mike had 4 brothers, Stanislaw and Jan as mentioned, with the other two being Józef and Stefan. 

(2) His son Stefan (Steve) also contacted and supplied us with many other photographs and documents. Some of which have been added to this page. (Many more that we are unable to reproduce here, through lack of space) 

A further mention of Mike is made in the loss report of Eugene Nowakiewicz who was shot down whilst with Mike.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

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Last Modified: 15 November 2015, 09:23