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Michael Czeredrecki

Paratrooper and tailor;

Paratrooper and tailor;

Born August 18, 1918; Died November 22, 2013

Michael Czeredrecki, who has died aged 95, arrived in Scotland after an epic journey from Poland with the hope that he and his fellow paratroopers would ultimately return to liberate their homeland from Nazi rule.

The young soldiers, who were part of the Polish army in exile amassed following Hitler's invasion of Russia, had volunteered to form the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, based in Fife.

They were to be used on operations in their homeland with the sole purpose of setting the country free again. But that mission did not go ahead and instead they were deployed on the doomed Operation Market Garden over Arnhem, later portrayed in the film A Bridge Too Far.

For Mr Czeredrecki, his war effectively ended there, his parachute tangled in a tree. The young man, who had already been orphaned as a little boy and later exiled to a gulag in Siberia, was now captured by waiting German troops and sent to a stalag.

He would eventually make it back to Poland several decades later but by that time his heart and his home were permanently in Scotland.

His extraordinary story of survival, defined by an unbreakable spirit, began in rural south-east Poland where he was born Michal (correct), the son of Andrzej and Antonina Czeredrecki. The family worked a small farm in the village of Jablovanow near the Ukrainian border and he was raised by his five older sisters after the deaths of his parents in quick succession when he was still a young boy.

Then, in 1939, on the eve of the German invasion of Poland that began the Second World War, the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression agreement the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact saw eastern Poland become Russian territory.

For young Czeredrecki that marked the start of a horrendous period when he was taken from his home by Russian troops and, having refused to join them, deported to Siberia. Tens of thousands of Poles suffered the same fate, banished to the gulags where, he recalled, it was so cold that people's fingers and toes, and in some cases their nose, simply dropped off in the sub-zero temparatures.

In June 1941, Germany broke the pact and attacked the Soviet Union, leading to General WBadysBaw Sikorski, (correct) prime minister of the Polish Government in exile, striking a deal for the release of Polish captives. As a result, Mr Czeredrecki made his way to Persia, joining a new Polish fighting force under the command of General Wadyslav Anders, who had been establishing an army in exile.

After spending some time in the Middle East with Anders' Army he was recruited as a paratrooper and headed for Scotland where the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was formed in September 1941.

His journey by ship took him down the coast of Africa where they stopped at Mombasa to refuel and re-stock. By chance, there he found one of his sisters Michelina, and her son Jozef, in a refugee camp. It was then he discovered that the family farm had been destroyed and all his brothers-in-law killed. Of the sisters, only Michelina had escaped Poland; the rest stayed and went into hiding.

Her brother later brought her to Scotland where she stayed before moving to England and marrying again, to a fellow Pole. Many years later Mr Czeredrecki would meet up just once with one other sister in the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was established at headquarters in Largo House, Leven, where their parachute training involved jumping from a specially-constructed tower.

They later trained at a Manchester aerodrome and by 1944 the brigade was more than 3000-strong, all hoping to parachute into Warsaw and reclaim their country.

Instead they ended up taking part in Operation Market Garden, Field-Marshal Montgomery's airborne offensive to seize strategic bridges over the Rhine around Arnhem in Holland, which was launched on September 17, 1944. British paras went in first but were immediately met with resistance and ultimately failed to capture the bridge at Arnhem.

The Polish Parachute Regiment's drop, scheduled for September 19, was delayed by bad weather and when they finally took off on the 21st it was for a new drop zone at Driel.

Mr Czeredrecki landed badly in a tree and was injured, captured immediately as a Prisoner of War and incarcerated in a stalag.

Although others courageously fought on, the Battle of Arnhem was a failure. The British 1st Airborne Division lost almost three-quarters of its strength in the operation, the Polish brigade lost almost a quarter.

In the PoW camp Mr Czeredrecki, by another coincidence of war, met Alex Brooks, the brother of his Scottish girlfriend May, whom he had met at a dance not long after arriving in Fife. Both men managed to make it safely back to Fife.

Mr Czeredrecki returned to his brigade in Scotland which included Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear and honorary soldier, acquired by the army in 1942 as a cub in the mountains of Persia.

The bear, who enjoyed a smoke and a beer, had lived and fought alongside the Polish soldiers in the Middle East and Italy where they won the battle of Monte Cassino with Wojtek, as a member of 22nd Transport Company of the Artillery section, supplying ammunition by carrying boxes of live shells from lorries to gun emplacements.

When the soldiers were billeted in Scotland Wojtek came with them. He died in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963 and a memorial to him is planned for the capital's Princes Street Gardens.

After being demobbed, Mr Czeredrecki married May in 1946 and worked for a time down the mines in Fife. But that life was not for him and he decided to become a tailor. Having altered uniforms during the war, he took a correspondence course, making up suits and sending them down to London by train for his work to be assessed. After qualifying, he opened a tailor's, Michael's, in his home in Leven's Forth Street. His wife opened a dress shop downstairs and they ran the business for more than 30 years until he retired when he was 65. Work and family were the mainstay of his life in Scotland. Like the overwhelming majority of his comrades, he had opted not to go back to Poland after the war and, although he did visit his homeland twice, he never again returned to his own village.

He adapted to his new life with the same stoicism that had helped him to survive the appalling hardships of his early years, greeting each new challenge as an obstacle to be overcome. That same strength of spirit, coupled with his good nature, also helped him cope when he lost his wife 12 years ago.

He is survived by his son Stanislaw, daughter Marianna, grandchildren Nadia, Nicola and Nina and grandson Daniel Michael, named after him.

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