CILICIA

 

I am delighted to be able to follow Ziutekís story with this contribution from Ben Fałat.

 

MV Cilicia was built in 1937. The new ship had hardly settled into a routine when the Second World War broke out, and the CILICIA was requisitioned as an armed merchant cruiser on 31st August 1939. In 1944 she became a troopship, returned to her owners in 1946. In 1965 Cilicia was sold to Holland for use as floating hostel, and renamed Jan Backx

 
Ben, an officer in the Royal Navy, recalled that his father Kazimierz Fałat, known to all his friends as Togo,  had also travelled to the UK on this particular sailing of the Cilicia.  The Fałat name is well known in Poland through the paintings of Benís grandfather Julian Fałat, one of Polandís leading impressionist painters of the 19th/20th centuries.
 

 Before the war Benís father, Togo, also an accomplished painter, lived in Bielsko Biała in Upper Silesia. When the Germans occupied Poland  in 1939,  they considered him politically suspect and he was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.  He was released 6 months later only to be conscripted into the German army two years later (the Germans considered Silesia and Pomerania to be German territory and everyone living there was subject to conscription).  His skill as an artist, and fluency in Italian (his mother was Italian) meant that he was designated ďfor special useĒ and in that capacity he found himself in Italy as a cartographer/interpreter in the defensive perimeter around Salerno during the allied invasion.  A near by shell burst landed him in hospital for a week suffering from shock and loss of hearing

 

Soon after returning into the line the Germans were forced to withdraw but Togo managed to stay behind to surrender to the allies, complete with his satchel of immensely valuable maps showing the disposition of German defences.  While a PoW he volunteered to join the Polish 2nd Corps and, after an English language course, was deployed again for special duties as an interpreter. 

 

As a PoW, Togo had made brief contact with his family in Poland through the services of the Red Cross, but it soon became clear that his position as one of the Ďlanded gentryí made it impossible for him to return safely to Poland after the war.  Even maintaining contact would have risked repercussions against his family by the pathologically suspicious communist government, so he made a conscious decision not contact his family again.  Having arrived in England in 1946 he was posted to Blackshaw Moor camp and after demobilisation found work at the Royal Doulton  ceramic factory in nearby Stoke-on-Trent.  As a skilled artist he was employed painting the famous Doulton figurines prior to firing. He hated the work which allowed no freedom of expression and was just basic craft rather than the art that he enjoyed so much before the war.

 
Ben (Benvenuto) Fałat, was born in Stoke-on-Trent and, in 1975, married Veronica Dunbar the daughter of Captain R.E.C. Dunbar RN, in Lowestoft.  Ben learned that during the war Cpt. Dunbar had been in command of a Monitor-class vessel, HMS ROBERTS, and he recounted supporting the Allied Landings at Salerno with fire from over-the-horizon using two chimneys as aiming-points.  Although we shall never know, it would be remarkable if the exploding shell that landed Benís father in hospital had been fired by Benís grandfather in law.
 
By chance, in 2000, Ben met a cruising yachtsman on a stop over in Lowestoft whom he identified  by his Polish accent and engaged him in conversation.  The yachtsman recognised the Fałat name and recounted how, during a sea-passage from Naples to Glasgow, he befriended another Polish Serviceman onboard who claimed to be related to the famous Fałat, and who had indeed painted his portrait; he still had the portrait at home.  Sadly, though promised, they did not maintain contact.
 

As a Royal Navy Officer, Ben was not allowed to attempt contact with Poland during the Cold War, but once the situation eased, he was able to travel to Poland to see the old family home.  By that time he had learned from a pre-war friend of his father, a displaced person living in France, that he had a half-brother with family in Poland.  His father had learned of his sonís existence while a PoW when it was clear that return to Poland would not be possible.

 
In Benís later career as a school teacher in East Anglia he enjoyed telling his young pupils that however odd they might think he is, his father was an alien and he can prove it by showing them his Travel Document in which he is officially classified as ĎAliení.
 

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