There are some stories which read like fiction but are known to a very small circle of friends and family. Neither the Turowicz’s, nor their children, ever mentioned the exciting but dangerous experiences they had during World War 11. It was only recently that I came to know the fascinating story of Zofia Turowicz. Her husband, Air Commadore Turowicz - who is considered a national hero by his countrymen - passed away in January 1980 but Zofia is still active and fiercely independent, though in the past ten years she has had a series of strokes and is now physically frail. She prefers to live on her own - though her eldest daughter is nearby - and keeps in touch with a wide circle of friends of all ages through e-mail and the internet.
This is the story of this remarkable woman.
Zofia Turowicz was born in Warsaw in 1916. It was the time of World War 1, at the end of which Poland was reconstituted as a sovereign nation after having been partitioned between Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia over a century earlier. After completing her secondary schooling in Warsaw, Zofia enrolled at the Warsaw Polytechnic, the most prestigious engineering institution in the country, to study aeronautical engineering. She had a passion for flying and joined the Warsaw Aero Club where she was a keen glider pilot, parachutist and balloonist and competed in several national events. It was at the Aero Club that she met a fellow enthusiast, Wladyslaw Turowicz and they were engaged to be married when the Second World War broke out with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Zofia, who was then just twenty-three years old and two other female pilots were appointed as liaison officers by the Air Command. They flew RWD8 biplanes, carrying personnel and documents to Air Force units, landing and taking off from improvised runways in fields since most of the air strips had been destroyed by heavy and repeated German bombardment.
When the Soviet Army attacked Poland from the East, the three women were ordered to destroy their aircraft to prevent them from falling into enemy hands and to cross over into Romania, a country which was at that time still neutral. They managed to reach Bucharest, where they reported for duty to the Polish embassy; they were assigned duties as liaison officers, gathering information about Polish soldiers interned in Romanian camps. Apart from collating lists of names, together with photographs and personal data, Zofia took on the dangerous task of providing the internees with civilian documents and clothes to enable them to escape to France. At the internment camp in Slatyna, she managed to locate her fiancé and they were married at the camp.
Some weeks later a Romanian friend warned Wladyslaw - who was responsible for the interned Poles - that the camp authorities had decided to arrest him for collaboration in the escape of so many internees. Zofia and Wladyslaw managed to leave Romania by train and when they reached France, they reported to the Polish Air Head Quarters in Paris. Wladyslaw was posted as technical officer at Lyons, while Zofia was given the war-time rank of Pilot Officer. It was suggested to her by the station commander at Lyons that she engage in eaves-dropping and reporting conversations in the Officers' Mess in order to gauge political sympathies but she found this distasteful and refused. She then returned to Paris where she was assigned office duties in the Anti-Aircraft Department at Saint-Nazaire. Later, when the Germans broke through the Maginot Line, the unit was evacuated to England but the ship on which Zofia was to have crossed the Channel had to depart early because of an air raid and she, together with other stranded personnel, sailed to Plymouth in a fishing boat.
In England, she continued working in the same department. Eventually, her husband also arrived in England (via Spain and North Africa) and was assigned the duties of Crash Inspector, investigating aircraft accidents. When Zofia found that she was expecting her first child she applied for maternal leave and accompanied her husband on his visits to crash sites. Keeping true to her courageous and hardworking nature, she literally became a 'beacon of light' and often helped him navigate through heavy fog by walking ahead of his car with a lantern!
Soon after the birth of their first daughter in 1942, another was born to them in 1944 and for a couple of years Zofia was fully occupied in her home at the various RAF bases around England where her husband was posted. It was during this period that she learned of the deaths in Warsaw of her entire family at the hands of the Nazis. After the war, the couple decided not to return to a Poland ruled by communists and in 1948 Wladyslaw was recruited, along with some thirty other Polish airmen to serve in the newly-constituted Pakistan Air Force, playing a major role in its establishment. Zofia and the two little girls joined him in Karachi in 1949, where a third daughter was born. Between 1950 and 1954, Zofia taught gliding to the Shaheen Air Cadets in Karachi and Rawalpindi. Many officers, both serving and retired, remember her with fondness.
Unlike the majority of the Polish officers, the Turowiczes decided to stay on in Pakistan after the expiry of their contract and took Pakistani nationality. Their home was always a magnet for any Poles who visited Pakistan as the family welcomed them warmly.
In 1955 a son was born and in 1957 Zofia started teaching Mathematics at the Karachi American School, also indulging her interest in art with painting and clay modelling. She stopped working to nurse her husband when he became bedridden in 1970.
In 1991, Zofia was awarded the Gold Service Medal of the Republic of Poland. In 2005 the visiting Deputy Minister for Defence presented her with the Pro Memorial Medal awarded that year to all surviving Polish participants in World War II. Aged 92, Zofia Turowicz is a living example of the way one should go through life - full of spirit and brave at heart - now surrounded by happy memories and a wide circle of friends of all ages.