Thoughts as I buy my poppy
By George Farrell
Published Nov. 9, 2017
I’m a baby boomer, the product of a war time romance between a Polish fighter pilot and an English woman who was a member of the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
Her job was to deliver armaments to planes on the airfield. That was how she met my biological father, Jerzy Mielnicki. I never got to know Jerzy because on Feb. 2, 1945, while flying reconnaissance over England, his Spitfire crashed, and he was killed. He was only 21. My mom, Jean Corbett, was only 20 when I was born on July 15.
I can’t begin to imagine what those war years were like for people just barely out of their teens. I know that they were exciting years, but full of tension, because you never knew who was coming back from bombing missions over Europe, or aerial dog fights over Great Britain.
My mom, who came from a middle-class family in Shropshire, lied about her age and signed up when she was only 17. For her bold decisions she was ostracized by her family, so it was just me and Mom for the next few years, which was extremely tough on the both of us. While she was working in the Midlands I was left in the care of my Polish grandparents, who had escaped the German invasion of Poland, and were living in London.
My grandparents decided that I would go into a boarding school for displaced Polish boys; and so I went, kicking and screaming. I was only five or six at the time and I remember being the only English kid in the school. It was the saddest and loneliest time of my life and I remember crying myself to sleep every night. I tried to learn the language but I didn’t receive much help. What kept me going was a promise from Mom that she would see me at the end of term, and take me home for Christmas.
Eventually Christmas came and all the parents came and picked up their kids. I remember watching as all the families left, one by one, until I was the only boy remaining. I was in tears, but finally Mom arrived. She was appalled at my condition. Apparently I had sores and bruises all over my legs. I never went back to the school.
Mom took me to Worcester, in the Midlands, where she was working, and we moved around a bit from place to place. Life was tough, but our saving grace came in the form of Stanley Charles Farrell, a race-track gambler, semi-pro snooker player, and painting contractor. Mom fell for his charm and good looks. Stanley had served as a radio operator on bombing missions in the war and was later stationed in the Middle East, where he was part of a team that flew VIPs around.
Stanley and Mom were married in 1954, and shortly thereafter Mom’s parents accepted her back into the fold. And I finally had a dad. We got along well and the bond grew over the years. He turned out to be a great dad, and in 1955 we immigrated to Canada.
Dad soon found us a place to stay, near High Park, in Toronto, and I was enrolled in school. Then I had the misfortune to step on a rusty nail and I almost lost my foot to infection. This was the days before OHIP and I was hospitalized for weeks. It took all my parents’ savings. But Mom found work as a beautician and Dad set up business as a painting contractor.
He got his paint at a Toronto store owned by Bill Douglas, who happened to own property in Gelert. Bill invited Mom and Dad up to his cottage, and not long after that my parents purchased their own property, and built their own cottage. Mom and Dad moved permanently to the Highlands in the ’70s and Michelle and I followed in 1980. We raised both our boys here and we’ve never regretted it.
These are the things I think about when I buy my poppy, and I give thanks to my fathers, Jerzy and Stanley, and my mom Jean, and all the veterans; because it was their sacrifices that made this life possible for us baby boomers, our children, and our children’s children. I’d also like to give thanks to the Minden Legion, and especially Veterans Affairs Canada, for their contributions in making every day as comfortable as possible for my parents, who now reside at the Hyland Crest long-term care facility in Minden.