By David Powell
Walking was so much easier in the sunshine. I had just photographed the A4 Pacific ‘Bittern’ as it made its way south through the village of Burn, down the East Coast Main Line towards London.
The location, beside a bridge on a farm track was a favourite spot of mine. It was also popular with enthusiasts who filmed trains on video. It was nice and open, with farmers’ fields on either side.
The engine looked and sounded superb, and was bang on time too. I was happy with my shot and decided to walk back into the village and have a drink in the pub, The Wheatsheaf, alongside the busy A19 which ran right through the village.
I knew there was a bus for Pontefract every hour, so I had no rush to get back, not on such a nice day. My walk took about 10 minutes, past some old abandoned huts which looked like aircrew billets left over from when there was an RAF bomber base here. I knew it was from this base that P/O Cyril Joe Barton took off for a raid on Nuremberg on 30 March 1944, that resulted in him being awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, but that was all I knew of the history of this base, now home to Burn Glider Club.
Eventually I got a break in traffic and crossed the road and stepped into The Wheatsheaf. A true typical village pub, it was obvious this one was cared for, well kept and with a real homely feel.
Being the afternoon it was understandably quiet, indeed there was just one other customer in standing at the bar. He was in conversation with an attractive lady who on seeing me came over and said hello. I checked the pumps and was glad to see that York Brewery’s Yorkshire Terrier was on hand-pull and asked for a pint.
Pyotr was leading Helen around; she now had her hair down, and looked stunning in a red dress
I was actually being served by the landlady, whose name was Helen. She was about 5ft 7in with lovely blue eyes and blonde hair tied back.
She pulled what looked a perfect pint and left me with a smile. The beer tasted as good as ever, and the other customer, noticing my enjoyment, came over to talk to me.
His name was Pyotr Medwecki, from Poznan in Poland. Meeting an Eastern European was not unusual in the Selby area, as there were many workers from that region living locally. I told him what I’d been doing, and we talked about steam trains and his great passion, farming.
Apparently, he had left the family farm to come to England. He was about six feet tall, of slim build with brown eyes, clean shaven and really friendly. An hour and three pints later, I had to answer a call of nature, my new friend ordering another beer.
Five minutes later, I returned to the bar and almost fell over with shock. The room was crammed full of people, mostly men in Air Force Blue, and young women all in 1940’s clothing.
The sounds of a big band were playing, some people were dancing and everyone was clearly having a wonderful time. I shook my head. Was this really happening?
Pyotr passed me my drink. A very pretty young woman in Land Girl uniform asked me to dance and before I could refuse was twirling me around. How we didn’t hit anyone else I don’t know.
The whole atmosphere was wonderful. Pyotr was leading Helen around; she now had her hair down, and looked stunning in a red dress.
I hadn’t enjoyed myself this much in a long time. The pub truly was bouncing. One airman after another shook my hand and bought me a drink.
As is the case, eventually I needed the facilities again, and when I returned all was quiet. The place was deserted; not even a sign of Pyotr.
I spied Helen in the other room, busying herself. I looked around the room. There were lots of framed pictures on the walls, and decided to have a look. Just as I thought, they were all about RAF
Burn, pictures of aircrew that had passed through.
How sobering to see those faces, all smiling even though they knew this could be their last day on Planet Earth. As I spied the last picture, I dropped my drink, the glass smashing on the floor, the sound really echoing in the now quiet room.
As Helen, hair once again tied back with no sign of the red dress, rushed through and asked if I was okay, I stammered an apology and pointed out the picture to her.
It was of aircrew from 578 Squadron. Standing right in the middle, large as life, was Pyotr.
I read the piece of text below that told of the return of their Halifax Bomber from a raid on Augsburg on 18th July 1944. As they crossed the English Coast, they were attacked by a German night
fighter, and three of its engines caught fire. The crew started to bail out, but the Pilot, Sgt Joe Cousins, was injured and was unable to help himself. Pyotr strapped his own parachute on to his skipper, and dragged him to the hatch, and pushed him out.
Soon after, the wing of the plane hit some trees and the bomber cartwheeled, killing Pyotr instantly.
The rest of the crew survived until the end of the war. Pyotr was awarded a posthumous DFC for his actions, one of many won by crews from RAF Burn.
Helen held my hand as I returned to the bar and took a seat. I told her I had been talking to the man in the photo, and she gave a lovely smile and said: “Oh,that’s Polish Pete… he’s always here.”