I had an email from Charlotte who told me she’d always been curious about a grave at Christ Church in Burntwood. It belongs to Dragon Franciszek Kempa, who was born in September 1919 and died aged 25 on 12th November 1944. Why is a member of the 10th Dragoon Regiment of the Polish 1st Armoured Division buried here?
Documents relating to the Polish Armed Forces are kept in an archive at The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum. However, there’s currently a waiting list for postal enquiries of around 6 months and so it would probably be quicker to pay a visit to that London in person. In the meantime, I’m hoping that someone out there might be able to help us piece together the story of Burntwood’s Black Devil.
My best guess at the moment is that Franciszek was a military patient at the Emergency Hospital, set up at St Matthew’s between 1940 and 1947, who sadly succumbed to his wounds sustained during the unit’s Normandy campaign, or its subsequent action in Belgium and Holland. For a bit of background reading, Ethel Lote’s account of being a nurse at the hospital during this time is here. I also found a letter published in the Lichfield Mercury, from James Gantley of The King’s Regiment (Liverpool), just a few weeks after Franciszek died. He wrote:
Sir – I would like you to publish this letter in your paper as it is the only way I can show my appreciation for the good the local people did and still do for the soldiers at Burntwood Hospital. I have only recently left Burntwood EMS Hospital and though I was only there a short while, I think that the best I can do is to thank the local people from the bottom of my heart for the attitude they show to the wounded soldiers of the Hospital. I know that almost every day there is an outing for the boys who are fit enough to go. I have been on these outings myself and was delighted at the reception the people gave us, and I’m sure that many of them went out of pocket just for the sake of giving us a good enjoyable evening. Food was plentiful for us, also cigarettes and at many places we got some cash. It beats me as to how these good natured people managed to do this for us.
The miners must not be forgotten either, because they did everything in their power to give us a good time, and I must say that is exactly what we had when we were invited to their clubs. The boys who went to the Lido Club will verify that.
Also, I must not forget the people of Burntwood, who supplied us with some very good entertainment in their school hall. There is also Hercules, Lucas’s and St John’s of Birmingham who helped to make us soldiers happy. These are a few of the places who have helped but there are many more.
We must also remember the Nurses and Staff of the Hospital who make it possible for us to enjoy these occasions. They must be heartily thanked for the tough work they do, and which they have been doing through the dark years of the war. Many don’t realise how hard their work is but they deserve as much praise as the men on the battlefield.
I will now conclude with my letter, but before I close I must once again thank all those local people on behalf of myself, and I’m certain the other boys of the Hospital who have enjoyed their hospitality feel the same as I do. England is worth fighting for, even if it’s only to keep up this good sociable spirit that Englanders have always had. These things will never be forgotten even when this war is over and the world is once more a peace.
Information or thoughts from anyone who can help to shed any light on how this corner of a Burntwood field became for ever Poland would be very welcome.
Lichfield Mercury Friday 24th November 1944