This Easter Monday will be a bank holiday for many in Europe, as well as a time of reflection for families affected by the Smolensk air disaster of April 10, 2010.
ORLAfm contributed much community reporting during that terrible day 13 years ago when Poland’s constitution perished in a Russian-built plane heading for the Katyn memorial.
But that disaster also affected our Polish community in London.
As some of you will know, I personally knew five people on board that flight, including the last Polish president in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, and I also had interviewed incumbent president Lech Kaczynski in London in 2007. But this year I have a special reason for wanting to share memories of one of those five people.
I experienced perhaps the worst personal trial that can be faced in life, when my mother Mira Matlock died unexpectedly on 1 March. I invited Father Zygmunt Zapaśnik from London’s St Andrew Bobola church to preside at the funeral service on 29 March at Mortlake Crematorium. A short obituary announcement was printed in the Polish newspaper in London, Tydzien Polski on 31 March.
In my eulogy to my mother, who worked in media in Poland until she defected in 1966 to London, I also reminded those present that 20 years ago this October I stood in the very same spot to read the eulogy for my father.
Only on that date in 2003, St Andrew Bobola had a new pastor. He had been in his new work for about one month. A very erudite and articulate Father Bronislaw Gostomski. He was also personal chaplain to Pres. Kaczorowski.
In December 1979 he began his service as a Priest for the Polish Community in England, first in the Parish of Our Lady, Mother of the Church at Windsor Road in Ealing, the same church from where ORLAfm’s inaugural guest emanated. Later Father Bronislaw served in the Polish Parishes in Peterborough and Bradford.
In March 2003, he was honoured by Pope John Paul II with the title of Monsignor and in September that year he was nominated as Parish Priest of St. Andrew Bobola’s church in London. It was therefore a considerable honour that he should preside at my father’s funeral service before my dad Frank was repatriated to be buried with my grandmother and grandfather on the slopes of Cieszyn overlooking the border with the Czech Republic.
Sadly, this affable local priest was also on board the fated flight to Smolensk where he perished.
On April 10, 2010, ORLAfm visited the church in Shepherd’s Bush and interviewed church goers who flooded the church to pay their respects to Father Bronislaw. One of those who attended and was interviewed by ORLAfm was the then Polish ambassador Barbara Tuge-Erecinska. Later that day one of ORLAfm’s reporters was invited onto BBC World television in White City to speak live about the outpouring of grief experienced by the Polish community in Britain.
The years have passed but the controversy about what really happened at Smolensk remains. Yet today we just want to remember those whom we have lost and how our Polish community is inter-connected in so many ways.