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Many of you will remember the very well-received BBC2 series: ‘Secret Agent Selection: WW2’ which featured several of our Friends and Supporters. It is still available on Netflix (see link below) for viewing, albeit retitled ‘Churchill’s Secret Agents: The New Recruits’. In episode four we saw Friend of SECRET WW2 Magda Thomas lurking in the undergrowth and subsequently, if somewhat worryingly, being awarded the accolade of being the series’ best stalker….. More seriously, Magda talked of her grandfather’s ‘secret war’ in the series and was able to use equipment similar to that operated by him.

Following the 75th anniversary of her grandfather’s death in 2023, Magda has shared her short biography of this courageous man:

My grandfather, Captain Wiktor Gilewicz (pictured), was a Polish communication officer who during WW2 was in charge of wireless communication for the underground Polish Home Army in the Siedlce Region of Eastern Poland.  November 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of his death in a Soviet work camp.

Wiktor Gilewicz was born in 1907 when Poland was still partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria. His family lived in the part of Poland that was under Russian occupation. As a result of these partitions, at the end of the 18th century Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe for 123 years. In 1918 Poland regained independence and then won the war with the Bolsheviks in 1920, stopping the Soviets from invading the rest of Europe. The new borders of Poland differed from those before the partition and part of the area of Eastern Poland, including Wiktor’s family’s home town of Zhytomyr, was incorporated to the Soviet Union. His family then moved to Białystok in North-eastern Poland where his father, Piotr Gilewicz, became a court judge.

After graduation from the Infantry Officers School in 1930 Wiktor joined the 22nd Infantry Regiment in Siedlce where he later met my grandmother. When the war started, his regiment was summoned to fight within the “Pomorze” Army that was defending Warsaw. Wiktor was wounded during the fighting and taken prisoner. After he left prison and was reunited with his wife and their newly born son – my father, he secretly engaged in the underground army in Siedlce as a communication officer, taking the codename “Wolf”.

In the period 1941–1944 he was a chief of the Communication Section of the Siedlce Region, in charge of receiving/transmitting stations in the area. His platoon was communicating with the centre in Stanmore (England), and from 1943 in Bari (Italy), to arrange Special Operations Executive (SOE) drops in this area. Following this communication in 1942 and 1943 several drops of people and equipment were successfully completed.

In May 1944, as a commanding communication officer in this region, he was responsible for the location and safety of radio stations in villages near Siedlce. The messages were about retrieving the German V-2 rocket which fell into the Bug river in May 1944 and did not explode. Parts of the rocket were later transported to London as a part of Operation Wildhorn III, also known as Operation Polish Bridge III.

At the end of the war as the Germans withdrew, he was arrested by the Soviet police, the NKVD, who wanted to get rid of the Home Army officers and eliminate future opposition to Soviet rule in Poland. In early 1945 Wiktor stood trial in Kutno and was sentenced to 10 years of work camps in the USSR. A single letter reached his family in Poland, dated 4 March 1946, sent from a camp in the Komi region in the Soviet Union where he wrote about his poor health, but he was still hopeful that he would get better. According to information from the Polish Red Cross received in 1960, and later confirmed in 1993 when the archives where accessible following the fall of the Soviet Union, he died two and a half years after his letter, on 10 November 1948 in Kozhva – one of the work camps near the town of Pechora, after surviving just four of his ten years’ sentence.

I mention my grandfather in episode 4 of “Churchill’s Secret Agents: The New Recruits series”, where I had the opportunity to use equipment similar to the one my grandfather and his platoon used. Taking part in the series and talking to the expert in wireless communications made me realise how challenging and dangerous his role was. He managed to survive and operate throughout the war under the German occupation, only to be arrested by the Soviets at the end of the war. The series is still available on Netflix:

Long-time readers of this newsletter will recall that Magda’s grandfather was not the only member of her family to take part in the secret war. Her great-aunt, Irena Piwarska (pictured right), was a member of the Polish Resistance and her story ‘She Was The Best of Us All’ can also be found in the Stories category of our web site here.