Author Clive Birch talks about

Eduard (Ted) and me

The second world war worried me. I was too young to fight but too old to ignore it. When my friend’s brother died at Arnhem, I hated Hitler. When war broke out my father had ground my models of the man and his acolytes underfoot, but I saved the Wermacht troopers. After the war I went to Normandy, and saw piles of tanks. In one of them I found the names of the crew. Ordinary people, just like me – and just like those Wermacht toy soldiers.

Yet when the doodlebugs droned, they were exciting, and the D-Day gliders were emblems of glory I didn’t quite understand. It was all rather puzzling to a youngster brought up on the Armada, Waterloo and Empire. It wasn’t much clearer after two years’ On His Majesty’s Service, blancoing my webbing, burnishing my boots and skiving off fatigues as I counted the days to freedom.

Small wonder then that I opted out of the family business and London to take my chance as a teaboy on a north of England newspaper. My girlfriend had dumped me for a married US sergeant, my father introduced me as ‘my son [long pause] I’m afraid he’s a journalist’, and most of my friends were older – and had had ‘a good war’.

German 'Doodlebug' - V1 Flying BombWorld War II German 'Doodlebug' - V1 Flying Bomb I was in a hurry. Offered indentures, I turned them down and was sacked. On reserve military service I saw an old ad, applied, got a news job as a junior reporter in Kent, and a new girl. She lived near Chesham in south Bucks. So I found another job, as chief reporter, covering the nearby ‘new town’ of Hemel Hempstead. My editor said ’New town? What new town? It’ll never happen’, I disagreed, was fired again, and that’s how I found Chesham – and Ted.

 


 

 

The Bucks Examiner was edited by Frank ‘Spec’ Hiddleston, in wing collar, bow tie and weskit, sitting at a Dickensian desk, writing it all in longhand – he remembered trailing Keir Hardie, Labour’s founding father, from husting to husting in London, and paying the penniless politician’s tramfares. He had come to Chesham fifty years before - and written the entire paper longhand for 25 of them. He was about to retire. I joined him. Then Sandy Erskine replaced him, and I replaced Sandy.

I joined the Examiner in 1954. Within months my precious hi-fi broke down, and I took it to Tunaley’s, one of two radio and gramophone shops. I was ushered through the premises to a twilit room at the back, where a silent figure stood, up to his wrists in wires, delving deep into a box of tricks called a tel-y-vision. That was Ted or, as he would invariably preface any significant statement ‘Apparently’ that was Ted.

EduardEduard (Ted) CzajkowskiWhat was quickly apparent was that this Ted was no ordinary mortal. Quiet, almost always smiling, and never ever fazed by anything remotely electronic, he brought dead kit back to life in a trice. We became friends. Most weeks we went out and about. Ted liked a flutter. Those were the days when to play the tables you joined a club, a ‘country club’. Ted’s was at Missenden. Usually he won. Unlike Laurie Kress, a German Jew, interned throughout the war, now a successful businessman and the proprietor of Atlas Pencils. He liked a flutter too, but he generally lost. Perhaps it was the common ground of displacement that brought them together, for it seemed to me that it was Laurie who spoke for Ted at the club, and it was certainly Ted who spoke for me, since I could neither afford the membership nor the bets. I just sat and sipped my beer. And it was when, occasionally, for we were neither of us boozers, we had had just that extra one, that Ted might let slip a morsel about the war. At first I didn’t heed him but gradually the accumulation of underdone anecdotes triggered my auto-report mode, and I began to tuck them away in my memory.

 


 

Ted was married and had two offspring. They lived in a modest council house in Chesham, while I slummed it in digs, then a tiny cottage. I got married, and it became customary at Christmas for Ted to roll up with a gift for the lady of the house, and a prolonged kiss under the mistletoe, for Ted was one of those individuals, blest or cursed according to your viewpoint, who magnetised women.

We didn’t spend much time in each other’s homes. Ted liked to go out but he was not a party man. I can only recall two evenings together at his house and not many more in mine. When I was again fancy-free Ted would introduce me to this or that ex-girlfriend and never seemed to lack a pretty face for company. They all loved Ted.

Ted with his first wife-1950sTed with his first wife–1950sWhen I formed a pro-am theatre group, Ted handled the lighting – the Evening Standard praised his effects. When I needed a new TV, Ted supplied it – at a ridiculous discount. In fact he overcame our prejudices as a screen-free household when he presented us with our first Bakelite box as a Christmas gift. Our marriages came and went, and Ted left Tunaley’s, starting his own supply and repair one-man business in an ex-war prefab hutment, tucked behind the Market Square shops. There we would meet and talk, or repair to a simple eatery for a leisurely meal. And still the stories trickled out.

By then Ted was living with a lovely lady in Wendover, where we would take dinner together. His children were both married and both were successful. Ted still tackled TVs. I remember the first printed circuit he saw. He looked at it, dove his hands in, and miraculously it worked. I asked him if he had a manual, how he knew what to do and he shrugged – ‘apparently it’s easy’ he said. And it always was. The man was a communications genius. Which was why I often wondered, why wasn’t he rich?

 


Never short of a bob, often with interesting motors – he ran a 3.4 Jag for a while, the envy of us all, Ted never aspired to fame, fortune or fancy habitat. I began to realise it had something to do with the war.

 

Time and again Ted had tried to get a visa to go back to Poland – not to stay but to refresh his roots. His mother was living with him when first we met – her story is in the book. Now she was long gone. Ted’s trouble was that he was persona non grata, because he had fought for us, and we were anti-communist. Then one fine day he was uncharacteristically jubilant. He had a visa. And off he went, back home, not to Cjortkow, but at least to Poland, to rediscover his family, in this case his cousin.

He bought a little wooden cabin in the forest near Cracow, a new Polish home. And he brought family back to Britain. He rang me ‘Come to lunch – a new place, just outside Aylesbury. See you in the bar.’ Long before this his nice lady had died, but he was still living in their Wendover home, and we had struck a deal.

My mental compendium of Ted’s half-tales of wartime episodes had become too much to carry but too much to leave alone. So I had said to Ted ‘There’s a book here’ and he, to my surprise, had agreed. The deal was that I, who by then was running my own publishing business, should drive over each Wednesday – by then I had remarried and was living near Buckingham – pick him up, wine and dine him at the Red Lion, and then repair back to his house, where he provided the scotch, I asked the questions, and we watched blue movies. An intriguing mix.

 


 

Relaxed, Ted seemed almost relieved to roll out much more detail, sometimes half remembered conversations, sometimes stark descriptions of places and people, often entertaining recollections, invariably with a woman somewhere or other, and I started to take notes, lots of notes, reams of them. Then it was back-tracking, asking for detail, filling in gaps, and gradually it became clear that I had on my hands an extraordinary story – a life lived so fast and so deep and sometimes so dreadful that I began for the first time to understand what I had struggled with all those years ago, when I was growing up.

Yet there was one area where I could not get Ted to open up. He kept on citing Official Secrets, even showing me papers he had signed. He would only hint at what he called the suicide mission, letting slip small clues, but never enough to reveal it all. His early life, arrest, exile to the gulag, camp, escapes, army training and everything including SOE was mine to know. The Balkan drop and the golden days were all laid bare, but that suicide mission, that was obscured. All I had were hints which suggested France, indications which suggested high rank, and the starkly obvious single fact – that this was a mission he concluded entirely on his own.

That is why one day, when I was talking to my French friends about the mystery of their town Vimoutiers, and why it was blasted by USAF bombers, I felt this was, if not the actual mission, one that so closely fitted all the facts, that it could at least exemplify the one missing piece in my otherwise completed jigsaw puzzle of Eduard’s war. But that was some time after Ted had left Wendover.

 


 

When Ted rang and invited me to lunch, I was intrigued. I arrived, looked around for him, then found him sitting at a table – with a fresh-faced, Rubinesque young lady.‘Apparently this is my second cousin’ said Ted. She was the lead oboe in the Cracow State Orchestra. She was also the daughter of Ted’s cousin, over to see a bit of Britain, Ted said. I believed him, but there was a nagging thought that maybe, no surely not, but, well, he was Ted. And he was alone. And so it proved – not alone for long. Ted was in love.

Then he had a stroke. In hospital he recovered quickly. Who wouldn’t with someone like that to go home to? The second stroke scuppered his speech. It did not scupper Ted. I was best man at their wedding. They settled in a bungalow in Stoke Mandeville, and a daughter was born. The strokes multiplied, so did Ted’s pills, and his inability to talk suffered so that our ‘talks’ were somewhat monosyllabic, yet we always knew what we were saying.

I promised him I would return to the book. It had suffered secondment due to business, the museum I had founded, and my City interests. Ted moved house, and his young wife somehow neglected to tell me - and then he died. That was when and why I determined to write his life. Because the war was Ted’s life. He loved all his family but that was the extent of his ambition. I concluded that for Ted, nothing could ever compare with those five years, when he packed more into half a decade than most of us achieve in a lifetime. How could commercial or financial success ever compare with what he had gone through and achieved?

Ted’s death prompted me to buckle down to the book. I back researched it all. I no longer had Ted to tell me what had happened, and my ageing notes were incomplete. Yet every detail he told me was confirmed. The deeper I dove the more detail I found, the more it emerged that what he had divulged was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 


 

It took several months to track down the missing contexts, the details of place and event, weaponry and ways of life. Then I wrote – one day a week, and read it aloud to my wife, whose body language always tells me when I need to make a change. The book was completed in around nine months.

As a publisher myself I knew I had neither the right nor the ability to judge my work; my specialism was history; this was certainly that, but it was recent, and ‘fiction’. I wrote to publishers. Most ignored me. I wrote to 45 literary agents. Eleven replied, all bar three with standard rejections. One told me she didn’t like it, another that he did but it was not a good time. The other was a friend, and he just said it was a pity I wasn’t Victoria Beckham, for then it wouldn’t matter what it was, it would be published.

One of my interests was an unusual arrangement I had made for my City livery company with the armed forces – a high level association to recognise their dedication, and that had led to a particular friendship with an RAF officer. One day we were lunching and he asked me if I wrote anything those days. Having published hundreds of books, and written 23 myself, the question was predictable. I told him about Ted and he told me he had a stake in a new publishing firm.

Ted’s story eventually appeared, but the firm disappeared, and that might have been that. My wife also works in publishing – marketing books for publishers. One evening she brought home a fascinating account of a Polish woman’s war, and I asked her about the publisher. That’s how I met Stefan, who warmed to Ted’s tale, and took it upon himself to make it available as an e-book. If you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed an evening with my friend Ted, that will go some way further to honour the memory of a truly decent man.