Mike Subritzky

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST… AND PUNCTUAL

I told this yarn to Paul Gregg over a few beers and a ‘barby’ at his place and he reckoned it was “Pure Subritzky”, and too good not to be shared.

After I quit the Kiwi Army I was involved with several Polish Resistance groups that were based in London and sent money and aid into (then) West Germany, which went to trusted friends and was distributed into Poland. I was made a Captain in the Polish (Independent) Reserve Brigade and my Army number was: 93415. I became part of the New Zealand end of a “well oiled” organisation that was largely made up of retired American Military officers with a Polish background. How the communists were defeated in Poland was in fact quite simple. We sent the money that was raised to London, which was then on-sent to Germany. In Germany members of the group brought Television sets, Videos, and Sky TV’s. These were then taken into Poland and set up by friends who would then record the BBC, CBS, CNN etc World News. They would then make copies of it and these other copies would then be given to trusted Taxi Drivers, Bus/Train Drivers and the like and sent all over the country. The effect this had on the likes of General Jaralzalski and his communist government was absolutely corrosive, in that he would stand up in the Polish Parliament and say one thing, but ‘Solidarity’ would instantly dismiss the statements as propaganda and lies. One very good example being the rough handling by the Polish Police and Military of the Gdansk Shipyard workers which was filmed by Western cameramen, shown on Western Television in Berlin, then taped by friends that same day, and within hours the footage was also being shown throughout the length and breadth of Poland.

After the walls fell down and communism ended I was given the task by the London based Polish Government (In Exile), of writing the history of the entire ‘Exile’ period, which I did originally as a paper and this was later published in 1996, both in English and Polish. As well, my brother Joe, my cousin Basil and I were also required to go to Melbourne which has a large Polish population where we were then decorated with the Polonia Restitutia (Order of Poland), Class III by a Polish General.

I was personally invited to attend the Polish Victory Parade in Warsaw, in 1994, but had to decline due to my father’s failing health.

Anyway I digress: as well as being decorated with the Polonia Restitutia, our American friends also bestowed upon me the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Californian State Medical Reserve. My commission brevet was very kindly signed by US General B. McCune. The Commission was very beautifully illuminated and framed, however California is a long way, away from Te Awamutu so the Commission went in a place of honour on my office wall, along with all of my other bits and pieces and soon after forgotten about.

Some years later (1998), I was invited to attend several ceremonies in Poland and to also stay in a friend’s castle which had recently been returned to him by the democratic government. I was accompanied by my wife Marilyn, my cousin Basil and his wife Raewyn. We attended the ceremonies and then flew back to New Zealand stopping in Hawaii for about a week to catch some sun and shops.

While in Hawaii we also met up with other members of the Brigade, Colonel Richard Clack who was a highly decorated Vietnam Veteran and Stuart Cowan who I think owns a large pineapple plantation. We had dinner with them and their wives one evening, and during the course of a conversation I mentioned that Basil and I would like to visit the USS Arizona Memorial and perhaps lay a wreath. Colonel Clack excused himself for a few minutes and went away and made a phone call. At the end of the dinner when we were leaving, he shook my hand and informed me that he had gotten in touch with Pearl Harbour and that we were to be there at 10:00hrs next morning.

His last words to me were “Be Punctual.”

Well next morning Basil and I got our cameras and the wreath and off we went to the Arizona Memorial by bus. We both wore the standard tourist kit, loud shirt with lots of colourful hibiscus flowers, and loud shorts with a completely different set of multi-coloured hibiscus flowers.

We got off the bus at Pearl Harbour, and not even bothering about the time sauntered down to the entrance of the Memorial. As we were walking down the road a female sailor in uniform who had been standing outside the building suddenly went very quickly inside. When we got to the reception desk there were four marines in uniform and as soon as I said my name they instantly snapped to attention. I could tell by the look on the Junior Officers face that I was talking to that she had been under some considerable stress, but for the life of me I had no idea what. Basil and I were then escorted by two marines each down a long corridor and as we were walking he nudged me and said quietly “Sh.it Mike, you didn’t steal anything did you?” There were quite a number of sailors passing us and as they did so they would all salute the marines, which didn’t make a lot of sense as the highest ranking marine with us was a buck sergeant.

Shortly after we arrived at a doorway, and at the doorway stood a Lieutenant Commander in a full white uniform. He also saluted the marines and then turned to his right and called out “Ladies and Gentlemen… Colonel Subritzky!”

At about that point Basil and I actually walked through the door and into a picture theatre which held I guess about 150 people, mostly in uniform, the theatre was full except for two seats right in the front… they all stood up as we entered.

The Lieutenant Commander then escorted us to the two empty seats and as we sat down I took a quick look at my watch… the time was 10:04hrs. We were four minutes late and the US Navy had held up the movie for us. There was no way we could escape or blend into the crowd as we were both wearing brilliantly colourful hibiscus shirts and shorts. To make matters worse, Basil asked quietly if I had a one cent coin, when I asked him why he replied “Because I want to hide under the bloody thing!”

Well we laid our wreath on the USS Arizona, watched by a large contingent of US military personnel, and as I was looking down into the water and the bones of that once mighty battleship I made a mental note to myself that if ever I am invited to any American gathering in the future, I will ensure that I am at least four minutes early… and wearing the appropriate attire.

Here endeth the lesson.