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FAREWELL TO FELIKS, PILLAR OF POLISH COMMUNITY; Funeral for 83-year-old at the city church he helped to build.

Byline: Cara Simpson NEWS REPORTER

THE funeral takes place today for a pillar of the Polish community in Coventry who has died aged 87.

Feliks Chustecki, of Finham, was among the first Poles to settle in Coventry after the Second World War.

He was born in the south-east of Poland where he lived an idyllic childhood before he was driven out of his home by the Soviet Army.

Feliks and his family were among the two million Poles living in that part of the country who were forced out of their homeland in 1940 for harsh work camps in Siberia.

His 83-year-old wife Stasia, who he met in Coventry, was deported on the same night as Feliks when she was 10 years old. She ended up in South Africa and it was another two years before she was reunited with her family in Coventry.

Recalling the traumatic events of the February 1940 eviction, she said: "There was a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

"Two men barged in with their rifles and woke us up and they made my dad sit on his bed with a soldier holding his rifle towards him.

"He said to get our things, we were going to be moved somewhere else. "They used our own sleighs and horses to take us to the cattle trains, and that was the last time I saw my home."

Families endured a monthlong journey through the winter before they reached their destination.

Feliks and his family were put to work felling trees.

When the Soviets joined the allied forces, Feliks was set free and he travelled to Iran and Palestine where he joined the School for Kadets and trained to serve in the Polish Air Force, fighting alongside the British.

His positive experience of the unit was to become the driving force behind his involvement in the Polish community in Coventry.

He arrived in Liverpool to train as a pilot in 1944 and later studied engineering in Bournemouth after receiving a grant from the air force.

He moved to Coventry in 1950 and worked for the GEC.

He married Stasia four years later after the couple met through a Polish youth group in Coventry.

Credited as being one of the founding members of the city's Polish community, he helped to raise funds to build the Polish Church, St Stanislaus Kostka RC Church in Hillfields, which was consecrated in 1961.

But it is for his contribution to the Polish Saturday School, where he was a teacher for 28 years and headmaster for 12 years, that he is best remembered.

His daughter Zosia said: "He often spoke with great admiration and gratitude about the teachers who had schooled him during the war years in difficult conditions in the Middle East and how they managed to infuse into his lost generation of youngsters a sense of identity and patriotism.

"He said that in schooling the next generation of young Poles in Coventry, he felt as if he was paying back his dues."

After retiring in his early 60s, he devoted more time to his translation work which increased in 2007 when Poland joined the EU. He finally retired last year.

Feliks died after a short illness at Coventry's University Hospital on March 4, leaving his wife, a sister, three children, Andrzej, Zosia, and Krysia, and four grandchildren.

The funeral takes place today at 12pm at St Stanislaus Kostka RC Church, in Springfield Road.

CAPTION(S):

FOUNDING FATHER: Feliks Chustecki and, inset, with his wife Stasia

AIR FORCE: Feliks, right, with another pilot in the Polish Air Force
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 20, 2013
Words:599
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