The Royal New South Wales Lancers

 
 
Henry Mikel A Lancer's Story
 
 

Henry Mikel was born in Poland, son of a pilot in the Polish Air Force.  When he finished his schooling Henry followed his dad into the Air Force.  When Germany conquered Poland in 1939, he was a cadet in the Air Academy.  After capitulation, the Polish Air Force, including the Academy cadets fled to England to continue the fight.  The trained pilots were drafted into the Polish squadrons of the RAF.  The Academy cadets, were considered too young and untrained.  As a group, they volunteered to join Free Polish units fighting with the British army.  Henry saw service in North Africa and Italy with a mechanised unit.  Captured at Monte Cassino, he became a Prisoner of War in Germany. When the prison camp was taken by the Americans in 1945, Henry and his comrades volunteered to re-join their units in the hope of taking part in the liberation of Poland.  That did not happen.

After demobilisation, he sought a a new life, migrated to Australia and anglicised his name.  He worked with the New South Wales Railways, as a fireman and then driver; later becoming a technical officer at the Munitions Filling Factory, St Marys.  It was his wife, Dorothy who suggested he could satisfy his interest in things military by joining the Australian Army.  Henry enlisted in the Regiment in 1960.  His vehicle and combat knowledge ensured he rose quickly through the ranks.  Soon he was a corporal, then sergeant in the somewhat legendary recce troop commanded by the then Captain Glenny.

I met Henry in 1974, he had stayed on when others departed as the unit converted from Centurions and Ferrets to M113s.  He was the chief instructor on my M113 Driving and Servicing course.  He was to me, and many other young officers, the kind of mentor that you must have.  My next memory was 1983 at Bourke.  I was on the exercise headquarters under the then Colonel Glenny, Henry had risen to the rank of Warrant Officer Class Two, and was SSM HQ Sqn; we found each other on a side road, just North of Louth (one of us, I recall was geographically confused).  By 1983, Henry was well over the retirement age of a WO2, at that time 55; with few Polish records surviving World War II, however, the Army did not know his real age; he had ceased to wear his wartime medals.

Henry eventually retired from the Army in 1984, he was a special guest of honour at the church parade in 1985, the Regiment's centenary year.  He was resplendent in his uniform, all his medals on display, and a silver "R" on his shoulders.  His boots were so shiny that you could see your face in them.  The day was hot, so Dorothy had to forgo the shade of her umbrella, it had to be positioned to shade the boots should the sun take off the gleam.

Henry stayed in contact during his retirement; the last time we saw him was at the Regimental reunion in October 2007

Henry passed away at the age of 86 at his home in Rooty Hill on 16 December 2007.

Henry's funeral was held at Minchinbury on 21 December, the chapel overflowed, with Henry's family were some 30 Lancers including Association President Len Koles and three past Commanding Officers, Major General Glenny, Colonel Long, and Lieutenant Colonel McPhee; all of whom had served with and taken counsel from Henry.

Henry will be remembered as someone who contributed a great deal, serving his native Poland, and his adopted Australia to the very best of his ability.



Some of the Lancers at Henry's funeral

John Howells 2008


New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum Incorporated ABN 94 630 140 881; Linden House, Lancer Barracks, 2 Smith Street, PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA
Postal Address: PO Box 7287, PENRITH SOUTH NSW 2750, AUSTRALIA; Telephone: +61 (0)405 482 814 Email:
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