A new short film dedicated to the Polish airmen was premiered on June 22nd 2019. The film was produced by the Polish Airforce Memorial Committee in London. It recalls the history of the Polish War Memorial in Northolt which was unveiled to honour and commemorate the Poles killed in the Second World War while under British command.
After the war several senior Polish Air Force officers in the UK formed “Committee for the Erection of the Polish Air Force Memorial”. Chairman of the committee and the last Commander of the Polish Air Force in the West, was Air Vice Marshal Mateusz Iżycki de Notto. He was a war hero who participated in the First World War, the 1920 war against the Bolsheviks. In 1939 he was responsible for the air defence of Poland against the Germans. Then under Earl Alexander of Tunis, he ran the RAF operations in North Africa. He was then promoted to Commander of the entire Polish air force from 1943 – 48. Before retiring, one of his final and proudest achievements, following discussions with King George the 6Th and his staff, was to erect a memorial to all the Polish airmen who helped in the service of the defence of Great Britain, both in the Battle of Britain and the remainder of the Second World War.
He collected money amongst many Poles and Brits of good will to fund and erect this important monument. He jointly with Lord Tedder, Chief of the Air Staff, and Viscount Portal of Hungerford and many other noble guests unveiled the Monument on the 2nd November 1948.
The 14 wartime Polish Air Force squadrons, and the battles in which they took part, are embossed in bronze letters on the front face. One is inscribed: TO THE MEMORY OF FALLEN POLISH AIRMEN and the other POLEGŁYM LOTNIKOM POLSKIM.
The memorial is close to south east perimeter of RAF Northolt which was home for 7 Polish squadrons. It hosts THE ONLY permanent exhibition in Britain dedicated to the Polish Air Force which highlights its achievements in Poland, in France and in Britain.
For the Polish soldiers England was “wyspą ostatniej nadziei” – the island of the last hope. In all, some 17,000 Polish airmen fought alongside the RAF during the war (not counting auxiliary services). When dozens of Polish fighter pilots, including 303 Squadron, took to the air during the Battle of Britain, the RAF already had lost hundreds of its own fliers, replaced in many cases by neophytes who barely knew how to fly, much less fight. The contribution of the battle-hardened Poles, especially the men of 303, was vital. Indeed, many believe it was decisive. Queen Elizabeth remarked in 1996: “If Poland had not stood with us in those days…the candle of freedom might have been snuffed out.
David Blair, a Scottish filmmaker, has directed a new film “Hurricane” about a squadron of Polish pilots who fought alongside the RAF at the Battle of Britain in World War II. He said: “These men were instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain yet in time-honoured English tradition, the majority of the population wanted them deported after the war – once they’d fulfilled their usefulness”.
By the end of the Battle of Britain the Poles had developed a fearsome reputation in combat, with 303 Squadron claiming the highest number of victories despite only joining the battle halfway through. Seventy-nine years on we must never forget the incredible sacrifice those men made to protect our skies.
The memory is a matter of our honour.
Pictures: British Poles
Poles in UK