A memorial dedicated to the memory of the Polish Airmen that were based in the UK during the Second World War was unveiled on November 17 in the Newtownards Cenotaph, Down, at an event celebrating 100 years of Polish independence.
The newly erected memorial was unveiled by relatives of two of the Polish airmen; Wojciechowicz-Henderson, daughter of wireless radio operator Flight Sergeant Pawel Wojciechowicz and Kristin Denkowski, daughter of Lance Corporal Stanislaw Denkowski. Also present were civic dignitaries, including the Mayor of North Down and Ards Cllr Richard Smart, the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down Mr David Lindsay and the Polish Ambassador Mr Arkady Rzegocki.
Over 20,000 Polish airmen and women were based in the UK during the Second World War, 100 of which were stationed in Northern Ireland, majority as part of the 315 and 303 RAF Squadrons in RAF Ballyhalbert.
The 303 RAF Squadron was made up of an elite crew of battle hardened fighter pilots and experienced ground staff that played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain with a record-breaking 126 confirmed victories. The 315 RAF Squadron operated in both offensive and defensive roles during World War II.
Speaking at the event, event organiser Maciek Bator, Programme Director of For Your Freedom and Ours CIC, a social enterprise, which discovers, promotes and celebrates shared history with the aim of fostering positive relationships between people from Poland and Northern Ireland, said: “I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate way to mark the centenaries of the Polish Independence, the Polish Air Force and the RAF 100 than unveiling a memorial dedicated to the Polish Air Force.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the Ards and North Down Borough Council, the NI War Memorial and the Royal British Legion for all the support we have received. I believe that the joint effort will remind all of us, not only about the role that the Polish people played in the Second World War but that ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary when it comes to the fight for independence.”
Paying tribute to the fallen Polish airmen, The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Cllr Richard Smart, said: “A number of Polish airmen tragically fell in the Battle of Britain and are interred in cemeteries at Movilla and Ballycranbeg. It is timely to remember them in the year of the Armistice and of RAF 100.”
The Polish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Arkady Rzegocki, said: “The contribution of our airmen and airwomen during the Second World War is a source of pride for our nation. After fighting bravely to defend their motherland, they eventually retreated to the UK, taking part in the Battle of Britain. The 303 Polish Squadron became the most effective Fighter Command unit in the battle, while the 315 Squadron made an invaluable contribution in Europe. Both were based at RAF Ballyhalbert.
“Thank you to For Your Freedom and Ours and the Ards and North Down Borough Council for initiating the project of the Polish Air Force Memorial – a fitting tribute to the Polish airmen and airwomen who sacrificed their lives to save those of others.”
Fifteen Polish airmen stationed in Northern Ireland were killed during active service in World War II. Their graves lie scattered across NI.