War memorials

Polish War Memorial

The Polish War Memorial is just outside the borough’s boundaries, but seems important enough to merit an article. This is because it concerns the Royal Armed Forces aerodrome, which takes its name from that part of the north-western corner of the borough, and because many Poles live in Ealing (and have lived for several decades).

Following the fall of Poland to German and Soviet forces in 1939, many Poles left their homeland to continue the fight from other countries. By the summer of 1940 Britain was facing the axis powers alone, but with the help of men from other European countries. Not the least of these were the Poles. Among the RAF squadrons at Northolt, there were a number of Polish squadrons based there in 1940-1943.

During the Battle of Britain in the late summer of 1940, the 303rd (Warsaw) squadron saw service at Northolt, flying Hurricane fighter aircraft. They were replaced in October by the 302nd (Poznan) squadron after the Battle of Britain had been won. Others serving from the aerodrome were the 306th, 308th, 305th, 315th and 317th squadron. Some of them returned to the airfield for another tour of duty here. Thirty Polish airmen, a fifth of their number, were killed in the Battle of Britain, and of these, five had been flying from Northolt.

After the war was over, the Polish armed forces in Britain were disbanded. A group of Polish air force officers decided to form the Polish Air Force Association. One of their first decisions was to erect a memorial for their former comrades. A committee under Air Vice Marshal Izycki started a public appeal for funds (most of which were contributed by British people), and the work soon began.

The memorial was unveiled on 2 November 1948 by Lord Tedder, RAF Marshal and chief of the air staff. It is made from Portland stone, with bronze lettering and is topped by a bronze Polish air force eagle. The craftsman was Miecystam Lubelski, who had been recently liberated from a labour camp. The names of 1,243 Poles who died in the war were inscribed on the memorial.

Viscount Portal of Hungerford made a speech before the unveiling. He said that it was a sad blow that many Polish veterans were unable to return home, as their country had been occupied by the Soviet Union. He added that it would be to the mutual advantage of Britons and Poles that the latter were to make their home in Britain.

In 1991, the first post-war democratically elected Polish president, Lech Walesa, laid a wreath at the memorial. By this time it had been realised that further work was needed. Repair work was necessary, as were extensions in order to accommodate a further 659 names that had not been included hitherto. An appeal was made in 1994 and the memorial was rededicated in 1996 in the presence of the Duke of Gloucester, British and Polish military and civil dignitaries.

The memorial remains as a monument to the men of the fighter and bomber squadrons and as an expression of Anglo-Polish friendship.

We would like to thank Dr Jonathan Oates, borough archivist and local history librarian, for the use of his information.