As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, it is quite fitting to remind ourselves of the powerful speech that Winston Churchill gave on August 20th, 1940 – about half-way through this most testing of times we have ever endured:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
That wartime camaraderie was what propelled the Allies to ultimately defeat the forces of evil, which in turn allowed for the longest period of peaceful coexistence in Europe, and across most of the world, that we are all enormously lucky to still be enjoying today.
The Battle of Britain was one of the major turning points of this deadliest of all wars, and was won by the Royal Air Force with the backing of the numerous Allied squadrons, amongst whom the largest foreign contingent, totalling 141, was formed of Polish pilots.
A visit to St Clement Danes, the RAF Church in Aldwych, which displays the many Allied squadron emblems, will demonstrate just how diverse the forces protecting Great Britain were.
London, of course, became home to the exiled Polish Government in 1940, and in June of that year, soon before the Battle of Britain began, an agreement with the British Government was reached to form a Polish Air Force in the UK.
Most of the Polish pilots were experienced and had previously fought the German Luftwaffe in defence of their homeland. In the Battle of Britain, we had two Polish squadrons: 302 ‘Poznański’ Squadron and 303 ‘Kościuszko’ Squadron, with further 50 Poles fighting in RAF squadrons.
Ask any member of the Royal Air Force today about the subject and they’ll tell you of the gallantry of those men, despite the fact that their contribution was made generations ago.
The heroism of the Polish airmen in the Battle of Britain remains legendary, with 201 German aircraft shot down and the 303 Squadron itself being the most distinguished of all Allies, having downed 126 Luftwaffe aircraft.
These truly were “the few” that Winston Churchill referred to in one of his finest speeches, and without these brave men the war would have been prolonged and many more men, women and children would have been killed.
Unfortunately, and in spite of Churchill’s efforts, with the 1945 Yalta Conference the spirit of the Allied forces’ camaraderie did somewhat evaporate.
The Polish Armed Forces were famously and controversially not allowed to take part in the London Victory Celebration of 1946, for fear of displeasing Stalin, despite some 200,000 Polish servicemen having fought during the Second World War under the British High Command.
It feels like now, three-quarters of a century after the darkest hours of our British history, is the time to put things right and salute “those we owe so much” with a fitting epitaph to them, and to the many others who did not get the recognition they deserved due to the political agenda of the bygone era.
John Żyliński, who stood in this year’s London mayoral elections, made a pledge to commemorate the Polish pilots with a statue in Hyde Park and convinced the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith to back his idea.
I very much feel this would be the right thing to do and feel obliged to pick up the baton. The history of Great Britain and Poland has been extensively intertwined over the last century. At many times we offered a welcoming home to the Poles, and they reciprocated by standing shoulder to shoulder with us in our hours of need.
Despite the significant Polish contributions over the generations, one will be hard pressed to find any commemoration of their efforts and sacrifice.
That is why I am calling on the British Government to make this symbolic gesture by erecting a monument in a central London location, such as the vicinity of Buckingham Palace or the Parliament, which will commemorate the Polish pilots of the Battle of Britain.
I would like to see our Government engage with the Polish Diaspora, whose representatives have indicated to me on many occasions how much such a memorial, immortalising the unsung heroes who ensured that Great Britain did not share the same fate as their Polish homeland lost to Nazi Germany, would mean to them.
The article was first published on 2nd October 2016 at Conservative Home.