Polish Air Force exhibition opens in London
The first permanent exhibition highlighting the vital role of the Polish Air Force during the Second World War has opened at the Battle of Britain Bunker in west London.
The exhibition was officially opened on May 21 by Poland's Ambassador Arkady Rzegocki and London Borough of Hillingdon Councillor Ray Puddifoot in the presence of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The exhibits and documents on display, many shown to the public for the first time, tell stories of Polish combat missions during the war and highlight the different roles in the Polish Air Force beyond the pilots, including observers, ground crew and the Polish Women's Auxiliary Air Force.
It also tells of the journeys undertaken by Polish Air Force personnel following the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. It explores the military preparations in pre-war Poland and how the Polish Government in exile and military were organised in France and Britain during 1940.
Johnson said during the opening ceremony that the Spitfire (fighter airplane) displayed in the Battle of Britain Bunker always reminds him of Polish pilots' bravery and successes in shooting down German planes in the Battle of Britain. He said that he is absolutely convinced that the outcome of the battle would have been much different without Poland and that Britain's debt to the Polish pilots is eternal.
Rzegocki said the Battle of Britain, whose 80th anniversary was commemorated last year, "turned the tide of the Second World War."
"I am glad that to mark this occasion Hillingdon Council has decided to honour the memory of those without whom the war could have ended differently and has prepared, together with the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee, a special Polish Air Force Exhibition at the Battle of Britain Bunker, presenting the bravery and personal stories of the heroes of our skies," he said.
He added that this is the first permanent, open-access exhibition in the UK about the role of the Polish Air Force during the war and a great opportunity "to reflect on the Polish-British spirit of camaraderie that binds us thanks to those who in the past shed blood for Poland, the United Kingdom and Europe."
The Polish Air Force has a significant historical connection to Hillingdon. Throughout the war, Polish squadrons were stationed in the RAF Northolt base located in this borough, and also participated in combat missions organised by Headquarters No. 11 Group (RAF Fighter Command) based at RAF Uxbridge. The group's operational centre, from where the air defence of London and South East of Britain was coordinated, was located in a bunker later called the Battle of Britain Bunker, currently open to visitors.
"We're delighted to open this fantastic exhibition which shines a spotlight on the invaluable efforts our Polish allies made during one of history's most notable conflicts," Puddifoot said.
"Their lesser-heard stories of bravery echo those of Britain's pilots, crews and officers whose collective heroism played a vital part in bringing the war to an end," he added.
The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from July 10 to October 31, 1940, when large-scale German air raids took place. The Poles, with a force of 145 people, were the second largest nationality on the side of the Allies. Accounting for less than 5 percent of the pilots, they knocked down more than 10 percent of German planes.