Polish Air Force Memorial

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1088113
Date first listed:
30-Aug-2002
Date of most recent amendment:
08-Sep-2020
Statutory Address:
At Junction with Western Avenue, West End Road, Ruislip, Hillingdon, HA4 6QX

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
At Junction with Western Avenue, West End Road, Ruislip, Hillingdon, HA4 6QX

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
Hillingdon (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ 11019 84541

Summary

A memorial to the Polish Air Force who served under overall British Command between 1940 and 1945, designed by Mieczyslaw Lubelski and erected in 1948.

Reasons for Designation

The Polish Air Force Memorial, erected in 1948, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * As a thoughtful and well-executed design representing one of the best-known surviving works by the celebrated Polish sculptor, Mieczyslaw Lubelski;

* For its high quality materials including bronze sculpture displaying iconography associated with the Polish Air Force, provided by the noted foundry, Morris Singer & Co.

Historic interest: * As an eloquent testament to the important role of the Polish Air Force in the Second World War and as an important symbol of Anglo-Polish relations which continues as a focal point for commemorations by Polish and British people.

Group value: * The memorial site was chosen for its proximity to RAF Northolt where many of the Polish Air Force Squadrons were based during the Second World War, and the memorial has group value with the surviving Grade II listed buildings there: Officers Mess (NHLE: 1392557), Building 5 (NHLE: 1395127), Building 23 (NHLE: 1395125) and Building 27 (NHLE: 1395116).

History

Following the invasion of Poland by German and Soviet forces in 1939, the Polish Government did not surrender, but evacuated, with thousands of Polish servicemen and women, to France and continued to fight the Axis powers from there until making their way to Great Britain in 1940. Throughout the course of the Second World War, more Polish personnel joined them from the USA, Canada, Argentina, and other countries, and their ranks were further increased by Poles released from Soviet labour camps in 1941. Between 1940 and 1945 there were 14 Polish Air Force squadrons and one Army Observation Squadron under overall British command. Seven of the Polish Air Force squadrons were based at RAF Northolt. Some Polish pilots initially flew in RAF squadrons, but in August 1940 the Polish Air Force was granted independent status, remaining under RAF command until the end of the war. Polish squadrons flew Hurricane fighter aircraft during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, when Polish airmen constituted the largest group among the non-British pilots engaged. The Polish No 303 Squadron became the most successful Fighter Command unit during the Battle, shooting down 126 German aircraft in just 42 days. Thirty Polish pilots lost their lives during those operations, and plans to erect a small memorial at RAF Northolt to commemorate them began in 1943. However, as the war continued and the number of casualties grew, this plan was abandoned in favour of a larger memorial to commemorate all Polish airmen killed in action whilst under British command during the war. Of the 18,400 men and women who served in the Polish Air Force during the war, over 2,000 lost their lives.

After the war ended, the Polish armed forces in Britain were disbanded, but many were unable to return to their homeland due to the imposition of the Soviet-backed communist government. A group of Polish airmen formed the Polish Air Force Association and initiated a public appeal for funds to erect a monument to their fallen comrades.

The noted Polish sculptor Mieczyslaw Lubelski (1886-1965) was commissioned to design the memorial with a budget of £3,000. Lubelski was a pupil of Xawery Dunikowski at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and later studied in Berlin. He had several exhibitions of his work in Poland during the inter-war years and designed several monuments, almost all of which were destroyed in the Second World War. During the war Lubelski took part in the Warsaw Uprising and was then incarcerated in a German concentration camp. At the end of the war he was liberated and settled and worked in England.

The foundry of Messrs Morris Singer and Co. Ltd provided the bronze eagle and all the lettering on the original monument. The foundations and associated stone elements were constructed by William Wood & Son Ltd while the central memorial pillar was supplied and constructed by Bath and Portland Stone Firms Ltd. The site was donated by Middlesex County Council on land close to RAF Northolt, which by 1947 had transferred to civilian control and was being redeveloped.

There was not enough space on the original memorial to inscribe the names of all 2,408 Polish Airmen who lost their lives in the Second World War, so instead the inscriptions were limited to record the 1,241 who died in operational sorties (as opposed to accidents and training exercises).

The memorial was unveiled on 2 November 1948 by Chief of the Air Staff, Baron Tedder in the presence of the President of the Polish Republic in Exile August Zaleski and around 3,000 guests. During the ceremony, Viscount Portal of Hungerford made a speech in which he expressed remorse that many Polish veterans were unable to return to Poland and encouraged them to make their home in Britain for the mutual benefit of both nations.

In 1996 the memorial underwent major renovations following a public appeal for funds. The works included the addition of a drainage system and the replacement of the deteriorating sandstone wall along the inner curve of the sunken walkway with granite panels inscribed with the names of the fallen. A second wall enclosing the sunken walkway was added to the outer curve, with additional granite panels and a Portland stone pier at either end. An additional 659 names were inscribed that had not previously been included, bringing the total to 1,900. This included the names of Polish pilots who lost their lives in the French campaign of 1940. The works were overseen by a Memorial Renovation Committee chaired by Tadeusz Dziewulski.

Details

A memorial to the Polish Airmen who served with the RAF during the Second World War, designed by Mieczyslaw Lubelski, erected in 1948 and extended in 1996.

MATERIALS & PLAN The memorial site has a bell-shaped plan, comprising a Portland stone pillar with stone plinths to either side, fronted by a trapezoid ornamental pool surrounded by a York stone paved walkway leading to a sunken semi-circular walkway to the rear, flanked by curved grey granite walls. The memorial also features a cast bronze eagle, bronze lettering and a number of bronze plaques.

The memorial is set within a slightly raised landscaped area with grass, flower beds and flagpoles bearing the flags of Great Britain and Poland. The site is enclosed by cast iron railings with Portland stone gate piers with bronze plaques to the front.

DESCRIPTION The central part of the memorial consists of a simple pillar of Portland stone with a rectangular section, surmounted by a cast bronze eagle with outstretched wings: the emblem of the Polish Air Force. Immediately below the eagle a square stone panel bears the dates 1940 and 1945 in incised bronze lettering. The front face of the pillar bears the numbers and names of each of the fighter and bomber squadrons that served in the war, followed by the battles they participated in, all in incised bronze lettering: POLISH AIR FORCE/ FIGHTER SQDNS/ 302/ CITY OF POZNAN/ 303/ KOSCIUSZKO/ 306/ CITY OF TORUN/ 307/ CITY OF LWOW/ 308/ CITY OF KRAKOW/ 309/ OF PROVINCE/ ZIEMIA CZERWIENSKA/ 315/ OF DEBLIN/ 316/ CITY OF WARSZAWA/ 317/ CITY OF WILNO/ 318/ CITY OF GDANSK/ BOMBER SQDNS/ 300/ OF PROVINCE/ ZIEMIA MAZOWIECKA/ 301/ OF PROVINCE/ ZIEMIA POMORSKA/ 304/ OF PROVINCE/ ZIEMIA SLASKA/ 305/ OF PROVINCE/ ZIEMIA WIELKOPOLSKA/ BATTLE OF BRITAIN/ BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC/ DIEPPE/ WESTERN DESERT/ ITALY/ FRANCE/ BELGIUM/ HOLLAND/ GERMANY.

The central pillar is flanked by rectangular plinths of Portland stone, the one to the left bearing the inscription in bronze lettering: TO THE MEMORY OF/ FALLEN POLISH AIRMEN, and to the right in Polish: POLEGLYM/ LOTNIKOM POLSKIM. These plinths unite in a single façade to the rear of the pillar and bear another inscription: I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT, I HAVE FINISHED MY COURSE,/ I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH/ - II TIM. IV. 7. - . The pillar and plinths stand on a two-tiered base of Portland stone.

The memorial pillar is fronted by a shallow ornamental pond with fountains, roughly trapezoid in shape, surrounded by a York stone paved walkway. York stone steps either side of the memorial pillar descend to a sunken semi-circular walkway which curves around the back of the pillar, flanked by curved walls of grey granite panels inscribed with the names of the fallen and the insignia of each of the Polish Air Force squadrons they served in. The outer curved wall, added in 1996, has Portland stone piers at either end, each with an embossed bronze eagle emblem on the inner face.

The site is bounded by cast iron railings to the south and east, with Portland stone gate piers to the front. The pier on the left bears the Polish Air Force wings in embossed bronze depicting a swooping eagle with a wreath in its mouth above an embossed bronze plaque with a dedication in Polish. The pier on the right bears the RAF pilot wings in embossed bronze above an embossed bronze plaque with the same dedication in English. The dedication records that the memorial commemorates 2,165 Polish Airmen who lost their lives fighting alongside the Allies in the Second World War.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
489685
Legacy System:
LBS

Sources

Websites
Battle of Britain London Monument, accessed 6 July 2020 from https://bbm.org.uk/of-interest/places-of-interest/the-polish-war-memorial/
Ealing Council - War Memorials, accessed 6 July 2020 from https://www.ealing.gov.uk/info/201131/historic_buildings/800/war_memorials/3
M Gasior, The Polish Pilots who Flew in the Battle of Britain, Imperial War Museum, accessed 29 July 2020 from https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-polish-pilots-who-flew-in-the-battle-of-britain
Polish Air Force Memorial Committee, accessed 6 July 2020 from https://www.polishairforcememorialcommittee.org/
Royal Air Force Museum, accessed 6 July 2020 from https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/the-polish-air-force-in-world-war-2.aspx
War Memorials Online, accessed 6 July 2020 from https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/120301

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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