"The Polish-Canadian brotherhood in arms"

News Article / September 23, 2019

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Captain (Navy) Krzysztof Książek

Captain (Navy) Książek, the defence attaché from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, spoke at the Royal Canadian Air Force’s national Battle of Britain ceremony held September 15, 2019, at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

On behalf of the Polish Minister of National Defence, Polish soldiers, and myself, I would like to express my genuine gratitude for being a part of such a precious celebration of the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The air battle for England was one of the most spectacular military campaigns of the Second World War. The Royal Air Force, alongside pilots representing Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Ireland, Belgium, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and South Africa, for three months of exhaustive air campaign had been defending the United Kingdom against large-scale attacks conducted by Nazi Germany's air force. As history revealed, the air victory of the Allies was the turning point in the war when Hitler’s military ambitions were defeated. It gave hope and strength to Europe, starting the long process of liberation from full-scale dictatorship.

Ladies and gentlemen. . .  

Poland was the first nation in Europe that stood firmly against brutal German aggression and the unexpected treacherous Russian attack in 1939. After the invasion of Poland and the subsequent fall of France, Polish forces were moved to Britain. Despite being under German occupation, thanks to the mutual efforts of both the British and Polish government in exile, Poland managed to retain its military structure. By 1940, 8,000 Polish airmen had crossed the British Channel to continue the war effort. The first Polish squadrons were formed under  Royal Air Force command: two bomber squadrons and two fighter squadrons—302 and 303—that were to become the most successful fighter command units in the Battle of Britain. Despite only joining midway [through the Battle], 303 Squadron would make the highest victory claims in the entire Battle of Britain, shooting down 126 German fighter planes in just 42 days. At the beginning of 1941, the Polish Air Force operated 14 squadrons alongside the Royal Air Force. They shot down 745 enemy aircraft and won 342 British gallantry awards. They achieved this at a cost of more than 1,900 killed and 1,300 wounded.

Dear friends . . .

Speaking about the history of Polish fighter squadrons in Great Britain, the significant role of Canadian pilots cannot be dismissed. One of them was Canadian Group Captain John Kent, Winnipeg born [and] a war hero. He was called by his Polish soldiers in a Polish manner: "Johnny Kentowski”. John Kent was considered to be one of the best squadron leaders of the war, as well as the best friend of the Poles. During a long war career, John Kent not only led 303 Squadron but also became a wing leader of the four-squadron Polish Wing in Northolt. Moreover, his friendship and brotherhood in arms with his Polish comrades was proven by his personal emblem painted on his Spitfire, which was a Canadian maple leaf with the Polish white eagle on it.

Johnny was highly decorated for his service, recognized with the highest of military honours such as Poland’s Virtutti Militari silver cross. However, perhaps the most valuable honour he received was the respect given by his Polish comrades who adopted their Canadian leader as one of their own, welcoming him as their equal in battle.

As he recalled, “I cannot say how proud I am to have been privileged to lead No. 303 Squadron […]. I formed friendships that are as firm as they were those twenty-five years ago and this I find most gratifying. We who were privileged to fly and fight with them will never forget and Britain must never forget how much she owes to the loyalty […] and sacrifice of those Polish fliers. They were our staunchest Allies in our darkest days; may they always be remembered as such!”

Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

John Kent’s story is one of the many of examples of Polish-Canadian brotherhood in arms. We certainly remember 26 proud members of the Canadian Air Force who died delivering support during the Warsaw Uprising. Every year, the Polish community pays tribute to these brave heroes by gathering in Ottawa’s Confederation Park in front of the monument dedicated to these fallen airmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Due to world political leader’s decision, Poland came under Soviet occupation after the Second World War. As a result, Polish soldiers stationed abroad were left without a homeland. The Canadian government offered to help by providing a home to approximately 5,000 Polish ex-servicemen.

Dear friends . . .

What is more important, the warm cooperation and friendship between Canada and Poland remains until today. Owing to the fact that Canada was the first NATO country which accepted Poland as a full member of the Atlantic Pact, this year we can celebrate our 20-year anniversary in NATO. Nowadays Polish and Canadian soldiers protect peace and stability across the world, [for instance] earlier in Afghanistan, now in Iraq. Together with other Alliance forces, we are strengthening the NATO eastern flank in Latvia and the southern NATO flank in Romania. We are together in Ukraine conducting a training and advisory mission for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Ladies and gentlemen . . .

Taking all of these facts into consideration, I strongly believe that the Polish-Canadian brotherhood in arms will remain forever, regardless of the challenges we will have to face in the future.


 

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