A Polish World War II airman, believed to be the last surviving Polish pilot from the Battle of Britain, has died at the age of 97 in a Canadian nursing home.
Turner and Porter Funeral Directors said on its website that Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Sawicz died Oct. 19 at a nursing home in Toronto, Canada.
Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily reported Wednesday that Sawicz was the last surviving pilot from the Polish Air Forces in Britain during World War II. He fought in the 1940 battle and served with the air force until early 1947.
A spokesman for Britain's Royal Air Force said the RAF was saddened to hear of Sawicz' death.
"There is widespread admiration for the major contribution that the Polish aircrew made to the Allied victory in World War II and their commitment in the face of significant losses, especially those who so bravely fought in the Battle of Britain. Their vital contributions will be long remembered," he said.
The spokesman declined to be named, in keeping with military policy.
Historian Adam Zamoyski _ author of "The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War" _ told The Associated Press that if Sawicz was the last surviving pilot from the 1940 battle it would close an important chapter in the war's and Poland's history.
He added that proving he is the last could be difficult, as there is no exact record of the pilots, who emigrated around the world after the war. Sawicz moved to Canada in 1957 where he worked in aviation.
At the start of World War II in 1939, Sawicz fought in Poland's air defense against the invading German Nazis. At one point, he flew under German fire to carry orders to troops defending Warsaw.
Following the collapse of the city's defense on Sept. 17, he joined Polish pilots fighting in France, but after Paris' surrender in July he made his way _ with tens of thousands of Polish airmen, soldiers and sailors _ to Britain, making up the largest foreign military force in the country. Zamoyski said that some 17,000 Poles _ pilots, mechanics and ground staff _ served in the Polish air force in Britain at the time.
In the summer of 1940, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski _ the head of Poland's Government in Exile in London _ signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Air Force in Britain, of which Sawicz was to play his part.
After training on Hurricane fighter aircraft, he was incorporated into RAF Polish squadron 303 and later to squadrons 316 and 315. On and off, he served as a commander of the Polish wing.
Sawicz was among the 145 Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, 31 of which died in action. Other foreign pilots _ from New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, the United States and Ireland _ also flew with the RAF.
A few British pilots from the battle are still alive, but it is not known how many of the international aviators _ known collectively, after a phrase coined by Winston Churchill, as "The Few" _ remain.
During his time as a pilot in Britain, Sawicz is credited with shooting down three German aircraft. He has been awarded Poland's highest military order the Virtuti Military medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross from Britain, the United States and the Netherlands.
He is survived by his wife Jadwiga. A service is planned for him at a later date in Warsaw.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.