Poland's last known Battle of Britain vet buried

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 11:20 AM
Poland's last known Battle of Britain vet buried

Former Polish air force officer believed to be the country's last surviving pilot from the Battle of Britain was buried on Wednesday in a state ceremony following decades in exile.

Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Sawicz died Oct. 19 in Toronto at the age of 97. His remains _ an urn with ashes_ were brought to Warsaw for burial at the historic military Powazki cemetery. His wife, Jadwiga, also came from Canada for the ceremony.

The ceremony for Sawicz opened with a Catholic Mass at the ornate armed forces' cathedral. In attendance were Defense Ministry officials, Polish armed forces officers with army standards and troops from the RAF Queen's Color Squadron.

Deputy Defense Minister Czeslaw Mroczek said that Sawicz "wrote a beautiful page in the service of the motherland" and gave an example of "true patriotism." The national anthem was played and an army salute honored Sawicz.

The British Ambassador Robin Barnett, speaking in Polish, praised Sawicz and Polish airmen who fought in Britain's defense during World War II.

The U.S. Embassy and Air Force sent a wreath.

At the start of the war 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.

When the city's defense collapsed on Sept. 17, he joined Polish pilots fighting in France. After the surrender of Paris 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.

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, that included Sawicz.

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. He left the service in 1947.

Sawicz was among the 145 Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, 31 of which died in action.

In the 1940 Battle of Britain, German bombers pounded Britain's ports, airfields and cities in a bid to destroy its defenses in preparation for either invasion or surrender.

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.

In 1957, he moved to Canada where he worked in the aviation industry.