The remains of a wrecked fighter plane which recorded the first victory for a Polish pilot against German opposition have made their final journey back to the air base where the aircraft was stationed during the Second World War.
The remains of Hurricane Mark 1 no. L1696, which had been flown by Polish airman Flying Officer Ludwik Witold Paszkiewicz, had turned up at at car boot sale and were being resold on the internet auction site eBay.
That was until Sergeant Mark Bristow, station historian at RAF Northolt, in West End Road, Ruislip Gardens, spotted the online sale and contacted the owner, Michael Otterbeck, to ask if he would donate the pieces to the base instead.
Last month Mr Otterbeck was guest of honour at the base to present the framed Hurricane remains to Wing Commander David Houghton, the commanding officer of the Operations wing. Mr Otterbeck, 36, an antiques and collectables dealer, formerly of The Fairway, South Ruislip and now of South Oxhey, Hertfordshire, had set a starting price of just £4.95 for the pieces in the on-line auction.
He said: “The minute I heard from RAF Northolt I knew the right thing to do was to give the pieces to them, as this was where the plane was based and it was only fair it should return home here.
“I found the pieces at the car boot sale in Denham, held every Saturday just off the M40, and brought them for £10 from a man who spent 30 years collecting war memorabilia before his wife made him get rid of it. I think the history of this plane is fascinating. It’s been amazing to find out how much the pilots of 303 Squadron did on behalf of a country which was not their own.”
Flying Officer Paszkiewicz was part of the legendary 303 Squadron and on August 30, 1940 became its first pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft.
He became regarded as an ace of the sky and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) after downing six German aircraft, before being shot down and killed on September 27, 1940 over Borough Green in Kent.
Jerzy Cynk, an aviation historian with a particular knowledge of Polish fighter squadrons, which joined the Allies following Germany’s invasion of Poland, was a guest at the presentation.
He said: “At the time British officers were reluctant to let Polish pilots join the war as they were afraid their fighting spirit would fail them, but they were wrong.
“Flight Lieutenant Paszkiewicz ignored an order not to engage the enemy during a training flight, as he could not stand by and do nothing while his comrades were in trouble. He demonstrated his joy at downing a German aircraft by performing a victory roll over Northolt upon his return. His commanding officer was initially furious that he had broken away from the training flight – then he congratulated him for making 303 Squadron’s first kill.”
Mr Cynk said despite 303’s impressive records a Flying Officer S F Vincent ordered the Northolt Intelligence Office to check its reports for discrepancies as he did not believe they were genuine. He even followed 303 Squadron into action against a large bomber formation over Horsham, West Sussex on September 11 to see for himself.
Mr Cynk said: “The Poles attacked with such ferocity that the startled German bombers broke up their formation and were picked off one by one at point blank range.
Vincent tried to engage aircraft himself but was beaten to it every time by a Polish plane, and when he landed back at Northolt his comment was ‘My God, they are doing it!’
“We are so grateful for these pieces and the chance to make a special memorial to Lieutenant Paskiewicz, and Northolt is the perfect place to do that.”
The presentation was also attended by members of the Polish press and Juliusz Englert of the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum – which was opened in London at the end of the Second World
War by the exiled Polish community, who did not want to return to their Russian-controlled homeland.
Mr Englert said: “I’m delighted to be able to say RAF Northolt is forever connected to Poland. The Battle of Britain was a decisive moment in the war, and the Polish airmen showed a fighting spirit which will forever be remembered.”
Wing Commander Houghton said: “We are proud of the work our Polish airmen did during the war and will never forget the sacrifice they made. Hopefully now anyone who looks at these pieces will be reminded of Ludvig and all those like him, and for that reason we are delighted to have such an important piece of history preserved on this site for ever.”