The Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge, west London, located on the former Royal Air Force (RAF) station best known as the headquarters of No.11 Group RAF and responsible for the aerial defence of London and south-east of England during the Battle of Britain, was the setting for the launch of a crowdfund campaign late this January to help raise funds for a memorial to the Polish Air Force.
Pilots from the Polish 302, 308 and 317 fighter squadrons operated from the temporary Plumetot landing ground - the Allied Aerodrome of B10 (British-10) - during the Battle of Normandy in 1944 and halfway between Caen and the landing beaches. (B10 was one of nineteen airstrips constructed by the Allies during the battle).
The Memorial is to be unveiled on Sunday 9 June 2019 in a green space in Plumetot village that lies in the Calvados department, Normandy region, and was at the heart of proceedings during the battle. It forms part of events surrounding the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
Located on a 110-acre estate that originally belonged to the Hillingdon House estate, the RAF station in Uxbridge was originally acquired in 1915 by the British Government - three years before the founding of the RAF.
A bunker, subsequently known as the Battle of Britain Bunker, was built nearby to house the 11 Group Operations Room, which controlled fighter squadrons operating within the group. This room was also responsible for providing air support during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 (Operation Dynamo) and the D-Day landings (Operation Overlord).
And, it was from here that Winston Churchill first said “Never in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few”, which was repeated four days later in a speech to Parliament.
Alexander Smaga, an architect of Polish origin who lives and works in Krakow, Vienna and London, was commissioned to design and construct the memorial - against parties from Canada, France and England - in an international competition.
“The aim of this project is to create a distinctive memorial at Plumetot in Normandy, France, dedicated to the memory of the Polish Air Force (PAF) and the Allied Forces during WWII as well as honouring their military contribution for future generations,” Smaga explained at the museum in north- west London.
Speaking to an audience he added: “My inspiration for the design was Winston Churchill‘s famous Victory (‘V’) sign. And, in architecture - as in life - everything starts with a sketch. In terms of framing our view the Airforce memorial will direct us to the sky."
The memorial, with dimensions 2.50 metres (m) wide and 2.60m high will weigh 750kg, and be unveiled in Plumetot on three days after the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (6 June) some seven miles from the coast. Though a lesser known WWII historical site, the B10 airstrip signified is an important milestone as regards victory for the Allies and world peace.
It encompasses a design that pays homage to the fight for Victory of the Allied Forces during WWII in which the Polish Air Force and Poland‘s Armed forces played a significant part.
The central architecture of the monument, which will face in the direction of Paris, has been developed around a freestanding ‘V’ for ‘Victory‘ sign (French: Victoire), will stand on a plinth 4 metres in radius and be made from Caen stone in the shape of the Royal Air Force Roundel. Construction has already commenced in Krakow and the sections will be transported from Poland to Normandy in the coming months.
The memorial combines computer generated geometry inspired by aircraft design and exclusively crafted cast metal elements, cast from shiny polished stainless steel, which was the metal used in the construction of aircraft during WWII at the time of the invasion of Normandy.
Its design focuses on the aesthetics and elegant curves of WWII aircraft and the design of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, with three planes to be fixed between the top of the ‘V’ shape.
Cost of Project
The cost of the memorial will be around £40,000 (c.$52,000/€ 44,000), of which around half (£20,000) has already been raised or pledged.
An appeal for funds and those wishing to add their support to the Plumetot Memorial Project is now being made and people interested can make a contribution via the Crowfdfunder platform, which officially commenced on 31 January and runs until 29 March 2019.
Should the level of contributions exceed the project costs, any excess will be used to support the work of the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee in maintaining the memory of the Polish Air Force in the West.
Highlighting potential interest in this project, an RAF press spokesman referred to a public vote organised by the RAF Museum in 2018 to find the best Spitfire pilot.
Out of over 300,000 people who voted in this poll from a huge range of pilots’ names, the winning pilot was Lt. Col. Franciszek Kornicki (18 Dec 1916-16 Nov 2017), a Polish fighter pilot who served in the RAF, and the father of Richard Kornicki, present Chairman of the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee, the latter who spoke at this event and explained the background to how officials in Plumetot became involved.
RAF spokesman Roger Tenniswood said: “If just 10% of those people who voted in the poll contributed £1 we would be well on our way to the target we need. And, when one puts that into perspective it’s not much on an individual level. Equally it’s not much if we want to recognise and honour the memory of these Polish pilots and the debt we owe them.”
For those pledging money, the smallest recommended donation is £5, which gets your name inscribed in the Marie (town hall) in Plumetot, while £10 will secure a pin badge.
And, for those wanting to pledge a much larger amount - from £500 to the £1,000 (VIP level) - individuals will receive an invite to the memorial opening ceremony on 9 June and an opportunity to sit in the cockpit of one of the original Polish Spitfires (7th Squadron) was used in the Normandy invasion.
The Deputy Mayor of Plumetot, whose presentation was translated, said: “We will do everything in our power to make sure this memorial is erected. And, at the ceremony we will meditate on the courage of the Polish pilots.”
The Polish Air Force Memorial Committee, which is involved with this project in Normandy, was formed in 2010 with the goal of of maintaining the memory of the Polish Air Force in the West, some 2,400 of whom gave their lives during WWII. The Committee had originally launched the Plumetot Memorial Campaign this January.
Also in attendance at the event with Mr Smaga in Uxbridge on 31st January was H.E. Arkady Rzegocki, Polish ambassador to the UK, the deputy Mayor of Plumetot, and officials from Hillingdon Council. A small part of the station incorporating the Battle of Britain Bunker retains the RAF Uxbridge name and is owned by Hillingdon Council.
For more information on this crowfund project on the Crowdfunder site see this link: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/a-polish-air-force-memorial-in-france
About the author: Roger is a freelance journalist who contributes to Forbes in Europe (www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken/) amongst other publications. Previously he worked for the Financial Times as a staff writer.