I attended an illuminating book event hosted at RAF Museum Hendon this past weekend (17 September), which saw the relaunch of 'One of The Few', containing the memoirs of Group Captain ‘Johnny’ Kent who joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1930.
This fascinating event was graced by the attendance of Alexandra Kent, daughter of the RAF hero born at the outbreak of the First World War in Winnipeg, Canada.
She signed copies of the book that contains a new introduction ('The Man Behind The Memoirs') and an epilogue ('The Human Cost of Heroism') penned by her.
Alex spoke to an audience about how the new edition of the book came into being and provided a touching insight about her father's humble origins harking from the Canadian prairies and who lead No. 303 Squadron, a Polish fighter squadron based at RAF Northolt that had the best strike rate in the Battle of Britain.
Having initially expressed being reluctant to serve with the Poles, subsequently on leaving '303' he wrote: "To the finest Squadron in the whole world, and with profound thanks for keeping me alive and teaching me to fight..."
Johnny Kent, who at 17 became the youngest licenced pilot in Canada in the early 1930's, received a string of awards and the highest Polish military award, the Virtuti Militari, from General Sikorski in January 1941. He was according to Alex Kent at the time effectively an "outsider who lead outsiders". The Polish pilots called him ‘Kentowski’ just like one of their own.
Specifically, as regards the Polish contribution during World War II, it should be underscored that in all 2,408 Polish airmen gave their lives during the war.
And, a total of 146 Poles - just over 5% of Fighter Command's overall strength - fought in the Battle of Britain, around 100 of whom served with the RAF. They claimed 203 German aircraft - or 15% of the Command's total score - with 29 of their (Polish) number lost.
Furthermore, on the 'Battle of Britain Day' (15 September 1940), one in five (20%) of the pilots in action were Polish. Without their contribution to Britain it is very questionable as to whether we would have won the war.
Peter Devitt, the curator at the RAF Museum at Hendon (www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london/) and his colleague Lewis Shelley, should be highly commended for organising this event that also screened Tomasz Magierski’s documentary film ‘303’ about the Polish 303 Kosciuszko Squadron, and rounded off with a song, Motylek ('Butterfly'), from award winning Anglo-Polish singer Katy Carr.
Note: 50% of the royalties from this book will go to the RAF Benevolent Fund and can be ordered from History Press (Tel: 01256 302692 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Web: www.thehistorypress.co.uk/).