Michal Solarski photographs Polish Air Force WWII veterans in his book, The Airmen.

Honoring the Polish Airmen Who Helped Allied Forces Win World War II

Honoring the Polish Airmen Who Helped Allied Forces Win World War II

Behold
The Photo Blog
Nov. 8 2015 10:00 AM

Honoring the Polish Airmen Who Helped Allied Forces Win World War II

ZygmuntLender
Zygmunt Lender, b.1923, W/O (Warrant Officer), 301 and 304 Polish Bomber Squadrons, wireless operator. Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Copyright Michal Solarski

This Sunday, the United Kingdom observes Remembrance Sunday to honor the men and women who served. Michal Solarski wants to make sure Polish Air Force veterans of World War II are also duly considered.

After the joint Nazi-Soviet defeat of Poland in September 1939, many Polish Air Force personnel and technicians were evacuated to Hungary and Romania and then made their way to France and Britain. Others were arrested in occupied Poland and sent to Russia to work in the Gulag before being released when the Soviet Union started fighting Germany. They, too, ultimately ended up in Britain.

AdamOstrowski
Adam Ostrowski, b.1919, F/O Flight Officer, 317 Polish Fighter Squadron, pilot. London, U.K., 2010.

Copyright Michal Solarski

JerzyObminski
Jerzy Obminski, b.1921, W/O Warrant, 300 Polish Bomber Squadron, wireless operator. Hamilton, Canada, 2012.

Copyright Michal Solarski

JozefaSobieska
Jozefa Sobieska, 1922–2012, LACW (Leading Aircraft Woman), 300 Polish Bomber Squadron, driver at the RAF Station Faldingworth. London, U.K., 2010.

Copyright Michal Solarski

By the mid-1940s, more than 8,000 Polish airmen had arrived in the U.K. Fighting alongside the British, they served an important role in the Allied victory and were especially crucial in the Battle of Britain. Some of them are still alive today, though their numbers are shrinking. With the help of historians Piotr Sikora and Adam Jackowski, Solarski found nearly 30 veterans living in Poland, the U.K., the United States, and Canada. Their portraits are featured in his self-published book, The Airmen.

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“I just hope that this story will never be forgotten. I see my work as a poignant reminder and valuable historical record of the bravery of these men and women,” Solarski said via email.

JerzyGlowczewski
Jerzy Glowczewski, b.1922, W/O (Warrant Officer), 317 and 308 Polish Fighter Squadron, pilot. New York, U.S., 2013.

Copyright Michal Solarski

AdamBarsh
Adam Barszcz, 1918–2012, W/O (Warrant Officer), 305 Polish Bomber Squadron, pilot. London, U.K., 2010.

Copyright Michal Solarski

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Left: Leslaw Latawiec, b.1925, LAC (Leading Aircraftsman), Polish 131 Fighter Wing, mechanic, and Ludwik Czerniecki, b.1922, LAC (Leading Aircraftsman), Polish 131 Fighter Wing, wireless operator. London, U.K., 2009. Right: Wladyslaw Lapot, 1909–2010, F/Lt (Flight Lieutenant), 300 Polish Bomber Squadron, air gunner/wireless operator. Ickenham, U.K., 2008.

Copyright Michal Solarski

During the late ’40s and early ’50s, many Polish veterans moved to the U.S. and Canada. Some stayed in Britain, where they, like British nationals, struggled to rebuild the country. Those who returned to Poland found a communist state where they were treated as enemies. Some were arrested. 

“Not only were their hopes for a free Poland destroyed, but they were also not welcome in the country they had fought and died for. It only got worse after the controversy surrounding the lack of representation of Polish forces in the London Victory Celebrations of June 1946. Poles were refused the opportunity to march alongside their British and other allies as Churchill did not want to upset Stalin,” he said.

Solarski began the project in 2008, and he is still learning about more veterans he would like to photograph. Sunday’s observances are just another reminder that continuing to document them and honor their sacrifices is a worthy cause.

“I will photograph those people until I’m not able to find them any more.”

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Left: Kazimierz Mochlinski, 1913–2011, F/O (Flying Officer), 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron, wireless operator. London, U.K., 2010. Right: Leopold Antoniewicz, 1916–2011, F/Lt (Flight Lieutenant), 304 Polish Coastal Command Squadron, pilot. London, U.K., 2009.

Copyright Michal Solarski

TadeuszKarnkowski
Tadeusz Karnkowski, 1917–2013, F/Lt (Flight Lieutenant), 306 and 316 Polish Fighter Squadrons, pilot. New Haven, U.S., 2012.

Copyright Michal Solarski

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.