Polish air-crew remembered at moving annual service

People in Netherfield came together on Sunday to honour and remember the Polish crew of a bomber that crashed at Netherfield Hill in 1941.

Tuesday, 29th May 2018, 1:49 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 6:07 pm
Ceremony commemorating the 304 Polish Bomber Squadron 'Land of Silesia' at Netherfield Polish Memorial. Photo by Frank Copper SUS-180528-091518001

The annual memorial service was held at the Polish War Memorial at Darwell Hill.

Joining local people at the service were a Polish contingent which included the Polish Consul, who travelled down from the embassy in London.

RAF Wellington bombers from 304 Squadron – mainly Polish crews – were tasked with bombing the French channel port of Boulogne to disrupt the Germans’ invasion barges being assembled there. One was hit by flak and an engine set on fire. The aircraft limped back to England on one engine, but shortly after crossing the Sussex coast, the remaining engine began misfiring and the crew started to bale out. Two made it out but the Wellington crashed into the rising ground near Netherfield, at Darwell Hole.

Ceremony commemorating the 304 Polish Bomber Squadron 'Land of Silesia' at Netherfield Polish Memorial. Photo by Frank Copper SUS-180528-091518001

One crew member, Squadron Leader Stanislaw Jozefiak, returned to the site regularly and in 2001 constructed a brick memorial to his comrades.

Stanislaw passed away in December 2015, aged 96.

Stanislaw spent many years searching for the site in order to build a memorial to the memory of his fellow crewmen who died there.

All these men were in their early 20s at the time and were returning from a raid over France when the Wellington was hit by flak.

The plane began to lose height and the pilot gave the order to bale out and two of the crew did so. Sadly one was drowned in the channel, one was picked up but never flew again and Stan was stuck in the turret. He managed to eject himself and broke a leg very badly. He landed in a tree near Heathfield and was nearly shot owing to his accent.

He spent many months in hospital and then continued to fly, becoming an expert with Spitfires, flying over 230 missions, was shot down twice and at the end of the war flying dangerous missions for the CIA, taking spies and propaganda from a secret airfield in Greece until the time when the double agents Burgess and MacLean were exposed.

Marek Wierzbicki, Chairman of the Polish Club of History Enthusiasts ‘White Eagle’ had spent many weeks at the site building a monument to Stan, singlehanded, making extra standing spaces, clearing the site and designing an amazing brass plaque with Stan’s head in uniform and with the Polish emblems in colour to be fixed to the top. This had been made in Poland.

Sunday’s service was conducted by Father Terrance Wilson and attended by standard bearers and members of Battle, Hastings and Pett branches of the Royal British Legion as well as representative from the Veteran’s Association.

Juliette Vane, who organised the service each year, said: “It was a wonderful occasion. We had 60 people attend, more than ever before.

There was a fly-past of a Cessna plane from Headcorn, piloted by 85 year old Diana Patton, who was joined by her son James.

Marek spent weeks cleaning the memorial and getting it ready for the event and it looked really marvellous.”

The second part of the service took place in Netherfield Church and four commemorative medals were presented to local people by the Polish Consul.

Father Wilson was awarded a special certificate in recognition of conducting the service every year.

Pictures by Frank Copper.

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