WWII pilot remembered

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A POLISH WWII pilot who escaped Nazi Germany’s invasion of his country and fled to England has died in Bexhill aged 91.

Squadron Leader Kajestan Ignatowski (pictured), led a long and fascinating life, leaving his home and family behind aged just 19.

Born near Warsaw in 1919, “Iggy” joined the Polish Air Force in 1938. During his pilot training, Germany, followed by Russia, attacked Poland, and Iggy along with hundreds of his fellow students escaped en masse via Romania where they were briefly interned by the Romanian Army.

A long and arduous journey by several trains and ships eventually led the Flying School to Lyon, France, where they remained until the Germans invaded France and bombed their airfield. Iggy’s group escaped again via Perpignan to Oran, Casablanca, and Gibraltar from where, in June 1940 a British cruise liner took them to England. They arrived in Liverpool in June 1940.

A long period of schooling, learning English, and becoming used to the British way of life followed.

Many years later Iggy wrote in his CV: “In September 1941 my interrupted training as a pilot was recommenced and I gained my Pilots Wings in May 1942. This was followed quickly by operational training on Wellington aircraft as a bomber pilot.

“In December 1942 I found myself with my crew on 305 Polish Bomber Squadron operating from an airfield north of Lincoln. The squadron was involved in night operations of the Bomber Command. My bombing missions ranged from bombing raids on German naval bases in France to targets in Germany.”

On one operation Iggy’s plane lost an engine to anti-aircraft fire forcing him, and his crew, to ditch off the East Coast of England where, after a few hours in their dinghy, all were rescued by a Royal Navy fast patrol boat.

In November 1943 he completed his full tour of 30 operations. These included three visits to Hamburg where they were almost shot down again, but Iggy took evasive action and they escaped.

By now Iggy had achieved the rank of Flight Sergeant. He received the DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal), and later the Polish Government, in exile, awarded him their highest military honour, the Vertuti Militari (VM) and the Krzyz Walecznych (KW), for distinguished conduct in the field.

During this time, on a night out at the the Blackpool Winter Gardens in 1943, Kajestan met his wife-to-be, 17-year-old Helen. Their daughter Maria, who lives in Little Common, said: “Dad took one look at Mum and that was it. They married a year later on April 15 1944.”

Due to Helen’s tender age the couple had to obtain permission to marry from the Polish Air Force commanding officer, who had been Kajetan’s guardian on arriving in the UK.

On surviving his operational tour (in Bomber Command) Kajestan was recommended for Officer Training and commissioned in May 1944.

Shortly afterwards he was selected, due to his operational experience, to train as a Flying Instructor. Demobbed in 1948 and, like many East European nationals, unable to return to his home country ‘Iggy’ was transferred to the Polish Resettlement Corps.

In 1949 he was invited to join the Royal Air Force and acquired British nationality in 1950.

During his eminent career Iggy flew many military aircraft including Halifaxes, Lancasters and Neptunes, and there were many occasions in which his expertise and skills as a pilot were bought to the fore.

Kajestan Ignatowski was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1971 and retired in 1974 after 25 years in the Royal Air Force. He was also awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC).

Iggy and Helen moved to Bexhill 17 years ago and celebrated 67 years together before Helen passed away on Christmas Eve 2008.

Along with daughter Maria they had a son, Michael, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

A dedicated, talented pilot and much loved devoted family man, the simple words in the last lines of Iggy’s CV speak volumes: “I have a good capacity for work and high sense of moral values, punctuality, self discipline and loyalty.”

Iggy’s funeral takes place at St Martha’s Church, Little Common, on Tuesday May 17 at 2pm. Anyone who knew him is welcome to attend.