I have to declare an interest before carrying on with the review, in that my grandfather was Polish and he too came here during the Second World War. Although he was an infantry man, the Polish Airforce was part of the Polish Army and he always saw them as (a) fellow Poles and proud countrymen and (b) honourable soldiers.
This book has been reprinted by Pen and Sword from the 1995 original. It is a thought-provoking book, especially for those who do not know about the Poles who fought under British command during the Second World War.
What has been forgotten is that 17,000 men and women passed through the ranks of the Polish Airforce while it was stationed on British soil. They played a crucial part in the Battle of Britain, one of the ‘few’ that Churchill referred too. At the same time they contributed significantly to the allied war effort, shooting down around 745 enemy aircraft and over 150 flying bombs aimed at sites in London; dropping over 13,206 tons of bombs and laying over 1,502 mines; sinking three enemy ships, eight miniature submarines and two U-Boats, and putting out of action another 30.
Flying over 102,486 sorties, with over 290,895 operational flying hours and taking part in every type of RAF operation. All this came at a cost of 1,973 killed and 1,388 wounded. They won 342 British gallantry awards as well as 15 American ones.
This book does not give a comprehensive account or pretend to assess the exact contribution of the men and women of the Polish Airforce. What it does well is give an idea of who they were, where they came from, how and why they came here and what they actually did. It does not shy away from the sometime strained relations, but ultimately successful collaborations with the RAF. While not forgetting that their sometimes difficult but eventually happy relationship with the people of Britain.
Real recognition has bypassed those that served with great honour in the defence of freedom. As Zamoyski says ‘It rarely falls to heroes to receive their reward’. This book goes some way in doing that.
Paul Diggett 5/5
The Forgotten Few by Adam Zamoyski
Pen & Sword Aviation 9781848841963 pbk Nov 2009