name is Stefan Zolkowski-O'Dell. The story I am going to tell you started
over 60 years ago, which is why I have forgotten some of the details.
1st September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. I was a civilian but
was mobilized as an officer in the Polish Air Force. I, together with
thousands of other Poles, escaped from Poland and after making our way
through Europe and Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic
Ocean arrived in Great Britain in June 1940.
the Polish Air Force men who arrived in Britain joined the RAF. The
first job I had as an air force engineer was in No 58 Pilot Operational
Training Unit based in Grangemouth in Scotland, which had a Polish section.
I lectured to Polish pilots on the plane and engine of the Spitfire.
Every six weeks, twenty or more Polish and Czech pilots arrived. The
instructors were also experienced Polish pilots.
every morning one of the instructors took up one of the Spitfires for
a proving flight. One day, one of the Sergeants (I don't remember his
name) took off and flew from the aerodrome to the north. About 1/2 kilometer
to the north was the River Forth estuary. When he was in the middle
of the estuary the plane suddenly plunged into the water. I cannot recall
the findings of the Board of Inquiry as to the cause of the crash. The
plane and the pilot's body were recovered from the water.
Air Force HQ decided that as we were in a foreign country during wartime,
there was no prospect of returning the pilot's effects to his family
in Poland. The Polish Commander (Wing Commander) instructed me to gather
all the Polish personnel together and hold an auction to dispose of
the pilot's effects. The proceeds were sent to Polish HQ in London.
I had looked through the effects before the auction I found a priest's
stole. Nobody knew why he had had it. I did not think it right to auction
the stole so I kept it through the war and eventually forgot about it.
During my retirement, whilst looking through my old souvenirs I found
the stole. My wife and I decided it should be returned to Poland, and
in 1996, when we were in Poland visiting our family in Trembice we gave
it to Mrs Zofja Zolkowska. She presented it to the church museum in
the Zolkowski's parish in Paprotnia.
with kind permission of Stefan Zolkowski-O'Dell, November 2000)