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My 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.

On 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.

All 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.

Early 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.

Polish 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.

When 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.

(Reproduced with kind permission of Stefan Zolkowski-O'Dell, November 2000)

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