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Wing Commander Ronald Gustave Kellett

Born: 13th September 1909, County Durham Died 12th November 1998. Aged 89.

A memorial and thanksgiving service for W/Cmdr. Kellett and members of 303 Squadron took place on August 30th 2014 at the lovely St. George's Church in Benenden, Kent. The family organised the day with a special flyover by a Tiger Moth flown by the son of a former 303 Squadron member.

Ronald Gustave Kellett was born at Eldon, County Durham on 13 September 1909, after a few attempts at joining the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) he was accepted in 1933 serving with the 600 City of London Squadron. Kellett’s mother was Swiss Huguenot and he spent his summer holidays in Chamonix speaking French.

When his AAF tour expired Kellett pleaded to have his service extended as he was very concerned about a possible war with Germany. This was granted and he joined the 616 Squadron in 1939 as a Flight Commander. Called up for full-time Service in August 1939 and transferred in May 1940 to 249 Squadron under the command of Sq/Ldr John Grandy (later Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Grandy).

Kellett was then posted to Northolt on 19th July 1940 in order to form, train and command the Polish 303 Squadron. Kellett’s fluency in French stood him in good stead as some of the Polish Officers could speak French.

The Poles that joined the Squadron were already very experienced in combat in their defence of Poland and later when they joined the French Air Force before escaping to Britain to carry on their fight for their country. They had fought with the 111th, 112th 113th Fighter Escadrille (Poland) to name but a few.

Left to Right: F/O. Jankiewicz, Sq/Ldr. Waclaw Lapkowski, Sq/Ldr. Kellett, P/O. Kornicki (June 2014 - Richard Kornicki tells us this was staged for the Press at Leconfield in the Autumn of 1940).

Kellett’s Polish counterpart was Acting Sq/Ldr. (Maj) Zdzisław Krasnodębski, born in Wola Osowińska, near Łuków, 10 July 1904 - the son of a nobleman. By 1935 he was commanding the 111th Eskadra. Not only did Krasnodębski escape to France via Romania but also many of the Polish air and ground crew escaped on the same route only to re-group again as the 303 Kościuszko Squadron.

Kellett had great admiration for the fighter skills of the Polish Aircrew he was also fully aware that without the hard work, dedication and loyalty that the Polish ground crew showed in turning around the damaged Hurricanes they wouldn’t have had their quota of aircraft for the following day’s sorties.

Sergeant Bedelek wrote in Ferić’s diary:

“We have plenty of work, but everyone does it gladly and cheerfully, because our pilots are beating up the Huns every day. The score mounts up, but machines are so badly shot up that it seems miraculous and providential that the pilots come back.

Two days ago our champion František returned. His machine had practically no tail, the ailerons were not working, the whole aircraft was so bruised that it was impossible to understand how he flew it back. But we mechanics were happy to see it there, and we worked for a day and a night to get it back in flying condition.

There is a great spirit among the mechanics, for we are all Poles and we can now show that we understand our job as well as anybody in the world. The British are no better at it than we are. We get the Hurricanes ready every day for the great battle fought over England by our pilots.

Polish engineers are always ready to do a job that requires skill, like they did in France. I could say more, but time is short and every second counts when work is waiting.”

A member of a fighting family, Kellett had two brothers serving with the Army and Navy during the war. Finishing the Battle of Britain with a tally of at least five destroyed, two probable and one damaged, Kellett was awarded the DFC on 1st October 1940. In recognition of his leadership of 303 Squadron, he was further awarded the DSO on 25th October 1940 and the Polish Virtuti Militari (5th Class) on 24 December 1940.

Having pleaded for the Poles to be allowed to command themselves, Kellett was posted in December 1940 to form 96 Squadron from 422 Flight. In March 1941 he moved to North Weald as a Wing Leader, before eventually coming off operations towards the end of the year. Staff postings then followed at the Air Ministry, where he subsequently became the Air Member for Training, Army Staff College and the RAF Staff College.

Following an overseas attachment to the Turkish Air Force, Kellett left the RAF towards the end of 1945, going back to the Stock Exchange. However his love of flying was not over as he rejoined the Auxiliary Air Force, commanding 615 Squadron at Biggin Hill from July 1946 until 1949.

With thanks to Louise Pemberton, daughter of W/Cdr. Ronald Kellett, also to '303 (Polish) Squadron Battle of Britain Diary' by Richard King - a copy of which he signed for Aircrew Remembered at Northolt, 2012.

Left: 303 Squadron 'Battle of Britain' diary, written by Richard King. Available on Amazon.

August 30th 2014 - a day of remembrance for 303 Squadron and all Poles.

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