Flight Lieutenant Jan Walentowicz
Flight Lieutenant Jan Walentowicz
Born: 4th August 1920 in Bialystok, Poland. Died: 21st July 2011, Chelmsford, Essex. Age 90.
1936-1937 worked as mechanic assistant in car engine repair garage in Lida. In 1937 he graduated from National Gymnasium of Maths and Biology. From 1938, he served as a mechanic assistant with 151 Fighter Squadron of 5th Air Regiment in Lida until 19th September 1939 (rank of Starszy Szeregowy)
Jan’s route to Britain was the route used by most Polish Air Force personal.
To avoid being captured by Soviet forces, which had occupied the east of the country under Hitler and Stalin’s non-aggression pact, his unit escaped into Romania, where he contracted malaria. While he was recovering, he absconded and caught a train to a Black Sea port. By December he had reached Lebanon, and in early 1940 sailed for Marseille.
Arriving in Bron a suburb of Lyon, France, Jan joined the remains of the Polish army on the 20th March 1940 where he served in Polish Training Centre as mechanic assistant. On the 24th June 1940 joined 10th Polish Armoured Brigade where served as a driver. Became caught up in the collapse of the allied defences, captured by German troops but then escaped. Travelling on foot, he encountered some friendly soldiers, and they headed for three ships moored off Le Verdon-sur-Mer on the Atlantic coast. Despite being attacked by aircraft, they sailed for Liverpool and Jan was reunited with his comrades.
On the 23rd September 1940, after arrival in UK, joined P.A.F.
12th November 1942 posted to Polish 307 Night fighter Squadron as engine mechanic with Polish rank of kapral (some information is recorded that he actually was posted to 307 Squadron in 1940)
In 1942 Jan undertook pilot training and was posted to 304 Polish Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, flying anti-U-boat patrols (1)
Other information (from his service files – awaiting further details):
Service number 793924.
12th Feb 1944 flying training (not specified where) .
4th Aug 1944 8 SGA (Polish rank of Plutonowy – Corporal).
11th Dec 1944 6 O.T.U.
6th June 1945 posted to 304 Polish Squadron (former Bomber, then Coastal Command finally Transport Command).
15th Dec 1945 HU Snaith.
1946 PHU Hucknall.
Total time flying as a pilot 700 hours.
Poland ended the war under Soviet occupation and Jan refused to return, remaining instead in the R.A.F. In 1950 he married Winifred, whom he had first met at a dance in Nottingham. In 1954 he qualified to fly helicopters, was promoted to flight lieutenant and was posted to 155 Squadron at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, during the anti-insurgent campaign.
On returning to Britain, he joined 22 Squadron, this time in a search and rescue role. In 1960 he completed an air traffic controller course, serving in Yorkshire and Aden. However, a shortage of experienced helicopter pilots led to his return to flying, as flight commander with 202 Squadron at Leuchars, Scotland. Jan was then aged 47 – the oldest pilot in the R.A.F.
Upon leaving the R.A.F, Jan and Winifred moved to Essex, where they ran the Billericay Bookshop dealing with antique books and others from 1969 – 1989.
Then followed 20 years of retirement in East Hanningfield and in Dunedin, Florida. Jan remained an active supporter of the Royal Air Forces Association until his death.
He is survived by Winifred, their three sons and daughter; and by five grandchildren, Amy, Luke, Thomas, Ava and Matthew.
Believed also to have had a sister Maria Tomaszewska, living in Gdynia, who remained in Poland with his mother.
(1) Awaiting further confirmation on this)
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.