Visitors to the Guildhall in High Street, Exeter, on Monday can see an exhibition called For Your Freedom and Ours. It tells the story of 307 Squadron based at Exeter Airport during the Second World War.
The night-fighter squadron was made up of Poles who had escaped the Nazi occupation of their country and joined the RAF. They defended Exeter on the night of the Exeter Blitz, and 19 of their number are buried in Higher Cemetery in Exeter.
On Tuesday at 10am the Polish flag will be raised over the Guildhall in honour of their contribution to protecting the city, and the region. Here Michael Parrott, of the 307 Squadron Project which has organised the exhibition at the Guildhall until Wednesday, tells the story of one of the brave airmen
This photograph shows two airmen of the Polish 307 RAF Squadron which defended Exeter and South West England from enemy bombers between 1941-1943.
The man on the left hand side in the photo is navigator Leon Michalski who was born in 1915.
After the outbreak of war Leon was taken prisoner by the Soviets, he managed to escape two days later and crossed the Hungarian border before travelling to France. Following the fall of France he was evacuated to Britain where he began training with the Royal Air Force.
In July 1941 Leon was moved to No. 533 Squadron which was an RAF night fighter squadron equipped with Havocs and Bostons, and then in 1942 he was assigned to the 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron ‘Lwów Eagle Owls’ in Exeter based at RAF Exeter (now Exeter Airport).
At the turn of 1942/43 the squadron began to equip itself with the modern Mosquito II. From May 1943, the squadron, including Leon, carried out operational sorties over France and then from August over the Bay of Biscay. In November, the squadron was relocated to the Scottish Air Base in Drem, here the crews fought the Luftwaffe aircraft that were taking off from Norway. Leon’s most spectacular mission was a patrol over Norway.
Here’s the story of the Mosquito fighter-bomber
On the 19th of January 1944, Leon and F/O Ryszard Zwoliski, together with three other crews, took off with the task of attacking a Luftwaffe base in Stavanger. On the way to their target the crew managed to shoot down a Junkers bomber into the sea. The attack on the enemy seaplanes moored in the fjord also proved successful, the crew claimed one as probably destroyed.
Leon Michalski usually flew with F/O Jan Krzyanowski, F/Lt Jan Pacholczyk or F/O Ryszard Zwoliski. He also carried out single missions with other pilots, among them pilot F/O Alfred Suskiewicz who is photographed next to Leon inside the Mosquito VI at Predannack airfield, Cornwall on 4 November 1943. Alfred survived the war and died in Poland in 1989.
For his sevice during the war Leon Michalski was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour and the British service medals. After the war he settled in Costa Rica, he died on 22 June 1979 and was buried at the Military Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland.
On November 15, 1942, the Poles presented the city with a Polish flag to mark the enduring links in a ceremony outside the cathedral
The Polish flag being raised on the Guildhall
More than 70 years after his wartime exploits Leon’s great nephew, Andrzej Michalski who lives in Portsmouth, is one of three members of the British/Polish charity 307 Squadron Project that promotes and researches the role of 307 Squadron.
The Project is organising an exhibition at the Guildhall in Exeter from 14th-16th November from 10am-4pm.
The exhibition, including memorabilia and information on the squadron, coincides with 307 Squadron Day in Exeter on Tuesday 15th November when the Lord Mayor of Exeter will raise the Polish flag over the Guildhall in memory of the squadron that defended the city from 1941-1943.
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