It is good to see Beata Szydlo, the relatively new Prime Minister of Poland, is here in London today to meet with Prime Minister, Theresa May for talks on a variety of issues. It is very pleasing too that the Polish Prime Minister has chosen to come out very publically suggesting that the EU must compromise to win a good Brexit deal for Britain and the rest of the European Union and that “Poland stands ready to help its old friend Britain reach the best possible Brexit deal”.
Those that doubt or perhaps fail to understand the closeness and reason why the now enduring relationship between Britain and Poland exists should take themselves to see the wonderful Polish War Memorial at Ruislip. 145 Polish airmen lost their lives in the Battle of Britain and during WW2 as a whole 8,500 Polish pilots would serve in the Royal Air Force, many with distinction. In remembering Polish airmen who gave their lives fighting alongside us in order to secure freedom those that may in future visit the Runnymede Memorial would do as well to visit the nearby Air Forces Memorial in Englefield Green and which is dedicated to the total 20,456 men and women of air forces of Britain and its former colonies who gave their lives in WW2 defending freedom.
Many Polish airmen survived the war and chose to remain in Britain. One such was Charles Dugan-Chapman, a polish born Spitfire pilot who I believed later also served as a bomber pilot before he left the RAF in 1945 and went on to create Stewart Plastics Ltd in Croydon. He died in April 2002.
Born Ignacy Czajka in Lvov, Poland in January 1918 (he changed his name to Charles Dugan-Chapman at the end of WW2) he had, following several attempts, escaped from Poland in 1940 by giving the slip to the Germans. Travelling through Hungary and Romania, often sleeping rough in barns and forced to swim icy rivers before finally reaching Greece and, via France, eventually arriving in Britain where, having previously been a member of a Polish gliding club, he was readily accepted to train as a pilot by the Royal Air Force.
Having been posted to 302 (Poznanski) Squadron based at Harrowbeer in Devon and flying both Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft he then spent much of his time carrying out convoy protection duties and in attacking enemy shipping often at mast height. Later, having passed through 132 and 164 Squadrons in Scotland and having been shot and injured, an incident which I believe led to a later crash landing in Deal, Kent, Czajka went back to flying missions that included low-level strafing and bombing of enemy troops and armour and paving the way for the D-Day landings. During this time having returned to 302, he served also with 308 (Krakowski) Squadron and 309 (Ziemia Czerwiernska) Squadron.
Charles Dugan-Chapman may have been one amongst many Polish airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during WW2 and who, in this case, went on to have a very successful career in business but his story is surely well worth recounting at this time if only to remind of the very close ties that Britain has with Poland and why. Before moving back to the wider Poland related issues that have brought Prime Minister Szydlo to London today may I commend those of you who may wish to better understand the enduring relationship and the superb support that many exiled Poles who joined Polish squadrons of the Royal Air Force during WW2 provided and achieved should read ‘Destiny Can Wait’ – a history of the Polish Air Force in Britain.
During her visit to London today, talks between the two political leaders will primarily focus on defence and cooperation, security and trade together with seeking new ways to underpin the enduring relationship that exists between the two nations. I wish them well. Brexit will also feature of course as will concerns by the Polish Prime Minister be expressed for the safety of some 831,000 polish people that are estimated to now be living in Britain – a figure that, according to the Office of National Statistics, represents an increase of 750,000 since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
For her part, Prime Minister Theresa May will provide details about the planned deployment of approximately 150 members of the Army plus a number of armoured vehicles that will be used to assist in securing of NATO’s eastern flank and to engage in patrolling Poland’s north-east border. .
Poland is no slouch in better securing its own defence requirements and has, unlike some of its larger EU partners, been substantially raising spending on defence in recent years. Indeed, in each of 2013 and 2014, defence spending increased by 13% and it is worth noting that Polish defence budget is already ‘genuinely’ in advance of 2% GDP. In this respect Poland may be regarded not only as one of the few European nations to already be spending above 2% of GDP on defence but also one that is determined to recognise the increased level of threat posed by Russia.
Back in January the Polish Government announced that the defence budget was to be further raised to PLN35.9 billion ($8.9 billion) – a figure that would represent a 9.4% increase over the 2015 defence budget. In June the Government launched an ambitious ten year $42 billion defense project aimed at substantially upgrading its military forces. Defence priorities and modernisation requirements are believed to include plans for a missile defense shield, anti-aircraft systems, submarines, remotely piloted air systems and armored personnel carriers. Previous defence priorities have I believe been built around procurement of guided missiles for the Polish Air Force fleet of F-16 fighter jets, development of special purpose forces and the naval missile division on the Baltic Sea together with operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
CHW (London – 28th November 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785