24 February 2022
Hillingdon Council’s former leader has been presented with two significant awards for his work helping commemorate the efforts of the Polish Armed Forces during World War II.
Councillor Sir Ray Puddifoot MBE, Hillingdon Council's Armed Forces Champion, was presented with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and the Gold Medal of Polish Armed Forces at a special ceremony at the Polish Embassy in London, on Wednesday 23 February. The awards were presented by the Polish Ambassador, Piotr Wilczek, to recognise Cllr Puddifoot’s exceptional and sustained contribution to the memory of those members of the Polish Armed Forces who fought with British Forces throughout the war.
The Knight’s Cross is a state decoration awarded by the President of Poland to Polish and non-Polish citizens who permanently live outside Poland, but whose activities have made an outstanding contribution to building and maintaining international relationships and cooperation between Poland and other countries.
The Gold Medal of the Polish Army is awarded by the Polish Minister of National Defence mainly to foreign military personnel, but also civilians who contribute to promoting the history of the Polish Army outside of Poland.
Cllr Puddifoot said, “It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be awarded the Knight’s Cross and the Polish Army Medal which I accept as part of the ongoing tribute to brave Polish men and women and to the ongoing friendship of our two countries. The Polish Air Force, along with the Polish Army and Navy, played a significant part in defeating Nazi Germany throughout the Second World War so it’s utterly fitting that we pay tribute and honour those efforts and lives lost. Many thousands of Poles lived and worked in what is now Hillingdon during those years of conflict, with many settling here after the war too, so they’re very much part of the fabric of our borough.”
In 1940, Poland’s No.303 (Kościuszko) Squadron was formed at RAF Northolt and was only the second Polish Air Force fighter squadron to form in the UK. It would go on to become the most successful of all Allied squadrons in the Battle of Britain and led to further squadrons being formed. By the end of World War II there were four bomber squadrons and nine fighter squadrons based in the UK. The combined efforts of the Polish forces were considered key in bringing about the end of the conflict. More than 18,000 men and women served in the Polish Air Force during the war, and more than 2,000 lost their lives.
The PAF’s contribution to the war effort was recognised at RAF Northolt, in Ruislip, with the erection and unveiling of the Polish Air Force Memorial on 2 November 1948. The memorial is now owned and maintained by the London Borough Of Hillingdon. The Polish Forces Remembrance Garden, adjacent to the memorial, opened in 2015 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Last summer, new interpretation boards for the Polish Army, were added to two already installed in the garden for the Polish Navy and Air Force. The boards detail the Polish forces’ contributions to the Allied effort and for each there is one board written in English and one in Polish.
In spring 2021, the Polish Air Force Exhibition was opened at the Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge, by HE Prof. Arkady Rzegocki, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland. The exhibition used a variety of objects and documents detailing combat missions during the war and highlight the different roles in the Polish Air Force beyond the pilots, including observers, ground crew and the Polish Women's Auxiliary Air Force. The Polish Air Force Heritage Trail takes in all the key sites in the borough, frequented by members of the Polish Air Force during World War II. The trail can be followed using a smartphone, or interactive map.