Commonwealth War Graves Commission to replace Polish pilot’s headstone

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2 Mar

Commonwealth War Graves Commission to replace Polish pilot’s headstone

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has confirmed that the incorrect Royal Air Force style headstone, on the grave of Polish Air Force fighter pilot F/O Franciszek Gruszka in Northwood Cemetery, is to be replaced with the correct Polish style headstone. This may take sometime to complete due to the current Coronavirus situation.


The CWGC commemorates casualties by nationality of service rather than by nationality of casualty. Although F/O Franciszek Gruszka was of Polish nationality, the CWGC believed he was serving with the RAF rather than the PAF at the time of his death during the Battle of Britain. As such he was commemorated as a Commonwealth casualty with an RAF style headstone, rather than an allied casualty with a Polish style headstone.


During the war the PAF in the UK was its own independent sovereign air force operating under the constitutional control of the Polish Government in exile, but under the operational command of the RAF. The initial influx of Polish airmen from France to England in early 1940 had to join the RAF’s Volunteer Reserve. However, they all soon transferred to the PAF in early August 1940 following the Anglo-Polish agreement, signed by both governments on 5 August 1940, to give separate independent status to the PAF.


At the time of his death F/O Franciszek Gruszka was serving with the RAF’s 65 Squadron at Hornchurch and was shot down and killed during the Battle of Britain on 18 August 1940. He was the seventh of the 31 operational PAF pilots killed during the Battle. The location of the crash site remained a mystery for over 33 years. However, from information in the book The Polish ‘Few’ by Peter Sikora, F/O Franciszek Gruszka’s Spitfire I R6713 and his remains were recovered from Grove Marsh, near Preston Village, Kent on the 15 April 1974. F/O Franciszek Gruszka was subsequently buried in grave H202 in Northwood Cemetery on 17 July 1975 with an RAF style headstone.


It is thanks to the PAFMC’s historical adviser Wojtek Matusiak who indicated the incorrect headstone that enabled the PAFMC to submit a request to the CWGC to replace the headstone with the correct one of Polish style.