Mike Ingham recounts the first visit of Dęblin cadets to RAF Cranwell in 2009.
The Covid travel restrictions prevented the annual visit of the Officer Cadets of the Polish Air Force Academy, Dęblin, Poland from attending this year’s Ceremony of Homage to fallen Polish airmen. Instead Polish Air Force historian and author Mike Ingham recounts the first visit of Dęblin cadets to RAF Cranwell in 2009.
In the summer of 2009 a group of officer cadets from the Polish Air Force Academy at Dęblin spent a week as guests of the Royal Air Force College (RAFC) at Cranwell.
The idea for the visit had been raised the previous year by the committee of what is now Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire. The group is an innovative partnership of volunteer and commercial visitor sites, public sector authorities, the RAF, and other organizations working together in promoting the county's heritage and providing wider economic benefits.
The suggestion was welcomed by the College, and following approval from the Polish Air Force (PAF) planning began on a programme that would be of interest to the Dęblin cadets, show something of the history of the PAF units which had been based in Lincolnshire during the Second World War, and build a further link between the modern air forces of Poland and the UK. The programme would also coincide with the two day International Air Show at RAF Waddington.
On 1 July seven cadets from the senior entry at Dęblin arrived at RAF Cranwell with three officers led by the Dean of the PAF Academy Faculty. Hosting the visitors was a small team of officers from the RAFC and the aviation heritage group.
The first full day of the programme began with a visit to the restored wartime Sector Operations Room at RAF Digby, and then in the afternoon to Faldingworth where the Polish 300 Ziemi Mazowieckiej Squadron flew Avro Lancasters from the now disused airfield. A memorial to the Squadron stands at the end of one of the runways and the village church has a memorial plaque and window dedicated to personnel of the PAF.
A visit to the Newark Air Museum took place the next day, and in the afternoon respects were paid to the fallen at the Polish Air Force Memorial and war graves in the cemetery at Newark where they were joined by the Town Mayor and PAF veterans.
The bright and sunny weekend was spent at the popular International Air Show at RAF Waddington. The highlights of the air display programme included a polished performance by the PAF aerobatic team Zespół Akrobacyjny Orlik. The heritage group stand had display panels in English and Polish describing the role of the PAF in Lincolnshire, and the Dęblin officer cadets took advantage of the opportunity to speak to many visitors. Close by was a traditional steel band, the style of music created by converted oil drums being a source of much interest.
The historic city of Lincoln was the venue for the next day, starting with a visit to the magnificent Cathedral. Then, down the aptly named Steep Hill, to the ancient Guildhall (with Polish flag flying from the flagpole atop the roof) where they were greeted by the Mayor with a buffet lunch provided by members of the local Polish community. Later there was a more informal element of the programme, and the opportunity for some shopping.
The morning of the following day was spent at RAF Coningsby, to look at the multirole Eurofighter Typhoons and visit the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) where Spitfire AB910 could be seen in the ‘Donald Duck’ markings of the Commanding Officer of 303 Kościuszko Squadron, kapitan/Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach. Close to Coningsby is the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre on the site of the former RAF East Kirkby. The Centre has an Avro Lancaster, which is able to taxi and which the Centre team hopes may one day be made airworthy, and gave the Polish cadets the opportunity to look over this famous aircraft at close quarters during the afternoon.
Whilst at East Kirkby one moment stands out that, in its way, represents the experience of the whole of the week's visit. The BBMF schedule included an air test for Spitfire AB910, and given the proximity of Coningsby this took in East Kirkby. As it made its first run a member of the hosting team turned to one of the cadets and asked if he could see the markings. With a very broad smile, representing both his pleasure and also his pride in his air force, he replied simply "Zumbach!".
Before returning home the PAF visitors and their hosts attended a reception given by the Commandant of the RAFC. It was clear that the visit from Dęblin had been a great success, had achieved its aims and provided a firm foundation for future such exchanges.
Sadly, officer cadets from Dęblin were unable to join in the commemorations this year, but their presence again in 2022 is much anticipated.