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Memorial to Sgt Josef František VM KW & 3 Bars ČVK DFM & Bar.

6 Jun 2022

Memorial to Sgt Josef František VM KW & 3 Bars ČVK DFM & Bar.

The Polish Air Force Memorial Committee, together with the Embassies of the Republic of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic are delighted to announce that a Memorial to the Czechoslovak pilot Sergeant Josef František, flying with 303 Polish Squadron during the Battle of Britain, will be unveiled later this year close to where he lost his life on the 8th October 1940.

The crash site is now part of the Priest Hill Nature Reserve, Epsom, Surrey. It is one of the 6,500 hectares of nature reserves under the stewardship of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, which has kindly granted permission to place the Memorial. It will be located next to a public footpath and near to the crash site. The PAFMC is funding the entire cost of the Memorial.

Sgt František was one of the most successful pilots in the Battle of Britain credited with destroying 17 enemy aircraft and one probably destroyed. He was decorated with the Polish Virtuti Militari and Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valour) and three bars, posthumously the Czechoslovak Československý válečný kříž 1939 (Czechoslovak War Cross 1939) and the British Distinguished Flying Medal and bar.

Sgt František was returning to his base at RAF Northolt from an uneventful routine patrol with 11 other squadron colleagues led by its British commander Sq/Ldr Ronald Kellett. Approaching the area of the Staines Reservoirs Sgt František was seen to veer off to the east and did not respond to radio communication. His Hurricane R4175 Code RF-R crashed onto flat farmland and Sgt František was killed. This was the day after his 26th birthday.

The circumstances surrounding this incident were a cause of great concern to the Squadron at the time and the reason for his leaving formation, and the subsequent ill-fated attempted landing, remain a complete mystery and unlikely ever to be solved. Sgt Josef František is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission area at Northwood Cemetery grave H 246.

The Chairman of the PAFMC Richard Kornicki commented: “It is a privilege for us to be able to create a lasting Memorial to Sgt František at the spot where he lost his life. As a Czechoslovak pilot, flying in a Polish Squadron, under a British commander he is a powerful reminder of the international make-up of The Few. We hope that for generations to come, those who walk past the Memorial will pause and remember those to whom they owe their freedom. We are very grateful to the Surrey Wildlife Trust and to the Polish, Czech and Slovak Embassies for their support and co-operation”.

The Memorial to Sgt Josef František has been made possible by the extensive detective work of aviation enthusiast Lewis Shelley and Polish Air Force historian and author Peter Sikora. They have spent many years researching and investigating the incident, which included an eyewitness account and are confident the crash site has finally been authoritatively located.

More details will be released nearer the date of the Memorial unveiling.

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