In late 1939, Polish Air Force officers already in France conceived the idea of commissioning a Standard to be made in the city of Wilno (now Vilnius in Lithuania) to symbolise the unity between the Polish Air Force in exile and its homeland.
The designs were smuggled in through underground connections. Obtaining materials was extremely difficult – particularly damask and gold and silver thread. With the help of neutral diplomats materials were gathered – ironically including some from Berlin – and the Standard was embroidered in secret with the work divided among many families and religious communities for security. Once completed, it was smuggled out of Wilno to Stockholm in the Japanese diplomatic bag. From there it was brought to Britain and in July 1941 General Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander in Chief of Polish armed forces, presented it to the Polish Air Force in Britain at RAF Swinderby. The Standard was then held in turn by each of the fourteen Polish squadrons that served alongside the RAF.
The design of the Standard is based on pre-war Polish military colours with broad red and white diagonal crosses. On one side it has at the centre an image of Our Lady of Ostrobrama from Wilno with the words ‘Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna’ (‘God, Honour, Homeland’), and on the other an image of St Thérèse of Lisieux, ‘Wilno 1940’ and ‘Miłość Żąda Ofiary’ (‘Love Demands Sacrifice’). The eagle on top of the flagstaff was made by Spinks & Co. from silver and gold recovered from coins and rings given by Polish airmen in Britain.
At the end of the war, there was no freedom for Poland, only the exchange of Nazi occupation for an imposed Soviet regime, and Wilno itself had become part of the Soviet Union. Some Polish airmen returned home, only to find themselves tried and imprisoned as traitors. Most stayed in the west and the Standard was placed in the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London until such time as Poland should be free again.
In 1992, after the fall of communism in Poland and the first free elections, the Standard was at last returned to Poland. It was handed back to the Polish Air Force, in Piłsudski Square, in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the heart of Warsaw. The Standard, being too fragile for future parading, is on display at the Polish Air Force Museum, Dęblin.
With the personal support of the Commander of the Polish Air Force, Lt. Gen. Lech Majewski, a duplicate of the Wilno Standard was produced in Poland. On the 27 August 2012, twenty years after the original was returned to Poland, the copy was handed over by Lt Gen Lech Majewski to the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee at a ceremony in Warsaw, and marched off the parade ground by a colour party of the RAF Queen’s Colour Squadron.
The duplicate Standard is now part of the Polish Air Force exhibition at the Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge, and is paraded at the annual ceremony at the Polish Air Force Memorial at Northolt, and at other commemorative events.