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PAF Standard

                                                                                         History of the PAF Standard


The idea for a Standard for Lotnictwo (Aviation), the military air arm of the Polish Army, was conceived in France sometime in late 1939 by pilot F/Lt Jan Hryniewicz. This was at the Polish training base in Lyon-Bron, following his evacuation from Poland with other Aviation personnel.


In France Aviation operated as separate Jednostki Polskiego Lotnictwa (Polish Aviation Units). However, in early 1940 Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, Gen Władysław Sikorski, made the historic decision to make the Aviation division a completely independent member of the Polish Armed Forces. Thus on 1 March 1940 Aviation became the independent Polskie Siły Powietrzne (PSP) the Polish Air Force (PAF) under the overall command of General Józef Zając.


F/Lt Hryniewicz came from Wilno, (now Vilnius, Lithuania) and before the war was the instructor and Commander of the Observers Training Unit at the Training Centre of Aviation No. 1, in Dęblin, Poland. At the Lyon-Bron base he engaged two Cadet officers, Zbigniew Wojda and Kazimierz Karaszewski, to each produce design sketches for each side of the Standard that would provide a symbol of unity between Polish airmen and their occupied homeland.


The overall design followed the traditional colours and pattern of the Polish Armed Forces with a red cross on a white background on both sides. In the centre of the main side, designed by Zbigniew Wojda, is an image of Our Lady of Ostra Brama, the patron saint of Wilno, surrounded by a wreath. In the central upper part of the cross is the image of the White Eagle in the crown, a symbol of the Polish state, and at the bottom the inscription BÓG, HONOR I OJCZYZNA (God, Honour and Homeland). F/Lt Hryniewicz, assuming Polish airmen would continue their fight for freedom in France, requested that this side of the flag also carry a French Fleur-de-lis symbol in each of the four white corners.


The reverse of the Standard, composed by Kazimierz Karaszewski, has a central image of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux supported on a sword and a cross. Above and central to this is the inscription WILNO 1940 and below it MIŁOŚĆ ŻĄDA OFIARY (Love Demands Sacrifice). In the upper left corner there is a Polish pilot’s wings, or Gapa, and in the upper right a white and red chequerboard, the national marking of Polish military aircraft. At the lower left is a badge of the cadet officer school of Aviation and on the right a Polish air observer’s or navigator’s Gapa.

To ensure approval for the design F/Lt Hryniewicz sent copies of the proposed pattern to his long time commander W/Cdr Wacław Iwaszkiewicz and to retired Gen Lucjan Żeligowski. He asked Aleksandra Zasuszanka-Dobrowolska to write letters for him to his sister Katarzyna Sienkiewiczowa and the friends of his mother, Zofia Wasilewska-Świdowa and Józef Górski, enquiring if this request would be possible. Aleksandra Zasuszanka-Dobrowolska was the author of the lyrics of the Polish ‘Airmen’s March’ - the official march of Aviation (PAF) since before the Second World War.


Zofia Wasilewska-Świdowa sought the advice of the priest Józef Kucharski and a committee ‘Towarzystwo Pomocy Obywatelskiej’ (Society for Citizens Assistance) was formed to oversee the project. Led by Jadwiga Oskierczyna, the committee estimated the cost of producing the Standard at around 3000 Lithuanian litas, (approximately £9,800 in 2024) which, with the incredible generosity of Wilno’s inhabitants, was reached on the first day of fundraising.


The necessary damask material and gold and silver embroidery threads, needed to make the Standard, were not available in Wilno. However, the city’s Roman Catholic Archbishop, Romuald Jałbrzykowski, used his connections to secretly source all the materials from the German capital Berlin. The main embroidery was done by the Sisters of Mercy in the Church of St. Casimir in Wilno and then finished off by the Benedictine Sisters in the City’s church of St. Michael the Archangel. The Standard was completed in June 1940 and consecration followed in secrecy in the Ostra Brama Chapel by priest Kazimierz Kucharski. This was under the cover of darkness and in the presence of some members of the church.

It was decided to use a single courier to deliver the Standard to the new independent PAF in France. Sadly her name has not been recorded, but the Standard was wrapped round her body during her lone journey through the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany. On her arrival in Belgium she learned that France had capitulated so she returned to Wilno, tracing the same route home.


After the fall of France Polish airmen were evacuated to Great Britain and arrangements were then made to send the Standard to ‘wyspa ostatniej nadziei’, The Island of Last Hope. The Standard was initially taken from Wilno about 65 miles west to Kaunas by a local Polish community activist Eugenia Stankunowiczówna. It was then transferred by Polish intelligence officer Lt Stanisław Daszkiewicz to the Japanese attaché's office in Kaunas under the close supervision of the sympathetic Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara. From there it was despatched in diplomatic luggage to the Japanese Embassy in Berlin. Here Polish intelligence officers F/Lt Jerzy Jakubianiec and courier Mjr Michał Rybikowski took over arrangements for its onward travel. In October 1940, Mjr Rybikowski, accompanied by a Japanese diplomatic courier, delivered the Standard to the Polish Diplomatic mission in Stockholm, Sweden. From Stockholm it was subsequently sent to Great Britain and arrived in London on 4 March 1941.


Before the Standard could be handed to the PAF it was attached with dome-headed nails to a wooden staff, which was sponsored by F/Lt Krzysztof Dobrowolski. He was the husband of Aleksandra Zasuszanka-Dobrowolska, who wrote the three letters for F/Lt Hryniewicz. A gold and silver eagle, perched on a silver box inscribed with the initials P.S.P., was mounted on the top of the staff. This was designed by the treasurer of the Inspectorate of the PAF Zofia Wisznicka-Kleczyńska, a painter, artist and graduate of the Academy of Arts, Warsaw. The eagle was cast by the London goldsmith and collectables company Spink & Son from gold and silver jewellery donated by Polish airmen. Spink had already been producing PAF brevets and other insignia.

The Standard was taken to RAF Swinderby for the official handover ceremony on 16 July 1941. Small silver shield shaped plaques, engraved with the names of Polish and British dignitaries and individual squadrons, were ceremonially pinned to the staff in six rows just below the Standard. These are clearly visible in photographs and film taken at the time. There is no apparent record of the original list and some plaques are missing. Those remaining are listed below.


W imię Trójcy Przenajświętszej (In the name of the Holy Trinity),

Prezydent R.P. W. Raczkiewicz (The President of Republic of Poland W. Raczkiewicz), 

Naczelny Wódz Gen. Broni W. Sikorski (Commander-in-Chief General W. Sikorski),

The Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill,

Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald Sinclair,

Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal,

Air Marshal Richard Peirse,

Air Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas,

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt. 

Gen. Broni (General) K. Sosnkowski,

Prezes Rady Narodowej (The Chairman of National Council) S. Mikołajczyk,

Gen. Broni (General) L. Żeligowski,

Gen. Dyw.  (Lieutenant General) M. Kukiel,

Gen. Bryg. (Major General) T. Klimecki,

Minister Prof. S. Kot,

DCA. 300 Dyonu Bombowego (Commander of 300 Bomber Squadron),

DCA. 301 Dyonu Bombowego (Commander of 301 Bomber Squadron),

DCA. 302 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 302 Fighter Squadron),

Gen. Bryg. (Major General) J. Modelski,

A. Dobrowolska,

DCA. 303 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 303 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 304 Dyonu Bombowego (Commander of 304 Bomber Squadron),

DCA. 305 Dyonu Bombowego (Commander of 305 Bomber Squadron),

DCA. 306 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 306 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 307 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 307 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 308 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 308 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 309 Dyonu Współpracy (Commander of 309 Cooperation Squadron),

DCA. 315 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 315 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 316 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 316 Fighter Squadron),

DCA. 317 Dyonu Myśliwskiego (Commander of 317 Fighter Squadron),

Kpt (F/Lt) J. Hryniewicz 


*The Polish Air Force historian and author Jerzy Cynk in his book ‘The Polish Air Force At War The Official History’ indicates a plaque was included for Air Marshal Walsh. There is no plaque for Air Marshal Walsh or a gap where it may have been and no one of that name and rank can be indentified in the RAF at that time.

In the presence of the President of the Republic of Poland Władysław Raczkiewicz and other Polish and British dignitaries, the honour of initially delivering the Standard was given to its creator F/Lt Hryniewicz. He handed it to retired Gen Żeligowski for passing to Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces Gen Władysław Sikorski. Following a short speech Gen Sikorski formally presented the Standard to the Commander-in-Chief of the PAF Brig.Gen Stanisław Ujejski, so finally completing its journey from Wilno to the PAF. He then handed it to the commander of 300 (Polish) Land of Masovia bomber squadron W/Cdr Wacław Makowski, who in turn presented it to a 300 Squadron Standard bearer for parading at the ceremony.


The Standard was initially held by 300 Squadron and then successively passed in turn to the majority of the Polish squadrons that served alongside the RAF until the end of the war. It is believed that the plaques for all the squadrons that existed in 1941 were added at that time. There is no plaque for 318 Squadron, which was formed in 1943, and as far as can be ascertained the Standard was never transferred and held by either 317 or 318 Squadrons.


There was no freedom for Poland at the end of the war, only the exchange of German occupation for an imposed Soviet communist regime, and Wilno 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. The Standard was initially placed in the Polish Church of Our Lady of Częstochowa and St Casimir in Devonia Road, London. On the 10 July 1947 it was transferred to the General Sikorski Historical Institute, London, renamed in 1965 the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, 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. On 4 September, during the first world reunion of Polish Airmen on Polish soil, the Standard was handed back in a ceremony in Piłsudski Square, in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in the heart of Warsaw.

This transfer was performed by a colour guard and delegation from the UK’s Polish Air Force Association of its Chairman AVM Aleksander Maisner and members Sq/Ldr Tadeusz Andersz, F/Lt Andrzej Jeziorski, F/Lt Mieczysław Sawicki and W/O Tadeusz Ruman. AVM Maisner handed the Standard to Commander of the PAF and Air Defence Gen Jerzy Gotowała in the presence of the first legally elected President of the Republic of Poland after the war Lech Wałęsa. According to the wishes of F/Lt Hryniewicz, (who died in July 1989) the Standard was then taken and placed in the Hall of Traditions at the PAF Academy, Dęblin.


After the sixth world reunion of Polish Airmen in 2012 the Standard was transferred from the Hall of Traditions to the PAF Museum in Dęblin. From January 2016 to May 2017 the conservation studio, in the Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, carried out a major and complex restoration of the Standard. The fabric and embroidery conservation was completed by Jadwiga Kozłowska and Justyna Miecznik; the leatherwork by Aleksandra Surmak and the metal restoration by Piotr Kołaciński. Following the restoration the Standard was returned to the PAF Museum, Dęblin, where it is on display, being too fragile for future parading.


In 1985 a replica was made for the Polish Army Museum by Maria Cedrowicz in Warsaw, using colour photographs provided by the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London.


In January 2012 the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee (PAFMC) approached the Commander of the PAF, Lt/Gen Lech Majewski, with a request for a replica to be commissioned to maintain the links between Poland and the PAF community in Britain. The proposal was warmly endorsed, and three replicas were produced: one was to be kept in the Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, one in the Airmen’s Chapel of the church of Pope St Pius V in Dęblin, and one entrusted to the PAFMC in the UK.


On the 27 August 2012, twenty years after the original Standard was returned to Poland, the replica, destined for the UK, was handed over by Lt/Gen Majewski to PAFMC chairman Richard Kornicki at a ceremony in Warsaw. It was marched off the parade ground by a colour party of the Queen’s Colour Squadron and taken to the UK. This replica Standard is kept in the PAF Exhibition at the Battle of Britain Bunker Visitor Centre, Uxbridge. It is paraded at the annual commemoration of fallen Polish airmen at the PAF Memorial at South Ruislip, and at other commemorative events. 


Photos in the slide show can be viewed by double clicking the image then the arrows. There is also a short video extract from 'Diary of a Polish Airmen' by clicking on the Play button and then to full screen. Photos courtesy of Wojtek Matusiak and Jacek Zagożdżon.

This post has been compiled from reference to the book ‘The Polish Air Force at War The Official History’ by Jerzy Cynk. The PAFMC also acknowledges with thanks the considerable help of Jacek Zagożdżon, Executive of Education, Exhibition Organization and Facilitating Department, PAF Museum, Dęblin, Poland, Paweł Żurkowski, director, Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Richard Kornicki and PAF historian Wojtek Matusiak. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but if anyone identifies any errors please advise the PAFMC via the email on the Contacts page.

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