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Polish MEPs lay wreaths for their country's hero airmen killed and buried in Northern Ireland

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 04/09/2015

Member of the European Parliament for Poland, Anna Fotyga, lays a wreath at one of the graves of Polish airmen at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast
Member of the European Parliament for Poland, Anna Fotyga, lays a wreath at one of the graves of Polish airmen at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast
MEP Anna Fotyga, Gabriel Beszlej, secretary general of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, and Polish chaplin Mario Jachym at the ceremony

Tributes have been paid to Second World War pilots from Poland who were killed in Northern Ireland.

A delegation of Polish MEPs has laid wreaths at the graves of seven airmen buried in west Belfast's Milltown cemetery.

Jerome Mullen, honorary Polish Consul to Northern Ireland, said their heroic contribution was not fully appreciated.

He said: "These were airmen who were forced out of Germany, who fought their way out during the German invasion, and who joined with the British forces and fought in the Battle of Britain.

"The huge role that they played is not fully understood or appreciated."

In total, 145 Polish airmen took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 compared with 25 from Northern Ireland.

Eva Grossman from the Northern Ireland Polish Society said: "They are a source of great pride for Poland."

Throughout 1943 and 1944 two Polish squadrons, comprising more than 100 pilots and ground crew, were stationed in Northern Ireland.

After a long and arduous stint on the front line, they were posted to the RAF's operational training unit at Ballyhalbert, Co Down, tasked with patrolling the coastline searching for German U-boats.

Military historian Ernie Cromie from the Ulster Aviation Society said: "By that stage of the war, most of the Luftwaffe activity over Northern Ireland had already happened, but military flying has always been a dangerous occupation and, inevitably, even though they were not really in combat in Northern Ireland, accidents did occur from time to time whether that was as a result of weather or mechanical failure."

Fifteen airmen who died in tragic training accidents are buried across Northern Ireland, including at Milltown, Carnmoney, Glenavy and at Ballyhalbert.

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