Memorial proposed for Polish Battle of Britain pilots stationed in Northern Ireland
A proposal has been made for a memorial to a band of heroic Polish airmen who played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain.
The 303 (Polish) RAF Squadron was stationed at Ballyhalbert in Co Down from 1943 to 1944 following their heroics in the battle, during which they emerged as the one of the top fighter groups in action.
The unit contained more than 100 pilots and ground crew. They were posted to the RAF's operational training unit at Ballyhalbert, tasked with patrolling the coastline, searching for German U-boats.
At a meeting of Ards and North Down Borough Council this week, Ulster Unionist councillor Richard Smart proposed that the squadron be recognised at the war memorial garden at Court Square in Newtownards.
Mr Smart said both the people of the borough and the wider Polish community in Northern Ireland could be very proud of the pilots' actions.
"I want to start by commending the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland, Jerome Mullen, from whom this idea emanates, for his desire to see his countrymen's service and sacrifice commemorated and indeed thank him for picking this borough, with its strong connections to the Armed Forces, to do so," he told the meeting.
"I am also grateful to Newtownards Royal British Legion for its willingness to meet, discuss and support this project for a modest memorial, along with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, who are hoping to fund not only the memorial and its design, but also the delivery of a full shared history programme, working along with local community groups."
Mr Smart said the motion was based on a desire "to mark the efforts of the courageous and heroic Polish airmen", many of whom fought their way out of persecution during the German invasion of Poland and then joined with British forces, going on to play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain.
He added: "After a long and arduous stint on the front line, the men were posted to the RAF's operational training unit at Ballyhalbert, tasked with patrolling the coastline, searching for German U-boats.
"Throughout 1943 and 1944 the Polish squadron, comprising more than 100 pilots and ground crew, was stationed in Northern Ireland.
"Fifteen of them lost their lives in Northern Ireland and are buried across the province.
"I see this as an opportunity to remember those courageous men, who were prepared to risk life and limb, joining with British forces to make certain that the evil regime of Hitler's dictatorship would not be allowed to succeed.
"I believe that the people of this borough and the Polish community in Northern Ireland can be rightly proud of our forefathers, who did so much, working together for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today."
Jerome Mullen said that if the memorial plan was approved, it would be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, although some of the pilots are depicted on murals in Belfast.
He added that if the proposal was agreed by the council and all other groups involved, he hoped it could be in place for Polish Independence Day on November 8, which also marks modern Poland's 100th birthday.
The motion will have to be formally agreed and approved by the council before it is taken forward.
The Polish community is the largest minority community in Northern Ireland, numbering around 35,000 people.