Belfast Telegraph

Tributes for Polish pilots killed in Northern Ireland during Second World War

Tributes have been paid to World War Two 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.

Five of those laid to rest at Milltown were killed when their Wellington bomber crashed into a mountain in Co Cork during adverse weather conditions. Their bodies were brought to the border and burial space was found in Belfast.

Two others died in separate accidents over the former Belfast Harbour Airport.

A number of of other Polish pilots are buried at Carnmoney on the edge of north Belfast, in Glenavy, Co Antrim and at Ballycran Beg close to the airfield at Ballyhalbert.

Milltown cemetery is one of the largest in the region and also includes a republican plot for IRA volunteers killed during the Troubles.

An exhibition marking the Polish pilots' contribution is due to open at the Ulster Museum later this month.

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