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Franciszek KORNICKI

Franciczek Kornicki was born at Wereszyn, south of Hrubieszów, in Poland, on 18 December 1916, the sixth son of Łukasz Kornicki and his wife Aniela. He attended the village school in Wereszyn and then the high school in Hrubieszów, where he boarded and covered his expenses by coaching less able pupils.

He was admitted as a cadet at the Polish Air Force academy in Dęblin. In July 1939, he completed his studies, and finished in third place out of a class of 173. In the middle of a fortnight's leave prior to his first posting, he was ordered to report to his unit immediately, and he said his goodbyes to his family. He never saw his father again and he wouldn't see his mother and brothers again for another 25 years.

When the German armies invaded Poland on 1 September, he was a member of 162 squadron, flying outdated PZL P.7 aircraft without radios. The German fighters were superior in all respects. The Polish Air Force was heavily outnumbered, and losses were heavy. On 17 September, pilots were informed that the Soviet Army had crossed the border and that, to continue the fight, they were to fly to Romania and join the re-constituted Polish forces in France. Those who were without planes, including Kornicki, were to make their way to Romania on foot. Franciszek crossed into Romania later that same night. By road and rail he travelled to the port of Balchik, avoiding internment and being provided with false papers by the Polish Embassy. He sailed with many other airmen on the SS Patris to Marseille. It was several months before flight training on the Morane 406 French fighter aircraft was provided, and shortly after Kornicki finished his training, France capitulated. Along with several thousand other Poles, he made his way to Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque country and was evacuated aboard the Arandora Star to Liverpool, where his first task was to start learning English.

By August 1940 the Polish Air Force had more than 8,000 men in Britain and eventually sixteen fighter and bomber squadrons were formed. These were operationally subordinate to the RAF. After flight training on the Boulton Paul Defian,t he was posted on 11 October 1940 to 303 Squadron. The squadron had just achieved the highest score of all the squadrons that took part in the Battle of Britain. On joining 303 Squadron he converted to the Hawker Hurricane. In January 1941, he joined 315 Squadron, which was equipped with Spitfire MkIIs. On 23 July he flew his first mission over France. He described the experience as follows:

"We were over twenty thousand feet when I heard on the radio that enemy aircraft were approaching. Later there were reports of attacks and warning shouts - someone was fighting somewhere. I thought we were moving about a bit nervously when I remembered the golden rule: never fly straight and level for any length of time - and so I too weaved behind my energetic leader, trying desperately not to collide with anybody and not to lose him. I managed, but I did not see much else except him and my immediate neighbours. Our squadron was not molested, and we all came back in one piece. I landed drenched with perspiration, jumped out of my aircraft, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply".

On 13 February 1943, he took over command of No. 308 Polish Fighter Squadron: at 26 he was the youngest squadron commander in the Polish Air Force and the first from Dęblin to reach such a position. On 7 May, he became commanding officer of No. 317 Polish Fighter Squadron, which he led until December 1943.

From January 1944, having survived over three years as a fighter pilot, Kornicki was transferred to a ground job as a liaison officer. He was attended the Polish Air Force Staff College in Weston-Super-Mare, then served in staff positions at 84 Group HQ, 2nd Tactical Air Force, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. As a staff officer he was forbidden to fly operational sorties, but he received permission to retrain on the latest model of Spitfire. For his wartime service he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari (War Order No. 08487) and the Cross of Valour with two bars.

Kornicki was dismayed by the Yalta Agreement and had no wish to go to Soviet-occupied Poland after the end of the war. He attended Nottingham Technical College, and on 6 March 1948, he married Patience Ceridwen Williams, daughter of Ewart and Enid Williams. They had two sons are Peter and Richard, and they began a career as hotel managers for Symonds Brewery.

In June 1951, responding to an appeal for pilots for the RAF, which was expanding in response to Cold War pressures, he received a commission as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF and resumed flying. In May 1953, he served on RAF stations in England, Malta, Aden, and Cyprus. He was promoted to Squadron Leader on 1 January 1961, and retired from the RAF on 8 January 1972. He subsequently worked for the Gas Industry Training Board and then for the Ministry of Defence.

Franciszek’s memorabilia, including his log-book, French goggles, and the attaché case he was issued at Dęblin in 1936, are in the Polish Museum at RAF Northolt. One of the aircraft he flew, Spitfire MkVB BM 597 is still flying in the colours of 317 Squadron. At age 93, he was reunited with it at RAF Northolt on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in September 2010.

On 16 June 2011, he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. On 11 November 2012 he was promoted to the rank of full colonel in the Polish Air Force. He turned 100 in December 2016.

In preparation for the RAF centenary in 2018, the RAF Museum organised a poll to select 'The People's Spitfire Pilot' to be featured alongside a Spitfire Mk VB at the Museum's centenary exhibition. Eleven pilots from differing backgrounds were nominated, and Kornicki was the runaway winner with over 325,000 votes (the second placed, British, pilot had 6,300). This was widely reported in the Polish press and on Polish television and radio. In October 2017, he was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit for National Defence by the Polish Minister of Defence.

He died on 16 November 2017 at the Sussex Clinic in Worthing. His wife, Pat, died ten days later, on 26 November. Their joint funeral took place on 30 November 2017 at St Michael's Church, Worthing, in the presence of the Polish ambassador and the head of the Polish Air Force, and they were later interred at Northwood Cemetery, in a plot beside the Polish Air Force war graves. The Polish Air Force provided pallbearers and colour parties, the Queen's Colour Squadron of the RAF Regiment lined the route with arms reversed, and there was a fly-past by an aircraft of 32 (The Royal) Squadron based at RAF Northolt.











Source: Excerpts from "The Struggle: Biography of a Fighter Pilot” + Obituary


Copyright: Kornicki family

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