Don was a member of 303 Squdron, which was one of 16 Polish Fighter Squadrons in the RAF during the Second World War. It was the highest scoring Polish-manned RAF Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Of interest, according to the RAF Museum, the Poles were keen to fight but the RAF would not at first let them fly operationally. This was because few of the exiles spoke English and there was concern about their morale. What the British did not yet realise was that many of the Poles were excellent pilots. Having come through the Polish and French Campaigns, they had more combat experience than most of their British comrades and they employed superior tactics.
The photo of Len in his “Hendon Lamb” Spitfire W3506, a Mark Vb marked RF-U, was possibly taken at Northolt or Kirton in Lindsey in 1942. (Note the two emblems on his Spitfire. The right one is the circular “Kosciuszko” emblem of 303 Squadron, commemorating a Polish general who fought in the American Revolutionary War (note that the emblem features the stars and stripes of the American flag). The second one, “Hendon Lamb” is a presentation name of this particular Spitfire, adorned by the coat of arms of Hendon – a Lamb carrying a St George’s Flag, which is seen on St Mary’s Church in the town. The elaborate presentation logo is an interesting example of local patriotism. Hendon had become a municipal borough with its own mayor and the right to to have its own coat of arms only eight years previously, in 1932, when Don was going through his initial flying training.
Len’s career as a pilot begun in 1932 in Poznan, where he got his license, and he quickly distinguished himself as a skilfull aviator. By the time the war broke out, he already was a qualified fighter instructor in the Polish Air Force. Like many of his peers, after the demise of his home country, Don escaped to Britain. There, for the 15 months in 1941 and 1942, he served with 303 and 129 Squadrons, in which he flew Spitfires Mk. Vb and Vc. After the Dieppe Raid, where he flew on Operation Jubilee, he was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour, which was presented to him by the Polish President at a special parade, about two weeks after the operation.
The parade photo was taken on the 1st September 1942, Squadron Day, in Kirton-in-Lindsey. Flying Offiocer Marciniak is being decorated with Cross of Valour by Polish President Raczkiewicz. Flight/Sergeant Chojnacki is the second from the right and is about to receive the same decoration. This parade was less than two weeks after the Dieppe Raid in which the Polish Wing flew on Operation Jubilee as it was called.
Webmaster: The following is a request from Bill Hart, a researcher of the Spitfire Association:
I am currently interviewing Don. He was with the 33 Squadron for fifteen months from January 1942 for a period of fifteen months. He is reluctant to talk about his achievements but since he is probably the last survivor of the Squadron, I want to get as much detail as possible, he is at present 95 or 96 years old but mentally very sharp. I have posted a piece about him on the Spitfire Website at http://spitfiresite.com/2011/07/no-303-squadron-pilot-1942.html. I believe he was awarded the Cross of Valour after the Squadron took part in the Dieppe Operation (Operation Jubilee). During his escape to the west, he seems to have had many adventures. He has a diary he wrote about the period from September 1st 1939 to the moment he arrived in UK. He arrived as an experienced Flight Instructor with over 1,200 hours flying. He was immediately sent to units as an instructor, which delayed his entry into the Spitfire Arena. As the diary is written in Polish, I wonder if I could get some help to have it translated, edited and even published.
The wonderful part about Don is that the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force girl he married when with 303 is still with him. As a Polish Airman, he seems to have begun flying about 1932, was known as Sgt Wlodzimierz Chojnacki when with the RAF, but is using an anglicised name here in Australia. He is now known as Don Merrill and his wife is called Joan. Don flew over 25 aircraft types and amassed well over 3,000 hours before leaving the RAF in 1946.
I would be glad to accept any help with this project which I believe is a very important piece of living history which needs to be recorded.
I’m not sure what other awards and decorations he has, but think that he may well qualify for more than he has received so far, given the immediate post-war events driven by Mr Stalin, and shamefully endorsed by Westminster and the White House. I venture to suggest that if he has not already been awarded the following decorations of the Third Republic of Poland, then he should now be considered for them. To my knowledge, he has received the following:
Medal for Sacrifice and Courage
Medal for Long Marital Life
Air Force Medal for War 1939-1945
Cross of September Campaign 1939
Polish Armed Forces in the West Military Action Cross
War Medal 1939
Just a little foretaste ….The start of his log book number one. Having arrived at Hucknall (No 1 Polish FTS) he did a half hour flight, on 9th April 1941, in a Miles Magister with an Instructor followed by three flights solo.Then another 35 minutes doing Dual Instrument/Cloud flying. followed by 3 more solos. This was the first week. The next day he is off in a Fairey Battle which he solos after 3 days. By the end of the month he is Target Towing with a Battle at Number 4 Bombing and Gunery School having notched up 22h30m in “RAF” Uniform. On June 9th, ie 2 months in RAF service, he converts onto the Blackburn Botha, thereafter flying both types at the School. By August 10th 1941 he has been assessed as Above Average as a Bombing and Gunnery Pilot. 28th October sees him at 58 OTU at Grangemouth and after one check flight and a half hour solo in a Magister on No 1st he is set for his Spitfire Solo on the 2nd. He says the Battle was beautiful to fly but somewhat underpowered and the less said about the Botha the better but when he talks about the Spitfire he is just full of praise. After his Spitfire days he was on the No 2 Flying Instructors Course at RAF Hucknall until after the war ended.
He is allowing me to borrrow one book at a time so I’ll have to patient – but most of what he has should be on display somewhere so I’ll do what I can.
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