It will be a long story about two projects of the year 2022, that are very important to me.
Have you ever heard about the 303 Polish RAF Squadron? The 303 Squadron is considered one of the best aviation units of World War II. The legendary British pilot, Douglas Bader himself mentioned about the exceptional combat effectiveness of the 303 Squadron and other Polish pilots. Sir Douglas Bader (joined RAF in 1928) lost both legs in airplane crash in 1931 and he was discharged from the RAF. In 1939, thanks to his determination and despite his disability, he returned to the RAF and beacme a flying ace of British aviation during WW2. After the war, he campaigned on behalf of amputees and people with disabilities. After his death in 1982, the Douglas Bader Foundation was founded by his family and friends (many of them flew with him in combat flights during World War II). “The Douglas Bader Foundation exists to advance and promote the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of persons who are born without or have lost one or more limbs, or are otherwise physically disabled” (www.douglasbaderfoundation.com).
Project 1: Douglas Bader Foundation Supermarine Spitfire Medal 2022
In 2022, to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Douglas Bader Foundation, Westminster Collection issued Douglas Bader Foundation Supermarine Spitfire medal. 3D Spitfire model on the obverse of this medal, was crafted from a genuine piece of aluminium from a Spitfire AB910 Spitfires AB910 flew patrols over Normandy beachheads on D-Day.
I had the great pleasure to design the entire reverse of this medal and to redesign the background of the obverse. On the standard obverse I added airflow lines (initially the background was empty, without any graphics) around the 3D model airplane. On the reverse three shots of 1940 Spitfire: diving plane, attacking plane and pulling up. As a flight commander of 222 Squadron RAF, Douglas Bader flew Spitfires version 1940. Every WW2 aviation expert will surely notice that Spitfires built in 1940 had already four propeller blades, not three. For purely compositional reasons, the aircraft on the reverse of the medal has only three blades, as if it were an earlier version of the Spitfire. Yes, I know, it’s a historical inaccuracy, but visual considerations prevailed here. However, the side numbers of the aircraft are the actual numbers of Squadron 222. On the background of the reverse, behind the planes, we see circles symbolizing the vortex produced by the propeller.
…and kapitan pilot (RAF: Flight Lieutenant) Feliks Kulesza
Polish pilots took part not only in operations directly connected with fighting the Germans (as the famous 303 Polish Squadron in the Battle of Britain, as I mentionned above), but they also served in the aircraft delivery units.
“Infantry wins battles, logistics wins war” — general John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front during WWI.
Just before WW2, my grandfather, kapitan pilot Feliks Leon Kulesza was Fokker Transport Squadron Commander in Military Parachute Training Centre in Bydgoszcz (Poland). I found a short clip on YouTube from the training of Bydgoszcz paratroopers in 1939. Perhaps my grandfather is flying one of these Fokkers F.VII.
In September 1939, after the German aggression against Poland, most of the paratroopers and instructors from the Bydgoszcz Training Centre were taken prisoner by Germans or died. My grandfather survived. Through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Malta, France, Algeria, Morocco, Gibraltar, he went to Great Britain, where he was trained to fly British airplanes. The Polish Army Museum in Warsaw stores my grandfather’s cigarette case, the places he went through to find his way to Great Britain are written inside it.
At the end of 1940, a Polish transport department was established at the RAF Delivery Unit (Polish Detachment RAF Takoradi, changed later to Polish Air Force Detachment RAF Middle East). In January 1941 my grandfather was directed to Takoradi on the Gold Coast (Ghana today).
TAKORADI route was one gigantic ferry flight operation in the WW2. More than 5000 aircrafts of several types were ferried across that route from 1940 to 1943. The RAF pilots moved the aircrafts from the Takoradi, via Lagos, Kano, Maiduguri (Nigeria), El Geneina, El Fasher, Khartoum (Sudan) to the Cairo (Egypt) and then to the operational areas in North Africa, Middle East or India. You can see the Takoradi Route MAP and photos of aircraft assembly in Takoradi here: www.sixtant.net or here: www.ashigbey.com.
In October 1941, kapitan pilot (RAF rank: Flight Lieutenant) Feliks Kulesza, RAF number P-0628, was flying Hawker Hurricane IIB (BD 918) from Takoradi, via Lagos (Nigeria) to Kano, and then to Cairo. Due to the bad weather conditions during the flight above the dense equatorial forest, he detached himself from the convoy and got lost. On the 25th of October 1941, due to the lack of fuel, he crashed in the jungle south of the village of Oshogbo (Nigeria). He was only 38 years old. He is buried in the military cemetery in Oshogbo, grave nr 3.
My grandfather was posthumously awarded with the Silver Cross of Merit with Swords. This is a Polish military award established in 1942 by the Polish Government in Exile. The Cross of Merit with Swords is awarded for deeds of bravery and valour during time of war, not connected with direct combat and for merit demonstrated in perilous circumstances.
My father has visited his father’s (my grandfather’s) grave only twice in his life. Brother of my father (my uncle) has never been to Nigeria and never had a chance to see his father’s grave. Neither do I.
Other sources: PL O. Cumft, H.K. Kujawa, Księga lotników polskich, poległych, zmarłych i zaginionych 1939-1946, Wydawnictwa Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej, Warszawa 1989, ISBN 83-11-07329-5; polska-zbrojna.pl, wprawo.pl;
EN about Takoradi Route: Sage Journals, blog RCAF No. 403 Squadron, www.raf.mod.uk; about Polish military award: Cross of Merit with Swords from Wikipedia;
and my family archive.
My grandfather’s story was described in the leaflet accompanying the Douglas Bader Spitfire Medal:
Project 2: Royal British Legion Remembrance Masterpiece Poppy Coin 2022
This is not the end of the story… I also had the pleasure to design the reverse of the Royal British Legion Masterpiece Poppy Coin — 5 oz silver premium edition 2022. Each year The Westminster Collection, in partnership with the Royal British Legion, releases a special ‘Masterpiece’ coin for Remembrance. And I was involved in this project. My grandfather, in a way, too…
I designed the reverse of this Poppy Coin. There is 39 small poppies and one big poppy on the centre of the reverse of this coin. A total of 40 poppies mark the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict. On the background of the revers we see the map of the Falklands and two inscriptions: ‘REMEMBERING THE FALLEN’ and ‘LEST WE FORGET’. Every single coin was hand-painted by artist Adam Taylor. More on this project here.
There is a BOOKLET witch goes with the elegant box of the RBL Masterpiece Poppy coin. In this booklet (here YT: 1’53”) you will find not only a short story of my grandfather (like in Douglas Bader Spitfire Medal leaflet) but also his photo in RAF uniform. Could you imagine that? A veteran of the Falklands Confilct who receives (YT) as a gift ‘my’ premium Poppy Coin will read about unknown Polish WW2 hero? I’m very proud.
Both projects: DB Supermarine Spitfire Medal and RBL Masterpiece Poppy Coin 2022, I dedicated to kapitan pilot Feliks Kulesza, my grandfather I never knew.