Sunday, 15 March 2015


Jan Walentowicz in a Westland Whirlwind

On 1st October 1946 he was demobbed from the Polish Air Force and enlisted into the No 9 Polish Resettlement Corps at RAF Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.  The following year he was posted to RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire - the  Bomber Command Major Servicing Unit.

Not yet ready to give up the active life, on 7th January 1948 he joined the RAF as a pilot and, on 13th July of that year, he was posted to Bomber Command Communication Flight at RAF Booker near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

On 17th August he was posted to No 1 (P) Refresher Flying Unit on No 26 Course at RAF Finningley, Yorkshire and on 20th October he was posted to the School of Air Traffic Control at RAF Watchfield, Wiltshire as a staff pilot.

During 1950, he moved with the School to RAF Shawbury, Shropshire where he later completed the No 3 Staff Pilot's Course and was later posted to No 2 Officer Cadet Training Unit at RAF Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire and completed No K4 Course there.

On 17th June of that year he was granted British Citizenship and this was recorded in the London Gazette at the time.

On 6th July he was promoted  to Pilot Officer on a Short Service Commission and was subsequently posted to the No2 Aircrew Medical Rehabilitation Unit at RAF Collaton Cross, Devon.  On 6th September  he attended the Ground Combat Training Course at RAF Melksham, Wiltshire.

On 22nd October  he was posted to 62 Group Communication Flight at RAF Colerne, Avon but shortly afterwards, on 19th November, he was reposted to 63 Group Communication Flight at RAF Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales.  Over the period of 1952-1953 he was detached, on occasions, to the Air Training Corps summer camps at RAF Halton and RAF Cottesmore, finally returning to RAF Hawarden on 31st August 1953.

In June 1954, he found out that his wish had been granted and that he was to give up fixed wings in favour of rotary flying.  He had had enough of routine staff and communications flying and felt the need for a change.  On 12th July 1954, he was detached to the Air Ministry, London to attend a helicopter course at the Westland Aircraft Factory at Yeovil, Somerset and, on completion of the course (50 flying hours) on 14th November of that year, he was posted to 155 Squadron at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya for three years.

The journey to Malaya was by RAF Transport Command Hermes and took 34 hours flying time spread over four days.  There were seven refuelling stops en route: Rome, Nicosia, Bahrain, Karachi, New Delhi, Calcutta and Bangkok finally arriving at RAF Changi in Singapore.

A tour of duty in Malaya was considered active service and he had to be armed at all times that he was away from the base.  Travel was only permitted in escorted armed convoys and he had to be armed even when flying.

During the course of 1955 he was detached, on 12th January, to 1907 Flight of 636 Squadron at Teiping to fly Austers but 6 days later he was again detached to 1911 Flight of that Squadron at Benta where he could be flying Austers, other light aircraft or helicopters but was basically gaining experience of jungle flying and learning the locations of the isolated forts, landing strips and jungle drop zones around Malaya.  This was normally a two week secondment with an experienced army Air Observation Post pilot.  Following this he went straight into operational flying.  It should be explained at this point that this Squadron [636] did not have a conventional RAF Station base but was split into several Flights across small landing grounds throughout Malaya.
Tight landings in very small clearings with trees 250 ft-300ft high all around

On 24th June 1956, he attended a Jungle Survival Course at RAF Changi, Singapore; the basis of that was that he was taken by patrol boat to an uninhabited island off the coast of Singapore.  With nothing more than his basic survival kit, he had to swim ashore and set up his own survival camp and live off the land for four days before being picked up.

For the greater part of his three year stint in Malaya, he spent his time ferrying stores and troops, including 22 SAS, wherever they were needed.  They were also heavily involved with Casevac and  with any emergency flights and searching the jungle for hidden Chinese Terrorist bases and crop growing areas onto which they could direct artillery or bombers.

Although he had gone through several years of seriously hard warfare in the European Theatre and he had been on the run after twice escaping from his captors, he had absolutely no experience of jungle warfare or survival so this was essential training in this new environment.  He was suitably grateful to the men of 656 Squadron for their invaluable help in this respect.

One of the tasks he had to master was the ability to place a rather large helicopter on the ground in a very tightly restricted area.  Simple enough you might think but when you are surrounded by dense jungle and trees that are between 250ft - 300ft tall, it is not quite so easy to achieve this objective - especially when you have to worry about hostile fire.

The fixed wing pilots of 656 Squadron would often locate small food farms in the jungle and would direct the helicopters of 155 Squadron to come in and destroy their jungle crops by spraying them with a mixture of diesel and chemicals (a fore-runner of Agent Orange) which defoliated the crops and denied the terrorists food.  The armed convoys and harassment from the air prevented them from growing food or hunting wild pigs and drove them deeper into the jungle where food was not plentiful.

His first routine job was to ferry all the parts of a tractor to Fort Langkap in Central Malaya.  This involved four twenty five minute flights each way - the return flights involved carrying used cargo parachutes back to base.
Deploying 22 SAS Troopers in the jungle
Fort Chabai, Malaya.  A short landing strip is just visible in the left foreground
Jan at Fort Brooke, Malaya

Destroyed CT (Chinese Terrorist) Tapioca Farm in the Jungle

photographed approximately two weeks after defoliation

There were twelve Jungle Forts scattered along the Peninsula; some in the lowlands and some in the deep valleys of the central mountain range.  They were manned by the Malay Police or Federal troops and their staff had to be rotated periodically.  Some of these forts could only be reached by helicopter.  Even on the other side of the border, the Thai Police had to be rotated by RAF helicopters.  On such tours, Jan operated from permanent Army camps and these provided a garrisoned area with a supply of aviation fuel, food and temporary secure accommodation.

On two occasions, in 1956, he was called upon to assist the civil and military authorities with riot control in Singapore.  His and two other helicopters flew a total of 90 hours in 136 sorties to help contain the riots.  His main duties were to observe and report to the Police and Army and to drop leaflets and tear gas when necessary.  He also carried senior Police and Military officers to observe the events as they happened.
This may be the incident for which he was Mentioned in Despatches, having located Captain Badger and Captain Jones in their crashed Auster on 3rd December 1955 and flown them to safety at Bidor Airstrip

Congratulations Telegram he received from his Commanding Officer in Malaya when he received his Mention in Despatches
The military and the civil Police authorities recognised and acknowledged their contribution towards controlling the riots.  On 30th August 1957 he was Mentioned in Despatches; it was recorded in the London Gazette that this was for distinguished service in Malaya.

Programme from Exeter Air Display, 1960 in which Jan flew a helicopter exhibition
Programme from Exeter Air Display  - 9th July 1960 -  when he flew the Demonstration Helicopter
In August 1960, he was posted to RAF Shawbury for No 87 Joint Air Traffic Control Course after which he was transferred, on 24th October, to RAF Linton on Ouse, Yorkshire.  He returned to RAF Shawbury on 29th May 1962 for No 147 Radar Course.
On 31st January 1964 he was posted to RAF Khormaksar, Aden where his main duties were in the field of air traffic control.  This was a complete new experience for Jan and he must have felt somewhat inhibited by his lack of flying but for the next two years he had a great deal of responsibility as part of one of the shifts of Air Traffic Controllers controlling what was the busiest RAF Station in the world and all movements of the twelve resident military squadrons, twenty two civil airlines and many military emergency landings and through traffic.  He also had to control a plethora of aircraft types - enough to rival any major modern airport. 

These included ground attack Hawker Hunters from 8, 43 and 208 squadrons; photo reconnaissance Hawker Hunters of 1417 Flight; Belvedere helicopters from 26 squadron; Avro Shackletons from 37 squadron; Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneers from 78 squadron; Blackburn Beverley heavy lift transports from 84 squadron; Armstrong Whitworth Argosies from 115 squadron; Vickers Valettas from 233 squadron; Handley Page Hastings and English Electric Canberras from the Middle East Communications Squadron and the SAR Flight of Bristol Sycamore helicopters.
RAF Khormaksar also doubled up as Aden International Airport which had regular services from 22 civil airlines including the resident Aden Airways; BOAC; Air India and Middle East Airlines.  The RAF provided Air Traffic Control services to all aircraft operators using the aerodrome which also included No 653 squadron AAC (Beavers and Austers) and Royal Navy aircraft from carriers who happened to be visiting or in transit.
RAF Khormaksar, Aden

Air Traffic Control Staff, RAF Khormaksar, Jan is 3rd from right in the front row
After his two year stint there, on 14th February 1966, he was sent to RAF Ternhill in Shropshire for the No 20 Helicopter Refresher Course before being detached to RAF Valley on Anglesey on 6th March 1966.
On 1st April 1967 he was posted to RAF Leuchars, near St Andrews, Fife where he became Flight Commander of C Flight of 202 Squadron.  On 23rd June of that year he attended the Royal Navy Survival Training School, Seafield Park, Cosford, Wolverhampton for the Aircrew Underwater Escape from Helicopters course.
In December 1966, RAF Leuchars had a distinguished visitor  and Jan was the "air taxi driver" who took him back to Dundee on the first leg of his journey home.  Douglas Bader, the Battle of Britain Ace was not unappreciative of the favour:

Thank you letter from Battle of Britain Ace, Douglas Bader
For the last years of his career he lived the life that we mere mortals only dream of!  He may have been Commander of the Flight but he certainly maintained an exciting and interesting life.  Within the family, he joked about his training exercises and, when he come home with a live cargo, his son remembers that: " When he was on wet winching exercises in Scotland, the winch man would occasionally come up with a lobster pot, of which the inhabitants would be shared by the crew. I can remember seeing our kitchen sink filled with them crawling around."
Whilst he was at RAF Leuchars, he was called out to rescue an English Electric Lightning jet fighter pilot who had been forced to eject in the North Sea and was facing a long, cold night in a dinghy as darkness drew near. 
However an Avro Shackleton had located him and Jan and his crew managed to pull him out of the water before nightfall.  The pilot, Squadron Leader Ron Blackburn, bought his rescuer a few drinks in the mess that night.  It wasn't difficult - they were next door neighbours!

 North Sea Rescue  -  September 1967

Thank you letter from Group Captain Nicholls for the previous rescue
 Regretably not all rescues were quite so successful and Jan was thwarted in all his efforts to rescue a very sick man from a vessel at sea.  Ironically it was a Polish sailor who needed his help on this occasion.  The helicopter had to refuel in Aberdeenshire before heading out 70 miles into the Atlantic and hovering over the deck of the trawler.
Unfortunately the stricken man had suffered a massive heart attack and died before the helicopter could get to him.  In spite of all their efforts and flying with a damaged tail rotor caused by a bird strike, probably a seagull, they were just too late to be of help.  This was a situation beyond the control of the crew but no less distressing for that.  They had to land at Buchan, Aberdeenshire for replacement of the damaged tail rotor.

Birdstrike damage to the helicopter's tail rotor

 Stop Press:
 The damage shown in the above pictures was attributed to birdstrike by the press but it has now come to light that the actual damage had a totally different cause and no bird was involved.  Flight Lieutenant Waletowicz' own version of the story shows that the damage was actually caused by the helicopter tail rotor coming into contact with the foremast during the difficult manoeuvre of getting a man onto the deck of the vessel.

Jan's own description of events
 Location of the rescue attempt

The Polish trawler Tysmielnica, subject of an emergency call for a crewman who died after suffering a massive heart attack 70 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire

Tail damage to the SAR helicopter; grounded at Buchan, Aberdeenshire for essential repairs

North Sea rescue - at the cutting edge

Jan Walentowicz story in the Newcastle Journal on his final posting to RAF Acklington

On 1st May 1968 he was posted to the Search and Rescue base at RAF Acklington in Northumberland and attended the Fire Officer's course at RAF Catterick, North Yokshire on 24th November of that year.  It was there that he became classified, as the local newspaper put it, as a mahogany bomber - desk  bound.
After 32 years of unbroken service, he decided to call it a day and retired from the Air Force.  He moved to Billericay in Essex where he started an Antiquarian Book Shop buying, selling and restoring old books and following his self-taught skill of framing pictures.
Now aged almost 70 Jan and his wife Winifred then had twenty happy years of retirement in the village of East Hanningfield near Chelmsford, Essex.  For many years, they used to stay in Florida, USA during the winter months in the charming resort of Dunedin.  In 1998 he was invited, together with Winifred, by the government to a ceremony in Poland to honour the achievements of the Polish Air Force in Exile during the war.
A few years before he died Jan met up with a man named Michael Forest who had been living locally and whom he had not seen for a very long time.  Last time they met they were both escaping from France to Britain and the man's name was then Michal Zalewski.  They both fought, in different ways, for their adopted country.

Jan Walentowicz (left of picture) aged 88 and still collecting for the benefit of others

In 2010 they received a congratulatory card from the Her Majesty the Queen to celebrate sixty years of marriage.  Jan remained reasonably healthy past his 90th year.  He was active in the Royal Air Forces Association’s annual Wings Appeal almost until his death on 21st July 2011 at the age of 90.  His funeral took place in Chelmsford, Essex and his ashes were buried in the Polish section of the cemetery in Newark, Nottinghamshire.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015


In the course of my research, I have come across a lot of cases where the escaping airmen were provided with fake ID to help them get through to the Polish Forces in the west.  I have never before actually seen an example of these fake documents but the attached copy has been given to me by the sons of Jan Walentowicz.
I was not around during the period of World War II but I have worked in law enforcement intelligence and this looks pretty good to me!  At any rate, it enabled Jan Walentowicz to travel to the west as Jan Wojchiechowski from Bucarest.
The descriptive card was Jan's own wording