RESIDENTS of Skipton will be treated to a rare sight on St. George's Day next month as a Lancaster bomber flies up the valley to commemorate the loss of a similar plane and its crew on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales town in the Second World War.
A training flight of RAF 6 (C) Operational Training Unit, based at Silloth in Cumbria, crashed by the canal at Bradley on 23rd September 1943 at 13.05pm, killing all seven of its Polish crew.
The airmen, like so many of their compatriots, had escaped Poland in 1939 during the German invasion. They went to fight with the French Air Force, with the exception of one member, Abram Kawenocki, who had come to the UK as a student before the war and whose Jewish family perished in the holocaust.
When the Allies capitulated at Dunkirk, the men enlisted with the RAF, who then raised ten squadrons made up entirely of Polish personnel and whose bravery was renowned with an expression current at the time that 'when even seagulls don't fly - the Poles do."
The loss of the aircraft, a Vickers Wellington MkXI and it's crew, is finally being commemorated on Sunday 22nd April in a joint effort between British Waterways, Skipton Building Society, Pennine Boat Trips, SCAD and The Rendezvous Hotel in a ceremony which promises to be a poignant and stirring tribute, not just to these men, but to all who fought and died in the war. It is an event that will surely bring back memories for many who remember that time.
The memorial ceremony is being co-ordinated by local historians Peter Whitaker and Jim Hartley whose sterling hard work has been rewarded by their impressive success in arranging the fly-past of the Lancaster bomber and attracting top ranking military officers to attend the event along with surviving relatives of the dead airmen (some of whom will be travelling from Poland to attend), witnesses to the crash, contributors to the Memorial Fund, and a whole host of local dignitaries.
The event is scheduled to begin with coffee in the morning at The Rendezvous Hotel where the Polish flag will be flying alongside the St. George's day flag. From there the guests will travel up the canal to the crash site near Hamblethorpe Bridge on two narrowboats courtesy of Pennine Boat Trips and the SCAD narrowboat specially adapted for disabled people.
A bronze tablet donated by Skipton Building Society and mounted by British Waterways will be unveiled at the crash site by the late Navigators widow Mrs Josaphine Stebbing. Wreaths will be laid, including one presented by Polish staff currently working at The Rendezvous Hotel in honour of their countrymen, and a guard of honour will be made by 264 Sqn Air Training Corps, Skipton with the local branch of the British Legion.
At 1.10pm a BBMF Lancaster, one of only two such planes still flying, will make its remarkable honorary flight over the site.
After the service the guests will be returning to The Rendezvous to join the hotel's annual St. George's Day luncheon celebration.