Tadeusz Sawicz of RAF-Polish Air Forces in Great Britain, 1941.
Six weeks after Tadeusz Sawicz breathed his last in a Toronto nursing home, his ashes arrived in Poland Tuesday to a hero’s welcome.
A Canadian resident since 1957, the 97-year-old former airman and general was the last surviving Polish veteran of the Battle of Britain.
“General, welcome in Poland, we shall always remember what you have done for the Republic of Poland,” said Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak as Mr. Sawicz ashes were received at Warsaw military airport by a joint contingent of Polish and British troops. Mr. Sawicz was named an honorary brigadier-general in 2006 by Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
The acclaimed pilot died on Oct. 19 at the Copernicus Lodge on Roncesvalles Avenue.
A pilot in the Polish Air Force at the time of the 1939 German invasion of Poland, Mr. Sawicz was among the first to face the formidable power of the German Luftwaffe.
The main Polish fighter, the PZL P.11c — an open cockpit airplane, had once been considered the most advanced in the world, but Polish pilots soon discovered it was horribly outdated against German Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Nevertheless, Mr. Sawicz was able to score at least two kills in the opening days of the conflict.
After only two weeks of battle, however, he was ordered to round up the remnants of his squadron and lead them through heavy fire on a treacherous escape to France by way of Romania, Italy and Yugoslavia. After spending the winter training on French aircraft, Mr. Sawicz was back in battle by June to help fend off France’s own invasion.
Only three weeks later, as another capitulation loomed, Mr. Sawicz made his escape by plane to Algiers and hopped a boat to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. Within months, he and 144 other Polish pilots were fighting the Luftwaffe again in the Battle of Britain, an intensive air battle meant as the lead-up to a German amphibious invasion of England.
Before the war was out, in a flying career that would stretch across the European theatre, Mr. Sawicz would down two more German planes, damage three others and collect top flying honours from Poland, the U.K., the Netherlands and the United States. Miraculously, he suffered his only major injury in an airfield collision with a fellow Spitfire.
Following the German surrender, however, Mr. Sawicz’s hopes of returning home were quickly dashed by the rise of a communist government in Poland, which frowned on Poles who had served with Western forces.
After spending nine years as a farmer in the U.K, Mr. Sawicz moved to Montreal and took up a string of aviation jobs with regional airlines. Ten years ago, he settled into an apartment in Etobicoke, making the occasional trip back to Poland for Polish Air Force Veterans Association reunions, at which he was usually mobbed by admirers.
After lying in state at Warsaw’s Field Cathedral of Polish Army, Mr. Sawicz will be given a full state funeral on Wednesday attended by his daughter Anna and widow Jadwiga.