Polish hero pilot, Battle of Britain veteran remembered

Lieutenant Colonel Franciszek Kornicki, Polish pilot, veteran of the September 1939 Campaign and the Battle of Britain, passed away two years ago.

Franciszek Kornicki graduated from the Polish Air Force academy in Dęblin just two months before the German invasion of Poland in 1939. After fighting against the Luftwaffe, he went to neutral Romania and then to France, although he did not have a chance to take part in the fighting there. Following France capitulating to Nazi Germany, Kornicki evacuated to Britain.

There he joined the Polish Air Force operating there, under Royal Air Force command. In October of 1940, after completing his training, he was assigned to the No. 303 Squadron, a unit that became famous for scoring most victories during the Battle of Britain. Mr Kornicki flew Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires.

In 1943 he was assigned the command of No. 308 "City of Kraków" Polish Fighter Squadron, becoming the youngest squadron commander in the Polish Air Force. Mr Kornicki was at that time only 26 years old. Later he commanded the No. 317 "City of Wilno" Polish Fighter Squadron. For his service during the war, Kornicki was awarded the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honour.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, he chose not to return to Soviet-occupied Poland. Instead he stayed in Britain and set his family there. After working as a hotel manager for some time, he rejoined the RAF in 1951 and served until 1972, in bases in England, Aden, Malta and Cyprus.

In 2011 he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski. A year later, he was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Polish Air Force. Franciszek Kornicki passed away on 16 November 2017, at the age of 100. His wife, Patience Williams, died ten days later.

In 2017 Mr Kornicki won a poll jointly run by the Royal Air Force Museum and the "The Telegraph" daily which was set out to choose the hero of the RAF Centennial exhibition. Polish pilot secured first place in the contest receiving sixteen times more votes than all other rivals combined and received the title of ‘People’s Spitfire Pilot’.