Revealed - memorial to Battle of Britain legend

The Czechoslovak ace Sgt Josef František who flew with 303 (Polish) Squadron during the Battle of Britain has been honoured with a memorial unveiled on September 4 close to where he lost his life on October 8, 1940

Sgt František was one of the most successful allied pilots in the Battle of Britain, credited with destroying 17 enemy aircraft and one ‘probably’ destroyed. He was decorated with the Polish Virtuti Militari and Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valour) and three bars, posthumously the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939 and the British Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar.

František, 26, was returning to his base at RAF Northolt from an uneventful routine patrol with 11 other squadron colleagues led by Sqn Ldr Ronald Kellett. Approaching the area of the Staines Reservoir, František was seen to veer off to the east and did not respond to radio communication. His Hurricane R4175 / RF-R fatally crashed onto flat farmland. He is buried in Northwood Cemetery.

An atmospheric view of the new memorial in Epsom’s Priest Hill Nature Reserve
An atmospheric view of the new memorial in Epsom’s Priest Hill Nature Reserve PAFMC

The circumstances surrounding this incident were a cause of great concern to the squadron. The reason for his leaving formation and the subsequent crash remain a mystery. The Chairman of the PAFMC Richard Kornicki commented: “It is a privilege for us to be able to create a lasting memorial to Sgt František close to where he lost his life. As a Czechoslovak pilot, flying in a Polish Squadron, under a British commander, he is a powerful reminder of the international make-up of The Few. We hope that for generations to come, those who walk past the memorial will pause and remember those to whom they owe their freedom.”

The memorial has been made possible by the extensive investigations and research of aviation enthusiast Lewis Shelley and Polish Air Force historian and author Peter Sikora. The crash site is now part of the Priest Hill Nature Reserve, Epsom, under the stewardship of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, which has kindly granted permission to place the memorial. It is located next to a public footpath and near to the crash site. The costs have been met by PAFMC who initiated the project in consultation with the Polish, Czech and Slovak embassies.

The unveiling ceremony was held on September 4
The unveiling ceremony was held on September 4 PAFMC