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Letter: Sikorski DNA test may reveal some answers to a wartime puzzle.

Byline: Ian Payne

Dear Editor, I note with interest in the national and international media about the exhumation of the wartime Polish Prime Minister General Sikorski for DNA testing on how he died in 1943 during a flight in a Liberator aeroplane, from Gibralter airport, on route to London via the Middle East. There were 15 passengers on board and only the Czech pilot, Max Prchal, survived.

This Liberator crash just off Gibralter and in particular the death of General Sikorski, is now part of World War Two legend and plays a large part in Polish history and its wartime legacy. For example there is a massive statue of General Sikorski in my in-laws' home town of Rzsesow in Poland. Why it is exactly there I don't know and I have often wondered what link there is between this Polish town and the great Polish leader. My father-in-law heard of General Sikorski's death on the radio whilst a Polish farm slave in Bavaria and has never forgotten hearing it. Many Poles believe it totally changed the destiny and history of Poland in the post-war era.

The episode caused a playwright called Rolf Hochhuth to write a play called Soldiers in 1967 based on the Sikorski tragedy and staged in 1968 in London, and David Irving wrote a book called Accident? These attempts to question the whole affair and point fingers to who may have really been behind causing the plane crash caused much controversy.

Whilst living in Aylesbury from 1990-2002, I researched the life of the Wartime Buckingham MP John Whiteley and the fact that he was one of the many un-named victims in the Liberator which crashed. John was one of two MPs aboard the ill-fated Liberator, the other being the MP for Chippenham Victor Cazalet. John unsuccessfully contested Astonas a Conservative candidate in 1929, before winning Buckingham in 1937.

I ended up putting on a successful exhibition about John Whiteley MP, Sikorski and their deaths in 1943 at Buckingham Library in 1999.

My non-commercial work was eventually bound into book form and the last time I asked, it was still at Bucks County Library.

It was amazing how I often came across links to Poles and Poland when undergoing other research in Buckinghamshire during the 1990s and right up to 2002. For example whilst researching the life of my great-great-uncle Alderman Reuben Farley, the first mayor of West Bromwich in the 1880s, I happened to find a family relative to the Farley clan in Beaconsfield who was doing the same.

Whilst meeting the family, we totally changed tack and I started talking about my 1999 exhibition at Buckingham Library about John Whiteley and the Liberator crash of which he was part in 1943. I was suddenly given a transcript of the famous 1970s David Frost interview with the only survivor of that Liberator crash, the Czech Pilot Max Prchal. It made interesting reading.

Whatever the ins, outs, reasons for the plane crash in 1943 and the up and coming DNA testing of General Sikorski's body, there is no doubt that the passengers of that ill-fated Liberator were very brave indeed and only they know why they were making that important journey. If I remember correctly, John Whiteley MP had asked to board the Liberator with the intention of getting off in London when it landed there, on route from war work in Gibralter. By that time John was a high-ranking military staff official in the British Army. General Sikorski was returning to London after making a patriotic rallying style speech to his troops in what is now Iran or Iraq.

May they all RIP.

Ian Payne Walsall
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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