Sergeant Leon Zygmunt Witkowski Bomber Command

Written by Winn Readhead
First Published

Biographical Notes

Dulcie and Leon on their Wedding day
26th April 1943
Maria Witkowski
Maria Witkowski 1944 - 1949
  • Born 8-02-1915 possibly in the city of Poznan Poland.
  • Worked as aircraft mechanic for the Polish Air Force.
  • Fled to France with his comrades and planes when Poland was overrun by the advancing German army in 1939.
  • As England declared war on Germany, France was invaded and Leon crossed the channel to England in 1940 with the intention of joining the Royal Air Force. This he did.
  • Initial training was at Hemswell near Lincoln with Bomber Command.
  • In 1942 he was posted to Exeter for 3 months and then to Hemswell once again for further training.
  • Later he travelled to Manchester where he was awarded his Wings and was promoted to Flight Sergeant Engineer.
  • Leon married Dulcie Readhead at the Holy Souls Catholic church on 26th April 1943
  • Leon commenced flying operations from Hemswell and then overseas to Brindisi in Italy.
  • His Halifax bomber was reported missing in August 1944.
  • A year after he was posted missing Dulcie heard that Leon's plane had been hit by anti-aircraft fire and had crashed in Hungary with all the crew dead.
  • A daughter, Maria was born on 24th November 1944, 3 months after Leon was killed. Maria only survived her father by a few years before dying of cancer in 1949.
  • After the cessation of hostilities Dulcie made contact with his family, his sister possibly, but over the passing years this eroded until the present time when all contact has been lost.
  • In 1992 after the death of her second husband Dulcie contacted the MOD to enquire about Leon's medal entitlement.

Narrative

When Leon was posted to Hemswell, he along with his friends sought recreation in Scunthorpe when off duty.

There were some Poles resident in Scunthorpe and they welcomed the airmen and showed them the Scunthorpe night life. One of these residents was called Peter a friend of Dulcie's Grand parents.

This then led to Leon being introduced to Dulcie and a romance blossomed. Soon Dulcie was taking Leon Home to 3 Trent View, Burton Stather for Sunday Tea. He was an immediate hit with the family and came across as a very polite and charming man. He soon persuaded Dulcie's brothers and parents that they had no need to worry, she was in safe hands.

They became engaged and quickly decided on a wedding day. As Leon was a Catholic Dulcie was given instruction in that faith so that she could marry into that faith.

The wedding at the Holy Souls Catholic Church Scunthorpe was a mysterious affair for the Readhead family, the service being in Latin and the order of service being outside of their experience.

After the service the reception was held at the Ferry House Inn Burton Stather which at that time was only about 3 years old.

Leon had managed to find a bottle of Whiskey to help the party along. Being pestered by the youngest member of the family (Winn Readhead) Leon offered him his glass of whiskey which was quickly downed in one. The effect was immediate and Winn was violently sick. He has never touched whiskey to this day as the very smell makes him nauseous. For this he offers his sincere thanks to Leon and has fond memories of this brave man.

Leon was very attentive to Winn and spent time with him talking about Poland, the beauties of Warsaw, Danzig, Poznan and of his life, home and family.

Leon commenced flying operations from Hemswell.

In all too short a time he was gone, posted overseas to Brindisi Italy. This enabled the Halifax bomber in which he flew to better reach their planned targets.

Halifax Bomber
Handley Page Halifax Bomber, Similar to that crewed by Leon. © IWM (HU 107792)
Leon's grave
Leon's plane, JD-362 with PAF Chessboard
and Courting Couple emblems painted on the side.

Details from MOD

784799 Sergeant Leon Witkowski

Flight Engineer on Halifax No JD362 attached to 1586 Polish Flight.

The aircraft took off from Brindisi at 19:26, 26/8/1944 for operations over Poland, but failed to return and was reported missing.

After cessation of hostilities, local inhabitants of a village called Bacsbokod in Hungary had seen an aircraft on the night of 26th of August airborne but on fire. At 21:30 the aircraft exploded and crashed 1km south of the village. All the crew are buried in a collective grave at Budapest Military Cemetery Plot 4 Row B graves 1 - 7.

The full crew are:

NumberRankNameRole
782269Flight SergeantJ Radwan KuzelewskiPilot
P/2245F/OK SorowkaBomb Aimer
P/2578P/OS KleniewskiNavigator
705052SgtK WalaszekWireless Op
784799SgtL WitkowskiFlight Eng
705552SgtT OgrodnikAir Gunner
705008SgtE JodisAir Gunner

During the special mission from Brindisi to Poland (to supply the Polish home army during the Warsaw uprising) on the 26/8/1944, aircraft H.P. Halifax Mk II number JD362 (from the 1586 squadron) was shot down by enemy flak over Hungary.

Leon's grave
Leon's grave

All aircrew lost their lives:- F/O K Sorowka,P/O S Kleniewski, Flt Sgt J Radwan kuzelewski, Sgt K Walaszek, Sgt E Jodis, Sgt T Ogrodnik, and Sgt L Witkowski. All aircrew were exhumed and buried in the British cemetery in Solnar near Budapest, Hungary Military Plot No 4b, graves 1 - 7.

Dulcie had expressed a wish to visit Leon's grave but as time passed by her health deteriorated until she was no longer able to undertake the journey. This photo of Leon's resting place was taken by her grandson Tim and his wife Vicki. Dulcie derived much comfort from it before she passed away.

In 1993 Dulcie enquired of the MOD REGARDING Leon's awards/medals. Here follows the rather brusque reply:-

Dear Mrs Cooper

I have pleasure in forwarding your late husband's entitlement of the 1939/45 Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal and the War Medal for which he qualifies by virtue of his service in World War II.

By accepting the War Medal 1939/45 you may not claim the Polish Air Force Medal, which are alterative awards and personnel may not be awarded both.

B Arnold
For Director Personnel Management (airmen) and controller reserve forces (Royal Air Force)
Leon's Medal Entitlement
Leon's Medal Entitlement

Dulcie would have liked to have received Leon's Polish medals but it was made plain in the above letter that she could not have both so in the end she accepted the R.A.F. awards.

Leon and his comrades were absorbed into the statistics and became numbers in the over 55,000 R.A.F. aircrew of Bomber Command who gave their lives in the second world war. Politics after the war meant that in some quarters they were denigrated and never given the respect and thanks that their bravery had surely earned.

Leon's medals are now in the safekeeping of Michael Cooper, the son of Dulcie, Leon's widow.

The preceding documents were compiled by Winn Readhead using information supplied By Michael Cooper (son of Dulcie Cooper) and including personal memories of a kind, gentle and very brave man.

Record Details for Leon Zygmunt Witkowski

First Names:Leon Zygmunt
Initials:L. Z.
Surname:Witkowski
DOB:
Age:29
Birthplace:Poznan, Poland
Nationality:Polish
Resided:Lincolnshire
Death Date:
Family Info:Husband to Dulcie Witcowski of Burton upon Stather.
Rank:Sergeant
Service Number:784799
Service:Polish Air Force
Command:Bomber Command
Squadron:1586 Special Duties Flight
Grave:Budapest Military Cemetery, Hungary - Plot 4 Row B graves 1 - 7. Mapphoto
Place of Death: Bacsbokod, Hungary
Bench:Thealby, at the junction triangle. Mapphoto
Awards:

Map

Use the interactive map to view the location of Leon Zygmunt Witkowski's Grave. Click the Bench link to view the location of his Memorial Bench. You can view all the graves, memorials and benches by downloading our which can be viewed in Google Earth and other mapping software.

Remembered with Honour.

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