Spitfire pilot, 100, reveals amazing journey from labour camp to RAF hero
One of Britain’s last wartime Spitfire pilots has told his amazing story – as he turns 100.
Flight Sgt Jan Iwanowski’s epic tale of survival against the odds began in the autumn of 1939 as a soldier in the Polish Army.
He was captured by the Soviets, storming in from the East as Hitler’s army invaded from the West.
After a spell in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, he spent two terrible years in a forced labour camp in Siberia felling trees.
He was then handed to the British with other Poles and ended up in a transit camp in North Africa.
He was given clothes and shoes, as he had nothing but rags hanging off him.
Jan recalls: “The British didn’t quite know what to do with us but in the end they took us to Britain”.
Determined to repay the country that gave him his freedom, he joined the RAF and trained as a pilot.
He had arrived in 1942 and was soon flying above London to fight Luftwaffe raids.
Speaking from home near St Just, Cornwall, Jan said: “I don’t remember how many missions I did. It’s so long ago. I would shoot at German planes and when you hit them there’d be smoke coming out. You hoped they would go down. Flying was a passion.
“I knew that, when their planes went down, we were taking out their best.”
Awarded the Air Force Medal for Gallantry, he stayed in the RAF until 1947. He met Beatrice at a dance in Wolverhampton and they wed in 1949.
Jan became a British citizen and opened a hairdressers, until they moved to Cornwall. The couple ran St Erth Post Office until retiring to Truthwall.
Jan, born in eastern Poland, was one of eight children and said: “until 1952, I thought my entire family was dead. That’s when the Red Cross managed to locate them.
"One brother was in Siberia and another one had been forced to join the Resistance.
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