It is this runway that was the scene of a terrible disaster in 1943 that has been the topic of conspiracies ever since. This is largely due to the identity of one of the victims – General Władysław Eugeniusz Sikorski. He was commander-in-chief of the Polish armed forces as well as the Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile, running his countrymen from
Paris, London and the . USA
In May 1943 Sikorski travelled to the
East to inspect Polish forces and the trip was a success, despite
Polish-Russian relations breaking down after the discovery of the Katyn Wood
massacre earlier that year. Despite the problems politically, he was otherwise
still hopeful of a return to friendly terms with his neighbouring countries but
this would come over time.
plane landed at Gibraltar for a refuelling and as the evening of 4th July 1943
wore on, the aircraft was ready for the final leg of the journey back to . On board the
aircraft was his daughter (also his secretary), several Polish armed forces
dignitaries, a Royal Navy Warrant telegraphist and a Conservative MP. There
were a total of 12 people on board including pilot Flight Lieutenant Eduard
Prchal and at 2307 hours the aircraft, a Consolidated Liberator II, was cleared
for takeoff and sped down the runway. London
What happened next has been attributed to the cargo shifting as well as the controls jamming, but somehow the aircraft lasted around 16 seconds before plunging into the sea off the end of the runway. Rescue workers pulled out only one survivor, the pilot. The other 11 people on board were dead.
Immediately conspiracies were rife. Was it a Russian plot to kill Sikorski? Or even a British plot? Even Polish plots have been considered. But the investigation showed otherwise despite every attempt at derailing the official stories.
The death of Sikorski sent the allied forces into mourning and his body was taken back to
where he was laid to rest in a Polish war cemetery in . In 1993 his body was exhumed
and flown back to Newark-on-Trent Poland
where he now lies in a tomb in Krakow’s .
But he would not lay rested for long. Wawel Castle
In the end the conspiracy theories prompted an investigation to prove once and for all that he had died in the plane crash and hadn’t been assassinated. In 2009 he was once again exhumed and his body examined. The report stated that his injuries were consistent with that of somebody who had died in an air crash, putting any theories of him being shot in the head to rest once and for all.
Today a memorial plaque in
Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned on the main street pays tribute to Sikorski
and where his memorial service was held in the war. A larger memorial,
originally next to the airport but now at Europa Point, displays an aircraft
propeller and commemorates the air disaster that caused so much controversy.
The repositioning adds the names of the others who died in the disaster instead
of just Sikorski.
As a Bridlington resident I was interested to learn that one of those who died was a local resident, Royal Navy Warrant Telegraphist Harry Pinder who was working at the shore base HMS Nile in
He lived at Alexandria 57 Hilderthorpe Road
with his wife and at the time of his death was returning to for his
daughters wedding. His body was never found. Britain
With the death of anybody famous– a VIP, politician, celebrity – it is always the other victims that are forgotten yet in a lot of ways these are the ones that tell some of the more fascinating stories.