Date added: 16 Aug 2011
Obituary Jozef Grzegorz Piotr Witkowski ; 12/03/23 to 16/08/2010
Member of The Spitfire Society
This time last year our father lay in hospital, having been admitted in March, for a procedure to relieve circulatory problems in his leg.
He died on the 16th August.
Around that time, my sister and I sat beside him, noting too, the various programmes on radio and TV about the role of the Spitfire in the Battle of Britain 70 years before.
Dad was a member of the North Staffs Aircrew Association and was involved in all and any events commemorating R J Mitchell and his Super Marine Spitfire which sits in the Potteries Museum, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent today.
He would have appreciated the various programmes around then, about the Spifire and the pilots.
Jozef G P Witkowski arrived in Liverpool in April 1943, along with many of his countrymen, after a long, arduous, eventful escape from Russia. That included surviving the torpedoed Empress of Canada 13 days into its voyage from Durban, South Africa in March 1943.
He'd been a student living in Wilno, which was annexed by the Soviets in 1940. He was arrested by the NKVD in the early hours of 18th March 1941 when he was 17 for his part in the Polish underground movement, and imprisoned in Lukiszki Prison Wilno, then Gorky, then a labour camp, for being a counter-revolutionary,
He was 705508 Flight Sergeant Jozef Witkowski of the Polish Air Force 308 Squadron and took part in operational flights over the Continent [ North West Europe] . Among other medals he was awarded the Polish Cross for Valour.
In 2009, rather late in the day but in time for him, he was awarded the Siberia Cross in recognition of his fight with the allies in defeat of Germany, after his period of captivity in Russia.
That medal meant more to him than any of his others.
Stalin's reign at the end of the war meant that he and many of his fellow countrymen were unable to return home.
Unbeknown to Jozef his father had died 3 months after his arrest. His mother died in 1962. He last saw them in March 1941.
He married and had two daughters Wanda and Ana, who married John and Brian, respectively then they had Owain, Abigail, David and Victoria, and 6 year old Dylan is his great grandson.
Staffordshire became his UK home after the war and he worked for Seddons as a contracts manager until his retirement. He was commended by companies / clients using Seddons on many occasions, and I quote from Midlands Electricity Board 1968, letter to John Seddon,
“ Everyone was most helpful and it was a privilege to have the opportunity of working with your site engineer, Mr.J.Witkowski.” and another quote in a letter from Sandbach County Secondary School 1975 to John Seddon, “ I would particularly like to thank Mr Witkowski, whose unflagging effort, eminent good sense and seemingly endless fund of technical 'know how' , has contributed so much of value.”
In a letter dated February 2010 to Jozef I quote “ I have good memories of the occasions when I personally met up with you on site, but more often at various functions held by Seddon [ Stoke ] Ltd. And at Staff dinner dances. I can only describe you as a perfect gentleman and it is a great pleasure to know you.” and in the same letter a staff member “wishes to be remembered to you and they both have fond memories of your dancing skills at staff parties”.
John Seddon never forgot Jozef.
In 2009 Jozef gave John a treasured framed picture of a “Spitfire in Flight” with his Squadron Leader at the controls. It is hanging in one of the companies' boardrooms.
Touched by this act John Seddon arranged for Jane Shepherd PR to visit, listen, record and produce a brief record of Jozef's life to sit alongside the picture.
Jane Shepherd wrote a biography of Jozef and a short 8 minute film where he talks about his passion for the Spitfire. It can be seen on www.youtube.com/seddontv
Shepherd PR Limited.
01538 308685/308099 Mobile 07985 129315 firstname.lastname@example.org
Seddon Construction contact - Mike Gabriel, Brand Manager - 01782 599511
Jozef was passionate about the Spitfire and his time flying. He qualified as a gliding instructor at the end of the war whilst in Germany.
He joined in all and any events at The Potteries Museum, Hanley and around the country, celebrating the lives of other wartime veterans including the Belgian resistance heroine Hortense Clews.
In the early 1970s, he visited his homeland.
The Communist authorities in Poland were aware of his visits and made it uncomfortable for him and family members he visited.
Travel became much easier after Glasnost and Perestroika and he visited often to see members of his large family, and for Polish Air Force reunions.
He always wanted to be buried in his mother's grave, so his step-daughter Bev and Tony, his daughters and their families, including his great-grandson, took his ashes to Warsaw in April this year, meeting up with Polish cousins there.
He spoke five languages and . . .
“He was the official Polish Interpreter for the courts in Stoke-on-Trent because his fellow countrymen had a reputation for drinking too much on a Saturday night, and he often had to go to court on Monday morning to bail them out” said John Seddon .
He was devoted to and nursed his wife with MS for over twenty years, until her demise in 1991. He involved himself in the MS society taking sufferers out on trips and other activities.
He married Cicely whose deceased husband was a veteran of the Free Polish Air-force.
He was devoted to and nursed her through ill health during her last two years of life. She died in 2008 and left him devastated.
His own health began to take its toll.
On August 1st 2009 a young friend of Jozef's, Wesley Gifford, took him to an “Aces High Spitfire Tribute Signing event”. He met a Polish man who'd attended the same school in Wilno! He had adopted a British name, Tony Rogers, and lived in Gloucestershire.
Jozef talked little of his life except his Spitfire days.
He was generous in thought and deed. An unassuming considerate, gracious, honourable man who made many friends during his life. He was highly respected, regarded, liked, loved, as a colleague, friend and neighbour.
He lived a full, active varied life making the most of his good times.
He loved family gatherings especially with his grandchildren at times like Christmas, Easter, weddings and many other times just at home in the UK and Poland.
He loved his beautiful garden.
He loved talking about Spitfires.
He loved Poland.
His family here in the UK , in Poland, in the USA , Canada, are all very proud of him.
He is missed by all who knew him.
C Wanda Young