Image Source: Wikipedia
London based Michal Solarski is (as he makes sure to clarify) first and foremost a photographer, and not a historian.
His latest photography book entitled “The Airmen” was inspired by his intrigue in history and more specifically by his interest in the effect of World War II on the Polish people. “The Airmen” refers to the handful of remaining Polish Air Force (PAF) pilots whose history and importance should not be forgotten, says Solarski. This book was also greatly influenced by his family, who were also affected by World War II.
After the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in September of 1939, many Polish were forced to flee to Hungary, Romania, France and Britain. By the mid 1940’s approximately thirty-five thousand Polish airmen, soldiers and navy personnel reached the UK, making up the largest non-British military force in the UK. Out of these thirty-five thousand, about eight thousand five hundred were airmen.
About twenty thousand Poles were serving with the British Royal Airforce (RAF) by 1940, and although few trusted them, they proved their loyalty in 1940 in the Battle of Britain by helping prevent the German Invasion of the UK. Although the PAF were not techinically part of the RAF, they still fought with the British forces. (Business Insider)
After the war, these Polish men were considered “enemies of the state” by the new communist Poland. Many of these men went mainly to the United States and Canada where some still reside to this day.
Piotr Sikora and Adam Jackowski were the two historians who helped Solarski locate the veterans who lived in the UK, United States and Canada.
In one of the photographs is Kazimierz Szrajer who was a bomber and special duties pilot who helped changed the course of the war by playing a key role in recovering a crushed V-2 German rocket from a field in Poland. Unfortunately Szrajer died just four months after Solarski met him.
Solarski says he not only conversed about the war with the veterans, but also about their lives which were very interesting. An hour or two would pass before he even took their photographs. It was important for him to make sure the veterans felt comfortable around him.
Another veteran is Jerzy Glowczewski who was photographed at the age of 91. He became a successful architect, professor and writer after the war.
The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was created in 1939 as part of the Royal Air Force. These women never took part in combat, but were active in other areas such as transport, communication and catering. One of these women was Jozefa Sobieska who was a driver at Faldingworth Airport and is featured in Solarski’s book.
This long-term project of Solarski’s was started in 2008. The photographs taken of the few who still survive serve both as a moving reminder and important historical record of the bravery of the Polish men and women.