A 92-YEAR-OLD war veteran, who has won nine medals for his outstanding bravery, returned to his former RAF base at Cotswold Airport last week.
Squadron leader Ted Wierzbowski was born in Poland, but has lived in Cirencester since he was posted at RAF Kemble in 1963.
Ted said visiting the airfield brought back many memories, both good and bad. “It reminded me of being in the air traffic control tower when the two of the Red Arrows collided in 1971,” he said.
The crash took place in mid-air, as a synchronised pair clipped wings during a partially inverted manoeuvre, known as “roulette”. “We lost two pilots in that collision,” he added. “I’ve seen too many accidents in my time.”
Ted won the Air Force Cross after executing a successful emergency landing at RAF Shawbury, when the plane’s engine failed at 14,000 ft. Proud son Michael said: “Dad could have ejected, but he didn’t want to put any of the villages below in danger.”
Instead, Ted managed to glide the plane, a Venom jet fighter, to safety. “He has always kept a cool head in a crisis,” said Michael. “The ambulance arrived, but dad just stepped out of the plane and went for a late lunch. He had quite a few narrow escapes.”
Friend Gerald Green said Ted managed to succeed against the odds: “When he arrived in the country, his English wasn’t very good, but they really valued him in the RAF because he was such an excellent pilot.”
Michael added: “The first thing dad bought was an English dictionary. I don’t know how he managed, because all of the operating manuals for the planes were in English.”
Ted said he had wanted to become a pilot ever since he was a young child. “I collected model aeroplanes and I used to love flying them,” he said. “My father always encouraged my interest in flying.”
Ted joined the Polish Air Force in 1938, escaping just before the German invasion the following year. He then joined the Free French Army, before becoming a pilot in the Polish Squadron of the RAF until 1946.
After the war, he was offered a commission and continued to fly with the Air Force until the early 1970s. His last posting was at RAF Kemble, where he served as Senior Air Traffic Controller from 1972 until 1976.
At the age of 92, Ted still lives in Cirencester and is keeping busy. Gerald said: “He was still riding his bike around town at 91 and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down yet.”
Airport manager Nick Howard said: “We wanted to recognise Ted’s work because he had such an interesting service record and he has given so much of himself to his adopted country.”
He added: “Getting to 92 is quite an achievement when you consider only 50 percent of bombing crew ever came back. To get through all of that and to devote his life to a career in the British Air Force is a really special achievement.”