Adam Ostrowski obituary

Other lives: Polish-born Spitfire pilot during the second world war

My father, Adam Ostrowski, who has died aged 99, was a Spitfire pilot during the second world war, a design engineer in peacetime and a supporter of UK-based Polish cultural organisations in later life.

He was born in the Polish city of Lwów, which is now in Ukraine, to Wacław, a landowner, and his wife, Antonina. As a 20-year-old university student he abandoned his studies to take part in the defence of Lwów when Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union at the outbreak of the second world war.

Captured and arrested by the Soviet authorities, he was deported to a labour camp in Siberia but survived that ordeal and was released when the Soviet Union switched to the allied side in 1941. As he had some experience of flying, he volunteered to join the Polish Air Force, which was in exile in Britain, and travelled on HMS Trinidad to Scotland, arriving in February 1942.

Adam Ostrowski trained as a fighter pilot at various RAF stations, eventually joining 317 Polish Squadron
Adam Ostrowski trained as a fighter pilot at various RAF stations, eventually joining 317 Polish Squadron Photograph: None

He trained as a fighter pilot at various RAF stations, eventually joining 317 Polish Squadron of the RAF and flying mark V, IX and XVI Spitfires in ground attack, bomber escort and occasional air combat missions. In 1944, while based at an airfield in newly liberated Belgium, he met Marie-Louise Milcamps, a physiotherapist and young member of the Belgian resistance. They were married in 1946 and he was demobilised with the rank of flight lieutenant.

My parents settled in Britain after the war, partly because by then Lwów, along with a swathe of eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. Marie-Louise worked as a physiotherapist at Middlesex hospital and my father studied engineering at Willesden Technical College in north-west London, where they lived for the rest of their lives. He became a design engineer, working for Simon Carves, Humphreys and Glasgow, and then Balfour Beatty – primarily with pre-stressed concrete in the design of bridges and buildings.

Aside from his work he also immersed himself in various Polish cultural organisations in the UK, helping to establish the Polish Airforce Association (now the Polish Airmen’s Association) and the Institution of Polish Engineers. With the restoration of democracy in Poland in 1989 he received a number of honours from the Polish government, including the Order of Polonia Restituta.

In 2013 he was guest of honour at an Operation Spitfire dinner, raising funds for the restoration of a Spitfire Mk XVI displayed in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. At that dinner actual footage from his Spitfire gun camera had somehow been acquired and was shown to guests.

In 2017 he was invited to lay a wreath for fallen airmen on behalf of 317 Squadron at the Polish war memorial in Northolt, Middlesex. His final resting place will be the Polish war graves cemetery at Newark in Nottinghamshire, where he lies with his fallen comrades and his uncle Stanisław Ostrowski, a former president of Poland in exile.

He is survived by Marie-Louise, by two children, me and Sophie, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jan Ostrowski

The GuardianTramp

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