Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Philip Methuen Interview

Expand Messages
  • Lucyna Artymiuk
    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-untold-battle-of-britain/articles/phi lip-methuen-interview
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 1, 2011
    • 0 Attachment

       

      http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-untold-battle-of-britain/articles/philip-methuen-interview

       

      http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dynamic-text/the-untold-battle-of-britain?maxPixelWidth=625The Untold Battle of Britain

      Philip Methuen Interview

      Interviews

      The Untold Battle of Britain

      Wednesday 16 June 2010

      The son of Squadron 303 diarist Miroslaw 'Ox' Feric talks about his father.

      The Battle of Britain is rightly heralded as one of the proudest moments in British history - a time when 'the few' performed unimaginable heroics in the face of overwhelming odds and, in a few short weeks, very probably changed the outcome of the war. But what is less well known is that a significant minority of those pilots flying for the RAF were not British at all, but were Polish. They were also brilliant pilots - as the statistics verify. One Polish squadron, 303, was the most successful squadron in the whole of the Battle of Britain.

      The Poles came to continue their fight against Hitler after the fall of Poland. Initially kept grounded by RAF top brass, they subsequently proved themselves in dramatic fashion. But their dream of a liberated Poland was shattered when, at the end of the war, the allies handed over Poland to Stalin.

      Now, the story of 303 squadron is told in The Untold Battle of Britain, part of the Bloody Foreigners season on Channel 4. One of those pilots featured is Miroslaw 'Ox' Feric, who was one of the most successful Polish air aces of the war, and whose detailed squadron diaries form an invaluable historical record of 303 squadron's extraordinary achievements. Here, his son, Philip, tells his extraordinary story, and reveals why we all owe a debt of gratitude to men like his father.

      What did your father do before the outbreak of war?
      He was a professional pilot in the Polish Air Force. He and a lot of the others who'd joined the Kosciuszko squadron [as the 303 had been known in its former incarnation in Poland] had all gone through the Polish equivalent of Cranwall [RAF training college] as professional air force pilots. The academy was called Deblin. He was commissioned as an officer in the Polish Air Force in 1938. A lot of them had been pilots for at least a year before the Germans attacked Poland.

      The fact that a lot of them had that experience was perhaps what stood them in such good stead when they came over to Britain, wasn't it?
      Yes. They had been very well trained. They were taught on planes that were similar to our Gloucester Gladiators and things like that, which obviously were no match for the Messerschmitts. But then, of course, we only got the Spitfire and the Hurricane just in time. They did their best against the Germans, and actually managed to do remarkably well - I think they knocked out about 150 of them before they were overrun.

      What happened thereafter? How did your father end up in Britain?
      My father's very well known for the fact that he started a diary recording the squadron's day-to-day activities from the outbreak of war in September 1939. The diary details what they did and where they went, with sketches and details of the various fields they used as airfields as they withdrew towards Romania - because that's all they could do. They eventually ran out of parts, fuel, ammunition and everything, and abandoned their planes at the Romanian border. They all managed to get to Bucharest and get civilian clothes and money, and there was a very clever escape organisation to get as many Polish pilots as possible out of Romania. They came down through Yugoslavia or via Greece, and eventually they all wound up in France.

      Were they were attached to the French air force?
      Yes, until France collapsed. But the French wouldn't let them fight. They were allowed to act as observers and fly observation missions, but fighting wasn't allowed. They were very distressed. Having fought their guts out to try and beat the Germans, to be faced with a largely indifferent French air force who didn't seem to care whether the Germans came or went, they found incredibly depressing. As France fell, they got themselves out of France. Some, like my father, took the plane they'd been allocated by the French and flew it to North Africa. The ones who were in Northern France were able to get straight across to England, but most of them went South. They arrived in North Africa and then were shipped to England. They arrived in dribs and drabs, but in the end most of the air force from Poland made it to England.

      And then 303 was formed as one of the Polish squadrons.
      Yes. It was largely made up of the Kosciuszko squadron, and so most of them had flown together. It's rather like a football or rugby team, if you know how the other people fight and fly, you're at an advantage. And they were all taught the same way, and they were all experienced. They were all in their mid-20s, whereas a lot of the RAF pilots were still teenagers. They were battle-hardened, they were extremely angry, and wanted to get their own back at the Germans. But of course they'd been rested as well, because they hadn't done much in France, and they had to go through a lot of retraining in England - there was the language barrier, and new planes to come to terms with, and different radio systems. So they were raring to go when they were let loose in the Battle of Britain.

      They must have found being kept out of the battle hugely frustrating when they first arrived in Britain.
      Yes. Air Chief Marshall Dowding decided that in order to fly with the RAF, they had to operate under RAF rules and RAF systems. They were taught to fly in RAF close formations, although they actually adapted the formations, because they were so tight and rigid and organised that they weren't tactical. The Poles were probably the first to tactically fly differently to give them an advantage. It was the way they'd been taught to fly, to be able to look around them at all times and know exactly what was in front of them, above, below and either side of them. But it was the language that was the barrier they had to overcome. So the Poles were all put on a football field on tricycles with radios strapped to them, and made to ride round and practice giving directions and talking to each other and so on in English, until they were of a standard that was reckoned acceptable for them to be able to talk to base from the air. So it was very frustrating to them. They'd been given these marvellous planes that were out of this world as far as they were concerned, and they just wanted to get at the enemy.

      When they went into battle in the end, they had the most astonishing impact, didn't they?
      Yes. This was because they were incredibly well-trained, they'd got enough flying experience with the Hurricanes, they knew from their experience in Poland that they had to get in close, because in Poland their planes had been so slow. So they didn't open fire until they were at 200 yards or less. The RAF would open fire at 600 yards. There was an amazing amount of skill in flying the planes. A lot of the British pilots had never even fired their guns before. So they'd be up there, in a dogfight, performing manoeuvres they'd never done before, then they'd hit their guns, the cockpit would fill with this amazing noise of eight machine guns firing, and with smoke. There's the noise over the radio of people shouting and swearing and screaming and everything else. They just weren't prepared for it. It was a terrifying experience. The Poles had had all of this experience in Poland the year before, so it didn't bother them so much, and they were able to get on with the job of shooting down planes. And they were battle-hardened, and had the determination to do it.

      How many planes did your father shoot down?
      It was something like eight, plus a couple in Poland. He's the tenth-highest scoring Polish pilot - and bear in mind he was killed in 1942.

      The King came down to meet the squadron, to thank them for their extraordinary performance. Did your father meet him?
      There's actually a picture of my father shaking hands with the King. He came down to visit them, they were on standby, having just got back from a sortie. There's a picture of them in line with the King, and my father's in a fore-and-aft hat instead of a peaked cap, shaking the King's hand.

      That must be a source of great pride.
      It is. I'm incredibly proud of my father's exploits. I've got his medals and his wings, and they mean a great deal to me.

      Do you know the circumstances of your father's death?
      It's slightly surrounded in mystery. He took up a Spitfire, as far as we know to test it. And something went wrong - whether something hadn't been mended properly, or something that was damaged then broke, we don't know. It went into a dive quite suddenly, and the angle got steeper and steeper, and at a certain speed the wings break off. And one broke of and knocked off the rear tailplane on one side, and then the other one broke off and knocked off the tailplane on the other side, and it went down like a cigar, and crashed into the edge of the runway at Northolt. He tried to get out, and was half out of the cockpit when it hit the ground. He'd had a similar experience in September 1939 in Poland, where he'd been shot up, and had inverted his plane in order to get out. His parachute didn't open, and he landed in a forest, in trees, and survived. He was very lucky. He was saved by the forest canopy, and lived to fight another day on that occasion. Sadly, he wasn't so lucky in 1942. I was five months old. My mother was working in the war effort, and obviously couldn't look after me, so her aunts - my great aunts - brought me up. My mother, as far as I know, was killed in an air raid later. I never really knew her, and obviously I didn't know my father. So all I know is what I read in books and what I've been told. It,s a little bit frustrating not knowing more.

      As such, the squadron diary must be that much more important to you?
      Yes. The squadron diary is fascinating. The only problem is, I don't speak Polish. Bits have been translated, and there are bits in English. Everyone contributed, and the Polish squadrons had to have a British squadron leader as well as a Polish squadron leader, and two British section leaders. And they all contributed to this diary. At the end of each day, people would write things in it, so it's a very interesting historical document. It was reports of precisely what had happened in the air virtually after each sortie.

      After his death, the squadron kept the diary going in his memory, didn't they?
      Yes, they did, very much so.

      They must have held him in very high esteem.
      Yes, I gather he was a very popular fellow in the squadron.

      What do you think your father's motivation was for keeping such a detailed resource?
      I think it started as a personal thing - keeping a diary to record his thoughts and actions - but then expanded and became a squadron diary. And he badgered people to write in it. My father was known as 'Ox', and there are comments in there saying 'Ox is at me again to write in this goddamn diary, I can see him looking at me now, so I must write.' He did make them write, and it is a fantastic document. It's a great document for me, because my father features heavily in it, but it also tells the stories of people like Jan Zumbach. He was very well known. In fact, the spitfire that's been used by the BNP, the markings on that are unmistakable as Jan Zumbach's plane. He had his own logo on that plane - a Donald Duck - and you can see it quite clearly just forward of the cockpit. And the BNP have used his picture, which I find very ironic!

      How important was the contribution of the Polish pilots, in your view?
      They tipped the balance of the Battle of Britain in Britain's favour, without a doubt. They came in at just about the last gasp, when the RAF was very stretched indeed, and provided fresh and much needed and very experienced pilots and resources. That squadron shot down more German planes than any other squadron in the battle, and when you consider the battle had been going for months before they joined, that's pretty extraordinary. I think it's fair to say that the Polish squadrons had a huge effect on the outcome.

      As such, what happened to Poland at the end of the war must have felt like a great betrayal.
      Oh, absolutely. They didn't have a free country, after all their sacrifices, their country was neatly divided up and Joe Stalin had grabbed it. They couldn't really go back home - those that did were killed. One or two went home later. But most stayed in the UK or went to France or America. It was a very sad end after everything they'd done.

      What do you think your father would have made of this programme?
      I think he would have been thrilled that almost 70 years on, their effort was still being remembered.

      What does your father's story mean to you?
      I'm thrilled that my father and his comrades arrived here in England and were able to help fight for a free world. I have this amazing feeling about the whole thing, I'm so proud of him and his comrades, and what they did.

      By Benjie Goodhart

       

    • Terry Maker
      The Battle of Britain Just to show how much We Brits cherished, and needed, the help of others in that fight, here is a list of our Allies, and strengths
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 1, 2011
      • 0 Attachment

        The Battle of Britain

         

        Just to show how much “We Brits” cherished, and needed, the help of others in that fight, here is a list of our Allies, and strengths during “The Battle of Britain”. For those who may be interested, more than 50%  of the available pilots were of “Colonial, or Occupied Countries” origins:

         

        Nationality                    Fighter Pilots

         

        British                               497

        Poland                                145

        New Zealand                       135

        Canada                               112

        Czechoslovakia                    88

        Australia                             32

        Belgium                              28

        South Africa                         25

        France                                13

        Ireland                               10

        United States                      7

        Jamaica                              1

        Palestine Mandate               1

        Southern Rhodesia               1

        Unknown                            8        

         

         

        Total:                                1103 Active fighter pilots

         

        Luftwaffe FIGHTER Pilots Alone, (not including Bombers etc.) 1450

         

        We were in the “Deep, Brown, and Smelly” stuff, even with all the combined help, and as a whole group, they were still seriously outnumbered!

         

        But our factories kept the aircraft coming, and the pilots did the rest!

         

        Our unreserved thanks to them all!

         

        Terry M

         

         Lest we Forget                

         

         

        Click for Southend-On-Sea, United Kingdom Forecast

         

        Please be Considerate: Please remove my Email address when forwarding, and use BCC

      • Terry Maker
        I don t know what s happened here, the format has gone all to pieces, it was all the same when I sent it!
        Message 3 of 4 , Jan 1, 2011
        • 0 Attachment

          I don’t know what’s happened here, the format has gone all to pieces, it was all the same when I sent it!

           

           

          Click for Southend-On-Sea, United Kingdom Forecast

           

          Please be Considerate: Please remove my Email address when forwarding, and use BCC


          From: 300PolishSquadron@yahoogroups.com [mailto:300PolishSquadron@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Terry Maker
          Sent: 01 January 2011 13:41
          To: 300PolishSquadron@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: RE: [300PolishSquadron] Philip Methuen Interview

           

           

          The Battle of Britain

           

          Just to show how much “We Brits” cherished, and needed, the help of others in that fight, here is a list of our Allies, and strengths during “The Battle of Britain”. For those who may be interested, more than 50%  of the available pilots were of “Colonial, or Occupied Countries” origins:

           

          Nationality                    Fighter Pilots

           

          British                               497

          Poland                                145

          New Zealand                       135

          Canada                               112

          Czechoslovakia                    88

          Australia                             32

          Belgium                              28

          South Africa                         25

          France                                13

          Ireland                               10

          United States                      7

          Jamaica                              1

          Palestine Mandate               1

          Southern Rhodesia               1

          Unknown                            8        

           

           

          Total:                                1103 Active fighter pilots

           

          Luftwaffe FIGHTER Pilots Alone, (not including Bombers etc.) 1450

           

          We were in the “Deep, Brown, and Smelly” stuff, even with all the combined help, and as a whole group, they were still seriously outnumbered!

           

          But our factories kept the aircraft coming, and the pilots did the rest!

           

          Our unreserved thanks to them all!

           

          Terry M

           

           Lest we Forget                

           

           

          Click for Southend-On-Sea, United Kingdom Forecast

           

          Please be Considerate: Please remove my Email address when forwarding, and use BCC

          size=1 width="100%" noshade color="#aca899" align=center>

          No virus found in this message.
          Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
          Version: 10.0.1170 / Virus Database: 1435/3343 - Release Date: 12/27/10

        • Rodney Byles
          Here s a link to another interview on the same programme with Witold Urbanowicz s son. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-untold-battle-of-britain/
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 1, 2011
          • 0 Attachment
            Here's a link to another interview on the same programme with Witold
            Urbanowicz's son.

            http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-untold-battle-of-britain/
            articles/witold-urbanowicz-interview

            Rodney

            On 1 Jan 2011, at 12:55, Lucyna Artymiuk wrote:

            >
            >
            >
            >
            > http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-untold-battle-of-britain/
            > articles/philip-methuen-interview
            >
            >
            >
            > <
          Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.