The Airmen's Stories - P/O E R Pilch
Edward Roman Pilch was born on 25th February 1915 in Jaslo in the Carpathian mountains of Poland. He attended the local high school, leaving in 1934 with a high school diploma. In the autumn of that year he completed the basic training for the Polish infantry and at the beginning of 1935 he was accepted for the Aviation Cadet School in Deblin. He graduated on 15th October 1937 as a lieutenant pilot in the fighter arm. He was posted to 123 'Mysliwska Cracow' Squadron of the 2nd Air Regiment in Krakow, operating PZL P.7 aircraft.
In July 1938 he was transferred to 122 Squadron, where he sometimes stood in for the CO, Capt. Mieczyslaw Wiorkiewicza. On the outbreak of war he was promoted to Captain. He flew against the Germans but when Poland was also invaded by the Soviet Union he escaped over the border to Romania. He was interned but after a short stay in a camp near Focsani he escaped and reached the port of Balchik on the Black Sea where on 15th October 1939 he boarded the Greek ship St. Nicolaus, bound for Beirut.
There he embarked on the French Ville de Strasbourg which departed on 29th October for Marseilles. He joined the Polish airmen assembling at Lyon-Bron airfield but the French were slow to process everyone so he volunteered to go on to England, where he arrived in December 1939.
The first part of 1940 was spent in the reception centre for the Poles set up at RAF Eastchurch where he learned English and RAF procedures. Now a Pilot Officer, he went on to convert to Hurricanes at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge following which he was posted on 16th July 1940 to the first all-Polish fighter unit, 302 Poznanski Squadron.
On 15th September Pilch claimed a Do17 destroyed and a Ju88 on the 19th. After the Battle of Britain the squadron moved to Westhampnett and operated from there into 1941. On 16th February 1941 Pilch and Sergeant Marian Wedzikrea destroyed a Ju88 near Bognor Regis.
A few days later, on 20th February at 9.55, Pilch, in Hurricane WX-X R2687, and three other 302 airmen took off to practice dogfighting at 20,000 feet. They paired off with each pilot trying to get on the others tail. When they regrouped after the first few exercises Pilch was seen to be on fire, cause unknown, and he then entered an uncontrolled dive into the ground near Arundel.
Pilch was killed and is buried in Chichester Cemetery.
He was awarded the Polish Cross of Valour (KW) and bar (gazetted 1st February 1941) and the Order of Military Virtue (5th Class) (gazetted 19th February 1942).