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Jadwiga Piłsudska : Polish Ferry Pilot in ATA

28 February 1920 - 16 November 2014

Jadwiga at Maidenhead 1943 poses in front of a Mustang (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Jadwiga Piłsudska was born on 28 February 1920 in Warsaw, the younger daughter of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, Poland's Chief of State (1918–22) and dictator (1926–1935), by the woman who would later become his second wife, Aleksandra Piłsudska (née Aleksandra Szczerbińska).

In 1937 Piłsudska began flying gliders and obtained a pilot's licence. In 1939 she graduated from secondary school and decided to study aircraft engineering at the Warsaw Polytechnic. She was a renowned glider pilot.

In September 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany, initiating the Second World War, and her family realized that under the circumstances it would be prudent to leave the country immediately. Piłsudska fled with her mother and elder sister, Wanda, to Lithuania and eventually arrived in the United Kingdom. She resumed her studies, in 1940, matriculating at Newnham College, Cambridge University in architecture.

Later she acquired her aircraft pilot's license, and in July 1942, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. With the rank of Second Officer (Flying Officer) she flew unarmed military aircraft in the skies of wartime Britain and was, with Anna Leska and the Lithuanian-Pole Barbara Wojtulanis, one of several Polish women who served as wartime ferry pilots in Britain.

In 1944, she took a leave of absence to continue her studies by enrolling in the Polish School of Architecture at Liverpool University. In 1946 she graduated with an engineering degree in architecture.

In 1944, she also married Lieutenant Andrzej Jaraczewski, an officer in the Polish Navy. She had two children: a son, Christopher Joseph (in Polish Krzysztof Józef) and daughter, Jane Mary (in Polish Joanna Maria), who later married Polish politician Janusz Onyszkiewicz.

Owing to the Communist takeover in Poland, she remained in England after the War, as a political émigré. Never accepting British citizenship, she used a Nansen passport, valid for all countries in the world, except Poland.

In 1977, she and her husband took part in the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II on board the MGB S-3 during the Thames River Pageant.

In 1990, with the collapse of the Communist government, she returned to Poland and lived in Warsaw.

She has been honoured with a Bronze Cross of Merit with Swords and the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

She died on 16 November 2014, in Warsaw at the age of 94.

SY 2018-03-28

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