GRANGEMOUTH Air Cadets flew home from an unforgettable visit to Poland – ensuring the names of the country's war-time heroes live on there for all time.
Members of 1333 Squadron not only succeeded in their mission to commemorate Polish pilots who died while serving in World War Two with Grangemouth's 58 Operational Training Unit, they also made a lasting impression on the Polish people.
The 25 cadets and nine staff, including commanding officer Tom McMorrow and civilian instructor Ian Pratt, caused a stir the moment they stepped off the plane in Warsaw and enjoyed a full week of educational and emotional visits to museums, memorials, folk music festivals, air bases and former concentration camps.
Ian said: "There's no doubt about it, we were treated like VIPs from start to finish."
Most importantly, the tireless research by the cadets, their officers and instructors, resulted in the names of two Polish pilots being added to a war memorial in Poland.
"It was a very busy week for the cadets," said Ian. "Some of them had never flown or been out of the country before. I would say they came back from Poland the better for it.
"Living together for a week as a team, they all looked after each other and we had no problems with them whatsoever."
Tom added: "A few of the cadets were lacking in self-confidence before the trip. It's clear a few of them have turned the corner after this.
"As far as I'm aware, no other air training corps squadron has ever done anything like this."
In fact the Grangemouth squadron's historic visit, which took place between June 19 and June 26, will be highlighted in the Chief of RAF
Air Staff's report to Her Majesty the Queen.
There were more than a few poignant moments throughout the week, especially during a visit to former Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps.
Ian said: "It was quite solemn and sobering. The cadets were quite brave – we said at the time if they didn't want to go, we wouldn't force them."
Tom added: "I noticed the cadets were very quiet and subdued when they got back. They were glad they saw it though – if we forget the lessons of history we may repeat them."
The cadets visited a small rural village called Zdzary to visit the British Airmen's Primary School and the graves of the B24 Liberator crew who crashed and died there.
Tom said: "During the war the RAF had been supplying partisans with food drops and the Liberator was shot down in this village. The villagers tend their grave every year.
"Our pipers played at the grave and we had a two minute silence. That, for me, was the most touching part of the whole trip."
The squadron's four pipers also played at a folk festival at Kazimierz Dolny and were so well received they have been invited back for next year's festival.
During a visit to an air force base at Radom, the cadets were treated to an amazing air display, got up close and personal with a Mig 29 and took turns on state-of-the-art flight and ejector seat simulators – much to the joy of cadet Andrew 'Tadpole' Hunter.
Tom said: "Andrew – or Tadpole, as I call him – was in the cockpit of one of the planes. He looked tiny as he peeked up at me and said – sir I've just found the gun button."
The adventure continued for the cadets near the end of their trip, when they left Krakow in a Casa 295 transport plane to head back to Warsaw.
"It was the most exciting take-off I've ever experienced," said Tom. "There was quite a bit of turbulence. The kids loved it, but I was a little apprehensive."
Safely home, 1333 Squadron will now begin phase two of their project and attempt to erect a memorial to all the foreign and commonwealth pilots who died while stationed in Grangemouth.
Tom said: "We have now begun to do the Polish pilots' memories justice and will now take it forward."