Thursday 29 December 2011

Knights of Malta Christmas Concert with Rupert Everett / Polish Air Force tribute

Earlier this month, a special Christmas carol concert was held at the historic Church of St. Clement Danes (Central Church of the Royal Air Force) in The Strand, London. The concert was organised by the Polish Order of Malta Volunteers (UK) in support of the fundraising initiative to support the Knights of Malta's highly successful oncological clinic in Poznan, Poland. Each year the clinic's 60 volunteers diagnose and treat, at no charge, over 5,000 patients. Medical departments include oncology, radiology, cardiology and surgery.  
Rafe Heydel-Mankoo discussing the history of the Polish Air Force
and its contribution to the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain

Rupert Everett
The guest readers at the evening were the award-winning actors Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding, Pygmalion etc.), Sophie Thompson (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gosford Park, Eastenders, etc. and sister of Emma Thompson) and Phyllida Law (Peter's Friends, Dixon of Dock Green, Rumpole of the Bailey etc. and mother of Emma Thompson).

Sophie Thompson

Phyllida Law

The concert consisted of a selection of Polish and English carols sung by Britain's foremost Polish choir, the Ave Verum Choir, accompanied by a string quartet.

This historic church of St. Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, whose walls are scarred by the marks of shrapnel from the Blitz, provided the perfect setting in which to celebrate not only a Polish Christmas Night but also to mark the continued friendship between the British and Polish peoples. For St. Clement Danes also contains an important memorial to the Polish Air Force, including the badges of the 16 Polish squadrons that valiantly fought in the Battle of Britain and throughout the Second World War, and without whom victory might have been far from certain. During the Battle of Britain, the Polish 303 Squadron was the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Royal Air Force and one of its pilots was the most successful pilot in the entire Second World War.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh (later Lord) Dowding, whose statute stands outside the Church of St. Clement Danes, would later write: "Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squardrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle of Britain would have been the same."

Consequently, a special ceremony of commemoration was held during the concert. Colonel Andrzej Jeziorski, a former Second World War fighter pilot and past Chairman of the Polish Air Force Association, processed down the nave of the church with a young boy, representing British youth, to place a candle on the Polish Air Force Memorial, in tribute to the Poles valiant contribution to the fight for freedom. The memorial contains the same inscription as that inscribed upon the main Polish Air Force memorial which was unveiled in Northold in 1948: "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."

Colonel Andrzej Jeziorski, former WWII fighter pilot and past Chairman of the Polish Air Force Association
processes to the Polish Air Force Memorial with Alex Meeson, representing British youth.

Polish Air Force Memorial at St. Clement Danes

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