Funeral operators from Northwood have been given a prestigious commendation after restoring the headstone on a Polish Battle of Britain pilot’s grave free of charge.
Wing Commander Walerian Żak, who died in 1969, and his wife Jeanne are buried in Northwood Cemetery together.
When the poor condition of the headstone was reported by a visitor to the Polish Air Force Memorial Committee (PAFMC), Haven Funeral Services Northwood Branch waived the £1,200 costs and worked with stonemasons, Made On Earth, to restore it.
The official restored stone was recently unveiled to recognise the Polish airman’s service to the United Kingdom.
Haven Funeral Services Northwood Branch manager, Karen Petersen, said: “The PAFMC approached us for an estimate to restore the headstone of Walerian Żak and his wife Jeanne.
“After discussing this with our head office and our monumental stonemason and sculptor Francis Sancisi, from Made On Earth, we agreed to waive the £1,200 cost and restore the headstone free of charge, as a gesture to someone who fought for our country during the war.”
Walerian Żak arrived in England in June 1940 and in late August, with the rank of Flying Officer, was posted to 303 (Polish) Tadeusz Kościuszko Squadron at Northolt flying Hurricanes.
During the Battle of Britain he claimed two enemy aircraft destroyed, a Dornier Do 215 and a Heinkel He 111 and damaged another Heinkel He 111.
Francis Sancisi removed the marble headstone for the extensive and complex restoration at his Made On Earth workshop in Denham, Buckinghamshire.
This involved skimming and cleaning, removal and replacement of the lead inscription, polishing and reinstallation in Northwood Cemetery.
Polish Air Force Memorial Committee chairman, Richard Kornicki, said: “The Committee is extremely grateful to Haven Funeral Services and Made On Earth for their kindness, generosity and expertise in restoring Walerian Żak’s headstone and contributing towards maintaining the memory of the Polish Air Force in the West.”
The committee awarded Haven Funeral Services and Made On Earth one of its coveted Commendations: “For their extreme kindness and generosity in waiving the £1,200 cost and carrying out the restoration of the headstone on the grave of Wing Commander Walerian Żak, and his wife Jeanne, in Northwood Cemetery free of charge as a gesture to someone who fought for our country.”
This was presented in front of RAF Northolt’s Officers’ Mess by Station Commander Group Captain Mike Carver.
Żak was shot down on 27 September 1940 in Hurricane V7289 RF-S, which crashed near Leatherhead, Surrey.
He bailed out, but was seriously injured and did not return to operational flying with 303 Squadron until mid 1941 as a Flight Commander.
The control column from his Hurricane V7289 is on display in the Visitor Centre at the Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge.
A year later, after a break as a flying instructor at an Operational Training Unit, he returned to 303 Squadron as its overall Commander.
He then went on to command 308 (Polish) City of Cracow Squadron and also commanded Nos 3 and 133 (Polish) Wings.
Żak also served in the headquarters of the RAF’s No 11 and No 12 Groups and the Air Defence of Great Britain.
In 1945-1946 he was the Wing Leader of the 2nd Polish Wing at RAF Coltishall.
Walerian Żak was demobilised in 1947 having risen to the rank of Wing Commander.
He died on 14 March 1969 and is buried in Northwood Cemetery, Grave B475.
He was decorated with the Polish Silver Cross of Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Valour and two bars and the British Distinguished Flying Cross.