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Tadeusz Sawicz, Polish WWII airman, dies

WARSAW, Poland -- A Polish World War II airman, believed to be the last surviving Polish pilot from the Battle of Britain, has died at the age of 97 in a Canadian nursing home.

Turner and Porter Funeral Directors said on its website that Brig. Gen. Tadeusz Sawicz died Oct. 19 at a nursing home in Toronto.

Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza daily reported yesterday that Sawicz was the last surviving pilot from the Polish Air Forces in Britain during World War II. He fought in the 1940 battle and served with the air force until early 1947.

A spokesman for Britain's Royal Air Force said the RAF was saddened to hear of Sawicz's death.

"There is widespread admiration for the major contribution that the Polish aircrew made to the Allied victory in World War II and their commitment in the face of significant losses, especially those who so bravely fought in the Battle of Britain. Their vital contributions will be long remembered," he said.

The spokesman declined to be named, in keeping with military policy.

Historian Adam Zamoyski -- author of "The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War" -- told The Associated Press that if Sawicz was the last surviving pilot from the 1940 battle it would close an important chapter in the war's and Poland's history.

He added that proving he is the last could be difficult, as there is no exact record of the pilots, who emigrated around the world after the war. Sawicz moved to Canada in 1957 where he worked in aviation.

At the start of World War II in 1939, Sawicz fought in Poland's air defense against the invading German Nazis. At one point, he flew under German fire to carry orders to troops defending Warsaw.

Following the collapse of the city's defense on Sept. 17, he joined Polish pilots fighting in France, but after Paris' surrender in July he made his way -- with tens of thousands of Polish airmen, soldiers and sailors -- to Britain, making up the largest foreign military force in the country.

Sawicz was among the 145 Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, 31 of which died in action.

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