Sailor Jack honoured by Poland for highlighting country’s WW2 role

Topic: PeopleHonours and awards Storyline: HMS Collingwood

A young sailor from HMS Collingwood has been honoured by the Polish Government for his – and his family’s – efforts to bring a wartime Spitfire back to life.

Jack Booth is one of six family members involved in the ambitious Łaguna Spitfire Legacy which hopes to build a full-size replica one of the legendary WW2 fighters as a tribute to Polish aviators – more than 80 years after it plunged into a field in Coquelles on the Pas de Calais, not far from the present-day Channel tunnel terminus.

The huge task was sparked when Jack’s uncle Scott Booth bought a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine which he planned to turn into a coffee table at his home in Gloucestershire.

With the serial numbers on the engine still legible, Scott decided to look into the engine’s history – leading him to the actual aircraft, Spitfire P8331 RF-M, and the men who flew it.

The last man to climb into her cockpit was Major/Wing Commander Piotr Łaguna, a 35-year-old Pole who had flown in defence of his homeland in September 1939, the fled it when it was overrun by the Nazis, fought in France and when it too fell to the jackboot, he came to the UK and fought alongside fellow Poles in the Battle of Britain.

On June 27th 1941, serving with the legendary 303 Squadron – which has subsequently been immortalised in print and on the big screen – Łaguna (pronounced ‘Wagoona’) led a formation of Spitfires on a sweep over the Pas de Calais. In attacking the German airfield at Coquelles, Major Łaguna ran into ferocious flak, caught fire and crashed.

Having researched his story, Scott – and many of the Booth clan, including Jack – created the Łaguna Spitfire Legacy with the aim of telling not just the tragic story of the pilot himself, but the 18,000 Polish air and ground crew who contributed to the Allied victory in World War 2 by recreating Łaguna’s fighter and telling the Polish story to as many people as possible.

Running for several years now, news of the project reached the ear of the Polish Government, who deemed the team worthy of the Polish Army Medal (Medal Wojska Polskiego).

Awarded in gold, silver and bronze classes (project leader Scott received gold, Jack bronze), the medal is presented to non-Poles either for their contribution to the country’s defence and security – typically senior officers such as US Generals James Mattis and David Petraeus – or to anyone who promotes the history and traditions of the Polish armed forces around the world.

The Spitfire team were invited to the Polish Embassy in London to receive their decorations – “a proud experience and a very interesting day,” said Jack.
He continued: “We are definitely going to carry on the Laguna Spitfire Legacy. It has not only brought awareness to the legacy but also brought my family closer together. We plan to carry on looking for parts and to restore it for Poland.”