Antoni Gosiewski

In the carnage of the Second World War the story of Antoni Grosiewski may be only a minor footnote, but it personifies the trauma and tragedy of that conflict, and of war generally. His story spans Europe, from Poland to Portugal, to Scotland, and England, encompassing escape and tragedy, ending with a solitary death on a lonely fell.

After the invasion of Poland, the Gosiewski family, Antoni, his wife Jadwiga, sons Krzysztof and Michal, fled to France where they lived from September 1939 to June 1940. It’s recorded that Antoni initially joined the RAF but later transferred to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

Meanwhile Jadwiga and the children had fled further across Europe. By 1941 they were in Lisbon in Portugal, trying to get to Britain to join Antoni. During August of that year Antoni was recorded as being at a military centre for the Polish Armed Forces in the West, at Rothesay in Scotland, possibly working on improving his English.

Antoni joined the ATA the following month, eager to continue the struggle any way he could. The website Ferry Pilots of the ATA tells the story of many of the pilots who served in the ATA during the war (including Antoni) and gives the following synopsis of its role :-

The ATA was formed in 1939 upon the Declaration of War by Great Britain, for the purposes of delivering His Majesty’s aircraft to the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy, and for Air Transport tasks auxiliary to the War Effort. Without the ‘Ancient and Tattered Airmen’ of the ATA, the RAF would not have been able to fight the Battle of Britain. By 1942 it was larger than all the U.S. commercial airlines added together.

SS Avoceta

SS Avoceta

Antoni’s application to the ATA was dated 9th September 1941. Just over a week later Jadwiga and his two children aged 6 and 10 boarded HMS Avoceta in Lisbon, part of a convoy of 25 ships with a destination of Liverpool. 10 days later HMS Avoceta was hit by a torpedo and sank. One hundred and twenty three people died, including all of Antoni’s family.

On the 17th December, Antoni was at Woodley in Berkshire to transport a Miles Master aeroplane up to the RAF Base at Lossiemouth. It was his third flight transporting aircraft between bases. Lossiemouth was primarily used for bombers during the war, notably those hunting for the Tirpitz.

The Miles Master was a training plane, built at the Phillips and Powis factory in Reading, and as such had space for two pilots in the cockpit. A few were used in active service, and more were converted to be used as glider ‘tugs’. Many were also diverted abroad to be used in the air forces of other countries. It was seen as an excellent aerobatic trainer, and thousands were made, though unfortunately no complete examples survive.

Antoni flew Master W8479 solo up to RAF Shawbury in Shropshire. His next interim destination was Carlisle, but he was delayed by bad weather for a day and a half at Shawbury.

There are a few notes on Antoni’s character, the notes in his Training Pool say “An ex-Polish Air Force Officer. A most likeable personality, very keen and anxious to produce results“, his cousin spoke of him as a “valuable man” and wanted his memory to be “without shadows”.

Another telling report says, “If anything Gosiewski displayed an over anxiety to produce results … as a result of his keenness he was on one occasion grounded because of his desire to take off in too bad weather conditions.” Whether or not he was over-eager to fly this time is not noted.

He took off again from Shawbury on the 19th December. During the war pilots used the Lune Valley up to Tebay to guide them on the route to Carlisle. Weather conditions were once again bad with low cloud hiding the hills. Later that day, after he failed to arrive at Carlisle, he was posted as missing. There were no immediate reports of what had happened to him. It was not until 23rd December when the mist started to clear that the family at Craggstones realised that there was wreckage very near the top of Arant Haw. A group of local people went up and recovered Antoni’s body. The body was brought down and temporarily laid in the Games Pavilion at Sedbergh School over the Christmas period. Parts of the wreckage were also brought down and held, reputedly under the watch of the Home Guard, in Lockbank Farmyard. Later Antonis body was buried at Maidenhead where the ATA was based.

In September 2023 a plaque in memory of Antoni Grosiewski was unveiled in the lychgate porch at Sedbergh Cemetery. Members of the Parish Council, Royal British Legion and Sedbergh and District History Society, all of whom contributed to the cost, were there to see Parish Councillor Roger Sedgwick unveil the plaque. It was fitting for Roger to do the unveiling as members of his family took part in the recovery, and his aunt, now aged 94 can remember it happening. And it is very fitting that there is a plaque telling the story not far from the spot where Antoni died.

“I want to work for the war effort. I desire to be useful as a pilot, because I have the knowledge, the flying experience (over 1,000 hrs) and the certainty of my hand.” – Antoni Henryk Gosiewski 17/01/1900 – 19/12/1941.

Further information about Antoni Gosiewski and his accident are available at:





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