©️ Anne-Marie Fawcett June 28 2022

In 1940 more than 1,400 appeals by Spitfire Fund Committees were set up nationwide by councils, businesses, voluntary organisations and individuals. The townships of Ossett and Horbury combined to raise £5,000 for a Spitfire.

A poster on display at Horbury Library in 2017

The fund was officially launched on Thursday 29 August 1940 and by the following Saturday morning had reached a total of £1,533. A week after its launch the fund was £1,000 away from the target.¹ To give that a little perspective, £5,000 in 1940 would now be around £270,000.

At a time of severe austerity when money, food and every other basic need was in short supply, it is incredible to think how the community rallied together to achieve this. An excerpt from the Ossett Observer in 1941 proudly reported: “The response which was both immediate and generous, was covered by every section of the community, from the richest to the poorest.”

The young pilot is Herbert Gledhill who flew this aircraft above Ossett and Horbury during the fundraiser.

By September 28 the total stood at £4,620 but the next day, at an auction of woollen rags at Eastwood & Nephew in Dewsbury, a further £400 (£16k) was raised. The rags were donated by Ossett, Horbury, Dewsbury and Batley rag merchants; WH Kilburn, head of the auction house, put up five mystery parcels which went on to raise a further £55 (£2k+).²

In just four weeks these communities had smashed their target and on June 13 1941 Spitfire P8346 was delivered to RAF Northolt, the home of the Polish 303 Squadron.

Jozef Bondar was born on July 8 1916 in Treze in the pre-war Białystok Province, to the parents of Aleksander and Anna, née Łozowska. He attended four years of elementary school in Trycze, then at the Teachers’ College in Grodno. He spoke fluent French and Russian and he passed his secondary school-leaving examination in 1936.

Jozef Bondar

From September 1, 1936, Jozef served in the Polish Army, initially undergoing a unitary course at the Infantry Cadet School in Różan. In the September campaign, this young pilot made a total of 9 sorties (during 16 hours), fought the enemy 6 times, and his plane was hit 3 times. His commanders assessed him as a very good, brave, willing pilot with a very positive attitude to flying. He was even presented for decoration with the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari War Order, but he never received it.

From January 1937 to mid-June 1939, he was a student of the Aviation Cadet School in Dęblin. He finished it in the twelfth promotion, with a 20th position on his yearbook. Trained as a fighter, with seniority on August 1, 1939, he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. On June 15, 1939, he was assigned to the 151 Fighter Squadron, as part of the mobilization of the Independent Operational Group “Narew”, flying obsolete PZL P.7 fighters, during the Polish Campaign of 1939. After travelling to France, he was posted to Morocco where he flew non-operational flights.

During the invasion of Germany, Polish pilots were among the many who were forced to flee their homeland. They came to fight for freedom and their country, they came to fight Germans. Men of the Polish Air Force, who had escaped first to France and then to Britain, to fly alongside the Royal Air Force just as Fighter Command faced its greatest challenge the Battle of Britain.

Many of the Polish airmen joined existing RAF squadrons. The Polish also formed their own squadrons, but only four became operational during the Battle of Britain: Nos. 300 and 301, were bomber squadrons, with another two, Nos. 302 and 303, being fighter squadrons. Flying Hawker Hurricanes, both 302 and 303 squadrons were active by the middle of August 1940, just when they were most needed, at the height of the Battle of Britain, with Fighter Command stretched to its limit.

The Polish squadrons, battle-hardened from their encounters with the Luftwaffe during the invasion of Poland and Battle of France, soon made their mark. In particular, 303 Squadron became the highest-scoring unit of Fighter Command.

In total, 145 Polish pilots, the largest non-British contingent in Fighter Command at the time, fought in the Battle of Britain. While Winston Churchill praised the contribution of the Few, the pilots of many nationalities who had defended Britain, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding was more specific: “Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle would have been the same”.³

Jozef eventually made his way to England to join the Allies in the fight against the Nazis and in June 1941 he was posted to Polish 303 Squadron, the squadron which was named after the Polish hero General Tadeusz Kościuszko.

On July 26 1941 a ghetto was created in Jozef’s hometown of Białystok. The town was initially captured by the German army on September 15 1939 but was handed over to the Soviet Union a week later. It became a prison for about 60,000 Jews from the city and nearby towns. The Germans seized Białystok again on June 27 1941 and burned down the Jewish district, together with the Great Synagogue, with almost 2,000 people locked inside.⁴

The following day Pilot Officer Jozef Bondar was shot down by Unteroffizer Emil Babenz 1/JG26 at Aubers, nine miles west of Lille, northern France. He was flying the Ossett and Horbury Spitfire.

Jozef bailed out but didn’t survive and is buried at Aubers Ridge British Cemetery, northern France. He is remembered on many memorials, including one that was unveiled at the crash site on June 28 2003 – 62 years after his death.

This memorial plaque was unveiled on June 28 2003. Photos: Michel Coste.

The people of Ossett and Horbury were never formally told that the Spitfire they raised £5,000 to build only lasted nine days before crashing and burning. Did they ever know of Jozef’s death? There was no memorial for Jozef Bondar in either township.

Photo: Rachel Driver
Former and current members of Ossett Civic Society

In July 2021 a small group of us saw a privately funded memorial plaque for Jozef Bondar installed in Ossett Market Place, close by to our War Memorial where so many from Ossett are remembered. We thought it a fitting place to remember this man who is connected to our town.

Anne-Marie Fawcett ©️ June 28 2022

  1. Ossett Observer 1941
  2. Bradford Observer September 1940
  3. Polish Airforce
  4. The Polish Few
  5. Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy

Zbigniew Klatkiewicz, a former resident of Ossett, also came from Poland to fight with the Allies. You’ll find his story here: Mr Klat


Lady Fanny Lucy Houston DBE was known as ‘the mother of the spitfire’ and saved the Spitfire from becoming obsolete.¹ Unfortunately, Lady Lucy never saw the Spitfire come to fruition, as she died on December 29, 1936.

Dame Lucy Houston was born in 1858 and grew up on the fringe of Victorian England; her father was a maker of boxes. Lucy always maintained that she began her career at age 11 as an actress and ballet dancer; others thought not. By age 16, she was in Paris, being tutored by Madame de Polès , a hostess skilled in the art of money—investing, divesting, and acquiring. Back in London in 1883, Houston dabbled withthe women’s suffrage movement.²

Lucy was a chorus girl known as ‘Poppy‘ when she attracted the attention of a man named Frederick ‘Freddy’ Gretton. Gretton’s father was the resident partner of Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton, making Freddy extremely wealthy. Lucy and Freddy never married, but they were together for ten years. Freddy Gretton died in 1882 at age 42, but before his death, he bequeathed her £6,000 a year for life – an enormous sum of money at the time.

Although Lucy was now financially set for life, she married the wealthy Theodore Frances Brinckman, the eldest son of Sir Theodore Brinckman, a baronet, in 1883. However, the marriage wasn’t meant to last, and the couple divorced in 1895. Lucy was remarried to George Frederick William Byron, 9th Baron Byron of Rochdale in 1901, but she really only got social status and nothing else from her second husband as he was already bankrupt.³

The majority of her wealth was bequeathed to her following the death of her third husband, Sir Robert Houston, who died and left her £5.5 million in his will. It was with this money that she supported the RAF.

Lady Lucy donated the money in 1931 in order to keep research going into the Spitfire’s predecessor – the Supermarine S6, a single-engined racing seaplane – when Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s government pulled funding for the project during the Great Depression in 1931. Her intervention led to the creation of the iconic aircraft, which played the critical role in defeating the German Airforce at the Battle of Britain in October 1940 and prevented Britain from being invaded for long enough to ensure the Allied forces eventually won the war against the Nazis.⁴

  1. War History Online
  3. War History Online
  4. Lady Lucy Houston DBE: Aviation Champion and Mother of the Spitfire. Author Miles Macnair.