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Bracelet is handed to airman's widow
2:30pm Wednesday 11th January 2012 in News
A gold identity bracelet once belonging to a Polish airman whose bomber crashed near Bradley has been handed over to his former wife – 68 years after his death.
It was unearthed from a box of family mementos where it had lain untouched almost since the Wellington bomber broke up and plunged to the ground near the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, on September 23, 1943.
Wreckage landed in the garden of the building on the site, then called Wynifred’s cafe.
Seven airmen were killed, including Flight Lieutenant Jozef Walnik, who had completed 46 missions over enemy territory and had been awarded Poland’s highest military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.
His bracelet came into the possession of Cameron Dawson, whose grandfather, an entrepreneur and owner of mills in Greetland, near Halifax, had set up the café and called it after his daughter Wynifred, Mr Dawson’s mother. The building later became known as Bradley Forge. It did not come to light again until it was discovered among Wynifred’s possessions in Spain where she had been living before her death.
Mr Dawson, 55, has handed over the bracelet to Flight Lt Walnik’s first wife Josephine Stebbing, now 89, in Blackpool, where she lives with her second husband. She married Jozef a month before he was killed. “Josephine was very pleased to receive it and very emotional. During the 30 minutes we stayed with her she was constantly stroking the bracelet,” said Mr Dawson, of Park Road, Cross Hills, who was accompanied by his wife, Elaine, a head teacher, and his sister, Josephine Stead, and her husband, Mick, of Glusburn.
“It was a very moving moment for us as well. It was very satisfying to to give it to her.
“We had a slight feeling of guilt that we’d had it so long, but actually nobody had seen it since it came into the possession of the family. So it was a surprise for us to find it.”
Mr Dawson, who has just retired as Keighley Golf Club secretary, said the crash was part of his family history in more ways than one.
For his grandfather, Fred Peel, had bought the café during the Second World War for his wife Lois and teenage daughter Wynifred to get them away from the industrial part of West Yorkshire, fearing it could be a target of German bombers.
“I don’t think any bombs were dropped on Greetland but this bomber crashed in the garden of the café where they were living. It was very ironic,” said Mr Dawson.
The story of the tragic deaths of the airmen was unearthed by military historians Jim Hartley of Bradley and Peter Whitaker of Glusburn who also campaigned for a memorial to be set up at the side of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal close to where the aircraft crashed. It was unveiled in April 2007.
Mr Hartley said: “This story never seems to end, it’s fascinating. To think that Jozef’s identity bracelet should turn up 68 years later in Spain is unbelievable. The nice thing is that it has also brought so many families together in England and Poland.”
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