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Centenary celebration for Newton Abbot war veteran who has lived 'nine lives'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 07, 2013

  • WWII Hero celebrates a New Year and 100th Birthday at MOD?s Ilford Park Polish Home in Devon On New Year?s Day, family, staff and residents at the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency?s Ilford Park Polish Home in Devon joined their oldest resident, and former WWII Spitfire Pilot, Mr Mieczyslaw Juny MBE for his 100th birthday celebrations. Mr Juny was born in Lwow, Poland on 1st January 1913 and at the age of 26 he took part in the Polish Campaign of 1939. After Poland fell to German forces, he escaped to Hungary and was taken as a prisoner of War. He escaped again and eventually found himself aboard the ship ?Empress of Canada? in March 1943 as she sailed from Durban with 1,800 passengers, amongst them 200 Poles. On 13th March, some one thousand miles off the coast of Africa she was torpedoed and sank.[1]

  • Mieczyslaw Juny with the card he received from the Queen on reaching his 100th birthday, left, and pictured in uniform in the 1940s, inset

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Family and friends have gathered to pay tribute to a Polish war hero and Spitfire pilot on his 100th birthday.

Mieczyslaw Juny MBE celebrated the milestone on New Year's Day at his care home in Devon.

Mr Juny was born in Poland on January 1, 1913, and at the age of 26 he took part in the Polish campaign of 1939.

After Poland fell to German forces, he escaped to Hungary and was made a prisoner of war. He escaped again and eventually found himself aboard the ship Empress of Canada in March 1943 as she sailed from Durban with 1,800 passengers, among them 200 Poles. But on March 13, some 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa, she was torpedoed and sank.

Mr Juny survived the waters of the Atlantic and came to the UK, where he transferred to the Polish air force in the UK as a Flight Lieutenant and served alongside his British RAF colleagues as a Spitfire pilot for four years.

At the end of the war, Mr Juny joined the Polish Resettlement Corps and was decommissioned in 1948. He then worked for the National Assistance Board to re-home those Polish people who had been decommissioned from the Armed Forces, but could not return to Poland because of the political changes, and were therefore resettled in the UK under the provisions of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947.

After many years as a civil servant working at Ilford Park Polish Home, near Newton Abbot in Devon, eventually rising to the position of deputy manager, Mr Juny retired in 1977 – but not before being made an MBE for his service to Polish people in the UK in 1975.

Mr Juny continues to reside at Ilford Park and has been the longstanding chair of the residents' committee. His continued service was recognised in 2003, when the Polish Catholic Mission awarded him the Cross of Merit. He was further decorated in 2005 when the outgoing President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, awarded him the Knights Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Although fiercely proud of his heritage, Mr Juny worked alongside the British with great admiration, and took British nationality in 1956.

He said being 100 was "a funny feeling", adding: "I don't know why I have been chosen to live so long, but I notice more and more beauty in the world as I get older."

Care home manager Clare Thomas said Mr Juny was "an inspiration" and "a role model of grace and humanity".

"He has been so determined to reach this birthday," she said. "He desperately wanted to live long enough to see the London 2012 Olympics and since then his focus has been on his birthday. It has given him a new lease of life!"

Mr Juny's daughter, Kasia Cumber, who worked at Ilford Park until her retirement in 2011, said: "I am immensely proud and of course delighted that my father is celebrating his centenary.

"He has always been a very caring person and has placed his family and concern for humanity above all else. I never cease to be amazed by his understanding of our ever- changing world and its many challenges, his great sense of humour, as well as his almost instant recall of his military and flying experiences during the Second World War.

"Dad is a bit like a cat with nine lives to have come through all that."

Two more of the home's residents will reach their 100th birthday this year and Mr Juny says he wants to join them for their parties.

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