OBITUARY : Count Jan Badeni

Jan Badeni was one of the few Poles stranded in Britain at the end of the Second World War to succeed in making a new life for himself on British terms. Yet the future High Sheriff of Wiltshire's first contact with his country-to-be was inauspicious: he was thrown into jail as a suspicious alien by the first British official he ever met.

He was 18 years old in September 1939, when he and his family drove into Hungary to avoid the German and Soviet invasion. As one of the family had been Prime Minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary was familiar territory to the Badenis, and they were permitted to stay. But in late 1940 Jan Badeni decided to join the Polish forces forming up in Palestine to fight alongside the British. He obtainedHungarian papers which were endorsed by the British Ambassador.

Everything went swimmingly until he reached the port of Haifa in 1941. A young man speaking three languages and travelling on avowedly false papers was too much for the British intelligence men on the spot. Even his name did not sound very Polish to them (although they did originate in northern Italy, the Badenis were listed in the ranks of the Polish nobility as early as 1563). To be on the safe side, they incarcerated him in the picturesque Crusader fortress of Acre, where he mouldered for four months.

After his release, Badeni joined the Polish forces of General Anders, serving at the Cairo HQ and also in the desert with the Carpathian Lancers. He then volunteered for training as a pilot in the Polish Air Force, and was awarded his wings in 1943. He flew with Coastal Command until the end of the war, and then transferred to the RAF. He flew helicopters during the emergency in Malaya, lifting a great number of casualties from the jungle. Back in Britain, he was given command of two helicopter squadrons, and responsibility for search and rescue along the entire east coast. He retired from the service in 1962, after being awarded a commendation by the Queen for valuable services in the air.

In 1956 he married June Wilson, the daughter of a Wiltshire landowner, whom he met while stationed at RAF Hullavington, and he later settled in her home. He started out in civilian life as a stockbroker, and showed remarkable flair. He sat as director on the boards of a number of public companies, and became a wealthy man. Towards the end of his life, he devoted more and more of his time and his wealth to voluntary work, mainly for Polish charities and cultural organisations all of which benefited as much from his sound advice as from his extraordinary generosity.

Badeni was greatly esteemed both in the City of London and in Polish circles. A tall handsome man with an aristocratic bearing, he commanded respect rather than camaraderie. Indeed, many who knew him well marvelled at how someone who never touched alcohol, who refused to be called by his Christian name, and who winced at bad language, could have survived 20 years in the RAF. This in itself was something of an achievement.

Adam Zamoyski

Jan Badeni, businessman, air-force officer: born Lwow, Poland 15 February 1921; married 1956 June Wilson (one son, one daughter); died Bath 25 October 1995.