Saturday, 25 November 2017

Honouring the Czech airmen

Three Wellington Mk ICs of No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF based at East Wretham, Norfolk, March 1941. CH2265
Wellingtons from the RAF 311 (Czechoslovak) squadron.

Having just passed through the security check for my flight from Prague, I sat down to wait the opening of the gate. As I often do I started talking to the lady on the seat next to me. 

"How long have you been here," I asked.
"Only two days," she replied.
"Not long enough," I said
"No, but I have been here many times. I just came to attend a ceremony for the families of Czech RAF airmen of the Second World War."

We talked and she showed me a picture of her father's name on the plaque just unveiled on the flying lion monument opposite Malastranska Metro station. I was honoured to sit next to the daughter of such a brave man and asked her about him. Here is his story:

He and his cousin left the country in order to fight the Nazis, first they went to Poland to fight, then to North Africa to join the Foreign Legion, before going to France and from there to England. During the war he piloted Lancasters and Wellingtons, until a serious accident put an end to his active service and he moved to training pilots instead. After the war the Czechoslovak squadrons were transfered to the reformed Czech airforce and he returned to his homeland. 

When the Communists came to power and started to purge the airforce, he flew a business man and the man's plane to freedom in the west and came back to Britain. His cousin stayed behind with his family and suffered under the Communists. After all that adventure her father's story should have ended happy ever in England, but it didn't. Still eager to continue flying, he went to Canada. There his luck ran out, his plane experienced mechanical failure and crashed in the vastness of the Canadian wilderness. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

For Those Who Gave

In the hills around my Czech home you can come across many memorials. Often they are wayside shrines to people who died on the roads. But a few remember those who died in the battle to free the country from the Nazis. In this part of the battle zone it was the American army and air force that were fighting.

On the 17th April 1945 a squadron of US fighters led by Captain Reuter had been strafing German airbases at Klatovy and Eisendorf, when Reuter and Lieutenant Preddy both in P-51 Mustangs spotted two German Me-262 jet fighters and commenced pursuit, The faster German planes led them to Ceske Budejovice airport, then a German base, where the Americans undertook another strafing run. It was to be their last.


Captain Reuter and Lieutenant Preddy

Both airplanes were hit by anti-aircraft fire. Captain Reuter's plane exploded on being hit and he died instantly.  Metal detectorists are still find fragments of his plane, showing the force with which it hit the ground. Lieutenant Preddy was able to get away, but with his aircraft badly damaged he was only able to get as far as the nearby village of Zaluzi, where he crashed. A local man, Jan Smejkal, took the seriously wounded Preddy by cart to a German emergency treatment centre where he received first aid only. When the Germans refused to transport Preddy to the hospital in Ceske Budejovice, Smejkal took him there in his horse-drawn cart. Preddy died in the hospital, having never regained consciousness.

You will find the above memorial to Lieutenant Preddy on a small road above Zaluzi near the crash site. The memorial to Captain Reuter is near Borsov nad Vltavou at the edge of the woods overlooking Budejovice Airport where he died.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

So what is this building?

I was researching a trip for a friend of mine when I came across this building. The area I was exploring is the Sobeslav Blat area south west of Tabor, which is famous for its folk traditions and architecture. The buildings are often ornately decorated with Bohemian Baroque plasterwork and I wanted to show this to my friend.

I had travelled through several lovely villages and this, Svinky, was the last on my list. I drove past this building and did a double take. On first appearances it was the village chapel, which indeed it is. But what was it doing with a huge arch at the back, big enough to allow a cart in?

Some online research and I discovered that the building was chapel and smithy! Two of the most important buildings in a farming village were combined in one.

Update 9th November 2017
I have been thinking about this overnight and it has occurred to me that there is something archetypal about this. The blacksmith traditionally is seen as having magical powers. The ability to master fire,so you can turn rocks into first liquid and then solid treasures, must have appeared magical. There is the famous British ballad (No. 44 Child's Ballads) - the Twa Magicians - in which one of the magicians is a magician. At Stonehenge archaeologists have discovered the grave of a smith/shaman.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...