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From England to Dunquerke Ludvik Netopil 1939 - 1945

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1. Agde 2. Gibraltar 3. Viceroy of India 4. Cholmondeley 5. Oath to the King 6. Strange Alliance 7. Finally to Europe! 8. Dunkerque

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Agde The number of regular soldiers was increasing. With the arrival of those new soldiers the formation of the first units of the Czechoslovak foreign army in France began in Agde creating a 1st and 2nd Infantry Regiment and 1st Artillery Regiment consisting of three sections, each with Batteries and auxiliary engineering units. Colonel Satorie took over command of the lst Infantry Regiment whilst Colonel Liska, later to be appointed general and commander of the brigade, became the Commander of the Artillery Regiment.

Thanks to my artillery experience obtained during my time with the Majek's Battery in Spain I was immediately kept on in Agde as a gunner and assigned to the newly created Artillery Regiment.

I was posted to the 9th battery of the 3rd section, commanded by Major Sladecek, whilst lieutenant Kaleta was appointed as the battery commander. My other friends from Spain - Holdos, Franta Janda, Tonda Svoboda, Pepik Müller, Geza Kršák and many others, were also posted to the artillery.

Although the Artillery Regiment existed on paper, in reality what did not exist were the guns. Except for the two wooden dummy guns, there was not even a screw from a gun, not to say a real gun in Agde. And so the order of the day was drill. We spent a good half day on the training ground and because there was so much drill, slowly but surely we came to dread it.

We expected to receive the guns, but the days fled by and still the guns did not appear.

Instead of guns however, in the first half of February 1940 the order to leave came. Our Artillery Regiment left by train for La Nouvelle, something over fifty kilometres from Agde.

A friendly likeable town with narrow streets and lots of small cafés on the sidewalks awaited us. Unfortunately we could not sample its hospitality as we only saw it from the trucks that drove us from the station to the ultimate destination of our journey.

Only the first command section stayed in La Nouvelle, while another headed to Sigean and our 3 rd moved to Portelle – a village about the distance of twenty kilometres from Beziers.

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Whilst the trucks trundled along roads that were neither too good nor too bad, we acquainted ourselves with the region, which was to be our temporary new home. It was a region of wave-like dunes, small fields, sparsely covered in low-lying areas together with countless hills covered with vast vineyards on the south side.

After less than an hour’s drive we reached a wine area, poor as a dock labourer in Marseille or a winemaker from Portelle. In front of our very eyes appeared a village with narrow streets and numerous balconies and galleries wonderfully glued to each house. At that moment one could think that "Ultima Retirada" and everything which had followed was just a bad dream. We had the impression as if we were getting off the truck somewhere in Spain, ready to aim our weapons at Franco's fascists, as in fact, Portelle resembled so many Spanish villages.

But the Spanish influence was not confined to buildings. When the first local chap in a beret spoke, dressed in knee- length, neck button closed black shirt, his French bore an all too familiar echo of numerous indications of Spanish. Perhaps that is why we instantly felt sympathy for Portelle and its inhabitants, who did not abandon us throughout our stay.

Apart from that, there was nothing remarkable in Portelle. It was a village with about a thousand inhabitants, one pub and a school, in which our 3rd section HQ settled on the first floor. Everyone else (the remainder of us) were accommodated in various drying rooms, granaries and attics above the wine cellars. As a result we made friends with the locals in the very first hours. Where language skills fell short, hands came to help and before the first week was over, we felt as if Portelle was our home.

Our satisfaction increased at the prospect of extra earnings - Portelliers offered us work assisting in the vineyards. We were delighted with this offer and we looked forward to earning some extra francs to augment our lean pay. We were not worried about the spare time – the Battery still had no guns and we had already undergone drill in Agde.

Unfortunately, our joy was short-lived. To everyone's horror, the very next morning we marched out of Portelle, where the spectre of Agde welcomed us back – to basic training. We tried again to respond to the never ending – “about turn - right turn – to the ground – march on” - but in many cases our efforts were to no avail. They failed due to the clogs we wore instead of shoes.

Their prodigious size and the wet ground were a constant source of difficulty which made us hate the basic training more and more. The clogs were naturally not custom made and despite countless exchanges, many of us failed in our attempts to get the needed size. Some wore clogs which were several centimetres too small, while others had their feet sunk in clogs several sizes too large. 5


With every quick movement the conniving clogs abandoned the foot and remained victoriously standing while their owners trotted the next few steps barefoot. One squelched through soggy mud while the commanding officer sent a flood of vitriolic language on his head.

In this case, however, the afflicted could still feel lucky. Usually the officers punished similar incidents more harshly - such as in case of the French-Slovak Martinec. At the command “about turn and march” Martinec instantly performed the order and marched - without clogs. They stuck fast as usual and stayed - tip to the east, while their owner headed westwards. In panic, Martinec jumped back, but before he could slip into the clogs, lieutenant Kaleta launched his usual thunder, followed by an invitation to report. Poor Martinec got a week in prison - allegedly for insubordination on the parade ground.

We escaped from the captivity of Portelle's training ground about two weeks later – at the end of February 1940. The liberation came in the form of guns that we went to take over at the station in La Nouvelle.

We had awaited the guns with joy like children and most of us imagined modern guns - something like the Soviet made "Zenit" that we had admired so much during the time on the Spanish front at “Gottwald” battery.

But even at this point in time France failed our expectations. The field guns "Soixante - Quinze" 75mm, which awaited us at La Nouvelle, had nothing in common with modern technology.

Nevertheless the French were immensely proud of them and claimed that these were the guns France won WW1 with.

I do not know how truthful their claim was, but it was obvious that with these guns WW2 could only be lost.

The guns and wagons were towed by a team of six-horses. Considering that each battery consisted of three guns, thirty-six horses were needed for the battery. In addition three more horses for officers, three horses for scouts and two horses for observers were needed – all together not a small requirement: forty-four horses for direct combat, besides the kitchen wagon! Thanks to this the battery was immobile, impractical and from the first moment it was very clear that they could not in any case successfully stand up against Hitler's motorized and therefore mobile army.

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This was also borne out in training, when we drove into the countryside to learn to take up a firing position. At the command "tanks left, tanks right" the Batteries response confirmed our expectations. They disappointed us greatly.

Because of the large number of horses needed to move the battery, it would have taken so much time to reposition the guns, that even the slowest enemy tanks would have literally smashed them to pieces. Nevertheless, these guns were the biggest contribution provided by France to our army.

With the arrival of the guns the spectre of the training ground disappeared, but at the same time a new nuisance appeared – the horses.

Many of us had no experience with horses, did not know at all how to saddle or treat them, and, moreover, some of us were even afraid of them, as in the case of a friend Trubka - from the famous Dompteur family. He would have calmly put his head into a lion's mouth, but backed off when it came to handling horses.

Even some officers were not much better off at handling horses and they often requested a private lesson from soldiers who had experience with horses from home or from the army.

In May Lieutenant Hlasny arrived at our battery. He took over command from Lieutenant Kaleta, who became the first officer. However, even after the arrival of the new Commander the situation for the crew did not change much. Lieutenant Hlasny was opposed to our working in the vineyard just as his predecessor had been. Obviously, he was convinced that to have twelve francs per month would be enough for us.

At that time I served as horse team sergeant, a rank for which the French army used the glorious title "Maréchal des Logis". Less glorious were the duties of this function. To take care of one hundred and twenty six horses, most of them being in poor condition, was certainly not a small thing.

Even with the greatest possible care, there were always some of the animals moving into the “deserved rest of eternal pastures”. The horse was in peace, but for us a huge rush in the form of filling out endless applications and reports began. My direct supervisor, Bohuslav Brslica, a longer serving sergeant from Moravian Slovakia was sympathetic. He acted towards everyone in a friendly way and helped with everything. Equally, sergeant Jiri Dolezal, who participated in everything with the crew, treated us well. Both, Brslica and Dolezal later became officers and left our battery. Nevertheless, we have long and pleasant memories of them.

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Reports coming from the front were getting more ominous by the day. The Germans had penetrated mile after mile deeper into French territory and each of us awaited the departure of our Battery to the front within the next few hours.

We were excited to finally open an account against the fascists, not only for us, but for all the people over whom the fascist's whip cracked.

But the expected order did not come - our Battery was not in fact able to fight. For each gun, we had only four shots!

"Give us ammunition!" was the cry which echoed more and more frequently from our ranks, but all in vain. Officers shrugged silently and advised us not to worry about things that are not our business.

However, instead of assigning ammunition and departure for the front, a totally unexpected and unbelievable command came.

"Prepare the equipment and weaponry to pass over to the French authorities! The Czechoslovak artillery will not be going to the front!"

This order was like a sledgehammer blow to the head for us.

The only place reachable at that time where we could fight against Hitler was England. Therefore, all the volunteers from Spain began to demand departure to England.

Most gunners decided on departure. Only the naturalised French and a few individuals, who were to hand over the equipment and weaponry to the French, remained with the Battery.

We drove by truck on the familiar route to La Nouvelle and further on to Agde, where we were supposed to prepare for departure to England.

But preparation was not at all easy, due to the critical situation on the French front. The responsibility for the hopelessness of fighting against Hitler was largely due to traitors, sitting in the French headquarters,

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trying to help the Germans as much as they could. For example, in many cases the French soldiers fought with out of date, unsuitable weapons, while new, excellent weapons were lying in warehouses and did not leave those hiding places even in the most dramatic stages of the struggle with the Nazis. The French traitors probably kept them as a gift for Hitler's army.

The treacherous officers from the French headquarter had not hesitated to do the dirtiest of deeds. They were responsible for the German raid into the rear of fighting units and the unexpectedly quick progress of the enemy brought confusion and chaos to the French army. The command acted in a contradictory way and the commanders and officers were abandoning their posts haphazardly.

Part of the army advanced along roads used by the civilian population, whilst on the other hand some units disobeyed orders to retreat and fought on their own, isolated from others.

The disorientation in the French army was also detrimental for the Czechoslovak Infantry units. Some of them retreated together with the French to Bordeaux, the others, however, were not able to retreat, because the Germans gradually isolated the entire coast. Hundreds of Czechs and Slovaks along with French comrades found their final resting place in mass graves on different parts of the front. For them there was no way home anymore...

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Defilee after Oath in Portelle 1940.

Portelle 1940

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Agde 1940.

Czechoslovaks - South of France 1940.

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Czechoslovaks - South of France 1940.

Czechoslovaks - South of France 1940.

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South of France 1940.

Locations of Czechoslovak Forces in Southern France 1940.

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Gibraltar The ruling class of France was truly a master in the preparation of betrayal and through panic and cloudy work in the Headquarters disrupted resistance and defence so that the end was inevitable. Not even Republican Spain had experienced such a panic and it had only one retreat route.

The fall of France was inevitable. The only way to get out of the humiliated France was through the Mediterranean Sea. It was not a safe route because enemy submarines and planes were patrolling everywhere, but we did not have any other choice.

And so one sunny summer afternoon we finally departed from Agde and quite smoothly reached the port of Sete, where the coal collier "Nordmoor" awaited us. Coincidentally it belonged to the man who had played such an infamous role in the events of 1938 in Czechoslovakia - Lord Runciman. At that time his lordship certainly did not surmise that two years later - in July 1940 – instead of coal, his ship would be carrying nearly two thousand Czechoslovak volunteers from France.

Along with us, one hundred and seventy Spanish Republicans also boarded in Sete, naturally without the knowledge of our officers. In the chaos of the rapid preparation for departure, we lent them our coats and caps in the harbour and because there was no time for detailed checks, our Spanish friends got on board of "Nordmoor" without difficulty. Crammed under the deck, we all left France together and sailed in the direction of Gibraltar with an unpleasant feeling as to how an encounter with an enemy submarine would turn out for us. But luck was ours and after a leisurely cruise, and sooner than expected, the rock of Gibraltar appeared before us.

Before we said goodbye to the Nordmoor to continue our journey to England, we avoided the mandatory ten day quarantine period. But life on the Nordmoor was also diverse.

Married and engaged couples tried to seek out quiet corners that did not exist, but the commander as well as the sailors were very forgiving. On one occasion, our friend Gross fell to the second lower floor from the second deck. It was quite a drop, but luckily he only broke a hand. On hearing his cry a ships officer came running and when he saw what had happened he shouted: "Any doctor here?". Someone pointed to Friedman, saying that he was a doctor. Friedman, who understood English passably replied that although he was a doctor, he was a doctor of law. This did not bother the officer, who immediately replied: "Never mind, go on". So whether he wanted to or not, Friedman had to go with a few friends to treat Gross, before a real doctor, but this time of medicine, was found.

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Quarantine time was also used for trade, with the small boats of the Spaniards from Gibraltar drawing alongside and the goods to trade being pulled up by rope while the money went down the same way. The problem was that the French money was increasingly accepted by few and fewer traders while we slowly ran out of any money at all.

At first glance I was disappointed by Gibraltar. I had imagined a fort, full of military life and in fact all I had seen from the ship’s deck was a bare rock, towering menacingly high above the sea. It seemed to be completely deserted and it seemed incredible that it was in fact an operational military arsenal, occupied by English Guards units. And perhaps because of the harshness and seeming abandonment I felt a deep antipathy towards Gibraltar. The sight of the barren and mined territory extending between Gibraltar and Spain also contributed to that antipathy.

I also felt irritated about all of these by the local law protecting monkeys, whose killing was prohibited under penalty of death. They had been brought to Gibraltar a long time ago by some English lord, as a symbol of British sovereignty and he had said that as long as the monkeys were in Gibraltar, then Gibraltar would remain British.

Apart from a few narrow streets where there was literally one shop next to other, there was almost nothing to see in Gibraltar, just wire fences leading to the Spanish interior. All quarters, warehouses and arsenals were hidden deep in the rocks.

One evening, as we were watching the remote African coast, battleships began to form up in Gibraltar for departure. Leading them was a ship whose presence took our breath away – the battlecruiser HMS Hood, at that time the largest ship in the world, a huge proud colossus, compared to which other battleships looked like a miniature pinscher next to a Mastiff or St. Bernards. Its equipment fully reflected its giant maritime size: over a thousand crew, guns of all calibres, more than could be found in an Artillery Regiment, machine guns, armour, all in all the latest achievement of military equipment. The majestic battlecruiser shuffled slowly forward, watched by our approving views - personified ruler of the sea, invincible. But still the cruiser "Hood" found its last port on the seabed.

During the war years it was sunk and from its enormous crew only a few men escaped. The day of destruction of the proud battlecruiser was a day of national mourning in England.

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Port in South of France 1940.

Port in South of France 1940.

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Viceroy of India We stayed in Gibraltar for about ten days. On the last day the order to leave for England came. This time the “old lady of the sea” - the Barcelona - and the coal ship Nordmoor were replaced by an incomparably grander ship. We were to sail on the sumptuous ViceRoy of India, luxuriously furnished, with first and second class cabins. A large part of the passengers was formed of families of colonial officers and officials, leaving Singapore, where Japan had got a taste of this pearl of the British Empire. Although the English wanted to defend Singapore, they eventually had to leave and as the capacity needed to be fully used, the decision was made to use the ViceRoy of India for our transportation to England.

Under the command of officers we were taken in exemplary formations below the deck of the sumptuous ship and took note of orders to move only where it was permitted for us to go. Yet for us the cruise was a complete fairy tale. The ship provided a perfectly comfortable environment with a sumptuous dining room - all the things that we had not only given up after the month 's spent on the front and in the concentration camp, but for most of us things totally unknown to us. We had recently been through tough times with a wide variety of situations and therefore the replacement of food bowls by expensive porcelain left us unfazed. Only the liveried Indians serving in the dining room elicited an uneasy feeling in us. Under no circumstances were they willing to put aside the impenetrable mask on their faces, which hid all their feelings. We tried to make friends with them, but in vain. Any such attempt was nipped in the bud.

The sailors, with whom we became friends in the first few hours of sailing were quite different in this direction.

The second day on "ViceRoy of India" brought an unexpectedly good deal for me. After lunch I was leaving the dining room and thoughtlessly swung the horsewhip, a reminder of my recent military function in Portelle. After a few steps however, an Englishman stopped me and eloquently pointed at my horsewhip, decorated with Spanish and French coins, and even a Czech crown and twenty Heller coins which glistened on it. I thought he wanted to examine the horsewhip and wordlessly handed it to him. The Englishman smiled, took the horsewhip, examined it, but instead of giving it back to me, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a pound and handed it to me.

The deal was done wordlessly. The Englishman happily took the "Souvenir" – the horsewhip and I, with the pound in my hand, stepped for the first time into the ship’s restaurant. It belonged to the areas to which we were not permitted access, but once does not mean always. In addition, the entry prohibition was altogether unnecessary because even without it we would not go to a restaurant - we had no money to spend.

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I walked into the restaurant and quite naturally I ordered cigarettes for one pound. I did not know that on the ship they were tax-free and, therefore I looked at all the cigarette packets which I was given with great surprise. There were a lot more than I had anticipated. In order to have some money left for later, I returned half of the cigarettes and got 10 Shillings back. The boys in our group enthusiastically welcomed an unexpected feast and in a moment we were all veiled in clouds of blue smoke. We smoked English cigarettes for the first time.

Covered in cigarette smoke we discussed the situation when someone loudly questioned whether the ViceRoy of India would reach the English shore unscathed. This was the question that lay at the heart of all the passengers and crew on the ship. Soon after exiting Gibraltar a report flew around the ship that the fascists knew of our departure. Mostly we believed these reports because Francoists could comfortably observe life in Gibraltar from their coast and nothing was easier than to submit a report of the observation to Italy and Germany. Therefore we expected that malicious attacks could occur at any second, and we constantly wore cork life jackets over our uniforms and hoped, however, that the undesirable meeting with the enemy would not take place.

But our fear of attack, however, was not fulfilled. We were convinced of this before we left the Mediterranean sea. An Italian submarine had detected Vice Roy of India. If the firing of a torpedo at us was intended I do not know. But in the wake of it we heard the roar of a "Catalina" seaplane, which probably, had been summoned by radio, and had rushed to help the ship against the submarine.

We could not watch the fight from below decks. We were only informed of its existence by shots and explosions. The important thing was that our ship came out of the match unscathed and began to move away from the fighting area with full speed. Even today we do not know if we were moving in a convoy, or separately, nobody informed us.

We then continued our way through the Atlantic and, in order to avoid enemy submarines and mines, detoured through the Irish Sea, as we headed to the English shores. On the surface in different locations along the way we viewed varied boxes, bales and other remains of a sunken ship. Unfortunately, it was impossible to determine whether they were the remains of our or hostile vessels.

Since the journey took much longer than the usual sea route between Gibraltar and the UK, we shortened the duration of the journey by playing chess or cards and sometimes even our officers provided some amusement for us. They sweetened our stay at sea with gusty inspections of equipment and opportunities to talk together and fraternise. It is possible however, that in this way they were paying us back for the “spurious Spaniards�, who with help of our overcoats and caps got on the ship. But we were on an English ship and the Spaniards got the same food from the English just as we did. Later in England separate Spanish battalions PC were formed.

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We lined up in a predetermined fifteen metre area in a lower deck, where we stood on top of each other like sardines in a tin and at the command "attention" some of us rocked unintentionally to the rhythm of the ship. The result inevitably looked more comical than military.

After about six days the ViceRoy of India ended its voyage in the English harbour of Plymouth.

After tying up the ship at the pier a military band began to play on the quayside, according to an ancient custom of welcoming the return of a ship from overseas. Whether the band welcomed us or the gentlemen from Singapore was a matter of opinion. Apart from the main bridge reserved for civilians, a wooden bridge, designed only for us, was put in place. Our officers were about to take command of disembarkation and were well on their way to "organised panic" as we called their altogether abortive organizational efforts.

But the English officers and soldiers proved to be very good organizers when they wordlessly placed our officers into the goose march to the bridge. Some of our officers protested resolutely against this order, but the Englishman responded to their outlets with a brief "Shut up!".

At the gangway each of us received one pack of sandwiches and tea and, without stopping, we proceeded to the train which was standing in the dock. The carriages were of an old type, each compartment having its own separate entrance from the platform, but all seats were upholstered and perfectly clean. Disembarkation as well as boarding of trains ran at record speed and we did not even have time to explore the port where England welcomed us.

But despite the speed of our disembarkation, we noted with astonishment the insufficient and outdated military equipment of the "Home Guard" serving in the harbour. Their equipment gave us the impression that all the modern weapons had been left behind in unhappy Dunkirk.

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Cholmondeley Mutiny

After several long hours of driving we reached Crewe, a town and railway crossroad in Cheshire near Manchester, from where we continued our journey by trucks to the home of Lord Cholmondeley – to the place of the same name. There, in a conspicuous park with centuries-old oaks, a newly emerging tented camp awaited us. The construction of the camp continued incredibly fast and thanks to British sappers the camp was finished almost the same day. There was even a canteen and currency exchange. Under the camp rules we received permits for outings from time to time, the most frequently destinations being the surrounding towns and villages.

During one of our outings in Crewe we visited a local dance. Our chances for getting to know the English women were negligible, mostly because we only knew how to say "yes" and " thank you very much" in English, but this little thing did not deter us.

We boldly stepped into the hall, and after a while most of us sailed around the dance floor with a pretty or less pretty English girl in his arms. The lack of words were replaced with smiles and eloquent gestures and soon English women were chatting as well as we did. Shortly after our arrival a "Ladies Choice" was announced, a bit like our ladies choice, but lasting much longer. And that was fatal for Josef “Pepik” Miller. He and a pretty English woman named Beryl had developed “love at first sight”, naturally without words, because except for smiles and gesture they did not understand each other. Whilst dancing the eloquent muteness was sufficient, but it was not enough to set up a date for which Pepik longed so immensely. So he turned to me with his problem.

"Listen Ludvik, you must help me! I would like to ask Beryl for a date - this is in fact the girl with whom I danced all evening. But the trouble is I am unable to communicate with her. You must help me, you do know how to speak English".

I looked in horror at Pepik, because at that time the totality of my English consisted of about twenty words. This was about nineteen words more than Pepik's knowledge of English, apart from the fact he knew his chosen was named Beryl. But before I could say something, Joe continued his request: "Please, Ludvik, tell her that the day after tomorrow, on Friday I will come to Crewe and I will wait for her here at six in the evening”. "Oh, dear!” - I blurted desperately - “This I won't be able to do". But Pepik did not give up: "How are you not able to do it. Why, I heard you speaking English, just go ahead and try to explain it to her! Do something for a friend!".

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And so in attempt to help a friend, I laboriously put together a marvellous sentence. I did not know how to say “Friday” nor “the day after tomorrow”, so I started: “You see Pepik, tomorrow no, tomorrow no, tomorrow yes!". This way I wanted to explain to Beryl that she would be seeing Pepik the day after tomorrow, a third day from today.

Although Beryl did not understand, she smiled at me and encouraged me to try again. I repeated my strange sentence again and this time I pointed with three fingers. The result was equal to zero. Beryl smiled sweetly, but the proposed meeting was still a mystery to her. I felt helpless as a child and cold sweat was beginning to form on my forehead. But at that moment an idea dawned on me: diary. “You diary?". But she said, “No, I am Beryl". I wanted to ask if she had a diary with her. So I opened her purse, took the diary out of it and I pointed to Friday with the expressive comment "You see Pepik!". Then I added from my modest vocabulary "Six" and pointed to the watch. This Beryl understood and confirmed satisfied "Oh yes, Friday, six o'clock, I see!". A friendly wag of the finger at Pepik, indicated that she had agreed with his proposal.

Right after this, we parted from Beryl, because our truck was about to leave. As soon as we started off, however, Pepik leaned toward me and said approvingly: "Damn, Ludvik, if I could only speak English as well as you do, that would be wonderful!"

As a reply to his compliment I only nodded my head, as if to say it was all pretty obvious. In my mind, however, I was glad to have escaped this sudden interpreting function unharmed. It is true that in the concentration camp I had attended English courses, led by Jan Rosa, but there I did not learn enough and then in the army in France I forgot it again. Even later I experienced a similar anguish with interpretation, both for me and for friends, but after all, one learns everything if one must. And so I dare to say that staying in the English army taught us to speak far better English than for example the soldiers – Czech immigrants - who came from Canada. They used such phrases as "Where were you Paul? "- Paul: "Shopoval jsem v tom storiku na corneru" (I was shopping at the store on the corner). "Co jsi shopoval?" (What were you shopping?) - Paul : "Blejdy a bras" (Blades and Brash). Such truncations were not used among us. The reason was that the immigrants in Canada did not pay much attention to the words, so that the second generation had already begun to forget their native language.

Meanwhile the number of tents in our camp increased quickly, residential tents, large dining tents, hospital tents and warehouses. For easy orientation plenty of Information boards with English and Czech inscriptions were set up. Immediately after settling into our accommodation we went to inspect the other tents, looking for friends from earlier combat actions. However, many boys were missing - some remained in France and participated in the Maquis or in the underground movement, whilst others could not be evacuated because of their unhealed injuries from the front and many remained in concentration camps.

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At that time, the entire camp was preparing for the visit of our President Benes, who, with the assistance of British politicians, was to attend the first military parade of the units in our camp. Our officers were intent on preparing for the show, while on this occasion the progressive part of the camp, represented by Communists, prepared to discuss the question of removal of the reactionary elements of the interim London Government. Our intention spread incredibly fast throughout the camp and in the following days the camp became known as “the camp behind the wire”. Many of our boys in fact voluntarily moved over into an isolated part of the camp

The fact that the "Spaniards", as we were called in general, were good friends to all and were able to stand for justice, was supported by many others who began to stream from all units to us, so that soon in this isolation camp there were 3 times more non-”Spaniards”, and only the intervention of the Czechoslovak Military Police under the command of Captain Divoky, who ordered our camp to be closed hermetically, could the movement of half the camp to us be prevented.

Therefore the majority of the men were dissatisfied and mainly sympathized with each solidarity action of the communists, but did not know how to decide. Also, intimidation and promises by the officers showed some effect. This began to seriously trouble our officers. Also the fact that there were far too many officers in comparison to the number of soldiers was insufficient.

The number of comrades coming to the isolated part of the camp did not end, every day and especially at night other friends came, so that it seemed that with time the whole of the Czechoslovak army would move to our camp. The officers therefore ordered reinforcement of the guards around the isolation camp with strict commands not to let anyone in or out. In this tense situation the day of parade approached.

Since Benes wanted to underline a neutral stance as the head of state, we were given permission to take part in the parade, at its end, as a separate unit. The command of our unit fell to Lieutenant Karel Cerny, the highest ranked Czechoslovak army officer in the isolation unit staff.

And so in the last hours before the parade a feverish rush also reigned in our isolation camp. Not because we wanted to please Benes or the British leaders, but because with our participation in the parade we wanted to show and document the strength, determination and unity of the Communists.

We had to search for the same three pieces of uniform, because apart from the officers, only a few of us had uniforms, whose individual parts formed a coherent whole. And so finally, despite the bad equipment provided in France, we managed to put together three or four units for marching in rows of three and dressed in identical uniforms.

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During the parade we marched past the main stand in complete silence as a perfectly disciplined, ordered and unified Garde unit. Our efforts to give the impression of a real revolutionary Garde section was a complete victory. Dignitaries, observing the parade from the stands, agreed our group was the best unit and Benes finally was forced to admit that this elite unit was actually the "Red Danger" of the camp.

At the end of the parade our delegation came to Benes and handed over a list of traitors and fascists among the Czechoslovak emigrants in London, with a request to remove these people from leading positions. However, our requests were opposed by the officer clique. Benes took the view of our officers and so the solution to our demands remained unfulfilled.

The position of the head of the emigree government gave new courage to our officers. The Guards around the Isolation camp were increased and officers took all steps to ensure that we were removed from the camp as soon as possible.

Their efforts to get rid of the "Red danger" were crowned with success in August 1940. English guards appeared in the camp and more than five hundred occupants of the isolation camp lined up to leave the camp in Cholmondeley.

Almost all the inhabitants of the camp came to say goodbye, a large crowd, lining the road to the main gate, directly radiated friendship and sympathy. But the influence of the officers was still so great that many of the boys did not dare to express their beliefs publicly and loudly.

At the station a special train was already waiting for us, which took us to York and a region full of meadows. There armed guards surrounded us, and escorted us as we marched on a road through the town.

Our march through York brought the inhabitants out of their famous British calmness. They could not understand why soldiers of allied France were being led under bayonets. They assumed, by our uniforms, we were French.

Along the way we debated about where we would be staying this time and we mostly expected a place similar to Cholmondeley camp again. Instead, a racehorse track appeared before us. In the minutes that followed, we filled the administration offices, bookmakers offices and the waiting rooms. Space, previously filled with the excitement of the race, bets and the hope of winning, was again filled with excited people. There was only one difference. Instead of horse racing, the war against fascism was taking place, the stakes were human lives and the winning prize was victory, not only the victory over fascism, but also the victory of socialism. 23


The accommodation was better than we had expected, but the quality and quantity of the food exceeded all expectations. We received English rations, meaning "breakfast" - porridge, sausage and toast with marmalade and, of course, the essential tea. Sometimes, our Czech dumplings also appeared on the menu, which reminded the English of their English dumplings. Credit for the Czech part of the menu had to go to our cooks who had taken over in the improvised camp kitchen.

In the very first days of our stay, a camp committee was formed, naturally under English control.

The only thing to remind us of our internment was the reduced mobility; none of us was allowed to move away from the area of the racecourse. It was obviously unpleasant, because we had wanted to visit the city and learn more about the locals. But this only handicap was fully offset by other advantages. All in all, we lived incomparably better in York than under the command of Osusky's officer corps.

The improvised cultural and entertainment scene also made our stay in York's Racecourse agreeable. Especially the Hitler impersonator, Franta Nasch, who impressed both the English guards and us.

Singing and recitals also worked well and thanks to the contribution of comrades who already knew English, we were also as far as possible informed of all the war and political events.

The highlight of the celebratory party was the organizing of "Corrida", where the Andalusian bull was faithfully performed by ing. Rozaveldy whilst the Toreadores were represented by Netopil and Weber.

24


Czechoslovaks in England (Netopil 4th from left).

Czechoslovaks in England (Netopil left).

25


Czechoslovaks in England (Netopil left).

Netopil in Camp – England 1941

26


Czechoslovak Interbrigadists in H.M. Forces “Pioneer Corps� November 1941, Woodbury Hall. Ostrovsky, Pribyl, Netopil, Vavra, Sevcik, Ruzicka and Jurasek.

Interbrigadists in Czechoslovak Army in England: Richter, Falbr, Chvala, Sturma, Obert.

27


Oath to the King One day we said goodbye to the agreeable environment of the racecourse so that we got to know other regions of England on the way to the Midlands. There again a tented camp awaited us, provided with all the necessary facilities such as the watchtowers at the corners and a barbed wire fence.

It is true that "Sutton Coalfield", which was the name of the camp, had barbed wire and watchtowers because it had served initially as a camp for Italian prisoners of war, but it is also possible that this was the reason why it became one of our countless temporary homes. After all it was a pleasant feeling to everyone to see the “dangerous threat� behind bars. At that time it was probably the members of the Czechoslovak Provisional Government in London and their henchmen who had this pleasant feeling.

Apart from the tents, there were also wooden huts in the camp, some serving as guard houses and others as washrooms. The tents served exclusively as accommodation for the camp inmates, with mostly four people to each tent. Therefore we expanded our inseparable trio, consisting of Janda-Faust, Pista and me to include Jarda Hanel and together we occupied one tent.

It was not that bad a place to live; the food we received was excellent and the strict camp order did not bother us. When we compared this with the experiences that the French Guardia Mobile had prepared for us in the concentration camps at Argeles and Gurs after our retreat from Spain, the strict regulation of the camp seemed to us a lovely caress.

As in Gurs, we also had a lot of free time in "Sutton Coalfield� and so we began to use it on our own. We gathered for talks and political debates and discussed our situation as well as current international affairs. Many of the comrades had a perfect overview of the political situation and shared their knowledge willingly with others. But there were also some that stayed away and were not willing to take part in our discussions.

One day ominous rumblings of aerial bombardment excited the camp. Fascist airmen had chosen Birmingham as their target, located only a few kilometres away from our camp. However the first air raid was not the only one. Fascist pilots apparently found pleasure in their specialized mainly night raids on the two million people in the city. The raids on the city increased steadily and its consequences grew to frightening dimensions.

28


We therefore offered to help the City of Birmingham with the removal of debris and extinguishing the omnipresent fires. At that time we had little to do anyway, and, how could a real man just sit and take things easy when near him women with children in their arms were dying ?

Our offer was met with a little bargaining, but finally we got permission to participate in rescue operations in the affected city. From then on, every morning a coach arrived at our camp to transport us to Birmingham under the supervision of armed guards.

The escort of armed guards worked as a tragicomic paradox. One of the first fighters against fascism helped to clear away the destruction caused by fascists, under the supervision of armed guards !

Birmingham's citizens were evidently well aware of this. Our actions had a positive response, and so after a few days our guards escorted us unarmed.

After some time a Czech-speaking English officer appeared in "Sutton Coalfield" and during the camp meeting came with an offer for us to join the British Army. He supplemented his offer with a commentary on the current political and military situation and gave us time to think. His offer naturally induced enormous and lively discussion, especially after the meeting. Some of the comrades were willing to accept the offer, but others held view that it was not acceptable to support the imperialist war – the Soviet Union had at that time not entered the war.

As a regulating element in the debate, the opinion of the camp administration led by the Communists, intervened. Its leaders recommended to us, in agreement with the comrades from the outside, to accept the offer of the English army.

A large majority of the camp adopted the recommendation, but part of the camp - albeit small - opposed the communist proposal. Among the opponents was Vlado Klementis.

Shortly thereafter, an English officer returned and announced that he welcomed our decision to actively help. At the same time he also underlined that racial or political issues do not play a role in the situation, because the main objective was the defeat of fascism, which our experience from the battles in Spain could be a great help with.

29


The fact that the majority of the camp's staff chose to sign for the British Army caused the almost immediate removal of the English guards and the transfer of the leadership and supervision of the camp into our hands.

Josef Chmela who earned the respect of all Englishmen for his military demeanour was appointed Commander in overall charge.

After about ten days we were called for a medical examination which was to decide which one of us was eligible to enter the English army.

It was an understandable and necessary requirement, but still it caused a lot of serious trouble to many of our friends. Some of the boys had been wounded in the previous battles or had a serious illness which had left dire consequences. But whether the consequences were temporary or permanent, the fact remained that they were currently not eligible for military service.

The rejection of many of our friends naturally brought unpleasantness, but with the promise of the British Government to take care of those comrades in any way, we finally calmed down.

After a few days those who were handicapped were sent to Scotland and along with them the group of men who did not want to re- enlist in the army. Their future prospects were quite clear: work in war industries waited for the healthy, whereas the wounded and sick were to join them, gradually, according to their health condition. It was interesting that our leaders were not called for the medical examination, as were for example Chmela, Raz, Vavrin, Hajdu and nine other comrades. Only later did we learn that this happened on request of the Czechoslovak office in London which had marked all thirteen comrades as mutiny leaders and therefore requested that they should not be included in the army.

Upon successful completion of the medical examination, which confirmed that we were medically fit for military service, we went in groups into a large dining tent to swear the military oath. This was a ceremony which took place according to the old English tradition – consisting of swearing an oath on the Bible in the hands of the military priests.

So we became "soldiers of the British Army". On this occasion we also got paid for our enlistment, according to custom, which had been preserved since the time of the old "mercenary" period sometime in the 14th century. The pay was Half a Crown (two and a half shillings).

30


Conservative England did not abandon its old habits and traditions even in the 20th century.

Completion of the oath in the English army threw the camp gates wide open for us. The interned "red danger" became free soldiers of the British Empire.

At the first opportunity we took advantage of the freedom and prepared an unusual spectacle for the city’s inhabitants. In the streets of Birmingham men in Maroccan cloaks appeared, together with Chasseur Alpiniste infantrymen from Sedan, lots of khaki uniforms and remnants of Spanish uniforms in addition to the boldest clothing combinations, composed of military and civilian suits. On the whole it gave the impression of a big carnival performed in Birmingham on a bright afternoon in the middle of the war. In reality, however, instead of masquerades, fledgling soldiers from "Sutton Coalfield", dressed in uniforms with the smell of French naphthalene complemented by relics of memories on fighting in Spain, went out into the streets of Birmingham.

But neither the prodigious clothing nor minimal language skills could stand in the way of the first days of our freedom. We entertained excellently and the affection that flashed on that day between some Englishwomen and Czechoslovaks even later led to marriages.

Our first free afternoon in Birmingham ended only shortly before ten o'clock in the evening - the order was to return to camp by 10 p.m.

In the following days, our concerns centred around what the next days would bring and when and where we might go.

We assumed that first the group of patients and non-soldiers would leave for Scotland but the reality was different.

We were ordered to leave first – the new members of the British Army.

This time our move came under the banner of furthering our exposure to the England – awaiting us, a pretty long way from Birmingham was the seaside town of Ilfracombe, our new temporary home.

31


Instead of the expected camp, however, a charming seaside resort with beaches and numerous guest houses appeared before us, with the promise from the outside of comfortable and pleasant accommodation.

At first glance, it seemed to us as if we had all come on holiday to the seaside - in the middle of profound peace. Just the strange silence and depopulated areas suggested that with peace and normal life for all was not well. Upon closer observation, however, mine fields on the beach and lines of “Cheval de frise� barbed-wire barriers - appeared before our eyes and the illusion of a peaceful environment vanished as quickly as it had come.

Upon arrival in Infracombe we parted with our antique French uniforms and instead we donned new English "battledress". As a result we became members of the British Army not only by the oath, but also by the clothing. Too bad we could not at the same time as receiving battledresses also receive as good a knowledge of English. Each of us spoke only a few words in English and hence the first days of army drill training were held in rough English.

Our instructors were mainly Irish and Scottish NCOs who, like us, spoke only their native language and used English only to give commands.

After several attempts during training days we had just about managed to remember that "right turn" means to turn to the right side and "left turn " to the left, but at the same time we had also grasped the nature of individual sergeants. Some of them in fact softened - at the expense of our linguistic ignorance – their hardness and so we started to reward them for it as well. So it happened that Sergeant Campbell, one of the sharpest NCOs, commanded "right turn", but half of the men turned to the left and the other way round. The more the commanding sergeant fumed and cursed, the worse were the training results.

Some of the non-commissioned officers such as Sergeant Gromby, however, were born tacticians in the way they behaved towards us. He treated us very warmly and in a friendly way and he tried to explain everything thoroughly to us, so that the result under his command was that we trained as old hands. Gromby achieved excellent performance, was immensely popular with the men and his fellow instructors were envious of his achievements.

Training was held regularly in the morning and after an hour's rest after lunch a military chaplain took care of us. His primary task was to teach us English.

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He decided on the ABC method and taught us pronunciation, writing of words and using illustrated examples to understand their meaning. We were also given an auxiliary Czech-English textbook with basic conversation examples.

Our familiarisation with the English language naturally also contained songs. Several simple songs, probably intended for English first-graders, complemented the ABC method. Our field chaplain wrote the words on the blackboard, pointed with the wand to a particular word and smiled happily when we sang so-so in accordance with his wand. We achieved the best result with the song “Three blind mice”.

In addition to English songs we were also singing Czech songs, however not to our chaplain, but when returning from the training ground. Our favourite was the national song “Cervená ruzicko, proc se nerozvijis" (Red rose, why aren't you blooming) or the quirky "Tocte se pardálove" (Swing around, panthers). We usually sang them two-voiced, with all the energy, so that our instructors were strutting with us happily, proud of their brisk military crew. Sergeant Gromby especially liked our singing and when it happened that we had omitted to sing, he demanded: “Sing! Toc and proc!”. These were the only words he had memorized and - translated to understandable language - it meant he wanted us to sing "Cervena ruzicko, proc..." or "Tocte se pardálove!".

Apart from us, two companies of Austrian emigrees were also accommodated in Infracombe, and who, prior to our arrival, had already completed a two month stay and therefore also training. However, despite their head start, we achieved much better training results – the benefit of our Spanish military experience.

In the midst of the daily monotony of our days unpleasant news came from Cholmondeley like a bolt out of the blue. Rudolf Mikurcik was no longer among the living! As he was getting into a military car he was hit by an oncoming vehicle and killed on the spot.

Mikurcik's death seemed absolutely incredible to us. We could not understand that our smiling friend and brave warrior, leader of Majek's battery’s combat actions in the mountains of Spanish Sierra Morena, would not fight forever. Where countless bullets and shrapnel grenades at the front had failed, a vehicle accident on the English road had managed. British soil claimed the first victim of the former member of the Interbrigade.

High and low tide on the beach in Infracombe alternated regularly just as our days were filled with training and learning English. And so the day came when serial training was over and our English began to look reasonably respectable – the way to further military tasks was open.

33


We were given the rank of private, probably something like a rookie of His King's Majesty. Within the Pioneer Corps we were divided into two companies - “Company two two six” and “Company two two seven”.

On the caps of our uniform were the two great insignia of a British army sapper company – crossed shovel and rifle. Later, however, we became more and more to believe that the perfect characteristics should have been two crossed shovels, although we enjoyed them much more than rifles.

Commanding officers were assigned to both companies and under their command we got underway with the new responsibilities.

I was assigned to 226 Company, whose commander was Major Cockerhan, an old gentleman, who had originally retired as a captain, but on recall had been given the rank of temporary major with a major’s salary. Captain Newton was first officer and had originally been an active colonial NCO, who during the war, although relatively young, had attained the rank of Captain. Our next officer was Lieutenant Weston, whom we universally called “Tutankhamun”. The reason for his nickname was his wrinkled parchment face, which suggested to the casual observer an age much higher than his actual age which was a little over sixty. Even so his age was not really up to the demands of military service and so lieutenant Newton had to take the less intensive duties at PC. Of our officers he was the lowest ranked and therefore had the least authority, but even so we gave him much more sympathy than both of his superiors. He deserved it for his warmth and the way he treated people.

With this command structure 226 company moved to Woodbery Hall. Our workplace was a wonderful park, where we built tin huts, stored convertible cottages and assisted in various military construction works.

After a few days stay in Woodbery Hall we were asked to identify our former officer or enlisted ranks, but the call remained nearly unanswered.

Therefore we were surprised when during the week a few friends appeared with ranks. Zima and Löwy became First Sergeants in our company and several other comrades were given the rank of Corporal and Lance Corporal.

In addition to common duties at Woodbery Hall we also trained with rifles, so called “rifle drill” which included a lot of “parade frills" but looked nice and brisk. In any case practising rifle drill was much more pleasant than the endless order drill, which was required in France by our officers. On the whole, we could not complain about being in the Pioneer Corps. 34


In London and England in general not just emigrants from Czechoslovakia were arriving. Members of other nations came from countries that Hitler threatened or had enlisted with the help of various traitors. And so besides Czechoslovaks and Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians and French also appeared in the councils of emigration.

The French headquarters reported the eventual unconditional surrender... within six weeks France had fallen into the Hitler's lap. The proverbial "impenetrable" Maginot Line remained intact. On 10 May 1940 Hitlerites cheered over the successful "Blitzkrieg" against Holland and Belgium, which helped them to cut the Allies. The result came at Dunkirk, where the English paid a high price for their defeat. In the sea and on the beaches all the arms and around seventy thousand people remained.

At that time our airmen also participated in the fight against Hitler. The Czechoslovak army, after being evacuated to England, had about 600 pilots, mechanics and navigators who were involved in combat actions in the very first days of the Battle of Britain. For their high morale and accomplishments our boys gained the full recognition of all allies, but at the same time also paid the highest price - their lives.

And so the slowly thinning number of Czechoslovak air kings started to be supplemented from aviation training centres in Merignac on the Atlantic Ocean and in Port Vendre.

But even the acquisition of new candidates for aerial combat art was not exactly easy - not for lack of candidates, but due to the relatively small number of crew.

It was mainly France which had caused this situation, when their army leaders lost their heads under the influence of a rapid Nazi annex of their country. French officers, in fear of encirclement, issued the orders to retreat prematurely and it often happened that the Germans came to certain places as many as several days after the French retreat.

Unnecessarily hasty retreat also brought panic and disorientation, for which the 1st and 2nd Czechoslovak Regiment paid a price. Only part of both regiments made the retreat via the roads to Agde, Sete or Bordeaux and a lot of our boys remained cut off. They stayed hiding in France and waited for an opportunity to continue with the fight against fascism.

The Czechoslovak army strength was reduced, due to the fact that many of our soldiers had to take extremely circuitous routes through Africa, Egypt and Palestine to get to England. They arrived in England over time in small or large groups and therefore the number of our foreign army increased only slowly.

35


But it was not only France to blame – the Czechoslovak government was also responsible, so lenient towards the fascists and défaitists, as far as the decision to deny the offer of help from the east.

The exile government in London did not differ much from the old one - neither personally nor its policies. This was confirmed by the fact that some of the Czechoslovak officers participated voluntarily in Mannerheim's hostilities in Finland against the Soviet Union, of course with the knowledge and silent acquiescence of the government.

Such was the upbringing of our officers clique and also it appeared the whole old establishment.

Life in Woodbery Hall continued. Every day passed in a familiar daily routine, divided between exercises, building of "huts” and other works, and tasks received from time to time.

Our English was also improving substantially and all in all it did not cause much trouble anymore. Actually, sometimes the language even became our friend, especially in situations where things were to our disadvantage. Suddenly, in such cases, none of us understood the given command. With covered maliciousness we observed, for example, Major Cockerhan, erupting with rage, because he had failed in questioning some of us just because of the soldier's inability to understand. "No, nerozumim!” - “Yes, you do understand - I know!" the major angrily screamed, resigned himself and began with his English monologue again.

But even repeating questions did not produced the desired result - when we did not want to understand, we simply did not understand. Sometimes, the distraught major Cockerhan gave up further questioning, but other times he called interpreter Polacek and then of course he celebrated a big victory because it was impossible to make excuses for poor English skills.

Woodbery Hall, however, was not the final stop of our travels around the British Isles. During different moves we travelled through England, Scotland and Wales, from the East coast to the Midlands and Essex, and on all of those travels the dominating green remained in our eyes. Parks and endless green meadows outnumbered fields. It was finally quite understandable - Canadian fertile fields could easily supply several states of Great Britain size and even cheaper. So why should the English deny their love and passion for "green meadows".

One of the tasks we were entrusted with in the period before June 1941 was to dig tank traps on the east coast. Quite uninteresting work, but still it brought us some valuable experience. Not perhaps for the work itself, but more in learning the life of English workers. We had the chance at that time to talk to a number 36


of workers and thus obtained a lot of information during the sugar beet harvest, when we were ordered to transport beet by car into the city of Kings Lynn.

There, after long and frequent conversations with British workers, we came to realise quite clearly for the first time the fact that our English working-class friends had not yet actually had a chance for revolutionary acts. Not that England did not have unemployment, but only because the British government followed populist policies. Native Englishmen were provided with incomparably better support for the unemployed than Indians, blacks or Malaysians and this support was much higher than support for unemployed in our own country during the era of the First Republic.

Yet the English workers treated us like best friends and each of us has to this day only the best of memories.

On June 22 1941 at 4 o'clock in the morning Hitler's troops crossed the borders of Russia.

A brief comment on the radio announced to us though unspoken that a moment of historical reversal in the war had arrived. And though by that time the Nazis were victorious at every step, we were all convinced that exactly this experiment would wring the neck of the fascist dreamers.

At that time we worked together with a special English Company, which actually consisted of devotees of some religious sect that even at the expense of capital punishment refused to take a weapon in their hands. First, they were imprisoned or otherwise punished, but in the end they formed a special Company where they laboured to exhaustion. And here the consciencious objectors did not resist a bit and toiled until dusk without grumbling.

They were retiring and did not associate much with us. Otherwise they were good boys but kind of odd.

During the construction of the barracks at Luton airport we also visited the local Austrian centre, where there were a lot of Austrians like before in Kathering. It has been on my conscience that I was instrumental in the wedding of Jozka Piacek. But this time it was in the German language. Trudi spoke only German and Jozka only Slovak. Since they did not understand each other, I had to invent and “translate� the amourous phrases (expressions of love), which she was supposed to say to him and vice versa, with the result they got engaged on the first evening and two weeks later I along with the small friend Rott stood in the City Hall as witnesses to their marriage.

37


Strange Alliance I think that England has always been open to different extremes, but one of the biggest is its "traditionalism". The City bowler hat is and will be for a long time the privilege of bankers, lawyers and similar. Wigs are commonplace for judges and mayors. Hands in pockets of trousers is the privilege of the higher classes and Hyde Park serves as a rehearsal platform for all kinds of prophets and rascals.

Likewise, in time of war on European battlefields, many foreigners and foreign forces experienced the hospitality which has been traditional here since the Dutch and later the French found refuge here.

Some of them were tolerant towards other emigrees, but sometimes it was hardly possible, thanks to the leadership of this or that emigrant movement. What surprised me most was the attitude of Sikorski's and Ander's Poles toward us. They slandered us a lot and appeared hostile towards us, and especially against the Soviet Union. Even after the entry of the USSR into the war, their position did not change and as I discovered, they still aimed to establish a strong Poland, which had a hold on Germans on one side and the Soviets on the other.

Even the English were laughing at them for this attitude, but the Poles, led by the spirit of Pilsudski, continued to behave in the same way. There are always exceptions to the rules and there were many Polish soldiers who took a different view, but they were not allowed to put forward their points of view in front of their officers.

In the end, after the war, the army of Anders became a mercenary brigade which offered its services wherever a war existed. They cruelly persecuted those who wished to return to Poland.

Also, as a result of the over one million allied soldiers located in England, waiting for the invasion "when the Soviets are exhausted" did not work out. Permanent brawls between English and American soldiers and Poles were rampant.

The biggest contribution to that came from the Americans, whose arrogant behaviour and the fact that their pay was much greater than that of an English soldier, and therefore their belief that every pub, every dance hall or girl belonged to them.

38


And of course, an old English resentment towards the Americans, that had historical roots, caused fights to erupt as soon as the Yankees began to provoke.

Once, when I was in Bedford, a fight between US and English infantry men went so far that even marines and airmen joined in, and six jeeps full of MPs could not do anything to stop it. There was also a shooting and only after the arrival of large reinforcements of British and American MPs, was the fight terminated. The result was three men dead and dozens wounded on both sides

The offensive inscriptions in US Camp "for whites only" insulted us and the British.

Later in Calais I saw the French categorically demand the removal of the inscription "FOR WHITES ONLY". This time the Americans had to capitulate.

It was a small sample of what I was seeing. They were allowed to die for whites, but access to enter rooms was denied to black and coloured soldiers. Gradually throughout France they met up with the fact that the French forced the removal of these inscriptions, but in their own US camps this ban was maintained. What a great democracy in the USA !

Around the end of August 1941 I went on holiday to London. I stayed in the Charing Cross area in one of the guesthouses there. During the day, I took in the sights of London and in the evening I visited our boys who worked during the day. I also often went to the Tatler Cinema.

I visited a lot of places including, on a Saturday, Hyde Park, near Mable Arch and listened to the random and constant speakers at this well known venue.

Here, except for the king and his family, you could insult and challenge anyone. The speaker would bring a folding box or chair, climb up on it and speak. All around there were speakers next to each other. One announced the end of the world within a week, believe it or not! Another proclaimed that Americans are heathens, even bigger than the Russians are, etc.

About ten o'clock in the evening I returned to my room, which was on the sixth floor. In the room next to me were girls from the military ATS, who listened to music from a record player and sang. About half an hour later a siren alarm announcing an air raid on London could be heard. These raids were repeated daily and despite large anti-aircraft artillery and balloon barrage defences, the effects were to be seen every morning. The explosions shook the house and bombs fell closer and closer. 39


I stood dressed at the door and was about to rush down to a basement for cover, but the record player in my neighbour's room was still playing music, so I felt ashamed to be afraid and to flee first. Finally, one bomb shook the completely house completely and the windows rattled. Then finally I heard my neighbours run quickly to the bomb shelter.

I did not dally any longer and ran down the stairs quickly. I caught them up at the entrance to the subway, to which they had also hurried. During the war and during the night time raids, London's "Underground" resembled an underground hospital and clinic, hotel, dormitory and waiting room, for whoever needed it. Certain places were declared as facilities for children's accommodation for the night where there were always triple bunk beds. Otherwise, people carried their own featherbeds, blankets, air mattresses and so they slept every night on the platforms whilst the trains passed at regular intervals. After the bombing the firefighters had the most work, clearing the debris every day to the point of exhaustion.

After the raid, when I emerged the first thing I saw was the part of our house – a piece of roof and the rooms on the 5 and 6 floor lay in the rubble. The neighbouring house was half demolished and the third house completely destroyed. Fortunately, nobody was killed. These raids inflicted great damage every day and even the loss of human lives. London was similarly terrorised by the V1 flying bomb, because no one knew where it would land. Watching it in the sky at night, it was like a lit up plane, and as long as it's buzz was heard it continued to fly. As soon as the engine died, destruction was near. It was not accurate and therefore it could fall into the sea or a field or a garden, but the next time it could hit a hospital or a museum. Occasionally, however, they could be brought down by aircraft or artillery. But the later V2 rocket flew much faster, and it proved to be a real terror for civilians because in London there was no heavy industry or military units. Again, Czechoslovak airmen proved themselves by intervening effectively even against this weapon.

I also visited Honza Těšík in Winsdor. The royal castle lent majestic austerity to this city.

I once saw a school in Eaton. It would have been strange for anyone to see boys between the ages of 10-14 years walking in striped trousers, jackets and top hats and the necessary white gloves, acting like adult men. This school educated privileged boys from an early age for the colonial and diplomatic services.

In London and England in general there is so much peculiarity in comparison to Europe that it amazed one and drew a smile. In the City everyone wore a bowler hat or a top hat, if they were a higher dignitary. In Soho every street was another nation, with its own restaurants, culture and language. In Whitechapel they only spoke Yiddish or Hebrew.

40


The working class people, however, were cheerful and happy with just having fun. "Public Houses" opened at noon for 2 hours and at dinner from 6-10 pm. In every pub people played "Darts". Arrows were thrown onto a numbered rubber wheel hanging on the wall, the scores were counted and the winner was the player with the highest score. Guests and serving staff dodged the flying darts, but the game continued. At ten o'clock, you heard "closing time, gentlemen" and without a murmur everyone left.

The “upper classes” however had their clubs and there time did not matter. For poor people, however, strictness and order had to exist.

My holiday was over so we got ready to return. At that time we were posted to Kimbolton, near Cambridge, where we were digging trenches for pipelines to supply fuel to the port. In English it's called a "petrol pipe" but we called it "Dig for Victory". Each platoon had its section and in the evening the yards were measured. We always worked 2 + 2. One was digging, the other threw away the clay and then we changed over. Working like this we slowly moved toward the sea.

We were not subjected to any air raids, but we saw large bomber formations in the sky, assembling for the night raids over Germany. They were four-engined Allied bombers and took a great deal of credit for breaking Germany, but also our Skoda steel manufacturing works in Pilsen.

Later, when the Soviet Union entered the war, there were fewer air raids on England, but the V1 and V2 were still “visiting” Albion.

During my second visit to London my friend Faust and I visited our British-Czech club especially to see our civilian friends Raz, Chmela, Dufek and others. We also travelled occasionally to Birmingham, which was our original location, and where Jan Rosa met another Czech, Minarik, who was the chief brewer at a Birmingham brewery. Minarik had worked in England for many years and during our holiday he organized temporary jobs at the brewery for us, so we could earn some extra money.

On one occasion our section was sent to Luton to build new barracks on the airport for staff and offices.

Before the first barrack, in which we were supposed to move to, was finished, we were temporarily accommodated in a Royal Engineers camp, which was also a camp for prisoners of war. It was cruel how they had been treated. According to British Army regulations, prisoners had to perform every act at the trot and even to trot on the spot. They even washed themselves whilst on the trot, except when they were shaving. This was also the case during meal breaks, although they were allowed to stop trotting whilst eating. At night we heard how the prisoners were beaten for having smoked a cigarette and when the MPs smelt the 41


smoke, they would beat a prisoner until he bled. This is not to say that the soldiers were treated badly, but woe if it has been imprisoned.

On one occasion, when we were working on the beet harvest in Kings Lyn, news came through that whoever wanted to, could join the Czechoslovak army again. By that time the Soviet Union was already at war with Germany, and even our London government had to take notice of that fact. However, all this came out of the blue so it was a bit surprising for us.

Even "Tutankhamun" who was our commanding officer there, tried to persuade us to stay, because in his case it was his job which was at stake. The majority, however, decided to go, and so one day we arrived at the recruitment centre of the Czechoslovak army in Leamington. We had parted reluctantly from our English and Scottish friends, who had become well used to us and often, just for curiosity and fun, impersonated we Czechs.

Once, after an incident – a brawl with our sergeant Wort - our major forbad us going off camp until the offender confessed voluntarily. On Tuesday, however, our band had to go to perform in Bedford, and since I was also a member of the band, I suggested not to go to Bedford unless the ban was called off. However, L/cpl Kßsty went to the Major and told him everything. Cockerham rounded up the musicians and because they did not want to give in, he confiscated the instruments.

In the evening we held a "lantern procession" through the camp, accompanied by an infernal noise made by hammering on pots, iron and plates. Since we were in the right and good workers, this demonstration passed by peacefully.

Later, we organized a programme for our friends in Newmarket. Here the highlight of the evening was the Spanish flamenco, praising Major Cockerham, who made the most of it whenever he could. Since Cockerham did not understand Spanish and only heard his name sung in the song, when it came to the applause, he clapped furiously, thinking the song was a tribute to him.

Nevertheless, in spite of the drill and drudgery in the British Army, we took fond memories away with us. After arriving in Leamington we were posted from our reception Company to various units. One group, among them Hruza, Skarda, Franta Heindl and others, moved to the RAF, to the Czechoslovak section. Others moved to the infantry and the artillery.

In the Artillery, to which I was posted, there were a few "Spaniards" who had not been with us in the Pioneer Corps. Josef Miler, for example, had already attained the rank of sergeant, but on the whole, not many 42


things had really changed during the last two years, because there still were too many officers for too few soldiers. For example, up until the time of our arrival there was even an officer's battery, where the staff consisted only of officers. I was in the British Army, from October 1940 to January 1942.

Finally, it was obvious that the invasion must occur soon. On one side England was crowded with US, Australian, Canadian and other allied troops from Europe and on the other the Red Army was pushing back Hitler's armies on all fronts. Therefore it was also necessary to intervene from here, so that the cake could be eaten together.

Deployment to the coast had started and so one night we embarked on ships and the long-awaited day of reckoning with the Germans had arrived. The concern of us all was to get into the real battle and to stop just playing soldiers.

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Strange Alliance I think that England has always been open to different extremes, but one of the biggest is its "traditionalism". The City bowler hat is and will be for a long time the privilege of bankers, lawyers and similar. Wigs are commonplace for judges and mayors. Hands in pockets of trousers is the privilege of the higher classes and Hyde Park serves as a rehearsal platform for all kinds of prophets and rascals.

Likewise, in time of war on European battlefields, many foreigners and foreign forces experienced the hospitality which has been traditional here since the Dutch and later the French found refuge here.

Some of them were tolerant towards other emigrees, but sometimes it was hardly possible, thanks to the leadership of this or that emigrant movement. What surprised me most was the attitude of Sikorski's and Ander's Poles toward us. They slandered us a lot and appeared hostile towards us, and especially against the Soviet Union. Even after the entry of the USSR into the war, their position did not change and as I discovered, they still aimed to establish a strong Poland, which had a hold on Germans on one side and the Soviets on the other.

Even the English were laughing at them for this attitude, but the Poles, led by the spirit of Pilsudski, continued to behave in the same way. There are always exceptions to the rules and there were many Polish soldiers who took a different view, but they were not allowed to put forward their points of view in front of their officers.

In the end, after the war, the army of Anders became a mercenary brigade which offered its services wherever a war existed. They cruelly persecuted those who wished to return to Poland.

Also, as a result of the over one million allied soldiers located in England, waiting for the invasion "when the Soviets are exhausted" did not work out. Permanent brawls between English and American soldiers and Poles were rampant.

The biggest contribution to that came from the Americans, whose arrogant behaviour and the fact that their pay was much greater than that of an English soldier, and therefore their belief that every pub, every dance hall or girl belonged to them.

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And of course, an old English resentment towards the Americans, that had historical roots, caused fights to erupt as soon as the Yankees began to provoke.

Once, when I was in Bedford, a fight between US and English infantry men went so far that even marines and airmen joined in, and six jeeps full of MPs could not do anything to stop it. There was also a shooting and only after the arrival of large reinforcements of British and American MPs, was the fight terminated. The result was three men dead and dozens wounded on both sides

The offensive inscriptions in US Camp "for whites only" insulted us and the British.

Later in Calais I saw the French categorically demand the removal of the inscription "FOR WHITES ONLY". This time the Americans had to capitulate.

It was a small sample of what I was seeing. They were allowed to die for whites, but access to enter rooms was denied to black and coloured soldiers. Gradually throughout France they met up with the fact that the French forced the removal of these inscriptions, but in their own US camps this ban was maintained. What a great democracy in the USA !

Around the end of August 1941 I went on holiday to London. I stayed in the Charing Cross area in one of the guesthouses there. During the day, I took in the sights of London and in the evening I visited our boys who worked during the day. I also often went to the Tatler Cinema.

I visited a lot of places including, on a Saturday, Hyde Park, near Mable Arch and listened to the random and constant speakers at this well known venue.

Here, except for the king and his family, you could insult and challenge anyone. The speaker would bring a folding box or chair, climb up on it and speak. All around there were speakers next to each other. One announced the end of the world within a week, believe it or not! Another proclaimed that Americans are heathens, even bigger than the Russians are, etc.

About ten o'clock in the evening I returned to my room, which was on the sixth floor. In the room next to me were girls from the military ATS, who listened to music from a record player and sang. About half an hour later a siren alarm announcing an air raid on London could be heard. These raids were repeated daily and despite large anti-aircraft artillery and balloon barrage defences, the effects were to be seen every morning. The explosions shook the house and bombs fell closer and closer. 50


I stood dressed at the door and was about to rush down to a basement for cover, but the record player in my neighbour's room was still playing music, so I felt ashamed to be afraid and to flee first. Finally, one bomb shook the completely house completely and the windows rattled. Then finally I heard my neighbours run quickly to the bomb shelter.

I did not dally any longer and ran down the stairs quickly. I caught them up at the entrance to the subway, to which they had also hurried. During the war and during the night time raids, London's "Underground" resembled an underground hospital and clinic, hotel, dormitory and waiting room, for whoever needed it. Certain places were declared as facilities for children's accommodation for the night where there were always triple bunk beds. Otherwise, people carried their own featherbeds, blankets, air mattresses and so they slept every night on the platforms whilst the trains passed at regular intervals. After the bombing the firefighters had the most work, clearing the debris every day to the point of exhaustion.

After the raid, when I emerged the first thing I saw was the part of our house – a piece of roof and the rooms on the 5 and 6 floor lay in the rubble. The neighbouring house was half demolished and the third house completely destroyed. Fortunately, nobody was killed. These raids inflicted great damage every day and even the loss of human lives. London was similarly terrorised by the V1 flying bomb, because no one knew where it would land. Watching it in the sky at night, it was like a lit up plane, and as long as it's buzz was heard it continued to fly. As soon as the engine died, destruction was near. It was not accurate and therefore it could fall into the sea or a field or a garden, but the next time it could hit a hospital or a museum. Occasionally, however, they could be brought down by aircraft or artillery. But the later V2 rocket flew much faster, and it proved to be a real terror for civilians because in London there was no heavy industry or military units. Again, Czechoslovak airmen proved themselves by intervening effectively even against this weapon.

I also visited Honza Těšík in Winsdor. The royal castle lent majestic austerity to this city.

I once saw a school in Eaton. It would have been strange for anyone to see boys between the ages of 10-14 years walking in striped trousers, jackets and top hats and the necessary white gloves, acting like adult men. This school educated privileged boys from an early age for the colonial and diplomatic services.

In London and England in general there is so much peculiarity in comparison to Europe that it amazed one and drew a smile. In the City everyone wore a bowler hat or a top hat, if they were a higher dignitary. In Soho every street was another nation, with its own restaurants, culture and language. In Whitechapel they only spoke Yiddish or Hebrew.

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The working class people, however, were cheerful and happy with just having fun. "Public Houses" opened at noon for 2 hours and at dinner from 6-10 pm. In every pub people played "Darts". Arrows were thrown onto a numbered rubber wheel hanging on the wall, the scores were counted and the winner was the player with the highest score. Guests and serving staff dodged the flying darts, but the game continued. At ten o'clock, you heard "closing time, gentlemen" and without a murmur everyone left.

The “upper classes” however had their clubs and there time did not matter. For poor people, however, strictness and order had to exist.

My holiday was over so we got ready to return. At that time we were posted to Kimbolton, near Cambridge, where we were digging trenches for pipelines to supply fuel to the port. In English it's called a "petrol pipe" but we called it "Dig for Victory". Each platoon had its section and in the evening the yards were measured. We always worked 2 + 2. One was digging, the other threw away the clay and then we changed over. Working like this we slowly moved toward the sea.

We were not subjected to any air raids, but we saw large bomber formations in the sky, assembling for the night raids over Germany. They were four-engined Allied bombers and took a great deal of credit for breaking Germany, but also our Skoda steel manufacturing works in Pilsen.

Later, when the Soviet Union entered the war, there were fewer air raids on England, but the V1 and V2 were still “visiting” Albion.

During my second visit to London my friend Faust and I visited our British-Czech club especially to see our civilian friends Raz, Chmela, Dufek and others. We also travelled occasionally to Birmingham, which was our original location, and where Jan Rosa met another Czech, Minarik, who was the chief brewer at a Birmingham brewery. Minarik had worked in England for many years and during our holiday he organized temporary jobs at the brewery for us, so we could earn some extra money.

On one occasion our section was sent to Luton to build new barracks on the airport for staff and offices.

Before the first barrack, in which we were supposed to move to, was finished, we were temporarily accommodated in a Royal Engineers camp, which was also a camp for prisoners of war. It was cruel how they had been treated. According to British Army regulations, prisoners had to perform every act at the trot and even to trot on the spot. They even washed themselves whilst on the trot, except when they were shaving. This was also the case during meal breaks, although they were allowed to stop trotting whilst eating. At night we heard how the prisoners were beaten for having smoked a cigarette and when the MPs smelt the 52


smoke, they would beat a prisoner until he bled. This is not to say that the soldiers were treated badly, but woe if it has been imprisoned.

On one occasion, when we were working on the beet harvest in Kings Lyn, news came through that whoever wanted to, could join the Czechoslovak army again. By that time the Soviet Union was already at war with Germany, and even our London government had to take notice of that fact. However, all this came out of the blue so it was a bit surprising for us.

Even "Tutankhamun" who was our commanding officer there, tried to persuade us to stay, because in his case it was his job which was at stake. The majority, however, decided to go, and so one day we arrived at the recruitment centre of the Czechoslovak army in Leamington. We had parted reluctantly from our English and Scottish friends, who had become well used to us and often, just for curiosity and fun, impersonated we Czechs.

Once, after an incident – a brawl with our sergeant Wort - our major forbad us going off camp until the offender confessed voluntarily. On Tuesday, however, our band had to go to perform in Bedford, and since I was also a member of the band, I suggested not to go to Bedford unless the ban was called off. However, L/cpl Kßsty went to the Major and told him everything. Cockerham rounded up the musicians and because they did not want to give in, he confiscated the instruments.

In the evening we held a "lantern procession" through the camp, accompanied by an infernal noise made by hammering on pots, iron and plates. Since we were in the right and good workers, this demonstration passed by peacefully.

Later, we organized a programme for our friends in Newmarket. Here the highlight of the evening was the Spanish flamenco, praising Major Cockerham, who made the most of it whenever he could. Since Cockerham did not understand Spanish and only heard his name sung in the song, when it came to the applause, he clapped furiously, thinking the song was a tribute to him.

Nevertheless, in spite of the drill and drudgery in the British Army, we took fond memories away with us. After arriving in Leamington we were posted from our reception Company to various units. One group, among them Hruza, Skarda, Franta Heindl and others, moved to the RAF, to the Czechoslovak section. Others moved to the infantry and the artillery.

In the Artillery, to which I was posted, there were a few "Spaniards" who had not been with us in the Pioneer Corps. Josef Miler, for example, had already attained the rank of sergeant, but on the whole, not many 53


things had really changed during the last two years, because there still were too many officers for too few soldiers. For example, up until the time of our arrival there was even an officer's battery, where the staff consisted only of officers. I was in the British Army, from October 1940 to January 1942.

Finally, it was obvious that the invasion must occur soon. On one side England was crowded with US, Australian, Canadian and other allied troops from Europe and on the other the Red Army was pushing back Hitler's armies on all fronts. Therefore it was also necessary to intervene from here, so that the cake could be eaten together.

Deployment to the coast had started and so one night we embarked on ships and the long-awaited day of reckoning with the Germans had arrived. The concern of us all was to get into the real battle and to stop just playing soldiers.

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Finally in Europe! The date to start the invasion was kept in secret, but one day it was realized after all.

"Overlord" was actually the name of the plan for the invasion.

For us the plan had the name "D day" and was dated from "D day” until the end of “D 90” - the end of invasion and the conquest.

It is true that as a result of the relocation of strong German air corps to the east, the RAF and Allied airforce became predominant in the west and especially thanks to the Air Force all rail and transport connections to Normandy were disrupted and thus prevented Hitler's brisk moves. Preparation for the invasion underwent main examination on the Scottish coast, where the landscape accommodated to the terrain of Normandy Coast.

Even during these tests many lives had been lost, but the good training of paratroopers and first combat rows brought effort in the fighting.

For the disembarkation every man had received - beside normal ration - also the so called "iron reserve" which was sealed, so that no one even touched it. It contained chocolates, crackers, sardines and pills for cleaning the water to drink.

At that time, all lived for upcoming things and everyone devoured informational messages and messages from headquarters. RAF actually still used Blenheim, Holifax and Lancaster planes, which were not particularly fast. For the disembarkation amphibious vessels called a “duck” were prepared and also 3 artificial harbors made of concrete boxes and old ships flooded with water.

Except for the artificial landing harbor Arromanches, the two others failed to be built and the artificial American harbor at St.Laurent broke after the storm in the very first day. During the first invading days there was a big storm and the invasion nearly failed. Several ships were sunk and many tanks with the crew dropped to the seabed before they even went out on the shore.

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Nevertheless from D1 to D9 half a million soldiers have landed and until D28 a million. The largest credit to this had the delivering of American middle size ships "Liberty", which has proved successful both in the army and on the account of Mr. Kaiser, owner of the dockyards. The worst weather was between June 1922, but even later the sea was often in rage.

On June 6 in the still dark morning first ships were on the way to the French coast. Germans counted with an invasion in Pas de Calais and were therefore surprised by the disembarkation on shore without proper port. From midnight to dawn 1136 British Bombers threw 5853 tons of bombs in the section between Le Havre and Cherbourg and at dawn 1083 US aircrafts threw 1380 tons of bombs at the same place.

Than hundreds of fighters and light bombers attacked the Nazi artillery emplacements. Commuting landing units were encouraged by this effect from the air and with the help of the ship's batteries started to land, and where the Germans had their greatest resistance, again direct air force raids on enemy positions helped out.

During the first 24 hours from June 6, 5309 Air Force raids on this little section threw 10,395 tons of bombs.

The less German resistance should also be added to the account of the Soviet Army, which bind a large number of armored divisions on the east and the only proven SS troops stood in the Pas de Calais, where they were still awaiting the real invasion.

Meanwhile, under constant bombardment several battalions of parachutists were dropped behind the coastal wall to disrupt the German supply of material and fresh troops.

Atlantic Wall was indeed built in full thoroughness and modern equipment, but a few kilometers from the coast in hinterland there was nothing that would threaten the invaders.

The Germans probably calculated that from the sea nobody could break through. Already from the sea one could see the fortifications. Bent rails and ramps sticking out in the sea against vessels, barbed hedgehogs, wooden piles, shore mines, ,,S" mines and casemates for all kind of cannon caliber and dugouts were constructed so well that only a direct shots in the embrasures could eliminate individual guns. However, as already pointed, after 5 km length the Atlantic Wall ended.

Before entering of the infantry on the coast the mined fields were bombed, because there was no time to remove the mines, also wired barricades were destroyed by bombing. 61


Than smoke shells were fired toward tanks, so the German canon crew could not shoot on target.

The infantry was followed by far distance flamethrowers, which had considerable effect on the already demoralized defenders.

Crews of Atlantic Wall were really anything but "pure race ". There were Kalmyks, Tatars, Dutch and all kind of different nationalities, and just the leadership, that is, officers were Germans. Perhaps all the elite troops were on the Eastern Front. Most of the men's age was 17 to 19 and from 45 to 55 years.

During unloading of tanks and armored vehicles, tanks with pre-mounted chain flails – mine crashers – were sent first in order to destroy the "S" mines.

While Americans had a strong resistance on the section to Pointe du Hoc, the British and Canadian 3rd Division fought with success in their progress to Caen.

Even a month after the conquest of Wall a lot of German soldiers remained inside a bunker, that as result of bombing were demolished and thus impossible to open. Some of them went insane, others screamed, cried, called for help, but it was not possible for anyone to get them out. Several times Canadian sappers tried to release the entrances, but it was futile. Since there were mostly supplies inside the bunker, these people could stay alive for a long time, but the end was the same. They had to die of hunger and thirst.

The Germans tried several times to counterattack and fight off invading troops into the sea, but the total domination of the Allies in the air and a small number of German planes and tanks on the west coast was not enough for this event. After all, at that time the best units were needed on the Eastern Front and therefore the Germans could not afford to withdraw even one division from the eastern front. Also the consistently bombarded railway junctions, bridges and roads did not allow the Germans to relocate quickly those few divisions available in France. The greater the pressure developed by the Allies on Calvados and the Normandy in direction to Pas de Calais, the greater onslaught of V1 and later V2 hit London.

Therefore it was necessary to get as quickly as possible to the bases of the missile launcher in Pas de Calais and further. And the fight there looked accordingly. Where the armored SS units were stationed, the fighting was hard and Germans fought to the last man. Where, however, were only ordinary soldiers, there was no real desire for victory and only the Prussian discipline prevented them from doing something against it.

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Neither the abortive plot against Hitler on July 20, 1944, which surprised the whole world, did not affect the army, because it practically knew nothing about it and conversely, they took it as propaganda of the enemy. Equally the purges in the army from not-Nazi officers did not have quite an impact on the views of crew.

However the pressure on Caen from Anglo-Canadians continually slowed down, but the reinforced defense in this section have achieved just that on June 12 Carentan fell into the hands of Americans and 26 June Cherbourg was captured.

On 1 August, before the breakthrough to Normandy, 3rd US Army, commanded by General Patton, "famous� for having slapped a soldier with nervous breakdown in an Italian hospital, has landed. Otherwise, however, proceeded after the breakthrough as the fastest from the coast to Paris.

The commander of Anglo-Canadianarmies was Marshal Montgomery, who was also the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Until August 10 fell Nantes and than the whole of Bretagne. At these events helped a lot domestic Maqui and FFI units.

One of the greatest fights a massacre occurred in the battle of Falaise. On August 7, combined armies undertook powerful attacks on the section of Falaise to Argentan, but also Germans sent there everything they could, because they did not intent to leave any other position. The fighting was intense on both sides, and when Argentan fell, the Germans put every effort into the fight to get this city back.

Losses on both sides were great and only thanks to clear weather the British were able to send Air Force to fight the German counterattack back and thus restrain it. Therefore, the Allies were successful rather by using the surroundings tactic instead of frontal attack and so the pocket around Falaise was getting closed. From 7 to 15 August the British fought with 1000 heavy bombers a day as it was impossible to break through.

It also happened that before the Polish armored forces could pull 5 km back, there were already new bomber air raids, and with the Germans they also destroyed a lot of their own tanks with Polish crew. This section cost the Allies many lives, but the German troops in France were half done by this massacre. When I went through Falaise a few days after this fight, it was horrible to watch how at a single point thousands of corpses of people and horses were packed on each other in a pit, and partly the corpses of animals and people were staying, because the impact of bombs pressed them to each other, sometimes even without 63


heads. In the mortal odor the masked captured German soldiers made the clearance work and pulled these corpses by hundreds into chlorinated pits. After all, there were also mines and therefore they had to handle this by themselves.

Also interesting was when I came to one group of human and animals corpses that were crushed between cars. It looked as if they stood still, but thousands of worms emerging from the eyehole gave signs that they were already dead.

After the fall of Falaise, also the Czechoslovak Brigade arrived, waiting for further instructions to intervene in the fight for the first time.

Falaise itself was a ruin, not a single house remained undamaged. In order to allow the columns to pass through the rubble to the arterial road, it was necessary to use bulldozers to remove debris and so do at least temporary road for crossings. Of course, that all the units, as well as ours, were housed in tents in the near woods between Falaise and Argentan in the picturesque countryside.

The famous landscape of Calvados gives even the more famous "Calvados", which constricts the throat of even a hardy drinker. In this landscape a type of apples, suitable for burning sharp beverages, Cognac, which is also called Calvados, grows. However, in the vicinity remained only sporadically few buildings, so that the civilian population was scarce after this hell. After long-term shelter in the woods a handful of starving homeless civilians began to merge among us, which we gifted with some food or tobacco, but some of them started trading business. You give me canned food and tobacco, I give you Calvados. There were also women in love business, who gained both the money and food.

One day, to my surprise, my old friend, a former scout of Masaryk unit in Spain, Tonda Poncik appeared among the civilians. Who would not remember Tonda, who dressed in shorts with a hand grenade and a dictionary in hand, crossed kilometers of forests and hills, carrying messages from the Staff of the units and vice versa. Later he got married with the Spanish woman and lived as “refugiado� in France. Of course, we all "Spaniards" had the joy of meeting Tonda and supplied him with everything he asked for. We have also brought him to other units where our boys were and they continued in supporting Tonda.

Meanwhile, the 3rd US Army, after a brisk breakthrough progressed inexorably into the center of France and Paris, because the largest German resistance at Falaise was broken and in the hinterland were only weak garrisons guarding bridges, important objects and then a small crew in the cities.

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There one Patton joke was created, where the tank brigade chief before Paris asks General Patton in radio message: “Defense against us weak, but ran out of gas, what to do?� Patton immediately replies: "Never mind, keep going". I do not know whether this would have been possible on the Eastern Front, where the Germans had their biggest and strongest divisions and fought with fury dose. Hereby it has also happened that from the day of the initiation of the Battle of Falaise, Patton's units drove over 200 km behind Paris.

For advancing army the worse problem was to interference rather than the enemy resistance. When then US troops arrived before Paris, the situation for the Germans became threatening because of the danger of being encircled. At that time, the Paris police launched simultaneously with the workers strike and when the Germans began to besiege the police headquarters and other police buildings there, than under the leadership of underground PCF all workers have entered into open warfare. Barricades were built and with a small number of weapons they had, they began disarming small units of the German order services. At the same time they guarded the bridges that Germans had undermined, but calculated with them for the retreat at the same time. Even in this they have failed, and so again thanks to PCF the Germans in Paris were caught and heavy weapons were captured.

Then new and new battalions, brigades and divisions of the French were hastily formed, who effectively intervened in the fights, especially in Strasbourg and then in Austria. Fast and strong advance to the German border took place, so that the supply was much more important than the actual fight.

After all, the best German units remained in Falaise and it was not possible to withdraw a single man from the Eastern Front.

Advances to the German border on so called Siegfried Line were so fast, that last day of August the commander of the 7th Army General Eberbach was captured in Amiens with the whole staff, while having a breaktime after a long retreat.

The Germans could not bombard even the crowded roads with advancing Anglo-American troops, so busy was the Luftwaffe in the Eastern Front.

In contrast, the retreating columns of Germans were bombed every day, regardless of the anti-aircraft defense, which actually did not exist any more.

From D-Day to 25 August Hitlerites lost 400,000 men, of which but half fell in captivity. It should be mentioned that many of the crew in Czechoslovak army were from the occupied territories, which after the annexation of Polish, Czechoslovak or French peripheral lands had to enlist in the German army. 65


After all, several hundred of our people from Hlucin and Opava area surrendered voluntarily at the first opportunity and with weapons went over on the Allied side. For example, a group of Hluciners hid in a machine-gun cover during the retreat and came at night in a small boat across the English to surrender. These people served in the German navy.

Just such a transition underwent Alois Demel and Kravar, who with two other friends stayed overnight hidden on the coast and then through the minefield went out to meet the advancing Canadians. Then they showed the transition through the minefields, for which they were praised and honored. At the same time they applied for enlisting in Czechoslovak foreign brigade and to fight against the Germans. They were granted, and so they took part in fight at Dunkirk in CS unit.

Despite these large, heavy losses and precipitous retreat to the borders of the Reich, among the German prisoners were still two directions. Regular troops and senior officers have seen the end of German domination as victory, but young officers and SS were - althought in captivity – overbearing and believed that Hitler has prepared a secret weapon that immediately, upon entering the German land, destroys everything on the front with all the facilities of their enemies. In the first place, it were supposed to be the Russians and the English. They believed the Americans will come to reason and pull back behind the ocean.

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Dunkerque September 12 Le Havre fell and Sept. 11 Canadian Army encircled Dunkerque that - as many other ports refused to surrender. Here than the Cs. Brigade was allocated, so that they - together with the Canadian tank group and the French battalions formed from the Maqui - besiege the town, whereby the stream of main armies advances further into Belgium, Netherlands and German border. Right on this stretch of coast were the most missile launch bases for the both V's. Boulogne fell September 23 and Calais September 30, both into the hands of Canadians. Meanwhile, the British conquered Antwerp.

The German crew in strength of about 12,000 soldiers and sailors broke the dams and thus actually flooded the entire surroundings of Dunkerque several kilometers wide.

Well armed and fortified Germans resisted until the final defeat of Germany. It was practically impossible to use tanks on the flooded open plains and so the siege circle around the port became positional war, but it can actually be called guarding and isolation. On the left side of the Graveline there were the French and Cs. troops, on the right side the Canadian and Cs. units. In reserve was the Canadian army.

From time to time observations were carried out by both sides, the artillery fire came mostly from our side. Extended observation points created in few scattered farms were commonly used by artillery, tankers and infantrymen.

On October 28, in honour of our national holiday, the HQ gave a try for a breakthrough, but except of taking a few prisoners both warring parties backed off to their prime positions.

Later the Germans took revenge with their own breakthrough and this time the losses were on our side. They also captured several of our men which - after being released at the end of war - participated on disarmament of their jailer.

Some fightings was led really hard and many young lifes remained on the plains of Dunkerque.

Meanwhile new reinforcement arrived from England, among them also Czechoslovaks who were formerly in the German army, and after investigation were assigned to Cs. foreign brigade.

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As next came a lot of ex-members of the Governmental troops of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, which were captured in Italy and then passed on to us. So the Brigade increased and the remaining officers could finally be assigned to function.

In the section some of the not destroyed heavy field guns, left by the Germans, has been after their adjustment made available to the combined Czech - French crew, who created the 1st heavy battery at Dunkerque. This battery was located on the coast just outside Graveline and the crew housed in former casemates of German coastal defense. Munition and powder, stored in long bags, could be found a lot in the vicinity and so one lorry strolled around gathering food for the 15� field gun crews.

There was only one sighting device available for the whole battery, whose daily task was to fire 5 shots, one after one, just at a time the defenders were forced to leave the covers to share their rations. Here I was assigned until the end of the siege. In free time we went on a search tour to the bunker, which was strictly forbidden, because this whole coast was not cleared of mines and many unfortunates - us, Canadian or French, lost their lives. We of course felt sorry for those unhappy ones, but this could not stop us from going through the bunker and it's warehouses, we even knew where to step in and where not.

In the bunkers were stocks of various mineral waters, fruit juices and drinks, but also French wine and Cognac could be found. Various biscuit brands from all across occupied Europe were placed for the Westwall crew. Also weapons, battery lamps, paintings, books and various small items such as souveniers tempted us to visit the bunker. Once I and Petras went to yet unexplored bunker and just when Petras was inside, I felt instinctively that I stucked something. I threw myself on the ground when contact mine exploded, throwing hundreds of different balls it the circuit - I trod on the touch wire concealed beneath beach sand. I was pale as death, but after a while me and Petras carried away a spoil from the bunker - 5 bottles of wine and 2 telescopes.

These mines precipitated the death of several of our boys and as the last victim was sergeant Robert Nedved, who just after the capitulation hauled some folding beds with freight lorry from the bunker, but on the road swerved just a few centimeters from the track and flew into the air with camion. He was killed instantly.

Once in the February snow an English combat aircraft crashed between the sea and the minefield and we, in attempt to help him, ran across a snowy coast directly to the aircraft. We were not even halfway (it was about 1 km), when a big explosion signaled the plane caught fire in the tanks. When we reached the plane the heat was so intense it was not possible to approach the aircraft. We watched idly, but could do nothing. Following our own trails we returned to the battery, afraid of stepping on the mine. The next day we went again to the aircraft, but could not find a trace of the victim. We disassembled few instruments from the broken dashboard and took some pieces to commemorate. About 4 days later we found a pilot's corpse on

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the coast. I think either he jumped off and because he had no parachute was killed or was hurled out at the impact of aircraft at sea. Since the corpse was directly on the edge of the sea, we dragged him about three meters further and went to report the case, whether it would be possible to identify him, because we ourselves felt not qualified for examination. At the same time we made a wooden cross and the next day went with a French officer to the corpse. We were very surprised not to find the corpse at a broken boat, where we left it the day before, anymore. Tides carried the corpse away to the sea, but it fortunately remained in the water along the shoreline. Together we carried it off at a greater distance from the tides. The content of pockets, however, was empty and he did not carry a bag. Under the suit on the blouson was labeled "Poland". We dug a hole and wrote “Polish RAF Fly Sgt" on the cross.

Later, when a boat sank near us and sacks of flour remained above water, we went deep into the sea for them and wore them into quarters. Net flour was then traded by Frenchmen for eggs and chicken. During these expeditions we adjusted the cross of the dead pilot and burned “Polish Sgt� onto the wood.

It was almost an unwritten law that both sides, us and the Germans were pulling bags that came to shore, but were prepared for fight if some party started.

A stop to this mining was made by meanwhile to General advanced Liska, who received a report about this and ordered to open the fire on the shore. This way the flour action has ended and the sacks remained in a radius of 1 km to the beach without an owner.

While the British and Canadian troops advanced along the Atlantic, the Americans advanced to the German border in the direction of Namur and Liege. September 8 fell Liege and already September 11 the first German city of Aachen was bombed and later completely destroyed. The resistance on German ground was strong, but Volkssturm was no longer elite.

On the Rhine, for the first time a large amount of paratroopers came to action, tasked to seize the bridges and provide these for the advent of motorized units. These operations should be, or have been carried out in space over the Mosel - Westwall and the Lower Rhine. The event was attended by American, British and Polish paratroop units. The accomplishment of landing occurred on September 17 and with the help of British bombers and fighters a successful landing mission was achieved on several sections.

However this success could not recompense the losses of the 1st British Airborne Division, which in Arnhem area had 50% losses already at landing. Here a well placed German troops shot down the parachutists already in the air and then when landed. Here neither injury or surrender did not save anyone from death. Therefore, the remnants of paratroopers resisted, fighting for life and death in lonely groups and their desperate calls for help remained unheard, since the Germans built a strong resistance to the 75


British Armored Division, who rushed to help the parachutists. Finally a contact was established with some groups at Grave, but an attempt to cross the Wall at Nijmegen, where was one of the most important bridge crossing, failed.

The Air Force tried to throw supplies and ammunition to scattered paratrooper units, but most of the freight came into German hands. Finally, despite large losses, several groups fought their way back to the front line. Losses of this event were heavy and we can call it a disaster, that had their response even in the British parliament. Out of 9,000 only 2000 completely exhausted men were saved. The loss of 7,000 men, elite units, was after the loss of Singapore and Hood the biggest national sadness. This airborne operation was one of the biggest ever, which all our military bulletins wrote about. According to "BAB" (British Army Bulletin), from September 17 to 30, 14.000 Paratroopers with gliders and 20.700 parachutes were in action.

After this Heveland and Walcher were conquered and thus the port of Antwerp became the next eligible for interference since the D day.

The biggest surprise was then the desperate but well thought out German counter-offensive in the Ardennes. Here the German breakthrough was made so rapid, pointing to the main allies supply bases and then to the sea, that only the rapid offensive undertaken by Soviet troops on the eastern front prevented the Allies from disaster in the West.

Germans in British and American uniforms disrupted from December 16 hinterland until finally on January 23 1945 this panic situation could be calmed.

Without the Soviet offensive on which the Germans were compelled to send their tanks and troops from the Siegfried Line in France, nobody can say how the situation on the western front sector would have appeared. With satisfaction and joy we read the news about the successes of the Soviet Army, and this time not even our officers could argue or refute. It showed clear who is the decisive factor in the destruction of Hitler's armies !

Meanwhile, the Cs. Brigade was still within a radius of Dunkerque and except for few small firefights and observations no territorial changes were recorded.

The Artillery Regiment and its crew stayed in the village of Long Plage, while the tankers were on the Belgian side of Ostende.

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Our mixed battery have lived on it's own, fired the average 12 shots by noon and evening, which should make the Germans to understand that we still exist !

I witnessed one fraud in large, commited by the commander of Canadian gasoline warehouse and an local owner of latifundia and chicory factory. Near our battery a chicory or similar coffee substitute factory was located, which housed a Canadian brigade gasoline store, up to the roof full of petrol canisters. During the evacuation of the brigade also the store should be evacuated, but the owner thought that there is an opportunity to earn several thousands on allies, so he went to the warehouse commander and persuaded him to sell off the petrol. But he was wrong (orig. Czech saying: Scythe fell on rock)! Staff Sgt warehouse commander colluded with his guarding men, filled the entire stack of canisters except the last three rows with water, and so instead of 1.400 twenty-liter canisters only 150 were filled with gasoline. The rest, filled with water, has long been kept covertly, until one day during the distribution came out that under the top row were cans filled with water. Meanwhile the warehouse with its Canadian crew was transferred somewhere to Belgium and I think that any complaint brought by the businessman would only increase his loss. Later, the factory owner suggested himself that among the allied troops are crooks. I hope that the Canadian Advisory Sergeant with his section watchmen stuffed their pockets, though he eventually had to pay for 3,000 liters, which I strongly doubt about, because of my experience with the Americans and the looting of statesupplied property. Such and even larger machinations were constantly repeated and a lot of the traffic supplies for the army disappeared in the warehouse of owners of “MarchĂŠ noir en gross".

The day of inevitable defeat of the German military machine was nearing to end and despite indignant struggle on the eastern front the Soviet troops approached through Prussia to Berlin.

Outstanding day was April 25, 1945. On this day front units of American 69th Division met with the soldiers of 58th Guards Soviet divisions at Torgau on the Elbe. Contacts became increasingly stronger and it was necessary to form cognitive codes to avoid the firefights between allies.

As for the partition of spheres, this was until the complete connection not possible, because in most cases the Germans turned back to Americans and only fought with the Russians.

Consequences of frontline divide to sections, a situation without a unified coordination forced the Germans to bet everything on one card – surrender to Americans and fight only with the Soviet Union troops !

As a result of horrific stories about the horrors of Bolshevism which the entire German propaganda wrote and spoke during the last years, panic took hold of the whole army and the civilian population.

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The state and military administration collapsed and everyone wanted to get on the American side on his own.

The joy for the meeting of both armies at Torgau had soldiers on both sides, but it seemed that the American command and government or business circles did not like this brotherhood in weapons.

On May 3 the touching of both armies was achieved on the line Wismar - Grabow and German resistance across the whole north was brought to an end. The May escape of German troops to the west was so great that in some sections passed up to 300,000 soldiers voluntarily to the Americans.

On the Danube the advance also accelerated and in Austria and from Linz US units moved to the borders of Czechoslovakia. May 6 US army came to Pilsen, but was caught off from Budweis in direction Carlsbad, while the Red army cleared the both banks of the Elbe and liberated the city of Prague.

These messages we joyfully listened from the radio or read in our or Canadian military bouletins. We ourself had loved to be at home, during the liberation struggle on our territory, but there were other plans made about us and therefore we were besieging Dunkerque untill the final peace agreement, when the whole crew of 12,000 infantrymen and sailors, very overbearing and well-fed, surrendered. After all, their stocks were large and the remaining civilian population received only small rations, while the defenders have feasted on all delicacies.

How disgusting! French people, starve and weary from building trenches and covers, and Hitlerites who had greater fear from Czechoslovaks and Frenchmen than from Canadians, imposed conditions to surrender only to them.

While the advance was very fast, there was no longer need for the front air armies and so tactical strategic bombing raids were created.

To imagine what tactical raid means we can take Pilsen as an example. There neither one product could enter or leave the Pilsner Skoda steelworks at that time, still the areal with the surrounding civilian quarters was destructed of "tactical reasons".

Many buildings, churches, schools, the Dresden picture gallery etc. were annihilated for "tactical reasons" as the end of the war neared and US factories ran on full power. It was necessary to earn on European 78


poverty even after the war. Every factory, every machine were Americans willing to built and deliver in the shortest time for a bagatelle - 51 % of the shares of each investment in American hands.

May 4 admiral Friedeburg in the name of admiral Doenitz announced the unconditional surrender to marshal Montgomery, in the presence of a Soviet officer Generalmajor Ivan Susleparov. Document of surrender had been in validity since May 5.

Because on the Soviet front the Germans still fought and negotiated the surrender to angloamericans, the general gave the order to stop the fire on the Anglo-American troops and resist only the Russians.

This provocation was too much even for the Americans, so Jodl was forced to sign the unconditional surrender on May 7, which on 9 May 1945 was ratified in Berlin in presence of marshal Tedder, marshal Zhukov, general Spaatz and general Lattre de Tassigny.

All of these reports we read with great interest and we were angry of our command for letting us stranded at Dunkirk, which long ago could be taken over by local French troops, which at the time had been mostly well re-armed and trained again.

Intentionally spread out rumour the Soviet army does not wish us to be part of the liberation struggle and clearing actions in our homeland was barely believed by any honest soldier.

But now, after final peace had been negotiated, after so many years it finally came to our return back to our homeland on earmarked route. The route led through Kassel and Nuremberg through Stribro to Klatovy and there we were divided according to sector formations in western Bohemia in areas liberated by the US Army. When we crossed the boundaries of our republic, most of the boys started shooting into the air and kissing the ground out of joy. Our Artillery Regiment was placed in the Kolince - Mlรกzovy area near Klatovy and here no one was allowed to leave the areal for reason of awaiting the orders from Prague, so the question was when the last defilee in Prague will be performed before our returning home to civilian life.

Finally, after the parade and several weeks waiting it came to us, older year's issues, to be sent on existential vacation. With the regiment remained only the young ones who were either Czechs - defectors - serving formerly in the German army or in the Protectorate governmental troops. We said goodbye to our foreign army with mixed feelings, we had a lot in common among ourselves, but ideologically we were wide divided from our leadership and there was no friendly relation between our officers (with some exceptions ) and us.

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Conclusion And so after nine years of fight against fascism my war odysee has ended. I knew still a lot of work was waiting for us at home, for the freedom and social justice we and our comrades fought for in Spain, France, Britain and many other places in the world.

The Spaniards fulfilled their duty with honour. Out of approximately 2500 Czechoslovak volunteers in Spain, today (1974) only a little over 400 is still alive, but should it come to worst, the nation can always lean on this handful.

We believe in one: No pasaran ! They will not pass !

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Profile for CzechoSlovakia Postal History

From England to Dunquerke, Ludvik Netopil, 1939 - 1945  

The second volume of the War diaries and accounts of Ludvik Netopil, former Ensign of the Czechoslovak Batallion, part of the International...

From England to Dunquerke, Ludvik Netopil, 1939 - 1945  

The second volume of the War diaries and accounts of Ludvik Netopil, former Ensign of the Czechoslovak Batallion, part of the International...

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