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Stage 1 - Kent - 14 January 2020

From the notes of Ambassador Libor Sečka:

Our first journey within the scope of the project “Never Forgotten” took us to the county of Kent. Together with my colleague Martin Hošek we headed out early in the morning to a small rural cemetery in Westwell to honour the memory of airman Josef Dygrýn. The pilot, who was one of our most successful night fighters, was shot down over the English Channel at the beginning of June 1942. It took three months for the waters of the Atlantic to return his body to the English shore, near Worthing, west of Brighton. Even in the dim light of this January morning, his grave shone in bold colours. The masses of fresh flowers and wreaths clearly showed that it is a frequently visited spot, which made this place in the cemetery seem friendly and welcoming. In the soggy and muddy terrain, it felt like a focal point to which to all the energy of the place is connected. I was provided with photographs of Josef Dygrýn from the book “Za hroby se lvy” (Behind the Graves with Lions), in which he is portrayed with a smile and a cheroot jauntily perched in the corner of his mouth.

As we arrived at the Bybrook Cemetery in the town of Ashford, the rain was gathering force. It didn’t take us too long to find the grave of Ján Encinger, a Czechoslovak soldier of Slovak nationality and a driver during the war. It is located on a gentle slope at the upper end of the memorial grounds. John Encinger did not live to see the end of the war. He died of tuberculosis at a local sanatorium in March 1945. The grave was in good condition. We laid flowers on it, made photo documentation and then hurried on to Folkestone.             

Overhead above the cliffs at the Battle of Britain Memorial was an authentic damp and chilly English fog. It was cut only by the occasional wild gusts of wind with which the passing Hurricane Brendan was whipping the mainland. And icy rain. As we would say back home, “not even a dog would venture out”.  We could hear the sea, but we couldn’t see it. The monument is dominated by a statue of a seated pilot looking for his comrades. They did not return. Just as a number of the 88 Czechoslovak heroes whose names are engraved on the memorial plaque, many of them remained missing. There are special memorial panels dedicated to their memory at the Runnymede Cemetery southwest of London. In the roaring wind and with the distant hum of the turbulent sea in the background, we paid our respects to them.      

After lunch we headed to Chartham, where in May 1945 the former Czechoslovak soldier of German nationality Gerhard Bruck died at the local psychiatric hospital. Born in Harcov, which today is part of Liberec, he served in the Infantry Training Company in Cholmondeley until the time when his psychiatric illness reared its head. His grave is set off by itself, lying near the top of a slope but close to the footpath. It is almost as if the soldier was planning one day to set off on the long journey home. Then the heavens opened up in full vehemence, as if to extinguish the Australian wildfires but at the wrong place. We were soaked to the bone; however, we could feel a strong connection here. At this moment I was aware of an uncustomary and thrilling intimacy, something that seldom arises during official commemorative acts with their hymns and requisite ceremonial speeches.

Our last stop was at a cemetery in Sittingbourne, which also acts as a shortcut through the city for its residents. The grave of Pilot Officer Vilém Göth, who was born in Brno, is set in a group of graves of British and Polish pilots and soldiers. Vilém Goth died in defence of the area near Biggin Hill Airport in October 1940. His plane collided with the aircraft “Hurricane” of an Allied squadron. Posthumously he was awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross. The grouping of nine graves exudes cohesion, calm and certainty. It’s as if those who are buried here had no doubts about whose side would have the final victory. The rain never stopped. It started to grow dark. It was late on a January afternoon. It was time to return home. But before that, Martin surprised me with the question whether I, as ambassador, would marry him and his fiancée, Margaret. Certainly! With joy! It is so beautiful on this spot of many endings to agree on something that is just beginning …

London, 15 January 2020, Libor Sečka

For more information about the project, please follow this link.


Kent Gallery