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Stage 10 – Scotland (12–14 August 2020), Leicester and Warwickshire (18 August 2020) and Harwich–Essex (10 September 2020)

From the notes of Ambassador Libor Sečka:

Summertime, holiday time, but especially “coronavirus time” — full of various restrictions, changes, irregularities, improvisations and uncertainties — also disrupted my plans and caused a delay in resuming our travels to Czechoslovak war graves. The important thing, however, is that in spite of all the disruptions our “Never Forgotten” project continues, and we still are determined to complete it by the end of this year. Therefore I won’t go into as much detail this time about the places and atmosphere as I have in previous stages, but I’ll rather focus on summarizing impressions, capturing special moments, and in some cases just calling attention to something.

I’ll start by looking back on our trip to Scotland. As always, it was full of  meaningful experiences. Without a doubt the strongest one for me was the meeting with Mr Paul Millar, a man who for 23 long years held the position of Czech Honorary Consul in Edinburgh. This year because of his age and health, he decided to end his voluntary mission, which he carried out selflessly and altruistically. Neither he nor I could help being moved when I handed him a personal letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a certificate, and a Silver Medal of Jan Masaryk as a further expression of gratitude and recognition by his old homeland for everything he has done for it and its citizens. We said farewell and will remain friends. My image of Scotland will forever include his face with its thick white moustache and with concise, ironic political commentary on his lips, as well as his kind brow.

In two and a half days, we literally criss-crossed the upper half of Scotland. From south to north, east to west. Hundreds of kilometres, countless hours inside a car. We laid a red rose at the graves of 28 Czechoslovak soldiers. The vast majority of them were pilots or flight crew members. It is certainly not without interest that the Scottish peaks and hills are responsible for several fatal accidents, when shrouded in thick fog they got in the way of aircraft piloted by Czechoslovak soldiers. In the cemeteries at their feet, we can find a number of distinct tombstones. And the further north, the better the material they are made of. Whereas in England and the south of Scotland the our soldiers’ tombstones are made of sandstone or cast concrete, in the Dyce Military Cemetery above the River Don north of Aberdeen, one starts seeing tombstones of deep grey Scottish granite. Together with the vibrant violet colour of the carpet of willowherb, which in mid-August blanketed the entire region, they created a perfect contrast.

A mountain near Edinburgh became fateful for one of the most famous and bravest Czechoslovak pilots, First Lieutenant Václav Jích, when the Anson-type transport plane he was aboard crashed into it in a snowstorm in 1945. In the Roman Catholic cemetery in the town of Haddington that became the final resting place of our hero, a recipient of the Cross of Merit among other honours, by chance we met a man who devotedly pays respect to his memory. He is the 82-year-old smart and energetic Phillip Curran, a former soldier who vehemently rejects the inclination in Scotland to separate from Great Britain and modestly claims he is doing nothing more than maintaining a family tradition. He really knew a lot about the Czechoslovaks serving in the Royal Air Force, their accomplishments and their fates. If it weren’t for the strict schedule we were following, our unplanned discussion surely would have continued for a much longer time. I was very happy to have the chance to thank a man in whom we found an ardent supporter and ally. 

I was very moved during our stop in Tain, a town about 50 km from Inverness. The local St Duthus cemetery is the northernmost place in the British Isles where the remains of Czechoslovak pilots are interred. Set in a shallow crater, the place recalls a natural amphitheatre. The civilian graves scattered along the slopes, swaying in all directions, seem to be applauding the tight regular formation of 18 tombstones of Czechoslovak pilots centre stage. It was as if they know that their deaths were not in vain. At the end of the war, the 311th Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron was stationed in Tain with the task of searching and destroying enemy submarines in British coastal waters. The pilots and their crews made extensive use of Liberator-type aircraft. Unfortunately, there frequently were accidents. A witness who is still alive today, Benjamin Abeles, 94, who had served as an aircraft mechanic at the base in Tain and after the war became renowned in the field of physics, complained to me at a recent meeting in Leicester: “Those Liberators were very primitive machines”. At the same time, he remembered with emotion all those who had died in their wreckage. But he also remembered that the overall mood of the crew was good, that they went together for beers, and while his friends played cards in their free time, he was busy preparing for a test similar to the Czech maturita school-leaving exams.

We arrived tired and hungry in Arisaig, a village on the west coast of Scotland, after four hours of arduous travel. None of this, however, diminished the excitement we felt when first catching sight of the pristine beaches interspersed with rocky promontories spreading out towards the sea, where Czechoslovak special operations units trained during the war. It was rigorous training for those we know today as Czechoslovak paratroopers. It was in their honour that a monument created by the academic sculptor Josef Vajce was erected on a small lookout point at the embankment in 2009. It is the newest Czechoslovak memorial site created in Britain, and sincere thanks for this great deed goes mainly to Consul Millar along with many volunteers and sponsors large and small. With the setting sun and dropping temperature, the sand underfoot changed in colour and quality. At times, it seemed as though red spots had seeped into it.

The following days had many events connected with the Czechoslovak wartime story in Great Britain. First I took part in a ceremony for the symbolic matriculation of a Hurricane aircraft for our and the Poles’ “ace” fighter Josef František at the Aviation Museum in Duxford. At this time I also honoured the memory of fallen soldiers from the 310th Squadron, which had its base here in the years 1940–41. Then, in the presence of Czech military representatives and the cardiologist and great patriot Dr Jan Kováč, I visited the war veteran Benjamin Abeles in Leicester to present him with a commemorative medal from the Minister of Defence, issued on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Subsequently, I and my military escort visited Leamington Spa to participate along with about twenty compatriots and their family members in a memorial event at the Czechoslovak monument — a fountain resembling an open parachute — in the centre of the city park. The weather was fine, and it helped to create not only a dignified atmosphere, but also an opportunity for pleasant informal meetings. On the way to London, we stopped at the cemeteries at Leamington Spa, Wellesbourne and Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. As always, we documented the condition of the graves. The vast majority are very well maintained. It can be said that the exception to the rule is the grave of Private Václav Procházka near St Peter’s Church in Wellesbourne. A deep crack is visible on the main stone and neither are the surroundings well groomed. This will certainly be a topic during our planned conversation with the British government’s War Graves Commission.

And now only telegraphically: In connection with the naming of a street in Ipswich after the Czech poet Ivan Blatný we also visited the small port town of Harwich in Essex, where five Czechoslovaks are buried in the local cemetery. They belonged to the ground forces, and it is interesting that one of them — Zdeněk Kolařík — was an academic painter, who, according to information found on the Internet, worked until his death as a graphic artist, illustrator and author of imaginative headlines for the daily of the Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade — Naše noviny.

London, 12 September 2020, Libor Sečka

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

List of visited places:


12 August 2020

Edinburgh – Corstorphine Hill Cemetery – First Lieutenant Jaroslav Prachař

Haddington – Roman Catholic Graveyard – First Lieutenant Václav Jícha

Edinburgh – Piershill Cemetery – Private Julius Walter, Private Ladislav Lowy

Murie – Perthshire – Murie Cemetery – Corporal František Drahovzal


13 August 2020

Dyce – Dyce Old Churchyard – Corporal Alois Dvořák, First Lieutenant Vladimír Zaoral

Kiltearn – Ross and Cromarty – Kiltearn Parish Churchyard – Private First Class Jaroslav Kalášek

Tain – St Duthus Cemetery – Private First Class František Havránek, Corporal František Benedikt, Private First Class Václav Černý, Staff Sergeant Antonín Bednář, Private First Class Martin Dorniak, Captain Josef Simet, Sergeant Štěpán Marko Štětka, Staff Sergeant Štěpán Petrášek,
Sergeant Oldřich Bureš, Corporal Ivo Engländer, Private First Class Josef Vaniš, Private First Class Walter Hnilička, Sergeant Josef Košťál, Corporal Arnošt Hayek, Corporal Zdeněk Palme, Private First Class Rudolf Barvíř, Private First ClassMiloš Bodlák, Corporal Josef Šebestík

Arisaig – monument to Czechoslovak soldiers


14 August 2020

Grangemouth – Falkirk – Grandsable Cemetery – Sergeant Václav Přerost, Private First Class Bohumil Šíma

Accompanied by: Ondřej Hovádek, Lukáš Holeček


18 August 2020

Leamington Spa – memorial to Czechoslovak soldiers

Leamington Spa – Whitnash Road Cemetery – Private First Class Bohumil Chodora

Wellesbourne – St Peter’s Churchyard – Private Stanislav Procházka

Stratford-upon-Avon – Evesham Road Cemetery – Lance Corporal Josef Hudec, Private Antonín Voráček, private Zdeněk Novosad, Lance Corporal Josef Flanek

Accompanied by: Colonel Jiří Niedoba, Tomáš Kašpar, Dr Jan Kováč, Lukáš Holeček


10 September 2020

Harwich – Ramsey – Parkeston Cemetery – Corporal Karel Kopraš, Corporal Zdeněk Kolařík, Lance Corporal Viktor Farkaš, Sergeant Emil Vlk, Private Jiří Gunsberg

Accompanied by: Ondřej Hovádek. Lukáš Holeček


Gallery Scotland