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Stage 14 – Wales (30 March–1 April 2021) and Hampstead Cemetery (22 January 2021)

From the notes of Ambassador Libor Sečka:

Britain has instituted an ambitious vaccination programme against the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of people infected with this insidious virus and the number of deaths associated with it is falling rapidly. I myself had the opportunity to get vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the Gateway Chemist in Finchley, a northern suburb of London, on 12 March of this year. I perceived this prosaic medical act as a small internal celebration, and the uplifted mood stayed with me long after. The social climate has also begun to change as a result of the government’s gradual easing of health and safety restrictions. All of this has allowed us to pick up the broken thread of the “Never Forgotten” project.

            On the occasion of the Wales–Czech Republic qualification match for the 2022 World Cup, which took place in Cardiff on 30 March, together with colleagues Michal and Lukáš we decided to visit the graves of our soldiers in this distinctive and magical part of Britain. We started in the Welsh capital. Waiting for us at Cathays Cemetery, in addition to Slovak Honorary Consul Nigel Payne, was a representative of the Royal Air Force, Air Commodore (a rank equivalent to our brigadier general) Adrian Williams, along with Lord-Lieutenant of South Glamorgan, Mrs Morfudd Meredith. There, we paid tribute to Sergeant Jaroslav Kulhavý. Given that representatives of Her Majesty accompanied us in this honorary function also in the following days, I would like to take a moment to address the importance of their position. The Lord-Lieutenant, the representative of the British monarch in various parts of the country, is a historical institution founded in the 16th century. The main task of this office in the past was to organize when necessary military support for the head of state. Today, it is primarily of protocol significance. There are currently 98 Lord-Lieutenants in the United Kingdom, appointed by the Queen, eight of them in the historical territory of Wales.

            With the group formed at the start, we set off for Llantwit Major to lay roses at the graves of Corporal Josef Ivančík, who died of stomach cancer, and Sergeant František Remeš and Flying Officer Josef Nejezchleba, who died in plane crashes. We then visited the town of Barry, where at the local cemetery, together with the mayor, we honoured the memory of Sergeant Valentin Kubín, who succumbed to tuberculosis. The sun overhead created the perfect illusion of a summer day, and we were already looking forward to the evening sporting event. I only know one word in Welsh: Cymru — Wales. So Cymru beat us 1–0, even though we did not play badly. A pity. However, what pleased me was a meeting with George Berry, a former Welsh player and current official of the PFA footballers’ trade union. While discussing current issues in society and football, we found a great deal of common ground. We were in agreement that opposition to racism and violence should result in effective action and not just empty gestures; that it should bring about real results and not just create waves of interest. Our meeting definitely laid the groundwork for a good friendship in the future. And one more note: Our players did not take a knee before kick-off, as is commonly done these days, but pointed to the UEFA motto “Respect” on the sleeves of their jerseys. Czech midfielder Tomáš Souček had informed me of their intention before the start of the match.

I had a long-standing wish to visit Pembrokeshire. Mainly because my wall is decorated with a painting by the famous British contemporary artist David Hockney, Two Pembroke Studio Chairs. I must say that reality did not disappoint my expectations. The western tip of Wales, washed by the Celtic Sea, has a wonderful atmosphere. We travelled to Haverfordwest along narrow roads that became lost in clouds of rising haze, but we safely found the final resting place of Sergeant Vladislav Břečka. It is not certain whether he died by accident while cleaning his weapon or decided to commit suicide, but he definitely was not alone on this last Wednesday of March. I will long remember our stop in the village of Angle, which can be described without exaggeration as the end of the world. The small area around the Church of St Mary, bordered by tall trees, is the preserve of noisy black birds. After a short while, you may become convinced that Edgar Allan Poe wrote his poem “The Raven” about this very spot. As you sink into soft, green cushions of damp grass strewn with cowslips, buttercups and daisies, from all sides you hear the raspy call “never more, never more”. They probably greet all interlopers in the same way, but perhaps their cries are also to draw attention to the tragic fate of Flying Officer Jan Doucha. On his return from a mission over France, the Czechoslovak pilot jumped out of his hit plane and drowned in the cold waters of the nearby bay. He was buried in the churchyard on Christmas Eve 1942.

On the way back, at the cemetery in Killay, Swansea, we held a small ceremony to remember the fates of two pilots: Flight Lieutenant Rudolf Roháček and Pilot Officer Josef Janeba, who died as a result of unfortunate technical failures and accidents. The next day, in the presence of a local priest and representatives from local municipal authorities, we honoured the memory of Private Štefan Daniel in Bronllys and Private Bohumil Makovský in Talgarth. We had fulfilled our mission in Wales. In addition, we came away with further discoveries. I will limit myself to two. The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, and in contrast to the brown-green-grey bands of the Brecon Beacons mountain range, its deep yellow colour seems even yellower than anywhere else. And perhaps their strong bond with nature bolsters the strength and confidence of the Welsh people, which is then reflected in their great hospitality and unpretentious warmth. I have seldom encountered such cordiality in Britain.

My duty as a chronicler demands me to note that in January, together with the great patriot and successful businessman Jan Telenský and his wife, Alenka, we visited the cemetery in Hampstead, not far from our current residence. After a short search, we found a stone with the name of Corporal Bedřich Dubský and decorated it with roses. A friend of Jan’s talked about the significance of the “Never Forgotten” project in the upcoming film.


London, Good Friday 2021                                                                                         

Libor Sečka


Never Forgotten Stage 14 Wales