english  česky 

Advanced search
Photo: MZV ČR
Article notification Print Decrease font size Increase font size

Stage 17 – Lincoln and Sutton Bridge (27 May 2021)

From the notes of Ambassador Libor Sečka

We are nearing the end, the conclusion and also the climax, if you will. This is true in two senses: both with my diplomatic mission and also with our “Never Forgotten” project. I took advantage of the long journey north to Lincoln, therefore, to reflect on what the past five years as Czech Ambassador in Britain has meant to me. This trip, including a visit to Sutton Bridge Cemetery, was intended to be the last of our journeys through England (all that remains now is the southern swathe of Scotland). We have already dispatched a special evaluation report to Prague, so perhaps here I will describe only in broad outlines what my time here has confirmed for me and what, on the contrary, has surprised me. In the United Kingdom, one cannot succeed other than with convincing achievement, quality, uniqueness, a bold idea, an unconventional solution. Perseverance, persistence, reliability and courage are valued. Likewise, nothing is free of cost here, and everything is measured and re-evaluated based on its inherent utility. It is a challenging, competitive environment with a strong emphasis on individuality and individualism in today’s multicultural world of solidary society. I think that much of what I am describing now is also felt by the stellar representatives of Czech culture, architecture, design, medical science and industry working on the British scene or market today, and as in all likelihood our soldiers felt here. They really had to earn their respect, but they succeeded.

They left the British Isles for home after about five years, after about the same amount of time that I will return to Prague. The difference is that at the end of the war, Europe was looking to the future with the hope of unification, opening up, creating guarantees for lasting peace and cooperation. The challenges remain, but the directions are now changing. During my posting here, the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union and decided to chart its own course. However, without mutual dialogue, understanding, and joining forces with the European Union and its member states when possible, we can move forward only with difficulty. This is among the reasons why I planned with my colleagues Michal and Lukáš to go to the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, renowned during World War II, to show that the sacrifice of life by 114 Czechoslovak pilots, whose names are engraved along with thousands of others on its curved steel walls, was not in vain. The metal plates of the modern monument are gradually taking on a dark reddish-brown hue in the uncompromising English rain and wind. They are accentuated by a relentless rust, which moves the past a millimetre further into the past with each passing day. The entire memorial complex, which is one of the youngest in England (built in 2011) and is dominated by a 31-metre rusting spire, seems to have risen against the tide of time. It is a marriage of opposites, a wondrous concept, whose story plays out against the backdrop of a classic Shakespearean drama of struggle and victory over unstoppable time.

The purpose is to demonstrate and — judging by the emotive power of the memorial — shout out that united we will conquer evil, whether it is a visible or invisible enemy. That it is worth fighting for our security, freedom and civilizational values. This was true in the past, and it remains true today. In the café of the elegant museum, we fortified ourselves with coffee and a traditional scone, bought small souvenirs in the shop (I recently fell under the spell of tin cups), and then set off to Rutland for lunch with Jan Kováč, a professor of cardiosurgery and great Czech patriot. As always, the meeting was pleasant and inspiring.

Sutton Bridge, a village in Lincolnshire, has always been off the route of our previous travels: hard to reach, northeast of London, not far from the coast, in a rather boring flat landscape interwoven with canals. It was as if it was guarding its tranquillity, as if it, too, wanted to become the embodiment of the “splendid isolation” of the island. It is therefore no wonder that it became the last stop on our English “strand”. In the past, it had an air base, which became the temporary home and combat training site for many Czechoslovak pilots. Some died in the difficult conditions of training, due to their own errors or technical failures. The remains of five of our heroes lie in the local cemetery. Buried here are: Flight Sergeant Jan Kurka, Flight Lieutenant Matěj Tomáš Patlejch, Junior Technician Jiří Schwarz, Flight Sergeant Karel Stibor and Flight Lieutenant Jan Žerovnický. We decorated their graves traditionally, with a Czech flag and a red rose. We stayed for a while in the garden of St Matthew’s Church to reflect on their fates and also to expose our sun-starved faces to the blazing ball on the horizon. And so, at the church in Sutton Bridge, a small dignified act of Czech piety was connected with a celebration of light. With our faces warmed and our spirits nourished, we set off on the tiring journey back to London.


London, 5 June 2021                                                                                       

Libor Sečka


Never Forgotten Stage 17 EN Lincoln, Sutton Bridge