A remembrance ceremony is being held in Prague on Monday early evening marking the 72nd anniversary of the return of Czechoslovak aviators who served with Britain’s RAF during WWII. Among those in attendance is set to be one of the last surviving Czech RAF men, Brigadier General Emil Boček.
Among those enjoying the festivities at Ruzyně on that day was Karel Bažant, an aircraft mechanic. The returned aviators included good friends he hadn’t seen in years.
“There were 54 planes. They flew across Prague, turned around and came back via Prague Castle and landed at Ruzyně. Then we all rushed forward so we could be there to welcome them. We were glad that it was all over and that they had returned in good health, albeit late.”
Starting in 1940, around 2,500 men had signed up to the RAF’s Czechoslovak squadrons. More than 500 of them met their deaths.
General Emil Boček flew with the 310 Squadron and is today, at 94, one of the few surviving Czech RAF veterans.
A participant in over two dozen operations over Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, he made international news last year for flying in a Spitfire after a gap of seven decades.
General Boček was on one of those planes returning from the UK in August 1945 – and explains why the journey home took longer than planned.
“On August 7 we set off in 54 planes for Czechoslovakia. After two hours and 25 minutes we landed in Germany to refuel before flying home. But then it started to rain and became foggy and we ended up spending a whole week there. On August 13 we set off again but we couldn’t fly directly to Prague, because that would have meant flying through the Russian zone and the Russians didn’t give us permission. So we flew to the east and went via Plzeň to Prague, to Ruzyně.”
A few days later, on August 21, 1945, the airmen were given an enormous homecoming on Prague’s Old Town Square.
However, the jubilation was not to last long for the returning heroes. Following the Communist takeover of 1948 many were imprisoned and suffered other forms of persecution.
It was not until after the return of democracy at the very end of the 1980s that they began to fully receive the respect they deserved.