A well known Czech war veteran, RAF pilot general Alois Siska died on Tuesday at the age of 89. General Siska served in the British Royal Air Force's 311 bomber squadron during WWII, he was seriously wounded, nearly lost both legs to gangrene and was taken prisoner of war. But none of the tests he faced up in the air were as tough as those he faced on the ground when he should have been welcomed home as a hero. After the communist coup in 1948 Alois Siska was persecuted, jailed and banished from Prague.
In 1941 Alois Siska's Wellington bomber was damaged by enemy fire over the North Sea. Seriously injured, he managed a water landing and spent four long days in a dingy which the tide eventually washed up on Dutch shores. He was unconscious with severe gangrene in both legs when the Germans took him prisoner of war. Paradoxically it was a heart attack which saved his legs - he was being placed on the operating table and prepared for amputation when he suffered a massive heart attack. "There was no question of operating. I would not have survived surgery," he said later, describing the incident as a miracle in disguise. His injuries qualified him for membership of the Guinea Pig Club - of RAF men mutilated in the fighting. Eventually he regained the use of both legs thanks to the skill of British surgeons. But his troubles were far from over.
His former comrade in arms, RAF pilot Petr Uruba remembers Alois Siska, or Lou as he was called by his RAF friends, as a man of humour and courage, who never lost his energy right to the end of his life.
"He was very friendly, a good pilot and always ready to tell a joke - a very fine person. Lou was very active. He was one of the chaps who still drove his car. He was strong not only morally, but also physically. He had very little rest in recent months because we were often invited to schools to tell the young generation what it was like when we went abroad and fought as RAF pilots in the country's time of need."
It took half a century before Alois Siska could tell Czech schoolchildren about his life as an RAF pilot. While in Britain Siska was a respected war hero, he received no recognition at home. In 1948 the communists took power in his homeland and the role of Czech pilots who served in the RAF was played down, because they had fought in the West. There followed years of persecution, and imprisonment. Siska was forced into menial jobs and banned from Prague. It was only after the fall of communism in 1989 that Siska and his brothers in arms were rehabilitated. Most were in their late seventies at the time but glad they had lived to see the day. "We are now where the British were 58 years ago" General Siska said on the occasion.
Alois Siska was the last Czech member of the Guinea Pig Club and his seat will remain empty during the traditional end-of-September gathering of British war heroes. In the Czech Republic he will be remembered as one of the many brave men who became victims of their times - and who failed to get the respect and admiration which was their due.
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