History

History of the Czechoslovak Military Memorial

Because of that history and the limitation of space, this has resulted in just RAF burials being present. However, the inscription on the back of the memorial is clear as to its national intent which is that it stands

‘In memory of the soldiers of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces killed in the Second World War and buried in the cemeteries of the United Kingdom.’

That sentiment is echoed with the headstones of all Czechoslovaks buried outside Brookwood having a copy of lion emblem inscribed to honour the sacrifice they made for their country.

The plot holds the remains of 45 Czechoslovak Airmen, all of whom were part of the RAF during WWII. Because the lion on the memorial was so prominent, it was agreed to be unnecessary to incorporate this symbol on the new headstones that replaced the original wooden crosses. These headstone designs are therefore unique only to Brookwood.

After Czechoslovakia was invaded by Germany in 1939 those already in the forces, or who wanted to fight, had to escape. Many chose to go to France and joined the Foreign Legion until there were sufficient numbers for Czechoslovak units to be formed. Engaged fully in the Battle of France in 1940 on land and air their own Dunkirk moment arrived and troops were evacuated by sea to England from the South of France in an array of merchant and Royal Naval vessels. They regrouped in a tented village in the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire.

Having already seen action in France, the Czechoslovak Airmen were at this time more experienced than the British crews. On 2 July 1940 the Czechoslovak President-in-exile, Dr. Edvard Beneš, urged the British government to let his men help defend Britain. A month later the first Czechoslovak Fighter and Bomber Squadrons were formed.

The original Czechoslovak fighter squadron 310 was formed on 10 July 1940 and was based at Duxford. Operational on 17 August, its Hurricanes fought in the Battle of Britain. The squadron’s motto was- ‘We fight to rebuild’.

Three weeks later on 29 July 1940 a second squadron 311 was formed based at Homington, as a bomber squadron flying Wellingtons. Its motto translated to- ‘Ignore their numbers’.

On 29 August 1940, a second Czechoslovak fighter squadron 312 was formed at Duxford again flying Hurricanes. Its motto translated to- ‘Not many, but much’

The use of the site, known as plot 28, where the Czechoslovak Memorial stands today came about through the Wellington crash in 1942. An urgent need arose to find space for a mass grave where the airmen could be interred. After the burial, the entire plot was purchased by the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) for £75 from the London Necropolis Company. It was agreed by Air Vice Marshal Karel Janoušek KBE that it would thereafter be used as a military cemetery for air force casualties around London and provided capacity for 50 graves. The IWGC, (later renamed Commonwealth War Graves Commission), acquired rights in perpetuity over plot 28 and other sections that led to the military cemetery being enlarged into the extensive site it now occupies.

After the war, the Czechoslovak Government decided the fallen, both soldiers and airmen, should rest where they had been buried originally. Symbolic repatriation was carried out, with soil from each grave across the UK being sent to Prague for commemoration. As a long term solution, that suited the British and Czechoslovaks, a reciprocal agreement was reached. The Czechoslovak authorities would centralize all British casualties in Czechoslovakia at Olšany, near Prague, in a layout built to the standard British specification. In return, the British agreed to permanently mark the graves of all Czechoslovaks who fought with the British and were buried in the UK and abroad and also to maintain them.

The advent of the Communist regime from 1948 seriously affected the progress of implementing that agreement. In 1952 state supported proposals for Brookwood eventually emerged; despite the delays, a major policy shift occurred, which instead of leaving Brookwood as a local RAF plot, it was designated as the site of a national memorial. The monument and headstone layout was completed, after further delays, by the end of 1955. Though the design was entirely created by Czechoslovak architects, the construction phase came under the supervision of Ralph Hobday, a Principal Architect of the IWGC. Also, the materials admirably show the British connection, the monument and headstones being made from Portland Stone. The bronze lion emblem was cast in England from a life-size mould transported from Czechoslovakia.

Crashes and Fatalities

The headstones in this plot come from five separate crashes or individual deaths that occurred whilst in action, training or through illness. The majority came from 311 squadron.

The first occurred on 18 October 1942, when a Wellington Bomber KX-T (T2564) came down on a flight from Talbeny to Uxbridge. The crew had all been granted leave and were flying to London to attend festivities at the Czech Club to celebrate Czechoslovak National Day, on October 28.

The second was on 29 August 1943 when flight BZ775 took off from Beaulieau. Records stated that the pilot, Adolf Musálek, lost control shortly after take-off for a sortie and crashed into Dilton Copse near Brockenhurst.

The third crash, flight BZ785 again from Beaulieau, happened a day later on 30 August 1943. The Liberator plane from 311 squadron was on a training flight and it’s believed they were practicing a corkscrew maneuver when the engine stalled.

The fourth crash was on 10 January 1945. An Airspeed Oxford Military Trainer Plane (PH404) crashed whilst traveling from Scotland to RAF Hornchurch near London. It was carrying a crew from 311 Squadron, including the DFC pilot Jan Vella, who was traveling to receive his medal. Sadly the plane and its crew were not discovered until the wreckage was found in August 1945 by two hill walkers, Dr. James Bain, a teacher in Elgin, and Flight Lieutenant Archie Pennie. It took ten days to complete the recovery operation and bring all the bodies down from the mountainside in treacherous conditions. All five bodies were interred at Brookwood on 3 September 1945.

Each year in November at the churchyard in Tain Scotland, the community hold a memorial service and lay a wreath at the stone that was unveiled in 2007. It commemorates all the 311 service personnel who died flying from the airbase there. The five from flight PH404 are included in that commemoration.

The fifth and largest crash was on 5 October 1945. It was flying from Blackbushe Airport back to Czechoslovakia with people returning home after the war. The crew who perished were:

Karel Rybníček

Zdeněk Sedlák

Antonín Brož

Bohumil Vaverka

Jaroslav Kudláček

Another name should have been here was of Edita Sedláková who was a stowaway WAAF on board the plane. You will learn more about the Liberator’s fatal journey and Edita’s story later on when you reach our 5th site here at Brook- wood, the Liberator headstone.

The symbolic grave of Pilot Officer Jaroslav Štěrbáček, the first Czechoslovak airmen to be killed in the RAF, is also here. He joined 310 Sqn on 31 August 1940 at Hornchurch, and later that day his squadron participated in its first action of the Battle of Britain. At 13:30, whilst engaging a formation of Dorniers escorted by Bf 110’s and Bf 109’s his Hurricane I (P3159) was shot down by a Bf 109 over the Thames Estuary.

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This memorial is in Tain Scotland, and commemorates the Czechoslovak crews lost in sorties by the RAF Coastal Command.

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On 7 January 1941 a new No. 68 squadron was formed at RAF Catterick as a night fighter squadron. Their emblem was a tawny owl head, their motto was ‘Always Prepared’. There were up to eight flying crews consisting entirely of Czechoslovak personnel.

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Pilot Officer Jaroslav Štěrbáček: His headstone is not with those who were killed during the war at the Czechoslovak Monument but in the civilian plot. It was placed here posthumously by his colleagues who survived the war in his memory.