Celebrating brave Czechoslovak Airmen and the Official Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen


The 'Winged Lion' monument © Ricky Yates

The ‘Winged Lion’ monument © Ricky Yates

As I mentioned at the beginning of my previous post, I had a most interesting week in advance of my laptop computer lock-out problems. The highlight was attending two interrelated events on the afternoon and early evening of Tuesday 17th June.

The first event was the official unveiling of this monument, entitled ‘The Winged Lion’, by Sir Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill. It commemorates the nearly two and a half thousand Czechs and Slovaks who escaped from Czechoslovakia after the country was occupied by the Nazis in 1939, and served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

As this BBC news article explains, the idea for the memorial came from members of the British expat community currently living and working in the Czech Republic. They in turn, successfully raised the £100,000 that the monument has cost. However, contrary to what the news report says, it wasn’t just British expats who contributed towards the cost, but also other English-speaking expats and some Czech business people too.

Unfortunately, after the communist coup of February 1948, as is briefly referred to the BBC news report, the Czechoslovak airman who returned to their native country following the defeat of Hitler, were extremely badly treated by the communist authorities, who deemed them to have fought for ‘the wrong side’. Some were imprisoned whilst others were made to undertake demeaning manual labouring jobs. Seen as heroes in the West, they were regarded as a security threat by the communists.

One part of this story which is not recounted in the BBC report is that, just as many young British women met and married American servicemen who were ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here’, and became ‘GI brides’, so also, quite a number of young British women married these Czechoslovak airmen. They came to live with their husbands in Czechoslovakia in 1945-6 and then were treated just as badly by the communist authorities because of the men they were married to. If their husbands were imprisoned, then they were left to fend for themselves, often in small rural towns and villages and with little fluency in Czech or Slovak.

I first heard the story of these remarkable women from Linda Duffield, who was the British Ambassador when I first came here in September 2008. She told me that each year just before Christmas, she held a tea party at the embassy for these Czechoslovak airmen’s wives and widows, but that each year, there were inevitably fewer and fewer of them attending.


Crowds attending the unveiling ceremony © Ricky Yates

Crowds attending the unveiling ceremony © Ricky Yates

Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the brave Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF, have had their, rank, medals, pensions etc restored to them and they are now rightly regarded as national heroes. But as the BBC article states, only nine survivors were able to be present at the unveiling of this monument that celebrates what they and their colleagues did in the service of freedom.


My official invitation - minus the 'Rev'd' :-(

My official invitation – minus the ‘Rev’d’

Following the unveiling ceremony, I went on to attend a Garden Party at the British Embassy, celebrating the official birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, a regular annual event about which I’ve previously written on this blog. This year, having been greeted by the current British Ambassador Jan Thompson, the guests were invited to walk down to the terrace where we then had a splendid view of the flypast by a WW2 Spitfire which is referred to in the BBC report.

After the flypast and the playing of ‘Where is my home?’ and ‘God save the Queen’, there was speech of welcome in both Czech and English by the ambassador, followed by a speech in English, by President Zeman, in which he praised Sir Winston Churchill and at the end, proposed a toast to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her 88th birthday. In case any reader is wondering about the Czech National Anthem, the Czechs do know where their home is – the title is a rhetorical question.

After the formal part of the evening, we then all returned to the embassy garden for drinks and refreshments which were, as in previous years, an interesting eclectic mix of things British and Czech. As usual, I both reconnected with people who I already know, be they embassy staff, fellow Brits or Czech business people. I also got to meet in person for the first time, Marie Knezová, who I previously only knew online. She asked me to pose with her for this delightful photograph, taken for us by her sister Jana who is the Vice Consul at the Embassy.


With Marie Knezová at the Queen's Birthday Garden Party © Marie Knezová

With Marie Knezová at the Queen’s Birthday Garden Party © Marie Knezová

In her description of this photograph on Facebook, Marie describes me as her ‘favourite pastor and blogger – charismatic Ricky Yates’. Now that’s a reputation to live up to 🙂











14 comments to Celebrating brave Czechoslovak Airmen and the Official Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen

  • Mike in Bohemia

    Interesting, Ricky. A great idea. Shame I didn’t know about it beforehand, as I would have liked to have seen the Spitfire flying over the Vltava.
    Only Prague expats seem to have been in the know, I guess. Maybe to avoid conflict with those in Prague against the location of the statue.
    That aside, a very fitting tribute to very brave men who we cannot thank enough.

    • Ricky

      Hi Mike – thank you for your comment & for leaving it here as well as on Facebook.

      Whilst I had seen news items regarding the plan to create this memorial & raise the necessary funds to do so, the actual unveiling arrangements were very poorly advertised. I only heard about it from another British expat & congregation member, on the day of the unveiling. Otherwise I’d just have gone straight to the embassy for the QBP as the staff call it 🙂

      I guess the conflict over the location may have contributed to the lack of publicity. I fully concur with the sentiments of the last sentence of your comment.

  • Congratulations on your well-deserved new-found reputation!

    I was going to ask where the monument is located but having read the last comments, I will also ask: What was the controversy about that location?

    • Ricky

      Hi Stephen! Many thanks for the congratulations 🙂

      The monument is located on a small area of grass called Klarov, opposite the Malostranská tram & metro station. The controversy is referred to in the BBC News item to which I linked, which Mike, the previous commenter, had obviously read. Basically, the National Cultural Heritage Institute claim that they weren’t consulted properly as they should have been by the Prague 1 Council & are threatening legal action. It’s a view with little public support – the monument has been much appreciated by the Czech military, politicians & the wider population.

  • Very interesting indeed, Ricky, and I’m glad to catch up with a little-known aspect of wartime history. It’s a shame that there is a conflict between the cultural heritage department and the rest of Czech society. I have to say this, but it does sound like sour grapes from bureaucrats who feel slighted by lack of thorough consultation. The location sounds like a very good one to me.

    • Ricky

      It is an aspect of wartime history which is not as well known in the UK as it should be, Perpetua. Sadly, ‘sour grapes from bureaucrats’ is exactly what the location dispute is about. As far as I and many others are concerned, where the monument is situated is highly suitable.

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    Great post – thank you. It is great to see these heroic men being recognized for their sacrifice and devotion to duty. How awful when politics interfere with commemoration of human spirit, courage and devotion to duty? We in Ireland have had our own history of state and societal amnesia regarding those Irish people who served in both World Wars and it is only in the last decade or so we have belatedly begun to honour and acknowledge the sacrifice of these thousands of men and women. Sadly we didn’t do it when the majority of the survivors were still alive.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Sean. I very much concur with all the sentiments you express in this comment. Fortunately, these heroic men have received proper recognition since 1990, but not before over forty years of neglect & ill treatment. But as you say, for many it was already too late & the recognition has only been posthumous.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Ricky

    This link from Radio Prague offers a very balanced view regarding the controversy over the location of the statue at Klarov. There is certainly the suggestion that approval for the location was given somewhat hastily by Prague 1, without proper consultation with the National Heritage Institute.


    My personal opinion is that it might be better to find a different definitive location, given that, as the article mentions, there is already a major monument only a few metres from the statue (commemorating the “Second Resistance Movement” during the Nazi occupation), as well as the fact that parks are meant to be parks and Klarov, only a small park, now looks a little cluttered, however fine the statue looks and however deserving the exploits of the Czech airmen may have been.

    • Ricky

      Hi Jonathan,

      Many thanks, both for this comment & for the helpful link to the Radio Prague article, which does, as you say, give a very balanced view of issues surrounding the location of the memorial. Thank you also for leaving your comment here & not only on Facebook.

      My own opinion is that the current location of the ‘Winged Lion’ is fine. I don’t think that it makes Klarov look cluttered & Prague is fortunate in having an abundance of parks & green spaces. Let’s wait & see what the National Heritage Institute decides to do.

  • I did not know about this. But now that I do, I like it very much. It honours a worthy cause, it does so with a very nice symbol, and it also suits Prague’s “style”. 😉

    The dispute is quite typical, I think… On one hand, it’s a very good thing that we have heritage departments (there is a lot of heritage to be proud of and protect!), on the other hand, sometimes their bureaucracy interferes too much and hinders things that are worthy of happening…

    Here’s to hoping this monument will remain there, or at least somewhere similarly nice, for decades and more. 🙂

    • Ricky

      I was surprised that you had not heard about this, Hana, until reading my blog post. I know you live outside of Prague, (exactly where, you’ve never revealed 🙂 ), but I thought, obviously wrongly, that the unveiling of the memorial had received national press & TV coverage.

      Your middle paragraph sums up things absolutely perfectly & I also find myself in complete agreement with all your other sentiments expressed in your comment.

  • Em

    Hi Ricky, I’d heard about the monument but not about the details of how the airmen and their wives were treated. Thank you for sharing their story. And the Queen’s garden party – what a fabulous event to attend!

    • Ricky

      Hi Emily – Yes, the story of the Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF during World War Two & how they & their wives were treated by the communist regime post-1948, is one that does need to be much better known than it is currently. The unveiling of this monument has highlighted their service, albeit somewhat belatedly.

      The annual Garden Party at the British Embassy to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday, is always a most enjoyable event to attend, as well as an opportunity to do a little networking 🙂