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Mrs Gerry Manolas, Chair of MAFCSV

Gerry organised and conducted the memorial service proceedings with the support of those thanked in her speech and gratitude to all those attending. The speech, as shown here is in sections linked to the locations of the various acts of remembrance. Gerry also describes new information about those memorialised and those newly memorialised who are honoured in the various cemetery plots at Brookwood.    

A Welcome To You All

Welcome to you all.

This is our first large Brookwood Memorial event since October 2019. Can you believe it is 2 years since we all had the chance to be together to remember our veterans?

In particular a warm welcome to our honoured guests; the Czech Deputy Ambassador; the Slovak and Czech Defence Attaches and the Deputy Mayor of Woking. I would like to welcome to Mr Chatard the husband of our new Czech Ambassador. They are both passionate about the Czechoslovak veterans and we hope this will be the first of many visits during their time here in the UK.

We are thrilled to be joined by representatives from the CWGC, The American Battle Monuments Commission, Brookwood and The Czechoslovak Memorial Fountain in Leamington Spa, the Polish Airmen’s Association; Camberley Royal British Legion and the Frimley and Camberley Cadet Corps; RAFA and 310 (Widnes) Squadron Air Cadets.

We have been sent greetings from Wokingham & Woodley RAFA who look forward to being here in May 2022 as do 1349 Woking Squadron Air Cadets who are away on an expedition this weekend. I would however like to welcome back Oliver McBreartey who is currently waiting to start his RAF training and is carrying the RAFA standard today.

I would like to also thank all of our standard bearers, who look so smart and do a wonderful job.

Thank you to the Directors and Teachers of the Czech and Slovak Schools who are here and work with us to ensure their students learn about our shared history.

Finally, to our VIP’s, the children who are here with their families and schools: we need you here today so that in the future you will be able to carry out these memorials and ensure these men and women are never forgotten.

For some this is your first visit to our event at Brookwood. We are thrilled you have come and hope you will enjoy being part of today’s event and the MAFCSV family. We have discovered so many new stories in the past two years. Many linked to Brookwood.

We hope you have seen the new headstone on the back row here to Captain Seda. The only member of the Czechoslovak Army to be buried here. He died in July 1942 whilst parachute jumping in Ringway Airport, Manchester. Unfortunately, his ashes were forgotten for 20 years and once discovered it took another 2 years before they were buried here in 1964. To add insult to injury he then didn’t receive a headstone. The MAFCSV the Embassies and CWGC came together in 2019 to rectify this and unveiled one in May 2020.

This year we again worked together and with the support of the family erected a joint commemorative headstone for Edita and Zdenek Sedlak. Many of you will know that they died in the same crash but were buried separately with Edita being remembered on the Liberator headstone next door. Obviously, it would have been impossible to move her remains, but her name is now alongside her husbands.

Both stories, the history of this plot and the memorial have been thoroughly researched in the past two years by Dr George Scott and he has published a fascinating book about them all. We have brought some copies with us today and hope you will purchase one.

We discovered that there are 3 names on the Memorial to the Missing just over there that relate to the Czechoslovak fight for freedom in WWII. Eryk Bachrach and Alfred Skal were Czechoslovak Jews who escaped to Palestine in 1939 where they joined the Four hundred and 62nd General Transport Company in the British Army. When they learned that there was a Czechoslovak Independent Brigade in the Middle East they requested to transfer to fight alongside their fellow countrymen. Unfortunately, before that could happen they both died onboard the SS Erin-pura which was sunk on its way to Malta by a German plane on May 1st 1943.

And finally, to Major John Sehmer who was part of the 45th Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment. He joined the Special Operations Executive on 26.01.1943 and was part of Operation Windproof in September 1944. Now I know he doesn’t sound very Czechoslovak, but he was the head of the British Mission for the Slovak National Uprising. He was dropped into Slovakia in autumn 1944, but when the Slovak Uprising stalled in the winter he and several partisans were captured, taken to Mauthausen where they were all tortured and then shot on 23 Jan 1945.

Each of these are an important part of our wider collective history. Many were ordinary citizens just like us who were called upon to do extra ordinary things in incredibly challenging circumstances. We learn and read about them and often say we couldn’t do what they did. But because they did; we don’t have to and that’s why we remember and commemorate them.

Some of us are lucky enough to remember them personally, others remember them from what they have read or been told. For our young students and children it may be their first time to learn about them. As time passes and the gap widens this act of remembrance becomes ever more important. For without it their deeds and sacrifices and what they fought for are forgotten.

Today we can stand here proudly and know that this will not happen ‘on our watch’

Act of Remembrance

Ruth Moore played the Last Post and the Reveille.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Wreaths were laid by:

Deputy Ambassador of the Czech Republic Michal Strouhal and his Defence Attaché Brigadier General Vratislav Beran, Warrant Officer Tomas Kaspar and the Slovak Defence Attaché Colonel Vladimir Stolarik.

Deputy Mayor, Councillor Saj Hussain represented Woking Borough Council, and Bob Thomson Head Gardener of Brookwood represented the CWGC.

Mr Stefan Kasprzyk on behalf of the Polish Airforce Association, Chris and Georgina Pavel from the Friends of Czechoslovak Memorial Fountain Leamington Spa, Ailsa Nicholas on behalf of the Royal British Legion and Sergeant Simon Hedges from the Frimley and Camberley Cadet Corps and Ashley Barnett on behalf of Secret WWII Learning Network. Mimi Chanova and Tessa Chambers (nee Elkington) in memory of Squadron Leader Tim Elkington of No 1. Squadron, Tangmere and all Czechoslovak Air crews who flew from there and Denise Mellion who lay a wreath in memory of her father and the veterans of 311 Bomber squadron. Children and staff from the Czech and Slovak Schools also laid flowers.

Czech, Slovak and British national anthems were sung, led by the children and parents from our Czech and Slovak schools.

Cadet and children from the schools came forward and took a little electric tea light and lit it and placed it on the top of the headstones as an act of remembrance.

3 cadets collected a cross and placed one of each of the 3 Czechoslovak headstones in the RAF rows.

Today we are proud to welcome the Commanding Officer Flight Lieutenant Gary Simon from 310 (Widnes) Squadron Air Cadets. Thanks to the Warrant Officer Tomas Kaspar we will be joining together with them to develop a new partnership. Brigadier General Vratislav Beran then took the opportunity to present a plaque of the original 310th Czechoslovak RAF Fighter Squadron as unfortunately, the original plaque was destroyed in a fire.

The standards and cadets then led us all down to the Liberator Headstone where we reconvened our commemoration service.

At The Liberator Plot

It has been some time since we made an official visit to this site. Here we remember the Czechoslovak civilians who died in the air crash from Blackbushe Airport on 5 October 1945. It is also where Edita and Marina Pauliny are buried. What is so tragic is that they had survived the war and were looking forward to returning home to a free Czechoslovakia when the accident occurred.

Su and Mike Hermann, nephew of Edita, laid a wreath. And Slovak Defence Attaché Colonel Vladimir Stolarik laid one in memory of Marina Pauliny.

Here is the newly refurbished grave of Marina Pauliny which was completed during lockdown. She was Vice Chair of the Czechoslovak Red Cross which was responsible for sending humanitarian parcels to prisoners of war which invariably will have included many of the veterans.

At The Civilian Plot

Honoured guests, family and friends: before the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, those who are interred here were believed to be enemies of the state and were not able to return to their beloved country. Instead they chose this plot so they could all be buried alongside each other as ‘brothers and sisters in arms’; together again.

The Deputy Czech Ambassador, Warrant Officer Tomas Kaspar, Brigadier General Vratislav Beran and Colonel Vladimir Stolarik of the Slovak Embassy laid wreaths by the tree along with John Polak on behalf of the MAFCSV.

Maintaining this plot does not happen by magic. I would like to thank the Jones family who joined me recently to clean each of these headstones in readiness for today. Each month it is tidied by us and we ensure the MAFCSV posies, flags and crosses always look their best. Brookwood Cemetery also tend the plot which is funded thanks to a grant from the Czech Embassy. For those of you who are regulars you will notice Brookwood Cemetery have recently created a smart new road surface and added us to their QR code guided tour.

Not only do we commemorate our veterans here in the UK; but also at events in the Czech and Slovak Republics organised and attended by our international team. Our next project needs us to raise £500 for a new information panel in the village of Wingrave in Buckinghamshire where the Czechoslovak government in exile were based during WWII and where Operation Anthropoid was planned. We hope you can help us fund this and bring our veterans’ stories to a new audience.

Today we are delighted to be joined by Mimi Kuttelwascherova, Daughter of Jan Kuttelwascher who was a military police officer in the Czechoslovak Army and her Uncle Karel Kuttelwascher the famous fighter pilot ace in Number 1 Squadron. She is going to be giving a short talk specifically for the students and children today and share some pictures and items from her personal collection. We hope the children will take this opportunity to learn about two very courageous brothers.

The children from the Czech and Slovak Schools here in the UK were invited to send poems that were inspired by our veterans. We would like to share one with you here, amongst them as a poignant moment of remembrance.

Czechs and Slovaks at Brookwood by Anna N G.

Their bodies are buried at Brookwood
But their memory still remains
Of how they fought bravely for their country
For all of their family and friends.
And we will always remember
How they gave their lives
Knowing they might not make it out
Men and women alike.
The terrors of war were horrible
And they will always be there
But as long as we have hope and faith
We can always find people like that everywhere.

The children then placed their poppy stones and put them around the base of our Tree of Peace.
Thank you to all who came and joined us at our event. We hope to see you in May 2022.