Czech Air Force celebrates 100 years

The last living Czech RAF veteran attended a wreath laying ceremony

The Czech Air Force’s marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Air Force with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Winged Lion Memorial on Prague’s Klarov park.

The celebration is one of many tied to the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

The event also honored the 2,507 Czechoslovak men and women who served in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. Some 510 died during the conflict between 1940 and '45. they are remembered overall for their contribution to winning the Battle of Britain.

Aug. 14 is the also the day in 1945 that the majority of those who served with the RAF returned to Czechoslovakia. Initially, they were welcomed home as heroes. But after the communist coup in 1948, they were regarded as a threat to the new regime and persecuted, imprisoned or forced into physical labor.

The actual anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Air Force is not until October.

A full-sized Spitfire plane was on display next to the Winged Lion Memorial, and during the ceremony, two modern Gripen fighters flew directly overhead.

Several wreaths were laid by an honor guard that included Czech General Petr Pavel and Prague 1 Mayor Oldřich Lomecký.

Those attending the ceremony included Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach GBE KCB DL, serving Czech Air Force personnel including the Honor Guard and the Sixtet of the Central Band of the Czech Armed Forces, and current members of the RAF including Air Vice-Marshal David Cooper CBE.

Both Sir Stuart Peach and Air Vice-Marshal Cooper mentioned the recent loss of three Czech soldiers in Afghanistan, and acknowledged the sacrifices that the Czech Republic has made as a NATO partner in ongoing efforts to secure peace.

“It is an honor to represent the Royal Air Force on the occasion of this ceremony to celebrate the centenary of the Czechoslovak Air Force. The ties between the two air forces are exemplified by the brave Czech and Slovak airmen who served with such distinction during World War II and their service is symbolized by the Winged Lion Memorial,” Air Vice-Marshal Cooper said.

Sir Stuart Peach echoed many of the same sentiments.“I was present at the unveiling of the Winged Lion in 2014 and I am delighted to see that the individual names of the 2,507 brave airmen have now been added to the memorial. As both the RAF and Czechoslovak Air Force are celebrating their centenaries in 2018, it is important to recognize the deep ties that have developed between the two forces over the decades,” Sir Stuart Peach said.

Several Czech military and political figures also spoke at the ceremony. “Contemporary Czech Air Force pilots are following on the wings of the World War II fighters who served in the Royal Air Force. My goal is to uphold the reputation that the veterans have regained in the eyes of our citizens as well as our allies since November 1989. I am convinced that the Air Force will proudly keep this link and continue their legacy with pride,” said Defense Minister Lubomír Metnar.

Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague, reflected on the sacrifices, which he said should not be forgotten, and led a blessing.

Major General Emil Boček, who this year celebrated his 95th birthday and is the last living Czech pilot to have served with Britain’s RAF during WWII, attended, but did not address the crowd. In his honor, a small model of a Spitfire with the markings of the Czechoslovak-manned 310 Squadron of the Royal Air Force was presented to the most promising young Czech Air Force Cadet, Lieutenant Ondřej Mach, a pilot with the 212th tactical squadron of Čáslav Air Base.

The Winged Lion Memorial is at Klarov largely due to private efforts to ensure the efforts of Czech and Slovak pilots and support staff to fight the Nazis in World War II are never forgotten.

It was unveiled June 17, 2014, by the British Member of Parliament, the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill.

The funds raised in 2014, about Kč 3 million, were donated by the British community in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Donations from Czech citizens, businesses and individuals were also received.

On Nov. 13, 2017, the names of all 2,507 Czechoslovak airmen and women who served with the RAF were inscribed on the Winged Lion Memorial. The funds raised for the inscriptions in 2017 were donated by the Czech business community.

The origins of the monument are credited to Mr. Euan Edworthy, a businessman who has lived in the Czech Republic for many years. 

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