Where to begin? I guess a brief history of our family might help and how I came to be born in the beautiful city of Prague.
During the Second World War Czechoslovakia was basically given to the Germans but that's not the story I am writing about today. Many Czechoslovak's were living outside of their homeland at that time or managed to get out as the German's took over their Country. It was hard for those inside the Country to do anything so those outside formed an army. The Czechoslovak free army. As it passed through each country more and more men joined. My grandfather who was living in France at the time, joined the army as they fought from there. He had actually lied about his age so that he could sign up to join the troops.
As the fighting in France grew worse and the German's advanced, they were forced to retreat to the coast where they were cut off. Boats came from England and North Africa to pick them up and to be honest it was just pot luck where they ended up. My Grandfather was on a boat heading for North Africa but their boat was stopped by a British navy ship and they ended up in England. They were moved around a lot but I won't go into all that today. From then they fought along side the British soldiers and once again were on French soil. It was on those beaches he met his life long friend Karel. My Grandfather and Karel were sent back to England to train other soldiers how to use the radios in the tanks. Their base was to be at Moreton Paddox just outside Royal Leamington Spa and the new Czechoslovak head quarters was at Harrington House in Leamington Spa where the Spa centre is now. These days a beautiful house like this would be protected ,not demolished. Click on the link to see what it looked like. It still amazes me that this house was knocked down for a modern building.
Please forgive me for using these photos if they are yours as I do not know who took them. They were found amongst my Grandfather's belongings after he died and it seemed such a shame not to share them.
Before my Grandfather passed on, he sat and told me his stories, something he had not done before. It was not something he liked to talk about but it was almost like he knew that if he didn't tell someone then, the stories would die with him. I am so pleased he did share them with me. I wrote them all down to keep with my family tree research papers so that we have them for always.
The Czechoslovak Free Army at Moreton Paddox. My Grandfather in sat in the middle towards the back.
For those who don't know the story of some of these brave men who were also friends of my grandfather and who my grandfather trained with, read these link. It tells of their bravery in the assassination of Hitler's right hand man Reinhard Heydrich who was also one of the most feared members of the Nazi Party.
It also connects these two places.... The fountain in Jepheson Gardens in Royal Leamington Spa which is shaped as a parachute to represent these soldiers who were parachuted into Czechoslovakia on their secret mission and who lost their lives in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.
And here in Prague which was these soldiers final stand. You can still see the bullet holes in the wall. If you interested in this and would like to learn more. There was a film made in 1975 called 'Operation Daybreak' It tells the story of what happened to these men.
My grandfather and best friend Karel sitting on a tank.
My Grandmothers sister also married a soldier from the Czechoslovak Free army but they stayed in Leamington Spa after the war.
The picture below was taken in 1942 in Jepheson Gardens in Leamington Spa. It pictures my grandfather in the middle with my grandmother on the right and one of her other friends on the left. This was taken in their dating days.
They married in Leamington and went on to have three beautiful daughters.
The picture below was taken at Prague airport in 1947
After the War had ended, they moved back to Prague to settle there with their new families and for many years they lived happily. It is strange how things turn out and how war can change peoples lives so much.
In Prague my Grandmother was known as the English lady and my mother and her sisters were the English children. This to me is funny because when we came back to England after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, we were known as the foreign family. Things soon turn around.
My Grandfather and My Grandmothers brother who was on a visit from England 1959
After the Russian Invasion life became hard. So much happened that my grandmother decided enough was enough and she wanted to go home back to England. This was easier said than down. After the Invasion, many people fled the Country quickly, doctors, professors anyone who could got out before the Russians got a tighter hold on the Country. After that with the new rules and curfews, anyone leaving the Country could only do so as a holiday and had to leave one member of the family behind to make sure you would return.
I am often asked how much I remember being so young when I left Prague. I do remember some things and I remember the noise. If you can imaging going to bed one night and waking up the next day to find tanks in the streets, no warning, nothing. That is exactly what happened. To give you an idea to what Prague woke up to, click this link..
Here are just a few of my Grandfather's medals. He was entitled to more including British ones but never claimed them.
I also have a new short film for you to watch which was made by some friends of mine in Leamington Spa and explaining about the Czechoslovak Free Army in Leamington and what they did. Well worth watching.
If you enjoy learning about local history and live in the Warwick and Leamington area, you might enjoy a few more of their short films. I found them very interesting.
In part 2 of this blog I will show you a little of Prague and how it is today and why I am so proud to have been born in such a beautiful City.
Photos Copyright Jana Eastwood