On Tuesday, a small park in the centre of Prague hosted the ceremonial unveiling of a commemorative statue honouring the contribution of Czech pilots to World War II. Despite being the second World War II monument in this tiny park, and despite the fact that the National Heritage Institute is at odds with Prague 1 authorities over the bronze lion, a major ceremonial event marked its unveiling, attended by veterans, military members and even Winston Churchill’s grandson.
Within a small park in Klárov, Malá Strana, in the centre of historic Prague, is a statue, currently wrapped up for the most part in a green cotton cloth. You can just see the feet of a bronze lion statue protruding from the bottom. But what is very prominent is the plaque, which says:
“This monument is an expression of the British community’s lasting gratitude to the 2,500 Czechoslovak airmen who served with the Royal Air Force between 1940 and 1945 for the freedom of Europe. Many were subsequently persecuted by the communist regime in Czechoslovakia...It is a gift to the Czech and Slovak peoples from the British community living and working in the Czech and Slovak Republics.”
The bronze statue of a winged lion is about two metres across. It is by the British sculptor Colin Spofforth and it was paid for, at a cost of about 100,000 pounds, by the British communities living in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. And it is meant as a symbol of appreciation by the British for the help provided by Czech and Slovak airmen flying in the RAF during World War II.
Overhead, a spitfire flies over Prague – part of the unveiling ceremony. I am joined by Josef Horák, the British son of a Czech RAF officer from Lidice who served between 1940-45.
“After the Germans took over Czechoslovakia, my father escaped via France and ended up in Britain and joined the RAF. I think he started off as a rear gunner, then a navigator, and then a pilot.”
So what brings you here today and what is the significance for you of an event like this?
“I think it is very significant. I think a large proportion of RAF members were foreigners: Poles, Czechs, New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians. I think it gets little or no recognition. So anything like this is a good thing.”
“My name is Josef ‘Joe’ Muchián, and I am a member of the civic association The Czech Spitfire Club. And my friends and I have on the uniforms worn by the pilots in the RAF during the Second World War in Great Britain.”
I’m seeing that there is a group of you – numbering five – and you are wearing RAF World War II uniforms. They are blue, and very smart-looking.
“Blue-grey. Standard type. My pattern is that of an officer, and my colleagues represent other ranks.”
Nicholas Soames, UK MP and grandson of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, addresses the attendees:
“Veterans, ministers, Mister Speaker, Chief of Defence staff, Her Majesty’s ambassador, ladies and gentleman: as Czech people know only too well, freedom and sovereignty are most valued when they are absent. Arguably, Europe’s freedom was most endangered by Nazi ambitions...”
And so the grandson of Winston Churchill escorts a group of several veterans who are still able to stand towards the memorial. And they pull on a rope. And there it goes. Mr. Nicholas Soames pulls, the veterans salute and the audience claps, and a bronze statue of a winged Czech lion, staring downwards, is unveiled, framed above by Prague Castle.