Colonel Josef Balejka

* 1917  †︎ 2004

  • “Every time I came back from school I had to go with our goats out to grass. And one day I saw a plane up above the clouds. And I said to myself: ‘I have to be a pilot.’ It was my first dream that I wanted to come true upon any terms.”

  • “There was a storm at night and we ran away from the international camp. And you had never seen before what kind of run it was. There was lightning, the guards were hidden and we squeezed under the wires, the four of us. We were running towards Bucharest all night through. It was a stormy weather, we couldn't see anything. In the morning we couldn't any more. We were overtired so we stopped at a corn field. We took our wet clothes off, let it dry and we fell asleep. We slept all night through and we woke up at the dusk. We got dressed and we saw Bucharest, the capital city, in the distance. As I was the youngest I was the one whom the boys picked on all the time. Whenever there was anything to arrange, I was the one who was sent. They said: ‘Josef, go there and bring something to eat.’ Well, food, some scraps, apples, anything you could find. We marched like that for three nights and we got to the outskirts of Bucharest. There I was sent again to bring some clothes hanging in a garden so that at least one of us had some plain clothes to go downtown to exchange some money. Mind you, the general, before he said his good-bye to us, he paid us some very good money, namely two thousand Polish zlotys. He didn't want us to suffer hardships somewhere abroad. All right then. Off I went and there was a park. And there was a woman sitting under a lamp in the park. When she spotted me she hid her money in her neckline and I sat next to her. She was one of those 'night girls.' I sat next to her and it all started. I smiled at her and she smiled at me and nothing happened. I said: ‘Ich bin böhmischer Flugzeuger.’ That I was a Czechoslovak pilot. She wouldn't understand. I was waving with my arms as if I had wings. But she still wouldn't understand. So I remembered French. ‘Je suis tschéchoslovaque aviateur.’ And nothing again. I unbuttoned my coat, I had my uniform with a decoration, the Polish War Cross, underneath. She thought she had a customer. She took me to her flat but I was like a savage. We entered her flat and there was some bread on the table. I couldn't resist and started eating it like crazy. And on top of that there was even some salami there! You know, I starved for three days and nights. Then she stood up and went away. I got scared that she went to call the police but it was not true. She came back in a minute with some more salami and bread. And I told her: ‘Ich habe drei Kamaraden.’ That I had three friends. She took bread and we went together to my friends who were in the cemetery. We always found our shelter there as we knew nobody would look for us at such place. When the boys saw bread they were happy that instant. Only Franta, the one who became the most famous pilot, was missing. So I said where he was? And he was hidden in a dug-up grave, he said the wind didn't blow there so much. But when he heard I had some food, he ran up right away. Then the lady took all four of us at her place. We lay down on the floor and as we were tired, we slept from that morning from about four o'clock till the evening. Then she brought some food, clothes and such for us. She was out lady savior.”

  • “The year 1946 was coming up soon, the election. The Communists won and I said I was going to leave. I let myself dismissed from the Czechoslovak Air Force and I went to England. It was the end of my pilot career. I settled down in England in 1946. I got English citizenship in 1948. I passed the exams for flying air-liners in 1948 and I went to fly to South America.”

  • “And then we were all, about twenty pilots, sent to Krakow. There was the main headquarters where they all used to meet. They wrote up with us what we did, where we served, everything... And then they were making decisions what to do with us. Poland was a neutral state and it was not so easy at all. Eventually, they decided that all the pilots signed a contract to the Foreign Legion for five years. It was an awful affliction for us. But we were lucky. One day before our embarkment in Gdyně and going to France, a Polish colonel and a major came to us because they were looking for volunteers for the Polish Air Force. Nobody wanted to join them because we thought we would get to France but we wouldn't get to the Foreign Legion. As we later saw it was not true and all those who came to France had to join the Foreign Legion. There we got the chance to join the Poles. Eventually, we were about thirteen pilots who did so. The Poles simply said that if nobody joined them, then they wouldn't let the whole transport of about three hundred pilots out of Poland. I remember that colonel Svoboda at that time, later our president, asked us to go, at least someone. The thirteen of us went then, the transport left and we went to Templín. There was an officer's school for pilots. The Poles accepted us in a wonderful way.”

  • “We were sitting there and a headwaiter came and he said: ‘Well, there are artists from all over the world.’ And Vilda said: ‘There is no Czech man.’ ‘What? There is a Czech woman.’ So we took a paper and we wrote on it: ‘We will stick to his bequest.’ And we signed it ‘the pilots.’ The youngsters may probably not know any more these days that at that time president Beneš declared a sentence over the grave of president Masaryk: ‘We will stick to his bequest.’ Then there came such a pretty Czech woman then, you haven't seen a prettier one in all your life. She came and we spoke Czech and she cried and so did we, like small children. The Romanians around us had no idea what was going on. Then they called her to sing. She sang something we couldn't understand at all, something in Romanian, French... And all of a sudden she said something. The Romanians stood up, looked at us and started clapping their hands. Then she herself revealed what she said about us, that we were Czech pilots who wanted to get to France so that we could fight. It was something amazing how the Romanians were crazy about it. It didn't last long when she started singing ‘Our Czech Tune.’ Gosh, you wouldn't believe it. We were thunderstruck. We cried like small children, we weren't ashamed before the Romanians and we joined her. It was something so sensational... And then she sang ‘Little Cottages in the Mountains, What Happened with You.’ Those were such Czech songs, you know, such patriotic ones. I hope people will sing the song for years and years and years as it was something truly amazing.”

  • “There was friendship, great friendship, no rivalry among us. Mind you that your life depended on life of someone else. If a Pole was in danger and a Czech saw it, another fighter or an Englishman, he went to help him. It was such a kind of brotherhood that we helped one another in bad times. You mustn't forget that the Germans had four times more planes than the English.”

  • “I wanted to get to the Military Pilot School in Prostějov but unfortunately it was full there. But I was lucky as my uncle was in Uzhhorod. There was so called 'Masaryk Military League' there. They trained pilots from the event One Thousand Pilots for the Czechoslovak Republic. It was one of the greatest events of its time and it was truly successful. The Czech nation stated: the air is our sea. As there was no sea surrounding us, the air was our sea then. So I applied and they really accepted me. Those were the most beautiful moments of my life when I was learning to fly. It was extremely difficult. I was put up at my uncle's in Uzhhorod but I had to find a job. Then I found such a job I could do along with my flying. Every day I drove tractor at a firm building a canal at a power station in Uzhhorod. I got up at quarter to four in the morning, I jumped on my bike and cycled to the airport. Sometimes I flew for an hour, sometimes more. Then, at quarter to eight I finished, jumped on my bike again and went to work. Then I got into a tractor and was flattening the banks. When it was about four o'clock, I jumped on the bike again and went back to the airport. Trust me that my most wonderful experience was that I could take off and fly up in the air.”

  • “I wrote to the Czech Embassy in London that we were here, that we were with the Poles and I asked them what to do. I immediately received a reply from a commander who told us to stay with the Poles. We were said to be famous in Poland and our government was interested in developing cooperation with the Poles. Then we were placed, one by one, in the most famous Polish Squadron, namely 303 Squadron. Well, and František Josef was so famous there that he became the greatest pilot of the Battle of England. He shot down seventeen aircraft in three weeks, it was incredible. They even talked about him after the war what a great hero he was. But poor little him, he was unlucky. He was, as we say, flying-weary. We had to go up there three-four times a day, so he was simply flying-weary. Once landing he brushed against a tree with the wing and he killed himself. Then Vilda, the oldest of us, went up there too and he was killed as well. And then Matěj, Matěj was shot down above Boulogne. And I was left alone. It was an affliction for me. We were four friends and I was the only one left. I started drinking then. Everybody used to say: ‘Josef, don't drink or the Germans will shoot you down. Marry instead.’”

  • “The Germans, for instance, when a pilot was shot down and was parachuting, they shot into him even if he was totally helpless. Something like that was against all human behavior principles. When there was a parachuting pilot to shoot into him. Well, we hated the Germans, that is true.”

  • “It all went OK but all of a sudden there was September 1, 1939, the war. We were still at the airport in the morning, getting ready knowing nothing. But then, about ten o'clock, there came about three hundred German air bombers and they mangled our airport to pieces. There were even some Czech pilots who died during the bombing. My three friends Pavlovič, Kosarz, František and I, we stuck together. Since we put our aircraft at the other side of the airport, they were not broken. Then we went to the other side of the airport and we slowly moved more and more to Ukraine. Otherwise it was not possible, all was demolished there. The Germans proceeded with such a great speed and brutality that you cannot even imagine that. There was a school next to the airport and the Germans bombarded even the school, small children. Then we helped to pick their dead little bodies. At that time we started hating the Germans in an awful way. It is absolutely inhuman to drop bombs on a school when you see small children playing there.”

  • “Well, it happened once, we went to shoot to the airport in the morning again. I followed an aircraft and I forgot I was supposed to stick to my Squadron. Well, what happened then. I was scrambling up to eight thousand meters and I was attacked by the Germans. There were about nine of them and I was alone. I didn't do anything, only a full nosedive. The aircraft almost broke to pieces. It was such an awful speed that after my landing we found out the wings were like squeeze boxes. I was bleeding in a terrible way so afterwards I couldn't fly up in the heights any more. Some blood vessels in my eye were damaged. Then I worked as a teacher of flying fighters and spitfires.”

  • “It was at some kind of field airport when a guy from the field came there and he said there was a lad taking photographs of us landing. The commander said that those who could ride horses should go there. I said I would go but I didn't have my uniform, I left it in the plane. I caught the German and brought him to the village. Then they started tolling in the village and there was a great upheaval. However, my tongue ran away with me when it shouldn't have. I said in my poor Polish: ‘This is a German spy.’ And it was bad. And the little boy was either from Těšín or the Sudetenland. There were terribly many Germans and many of them worked as spies. So he said in perfect Polish: ‘I'm not a spy, he is a spy. Well, the Poles immediately disarmed me and to hang him, a cockroach. I kept saying I was Czech and flew in the Polish Air Force but they wouldn't listen. Then a little boy came. He brought a rope, threw it over a lime branch and tied it around my neck. And I was about to be hanged. Then I got an idea. When I was about to die I had the right to have my last wish. The Poles, you know, one of them wanted to thrust fork into my stomach. They hated the Germans and you mustn't be surprised. They for instance worked in the field and the German fighters started dropping bombs on them. Well, my last wish was to call a priest. I got the idea that a priest would be wise and could help me. So I said I was a Catholic and I wanted to go for confession. The priest came and he said to me: ‘Boy, why are you doing it?’ And I replied: ‘Your Worship, I'm Czech.’ Of course he wouldn't believe me either. But I remembered I had a medallion on my neck. My mother gave it to me when I went to fly. When she gave it to me she said: ‘Jozin, Our Lady of Holy Hostýn will always protect you.’ I showed the medallion to the priest. He took the rope off. On the other side of the medallion there was written in Czech: ‘Panno Maria, oroduj za nás.’ (Our Lady, pray for us.’) And finally it was the end. You can imagine how happy I was. But the Poles almost broke down when they found out they wanted to hang an innocent person.

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    Valašské Klobouky, 16.05.2003

    duration: 01:04:04
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“My greatest wish was to become a pilot.”

Josef Balejka
Josef Balejka

Josef Balejka was one of the pilots of so called ‘Czechoslovak clover leaf,’who became famous for their heroic deeds during WW II. He was born in Valašské Klobouky in 1917 and he longed for being a pilot since his childhood. He went through training in Uzhhorod, Piešťany and Prague-Kbely. He decided to go abroad after the Protectorate establishment. He met some other members of the famous foursome, the pilots František, Pavlovič and Kosarz. They were flying together in the Polish Air Force. After the occupation of Poland they left through Romania to France, where they i.a. participated in air defence of Paris. After its fall they went further to Great Britain where they flew with the Polish 303 Sqadron. They became legendary due to their deeds. Josef Balejka fought also with 311 Bomber Squadron, with which he took part in the invasion in 1944. After the end of the war in 1946 he decided to leave Czechoslovakia for Great Britain. He returned to his home country after 1989. He died in his birthplace, Valašské Klobouky on July 7, 2004.