Jiří Benda

* 1924  

  • “At first we had an English training. It took about three weeks. It was a drill all the time. When we completed it, we all had to choose what we would like to do. Those who did not pass the exams for flying personnel went to the squadrons as assistant engineers, or those who were electricians went to do their profession. We, who were applying for the flying personnel and passed the tests, needed to learn English properly at first. The entire training and everything about machine-guns were all in English. If you got 70 percent on the English test, you could continue to an English training course, but I did not make it because the war ended. (I see, so you went through all these preparatory courses, but you did not get into combat.) I spent almost all this time in classroom. But it was planned this way, those who were applying for the flying personnel had to pass this flying training. For pilots it took longer, for navigators or vice-operators, or these positions, everyone had to go through it. You could not do anything if you did not pass it. (So you specialized as a rear gunner.) Because it was the fastest and easiest one. (What was involved in it?) There were either plain gunners, or gunners-wireless operators. This was more advanced and required a lot more training. So I applied for a simple ordinary gunner. I had to understand the machine-gun, disassemble it, and know how it worked. We learned the Morse code using light signals, recognizing airplanes, and things like that.”

  • “Dad sent me a telegram to hurry home. So I finished school and in September 1938, I went to Prague. I arrived to Prague and they closed the borders, so I got stuck here. I stayed there with friends. After takeover of the Sudetenland, they opened the borders, so I bought a ticket and traveled to Sweden as a fourteen-year-old boy. (And you could? Did they let you go without any problems?) No, I needed a lot of various permits to be allowed to leave the country. Then a notice came that the Czech authorities could not vouch for me- I was going at my own risk. They did not want to let me go because I was fourteen. I insisted that my dad kept writing what was going on with me. I showed it to them and I went. The worst thing was that when I arrived to Sweden, they wanted a visa. I stared at them as if thunderstruck and the customs officer said to me- at first he began in German, so I started speaking Swedish, 'Look, you got an invalid passport. Visas are required from midnight!' I replied, 'But how would I know about it if I was aboard a ship?' 'And where are you going?' 'To Stockholm.' 'Okay, then go. Let your parents deal with it as they want.´”

  • “Then I was assigned to civil defence, as a foreigner. They apparently did not even know that I was a foreigner. I got a card which provided me with access everywhere. I rode trams and buses for free, and I had access everywhere, even where the Swedes were not allowed to go. (What were your responsibilities in this Swedish civil defence?) At first I was a messenger for the police. When there was a drill, I walked with the policemen in the evenings. Then I was assigned to firemen. We usually had drills on Sunday or Saturday afternoons, so we would go for these drills. (Actually, how come that you ended doing such a job?) We were hired. I had been a Boy Scout. They were hired automatically. When it began, they called us as organizers. When we came there, they always put down our names. They did not ask anything- just our names and addresses. That was it. And since I had a Swedish name... Jiří is difficult to pronounce, therefore in Sweden I was using the name Georg. Georg’s name-day is on April 23. Jiří is on April 24, thus it is the closest name, an approximate Swedish translation. So I would say Georg Benda and I speak Swedish.”

  • “I was working there as an assistant engineer, taking care of the airplanes together with one other guy. There were two of them. He was English. We would come in the morning, start up the planes, leave the engine at 1500 rpm, checking the dials. We stopped it and waited for them to fill the tanks with fuel, which we had used up. They refuelled. A logbook was signed that the airplane was all right, and our job was over.”

  • “I got into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was in 1947. I was working there and then they fired me in 1951. (And why were you fired?) They wrote to me that they would accept, acknowledge my... 'The Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledges your application to the production industry and will accept your three-month notice as to June 1, 1951, and at the same time measures will be taken to stop issuing your salary in the accounting office at the end of August 1951.´ I received this on the thirtieth. (And where did you have to go to work next?) Forced labour in Avia. 'Take the prescribed holiday for and after the holiday period is over, report to work in the national enterprise Avia in Prague-Letňany.' (And what was the reason you had to leave?) That I had served in a foreign army abroad. That was enough.”

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    Praha, 12.09.2002

    (audio)
    duration: 37:01
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“I wanted to join the Air Force because the Army stands in one place and the Air Force flies all over. We thought that the Air Force did the fighting.”

  Jiří Benda was born September 29, 1924 in Odolena Voda. His father worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and for this reason, the whole family moved to Sweden in 1928. Mr. Benda attended a Swedish school. In 1936, his father sent him to his aunt in Znojmo, so that he could learn Czech. In 1938 after the Munich crisis, he returned to Sweden. The entire family got alien passports. Mr. Benda served in the civil defence and he learned a tinsmith’s trade. When he was 17, he tried to join the army, but he was not admitted due to his age. He finally joined the army in 1943. However, he lived in Sweden until November 1944 when he got to England. In Chopwell, England, he went through military training. He applied to the Air Force and went through training in Cosford. He wanted to become a rear gunner, but due to the war’s end, he did not finish the course. In June 1945, he was assigned to the No 312 Fighter Squadron to Manston as an assistant engineer. In summer 1945, he returned to Czechoslovakia where he served in České Budějovice. He was demobilized and wanted to return to Sweden but following his father’s request, he remained in Czechoslovakia. In 1947, he began working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1951, he was dismissed for political reasons and worked in Avia in Prague-Letňany. In 1956, he began working in the construction industry in the field of geodetic surveying. From 1981, he has been a retiree receiving an invalidity pension. He lives in the Letňany neighbourhood where he holds the rank of colonel in retirement.