“They even apologised for imprisoning us, saying that we had been locked up by mistake. They gave us what they claimed to be nine days of food into the train, but we ate it in two days and starved for the next eight. So whenever we stopped at a station somewhere, we jumped out of the train, sold our English underwear or shirt, which we’d already received, and bought pasties, bread, or cucumbers. In that way we came all the way to Buzuluk.”
“One morning below Dukla, in Machnówka, my commander Václav Růžička said he was hungry, that he’d like a bite to eat. So I told the cooks to prepare something for the commander. They chopped up some wood and wanted to make him an egg with ham or an American tin. But the commander came up and said: ‘Boys, I don’t like it, leave everything here and take the cars back there behind those houses!’ We were on a small square. We hadn’t even finished putting the cars behind the houses when a shell exploded right where we had been standing. And there were so many people and horses nearby that even so we had a lot of wounded.”
“In the morning the artillery blasted the place with so many cannons, Katyushas that, as it was calculated, shells were falling two or three to every metre. The forest was bent double from the terrible din. Then we attacked. Infantry at the head, we behind them, and the Germans were strewn about like sheaves at harvest, lying here, lying there, still alive.”
“In the morning the soldiers left to the training grounds. I stayed with the boys and we prepared the food. It was drizzling. About seven a.m. He (Gen. Svoboda) said: ‘What’re you cooking?’ The boys were Volhynian Czechs, fresh fish, they didn’t know him. ‘What’s it to you? That’s a military secret.’ Everything was a military secret on the front. I recognised him by his voice. I was doing something. Sorting something out in the car.”
“In the morning, a day before the new year, we came to Malá Cerekev. There was a sugar mill there, Ruda, which had a huge amount of sugar. The Germans were still in the sugar mill when the Soviet soldiers started taking it over. They had a rearguard, which captured and detained loot, various warehouses and material. And we came there and wanted the sugar. They didn’t want to give it to us. ‘You have to give it to us, or we’ll take it anyway.’ So we went and took one sack and started dragging it away. A Soviet soldier sat on it and refused to get off. So about four of us took the sack, soldier and all, and loaded it up into our car. Then he said: ‘Take it then and go.’ We took two hundred-kilo sacks there, and we used it to distil vodka at the front.”
“There was one boy there, twenty-or-so years old. He always took his rifle and went off to shoot Germans like he was going to hunt game. He would go to the front lines, lie down, and it was enough if a German just showed a hand, or... and he hit him. He was a sniper. Olovčák was his name. Well, and one time when an aeroplane flew low to the ground, he shot it down.”
Shells were falling two or three to every metre, the forest was bent double from the terrible din
Fedor Havran is a native of Carpathian Ruthenia, he was born in 1919. In 1940 he was drafted into the Hungarian occupation army, whence he fled to the USSR. However, there he was convicted of illegally crossing the borders and imprisoned in various labour camps. He was released upon applying to the newly founded Czechoslovak independent battalion in Buzuluk. He fought under the Czechoslovak banner in various places throughout the USSR and Czechoslovakia, including Kiev and Dukla. At first, he served with the anti-aircraft artillery, later as a quartermaster, he was known for his singular ability to obtain food for his soldiers under any circumstances. After the war he settled down in northern Bohemia and worked as a restaurateur. He died in 2006.