* 1919 †︎ 2017
“There were two youngsters there who went out front of the pub to keep an eye out, because the gendarmes were about, and they’d come in to the pub to warm themselves. So they went out to stop them, because I was inside, so they wouldn’t have to arrest me. And one teacher who taught at a Slovak minority school took me to sleep with him. He exchanged my money, what I had with me, and gave me dry socks. You see, when we reached the Hungarian borders, there was a drainage ditch there, behind it a guard post with smoke from the chimney. And the two (who’d gone with me from the Protectorate) got afraid and returned home. And I had to jump into the stream with one foot, I couldn’t jump over it, and so I had to carry on with a wet foot - so they admired that at the pub as well. The Slovak teacher was going to visit his relatives the next morning, so he took me with him into the train, he took me along one stop. There we passed through a cordon of Hungarian gendarmes - they were plumed and menacing. So that’s how I reached Budapest.”
“There on the beach where we landed there was hardly any evidence of fighting, there were just a few machine-gun nests there. You see, the Germans weren’t prepared for it, they were fooled, they thought it would be elsewhere. It’s interesting that Hitler did know, but his HQ staff talked him out of it. He must have been livid afterwards, he’d happened to guess it - where the invasion’d be. Well, and so we landed and then we moved on to Dunkirk.”
“There was a German garrison in Dunkirk, some eleven thousand men defending the port. The Allies and the French considered it a memorial city, so they didn’t want to destroy it, so we kept watch to make sure the Germans didn’t get out. We had quite a good reputation, we were dependable, the English came there to relax, for relief and so on. The way it was at Dunkirk, the Germans kept flooding it when it was high tide, and when it was low tide, they closed the floodgates, so the coast was one big lake the whole time.”
“When we were garrisoned in England, it was a rather boring, monotonous life. The soldiers tried to join either the paratroopers, or most of all the air force. They even did hunger strikes and reports just to have some activity. The general opinion was that we were an army just for display. Well, so to get things moving we decided, about seventeen of us, to report up with a request for release from the Czechoslovak army, so that we could then enter the merchant navy or some such. In that way, we wanted to get the green waters flowing. We reckoned we hadn’t much of an effect, but then others said that we prevented a lot of things. After that, President Beneš said we’d go home, the army would mobilise, we’d occupy the borders, we’d be the first element of confrontation in Europe, there’ll be revolutions all around and we’d have peace. We wanted to fight, we didn’t want to rot away like that.”
“On the twenty-eighth of October (anniversary of Czechoslovak independence - transl.) we made an attack on the German positions in the Eastern section. At the time, the Germans ‘amassed’ a lot of manpower from the older generation who weren’t really interested in warring any more. They wanted to catch us, but we were quicker, we even had the surprise, and so it worked out very well. The attack started at ten a.m. after a short preliminary barrage. We broke through the German positions and destroyed two battalions. One first lieutenant was then suggested for the Red Cross: he took a squad of Free Frenchmen, rushed the German battalion HQ and captured their staff. We didn’t have much infantry, I was there as an infantryman and squad leader. We were lying there in the meadow, they were blasting away at us - the Germans used shells mainly. The men weren’t all that eager, so I said to them: ‘Come on forward, it’s calmer there, we can’t stay here!’ It went quite smoothly in the end, some 350 Germans surrendered, about 150 to 200 of them were killed.”
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I’m not the type of person to keep thinking about the past.
Miroslav Hladil was born in 1919 in Brno. In 1940 he decided to escape the Protectorate - his journey led him through Slovakia and Hungary to France, where he joined the Czechoslovak army. After the defeat of France, he was evacuated to England. Later, he took part in the operations at Dunkirk. He achieved the rank of senior officer cadet during the war, and after it, that of first lieutenant. Following 1989, he was promoted to colonel. He is a member of the Union of Freedom Fighters and the Czechoslovak Legionary Community.
He passed away on April, the 1st, 2017.