“We were being bombed. While there, I experienced what it feels like to be a target. I had experienced bombing in England many times, but in England, you yourself were not a target, the target was the city. But here, we on the boat were the target. A small Czechoslovak unit was on that boat. They were down in the steerage, and we were not directly in contact with them. But since they had weapons there, they managed to shoot down one bomber plane with a heavy machine-gun. (How many bombers were there?) Three were attacking us, and two of them then withdrew. This one got hit and we saw it falling down in smoke, and the remaining two flew away. They probably thought we were not much of a useful target. We arrived to the mouth of the Gironde River. It was in the evening. The captain received information that the mouth of the river had been mined, and he didn’t dare to pass through in the darkness, he decided to wait for the morning. In the morning, in a thick haze, we slowly began maneuvering. We set out. A stern of another ship appeared in front of us. We couldn’t see anything, just the stern. The sailors who were with us were reporting what was going on, explaining to us that we would keep behind that ship, and if it ran into a mine, the mines around it would go off as well, and we would thus get by. We continued going this way, and the ship really did run into a mine.”
“I lost my mother in 1936, I was not even sixteen. I have a brother, who is three years younger. Perhaps it was my mother’s death that made my decision to leave the country easier. My father accepted my decision as a matter of course. He only asked me if I had considered it thoroughly. He let me wait for several months – because I had told him about my decision right after my dismissal from the army in March 1939. He had me think it over for some time. When I insisted, father made arrangements via one resistance organization so that I could cross the border over to Poland.”
“President Beneš explained to us that we were not a combat unit. We were a very small unit. But we did not want to understand this. We thought, but we had escaped over the border in order to fight. He said: ´Your kind of unit, in the current state of the war, would be wiped out and annihilated. You would be ruined and I would lose my army. I keep our army as a political argument. This unit...´ This unit eventually turned into a brigade, there were some two thousand of us. To loose two thousand lives – compared to how many lives were lost in Stalingrad... The President was right. But we were reluctant to accept it, and so we wanted to apply to units which would make use of us. Thus I applied for the paratroopers. I applied some time around mid-1941, and in autumn I was already going for my training. The first part of the training was commandos. Commandos were striking force units, carrying out assaults and similar breakneck activities. The Americans called them rangers.”
“While in Lille, we were formally admitted to the Foreign Legion. We signed such a provisional contract with the Foreign Legion. We were sent to Marseille, where the drafts took place. All of us were drafted. The draft was very strict, but we all passed as being eligible and we went to the Foreign Legion. But when there we discovered one thing: the French haven’t kept their word, a promise they gave us. They promised that we would be left together in the Foreign Legion. But we were not, they separated us into the individual training centres.”
“Then we saw our fortress commander for the second time. During our training he had us return, ordered us to come back. He arrived in full uniform and announced to us that France jointly with Great Britain had declared war on Germany. We all broke into a mighty applause. They were looking at us as if we were crazy. We explained it to them. Since I had graduated from grammar-school, where French had been taught from the third grade, I could speak French well. This was a great advantage... Especially one technical sergeant, an Alsatian, who was very nice to us, often invited me to his place in the evenings, asking me to tell him what the Nazi occupation in Czechoslovakia was like. He was not a Nazi and I was able to relate all this to him. We were explaining these French and other legionnaires that the reason why we had escaped from the occupied Czechoslovakia was that we counted on the outbreak of the war, and thus – as we hoped – on being able to return home.”
President Beneš told us: I keep our army as a political argument
Jiří Louda was born October 3, 1920 in Kutná Hora. After graduation from grammar-school he was drafted for his compulsory military training. His active duty was however interrupted by the Munich conference in 1938. In March 1939 he did get assigned to the Czechoslovak army, but then after the occupation of Czechoslovakia he had to leave the army. Therefore he decided to escape to Poland. From there he continued to France, where he applied for the Foreign Legion. He went through military training in France and Algeria and was assigned to an artillery regiment. After the fall of France he was transported by boat to the British Isles under very dramatic circumstances, and in Britain he went through another round of the training. He requested to be assigned to the paratroopers, but during the training he injured his meniscus and he spent the rest of the war in a radio station. After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia. Before the February coup d’état he served in an artillery regiment. In July 1948 he was however dismissed and in April of the following year he was arrested and imprisoned in the Mírov prison. He was released only in 1951. Afterwards he found employment in the university library in Olomouc where he was working till his retirement in 1976. In 1968 he was partly rehabilitated and promoted to the rank of major in retirement. He was fully rehabilitated in 1991 when he was also promoted to colonel in retirement. Jiří Louda passed away on September, the 1st, 2015.