Major Milan Nechvátal

* 1921  †︎ 2013

  • “Our plans were so naïve – like the plans of eighteen-year old lads. There were six of us gathering and conspiring, searching for some information. We all came from Žabovřesky and some people from this place had already fled, young and old. So we decided we should do something as well. We were trying to find out how to possibly do this but nobody would tell us anything. When we did find out something, the credibility of the information was very low, it was more like “a friend of a friend’s friend said it’s this and that”. So we agreed on it. We were all students. I was attending an engineering school. A Jewish boy from my class had been arrested. They covered the windows in our classroom with planks because they claimed we were shouting anti-Nazi propaganda out of them. Since we didn’t have any connection with the outer world, we decided we’d do this on our own. We made a plan where we’d go. We came to the conclusion that it would be best to flee via Hodonín or Rohatec. We didn’t tell our parents because they’d try to dissuade us from doing it. It was on 14th January. Originally we were six but eventually the number came down to just five. When we arrived in Hodonín we realized that it was impossible to make the border crossing there, as the place was packed with Germans – it was one uniform next to another. So we decided to move a bit to Rohatec and attempt the border crossing there. But it so happened that two of our group were arrested by the Germans in Hodonin. When we found out in Hodonin that the border crossing is impossible, we decided we’d go to a pub and talk about it there. These two boys went to the pub first and I was following maybe a minute later but as I was about to enter the pub, two uniformed Germens stepped outside the pub and started to talk with each other. So I turned around and after a minute they were already dragging our two friends out of the pub. The third one then decided to return home so just the two of us remained. So we took a train to Rohatec, inspected the place and in the night walked to Skalice. We saw the lights of the town we headed to. It was a very tough journey because there was a lot of boulders and rugged terrain. Occasionally we’d slip down a slope but we made it finally and took a train to Bratislava and from there to Čeklise, today it’s called Bernolákovo. There we wanted to make the crossing to Hungary. We waited for the night to come and traditionally went into a pub to warm up a bit as it was January. We were slowly killing time in the pub when we spotted a decent-looking guy so we approached him and asked for the easiest way to cross the border to Hungary. He said he occasionally goes there as well. He described us the way: he said we’d go through the fields to see the tree-tops. So we risked it and took the route he told us and, indeed, we came to this Senec.”

  • “I said we were six. Two friends were arrested by the Germans and they spent the whole war in jail. The one that returned wasn’t persecuted at all. The two didn’t speak here. A colleague of me who was jailed with me returned to Bratislava. He was looking for some friend but that friend wasn’t to be found. Luckily some decent girl let him sleep over at her place. She, however, changed her mind later on and called the Guardists who handed him over to the Gestapo. He also spent the whole war in jail. Three people were sitting behind bars during the war. The father of the one who was sitting with me in jail was arrested and deported to a concentration camp, where he was probably executed the last month of the war.”

  • “The main reason was to fight the Germans, to expel them from Czechoslovakia, to get back our republic, because there was no future for this. That was my major motivation. Of course that leaving Czechoslovakia wasn’t easy at all. I didn’t say a word about it to my parents because when you know nothing you’ve got nothing to tell. They certainly went through a lot of interrogation after I disappeared. I took these one hundred crowns from my father. I felt sorry for that. I also had a further one hundred crowns in change which was convenient as they were still valid in Slovakia so we could buy a ticket for the money. I had a girlfriend, she was a friend and attended business school. We had a plan that I’ll send her a postcard from Budapest after everything is settled. It was agreed that I’ll write a text which will be in no relation to us whatsoever and that I’ll put a green line under the word Brno to indicate that I’m continuing my journey. The postcard, however, didn’t arrive. My father then investigated whom I was dating and when he found my girlfriend she told him I had fled. My parents survived the war but after Heydrich they were both imprisoned – my father about four months and my mother about two months. But they let them go because they had no evidence that I’m somewhere.”

  • “You had to be lucky. So once, for example, I was drinking water from a shaving bowl in some village when a policeman drove by and shouted something at me. I just barked something in return as I didn’t speak any Hungarian at all and luckily he didn’t stop but instead continued driving. A few days later I was traveling from Nove Zamky to Budapest in a train when two uniforms hopped on the train at the train station in Györ. I was afraid they’d search the train and check for passports. If they had asked for my documents I’d be in jail for the second time. Or when I was sleeping on a maize field one night, I covered myself all with maize. When I got out from that stack there were people working on the field nearby. I started to talk to that girl. I pretended I was Slovak because there were a lot of Slovaks there and you could talk to them. There were many moments like this. In Budapest when I was waiting for my transport to the south a guy sat down next to me on the bench and started to talk with me. It took me a while before I realized he was gay. I was afraid that if I didn’t go with him he might report me to the police. But I took the risk and didn’t go with him.”

  • “We were six. We got on a train and went to Szeged. Then we continued to the frontier – it was agreed that he’d take us across the border. We left the train station and went into the town. We didn’t go in a pack but dispersed in order not to be suspicious. A few men came through the gate into the courtyard. It was the state police. They arrested us and took us to the police station. Afterwards they took us to the garrison and interrogated us there. They’d known everything about us already. They had all the information about where we had crossed the border and so on. Then they took us to Hódmezővásárhely, where we were held for about two months. Then we were transferred to the Citadel. The housing there was a bit better. Because there were a lot of religious Poles at the Citadel, a minister would come to see them and give them money. We could buy cigarettes there so I started to smoke in the Citadel. We spent a month there and then they deported us to Slovakia. They took us on a train to Galanta, separated us into smaller groups and at night hurled us across the frontier to Slovakia.”

  • “Although I knew I was in Yugoslavia, it scared me so much I jumped over it and sprinted until I ran into another one. Suddenly I heard something like “stop”, so I shouted “Já brat, já Čech” (I’m a brother, I’m Czech). So he took me with him. He made me dinner and they treated me very warmly. The next day they took me to Subotice, they wouldn’t believe me that I’ve crossed it all by myself. But eventually they did. From Subotice it was all good. We went to Belgrade in an organized fashion. In Belgrade we spent about two weeks. We were accommodated and were going out to eat. From Belgrade an organized transport of about a hundred people went by train to Thessalloniki and from there it continued further to Istanbul. Our journey further continued via the Bosporus to Beirut. In Beirut, most of the fugitives were concentrated. From there we boarded a ship to France. It was a big ship by the name of My Charlotte. We sailed to Alexandria where some ships unloaded their cargo, so actually I was in Africa. Then we continued to Marseille where they took us to a Foreign Legion fortress called Fort San Juan. I had my health check done there. They took us to Agde – that was the town where the Czechoslovak corps was being formed.”

  • “In England they immediately took us to Cholmondeley Park, which was a Czech refugee tent camp. That’s where we gathered. Then president Beneš came for a visit. It was the day of the enrollment to the English air force. I was automatically registered as a pilot. Then they transported us to Cosford where the individual air squadrons were being set up. The first one to be set up was the 310thAir Squadron. It consisted exclusively of Czechs. Then the 311th Bombardment Squadron was set up, then our 312th. The pilots were Czechoslovak and the ground personnel were half Czechoslovak and half English. Then the 313th squadron was created, it was only Czechs. That’s were I got my training. From there we went to our first air force base to Liverpool, its name was Speake. There the army started to function normally. I was assigned to the gunsmiths. After a few months I was sent to a gunsmith training, it was called “Fitter Armourer”. We handled the weapons systems, modifications and adjustments of weapons, dismantling and dismounting, repair works, etc. Afterwards, probably because of this training, I got to this hangar, it was a sort of a workshop, and I stayed there for the rest of the war.”

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    CR, 04.01.2004

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I didn’t say a word about it to my parents because when you know nothing you’ve got nothing to tell

Milan Nechvátal
Milan Nechvátal
photo: pamet naroda archiv

Milan Nechvátal was born on 14 May, 1921 in Brno. He studied at the Higher School of Engineering. After his studies he decided to flee from Czechoslovakia and to join the Czechoslovak army in France. He was fleeing through Hungary where he was arrested and placed in Hódmezővásárhely and subsequently in Budapest in the Citadel and eventually in Galanta, from where he and the other prisoners were expelled across the border. However, Milan Nechvátal returned and managed to cross Yugoslavia and get to Thessaloniki and Istanbul where he boarded a ship to Beirut.  Then they sailed to the French Foreign Legion fortress Fort San Juan and from there to Agde, where the Czechoslovak army corps was being formed. Milan Nechvátal then left for England where he served with the 312th fighter squadron where he attained the rank of a major. After the war he returned home and continued his studies. Milan Nechvátal passed away on November, the 27th, 2013.