Jiří Poláček

* 1913  †︎ 2008

  • “We took off on May 5th at 8:55 in the morning. The flight took 11 hours and were were just on our way to Norway. And when we arrived at the harbor Narvik our captain, his name was Šesták, flew rather close to the Narvik harbor and there was nothing going on there. No antiaircraft shooting, no plane took off against us. He took heart to approach closer and closer till we flew the harbor over. And there we saw that the German ships standing there had white flags on board. Well, Norway capitulated on that day.”

  • “Well, for the first two months we went through ordinary training in the Bahamas just the way it was described. We were given combat tasks in the third month already. We should have been in the search of the Japanese submarines. We also flew as far as Key West and some other islands in the surroundings. Unfortunately, then we also suffered losses as well. For instance our crew got lost in the last month. There were our friends in there, our good friends whom not only we but all other crews and free planes looked for in the famous Bermuda Triangle. We never got to know how the catastrophe happened and we also never found them.”

  • “We reached Tobruk and we saw it being bombarded, we saw it still from the ship. After it got dark the destroyers approached the bank. Then we had to quickly run across planks to the bank and then climb up a rock – all in the dark. There were waiting cars to a temporary camp where we could get tea if we felt like that. If you didn't you had to go to find – we used to call it a 'little grave.' Those were really some kind of dug up graves, many narrow trenches where the soldiers slept. They were protected there because there was bombing going on all the time. And you were lucky when you found a little grave where you could lie down with no one in it.”

  • “I'm a Prague man although I often keep saying that I'm a native of Kolín because I was growing up there since my childhood. And I feel to be more a Kolín man rather than a Prague one. I used to attend schools in Kolín and also partially in Prague. I would like to point out that it was after the WWI when our teachers or most of our teachers were former legionnaires. They used to tell us about their war experiences and they were developing love to our nation and to the new Czechoslovak Republic in us. And this still remains and will remain in us who were growing up after the WWI.”

  • “The greatest enemy in Tobruk was fleas. There were millions and millions of fleas. The chignon fleas, they are smaller than our fleas. When we crawled into an old Italian bunker and then got out, all our trouser-legs, our trousers were completely black with fleas. We got that DDT and sprayed it on them but they got used to it and they became resistant to it. But it was the only way. Another one was, because sometimes we couldn't sleep because of the fleas, to go and walk around the tent... But there was a hitch in it because there was a plain in that area, dark nights, no orientation point anywhere. So if you branched off a little bit, you didn't find your tent or didn't find your place at all. You had to walk till the morning when the day broke so that you could come back.”

  • “On the whole we didn't know what was going on around us. But there must have been something going on around us because on November 25th about ten o'clock in the morning there was a bang all of a sudden and the ship started heeling. I personally, because we had already lived soldiers' lives, I was supervising cleaning as a corporal on that day. Well, we were down at the bottom in our bunker and two or three boys were cleaning there and I was there with them. And when the ship was heeling then all possible things started falling off the shelves. But on the whole we couldn't be bothered because we were used to it from the Milos that it was heeling from side to side. So we were counting that it would balance. Well, it didn't, on the contrary. Then there was screaming up there, something was going on so we said to ourselves we had to go upstairs. It was such a narrow, as it always is in ships, such a narrow staircase to between-decks. So we were trying to get up the stairs to the between-decks. Someone pushed me from behind so much that I was completely pushed right up there. But we lost our courage up there. We stayed standing there because the ship was heeled so much that if you didn't hold anything you would slide and fall down somewhere into the engine room. It proved to be your end. Well, at one moment I gathered all my strength and jumped. There was a kind of railing and I climbed up the railing and got onto the next deck. Then I carried on up the railing and when I got up to the top, the ship was so heeled already that I actually plunged straight into the water.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha?, 05.02.2003

    duration: 02:02:50
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

“I transferred to air-forces from artillery. Air-raid artillery is not dangerous, we didn’t shoot anything down so we hoped we wouldn’t be shot down either.”

Jiří Poláček
Jiří Poláček
photo: Pamět Národa - Archiv

Jiří Poláček was born in Prague on March 29th, 1913. He spent his childhood in Kolín. Coming from  a line of Kolín Jews, many of his family members died in Auschwitz. He joined the Army in 1935 and took part in the mobilization in 1938. He decided to emigrate in 1939. He travelled on the ships Melk and Milos to the Middle East. After the Patria disaster, he was one of the passengers who were rescued from the sunken ship. He went through training in the Middle East, and was transferred to fight at Tobruk. Then he joined the air-forces and went through training in Britain, in the USA and in Canada. He worked as an aviator-telegraphist starting in 1943. As a pilot he took part in the Normandy Landing, protecting convoys that were bound to Russia. He returned home in 1945 and he demobilized. From 1951 till his retirement he worked as a ditcher without any chances of getting a better job. He died in April 2008.