“I have to admit the sailors did treat us in a humane way. They pulled me up onboard, carried me down to some cabin. They stripped off my clothes, everything was wet, I was naked, and they covered me with a thick layer of blankets, because I was feverish and I was shaking like an aspen leaf. I regained consciousness around six o’clock in the evening, it was already dark outside, this was February 4th. So I had been lying unconscious for an awfully long time, probably due to hypothermia. They have literally dug me out from my grave, from a water grave.”
“When the Italians bombed our convoy, one single bomb fell so close to our battle cruiser that the splinters killed three crewmembers onboard. That day, we were to stand the guard of honour during their funeral. So we have witnessed the honourable…, no, that’s not the right word, the ceremonial rather…act of military burial at sea. So these were our first steps (in combat) in Poland, for we have had our fair share of German bombs there, and of all those corpses everywhere around us, whether they were dead people or dead animals, we have seen more than enough. During the eastbound retreat through Poland it was a true massacre.”
“And as we were approaching central Germany, more and more airplanes began to appear. German ones, and the British, or Allied, as well. And what happened – they saw a stream of people marching, so our Allied airplanes opened fire on us. So many people died there….I remember one, he was from Brno, he is no longer alive, one brother Knotek, the poor guy had his arm broken because of this fire. And our planes kept shooting, attacking us persistently We lay on the ground and formed the letters POW – prisoners of war – with our bodies. But they did not care, they kept firing at us.”
“While we were still onboard the ship, the English already began studying train timetables and we were sure that they will only see the English railway stations in rubbles. And that these timetables will only be good as a memento of the prewar train service. And here comes the surprise number one: after disembarkation these trains were on time, up to a second, incredibly punctual! We have seen the effect of bombardment everywhere around us, but the terrain and the tracks layout was uninterrupted, and we could ride the train.”
“Then we were transported by a ship from Memel to Szczecin (Stettin -transl.) and these were some of the most critical days. The passage through the Baltic Sea took four days. The ship normally served for transportation of coal, and she looked accordingly. They boarded 3000 of us on her, and we could only hope that they would not drown us. Because this was what the Germans had done with some concentration camp prisoners, they took them out on the Baltic Sea, and there they sank the boat and then claimed she sank due to bombardment. So it’s true that we were also anticipating the worst. But after all this misery…when it was almost impossible to climb the ladder out from the steerage when you needed to use a lavatory; fortunately there was no food, so we had nothing to dispose of anyway. But we have somehow survived.”
“So I got out, jumped from the airplane and fell into water. I waited, first I opened the valve which inflates the life vest, which the pilot has attached to his body. The life vest fills with air and this inflates a protective collar, which keeps your head above the surface and prevents you from inhaling water and drowning. The second thing was a ´kingy´ - a rubber boat, which in case of one-pilot airplanes was so small that it looked rather like a tiny bathtub. The rubber boat was attached to the seat of the parachute, and I released it, but when I opened the valve on the bottle with compressed air, it turned out it was nearly empty and the inflated boat looked more like a piece of rag. However, I managed to keep afloat by thrusting my hands through the holding straps of the rubber boat, and my rolled gloves kept me from sliding out. I struggled for a while, at first with releasing the parachute, because the wind, which was very fierce at the surface, was dragging me through the waves, I swallowed lot of water. The next thing I remember was my card and some documents I had in my pocket, and my effort to get rid of them, although it was proving my identity. I still had enough wits that I thought – if they find me, they will know who I am anyway, because they know where and when I got lost, and if they don’t find me, they won’t care anyway and I won’t care anymore. And it did not take long, perhaps a couple of minutes, and I lost consciousness. Everything went white, everything around me became sank into whiteness, I did not know whether it was snow or what, and I became completely unconscious. And then I don’t remember anything. I don’t know how long it lasted, I woke aboard a ship and thought ´All is well now!´ And then suddenly I saw some soldiers leaning over me and on their uniforms it said that they were Germans, the Kriegsmarine, so I slowly passed out again.”
“We lived on three potatoes and 20 grams of bread per day”
Brigadier General Zdeněk Škarvada was born November 8th, 1917 in Olešnice, near Blansko. On October 1st, 1935 he entered the Air Force Academy in Prostějov. On March 30th, 1937 he took an oath as a pilot. He was active in the First Republic Air Force, and after the occupation of Czechoslovakia he left for Poland. He participated in the defense of Poland, then he made his way from the USSR to Great Britain. He flew night missions, after the failure of his airplane he was captured by the Germans. Captivity in several European POW camps followed, terminated by a 1000 km long Death March. After the events of February 1948 he was transferred to reserve corps and then demoted in 1950. Afterwards he worked on construction sites and in various mines. In 1965, he was partially rehabilitated, then retired in 1990. On May 8th 2000, Zdeněk Škarvada was promoted by presidential decree to Brigadier General. He has been awarded a number of other decorations. Zdeněk Škarvada passed away on May, the 11th, 2013.