Jaroslav Vrtálek

* 1921  

  • “I was a dispatch rider and my vehicle got a direct hit. I got shot in my leg. They brought me to a field hospital. They wanted to amputate immediately. It was a penetration wound. My leg was almost cut off, it was just hanging on the tendons. In the field hospital there was one female Polish doctor, she saw my Czechoslovakia badge and she told me in Polish: ´We will not amputate, you’re still young.´ One understands some Polish. They transported me to England. Our military hospital was there. It was in May 1945, London was celebrating and I was lying in the operating room. I spent the end of the war in hospital, they had to fracture my leg again because it hadn’t healed properly.”

  • “It was on Christmas. We received some packages from Egypt, there was chocolate, some biscuits, perhaps even a can of beer. We received this from Czechs from Palestine. They gave us chocolate, the English brought some whisky, and we celebrated Christmas properly. But we still had to keep the patrols.”

  • “One older sergeant (his name was Robert Sedláček) was saving a lot, he was not going out when he got a leave, and he was buying gold pounds for what he saved from his pay. We avenged on him by writing his name repeatedly in a guestbook at a brothel. One day our head doctor Firth got hold of the book, and he couldn’t believe it was possible, the guy must be having a new lease on life, and he invited him for a checkup. (…) Later it came out, he found out that we had only played a joke on him, and we apologized to him. I met him in Opava one day after the war. (…) He told me: ´You guys got me.´”

  • “Nobody reproached me for having served in the western army. When I served in the People’s army, the political educator forbade me to show my decorations from the West. I told him: ´My dad taught me: Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. What belongs to you should not be given to anybody. – I got it in the war. Where were you during that time?´ He swore at me and went to talk with the commander. He called me in and told me: ´Jarda, don’t be stupid, just take it off, and you’ll be able to wear it again in no time.´ Eventually I took it off. – ´So are you happy now?´ – There were always problems, especially if you were in the army.”

  • “We went via Poland to Königsberg. That’s where the border between Poland and Germany was. We arrived to one station and wanted to get off the train, but the Poles made us get on again, saying that it was not possible to get off there, that there were many spies. We told the train dispatcher that we would jump out of the train in the next station, but that under no circumstances would we go to Germany. We jumped out at the following stop, it was some larger village, and we hurried away. There we were caught pretty quickly, they locked us up in a school house. We explained that the Czechoslovak army was being formed in Bronovice.”

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    Praha 8, 28.10.2005

    duration: 01:19:08
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. What belongs to you should not be given to anybody.”

Jaroslav Vrtálek in 1944
Jaroslav Vrtálek in 1944
photo: archív pamětníka

Colonel in retirement Jaroslav Vrtálek was born in the Olomouc region and he learned the saddle-maker’s trade. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia he was sent into forced labour to Germany to Königsberg (Královec, present-day Kaliningrad) in the former eastern Prussia. In summer 1939 during the journey through Poland, he jumped off the train and he joined the Czechoslovak units which were being formed in Bronovice. After the occupation of Poland he got with the others to the Soviet Union. Via Kamenec Podolski, Olchovka, Jarmolinec, Suzdal and Odessa he eventually arrived to Palestine in 1941. Jaroslav Vrtálek fought at Tobruk, serving with the antiaircraft machine-guns Bofors. When the fighting was over, he was transported on the Mauretania vessel via South Africa to Britain. In Britain he trained for a tank brigade where he served as a dispatch rider. He suffered a serious leg injury at Dunkerque, and he returned to Czechoslovakia only in October 1945. After the war he was receiving a partial disability pension, but he continued serving in the Czechoslovak army in a tank unit. He retired holding the rank of lieutenant colonel and he lives in Prague-Bohnice.