Nearly six hundred Czechs and Slovaks volunteered in Britain during the Second World War to be parachuted back into their homeland to infiltrate and support the anti-Nazi resistance. During the ‘critical period’ of 1941-1943, some 300 soldiers were parachuted in behind enemy lines: during the drops, over 90 percent of these men died. Now a new memorial is planned in their honour in a remote part of northern Scotland. I spoke to the honorary Czech consul in Edinburgh, Paul Millar, to find out more:
“Well, the memorial should be dedicated, or will be dedicated, to Czech and Slovak soldiers from the independent Czechoslovak Brigade, who volunteered for Special Operations Executive training in Scotland.”
And what was their role in the Second World War?
“Well you see, in 1941, Britain was the only country at war with Nazi Germany. France had collapsed; the other European countries were occupied. The Soviet Union had a fake peace pact with Germany and the United States were neutral. So, Britain didn’t have any allies. The only allies, according to the General Staff, were the people involved in underground movements in the occupied territories – the resistance. Churchill approved the formation of the so-called Special Operations Executive. The Special Operations Executive was not the regular army, they were special agents who were to be London’s contact with underground movements in the occupied territories.”
And so why will the memorial be built in Arisaig, then?
“Well the entire area north of Fort William was designated as a Special Operations Executive restricted area, because it was difficult to access, and the training and the whole set up of the SOE was completely clandestine. And Arisaig House was the headquarters of the SOE. Arisaig was also, then, the last holding point for various people who, from there, went into action.”
What form will this memorial take?
“A big block of granite, I hope! As big as we can purchase. We are talking about a ten-tonne block which will be partially sculpted.”
And when will it be unveiled?
“Well I was hoping for this year, but the money is coming in very slowly. Much more slowly than I was hoping. We’ve got contributions from what I would call individual donors, but contributions from corporate donors haven’t materialized. We will still try for some part of the memorial to be realized this year, by next year at the latest.”