One of the country's greatest Second World War heroes, RAF pilot Antonin Spacek has died at the age of eighty-nine. We look at the life of a man who spent his life serving his country and who remained true to his principles in the face of great adversity.
Born in 1917 in the town of Hradcany Antonin Spacek grew up dreaming of becoming a professional soldier. He was a lieutenant in the Czechoslovak army when the war broke out and he left his homeland via the so called Balkan route going through Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Middle East to join the free Czechoslovak units in France. He fought in France and later served in Britain's RAF, returning to Normandy on D-Day with an armored Czechoslovak brigade. Military historian Eduard Stehlik says that Spacek was a soldier his country should have been proud of:
"Antonin Spacek was a man who always thought of others first. Before he left the country he was active in the Resistance and undertook several very dangerous missions in Slovakia. And when he fought abroad he created a home base for other Czechs and Slovaks who served with the allies. He was a truly courageous person."
While in Britain and France Antonin Spacek was a respected war hero he received no recognition at home. In 1948 the communists took power in his homeland and the role of Czech pilots who served in the RAF was played down - because they had fought in the West. Spacek attempted to flee the country with his family in order to avoid communist persecution but only his British-born wife and child managed to get out. Antonin Spacek was sentenced to ten years in a show trial and was sent to work in the country's uranium mines. More than half a century was to pass before he gained recognition. On the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings he was awarded the Legion of Honour by President Jacques Chirac and last year he received the highest Czech state distinction from President Klaus - the Order of the White Lion. However beside the medals there was little else. In an interview for Radio Prague in 2001 he complained bitterly that 56 years after the war society had little interest in giving its heroes a dignified old age.
"Most of us are around 80 years of age - I am 86 - and many of us are alone. We need some help in our old age and nobody cares about it, you see? "
Although he had reason to complain about the years of persecution and neglect the thought uppermost in Antonin Spacek's mind was to leave a legacy for the young generation.
"The thing is how to carry these ideas over to the young generation. The problem is that the teachers don't know about it / our freedom fight/ they were educated during the communist regime. They never heard about what happened. There are many people now who say the last time a Czech soldier fought was at the Battle of the White Mountain, they never fought, they are cowards and so on. And they don't acknowledge us. We were the only army- among the allied group of armies- which was composed of volunteers. The fight against the Nazis was fought here in the Czech lands. We must persuade the young generation to keep in mind that the Czechs are not cowards, that they know how to fight and when to fight for independence and democracy. That is the message we would like to leave after our deaths for the young generation."
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