A Stitch in Time: Part 4 – Three Heroes

Richard C. Meech is 'getting his wings' from the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada

We bring three very different tales of heroism during the 1930s and 1940s. The first is a classic story of wartime courage and adventure, as seventeen-year-old Rade Meech-Tatić recounts a dramatic episode in the life of his grandfather as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Then we turn to occupied Bohemia and Moravia, where eleven-year-old Amy Piper tells the story of her great-great-grandfather from the town of Čáslav, who warned his fellow citizens that they were in danger of arrest. And our third story takes us several thousand kilometres to the south and east. Sixteen-year-old Anushree Kshirsagar from Brno also has a tale of courage and resilience as she talks of the role of her great-great-grandfather in the struggle for Indian independence. Three young people whose home is here in the Czech Republic celebrate three very different family heroes.

Rade’s grandfather was Flight Lieutenant Richard C. Meech, a Canadian flying in the Royal Air Force.

RAF Flight Lieutenant Richard C. Meech | Photo: archive of Rade Meech-Tatić

“My story was based on a rather harrowing experience,” Rade tells us. “He was flying an navigational exercise without instruments and without radar – radar was disabled – and unbeknown to him the D-Day invasion, the airborne invasion, was starting that night, and he as a pilot got caught up in the invasion force, swarming towards him.”

In his story, In the Eye of the Storm, Rade evokes the drama in vivid detail. To give a flavour of his writing, here is a short extract from the account:

Then the lights spread out a little, sideways and vertically - then suddenly faster, multiplying like a kaleidoscope and drawing me ever closer to a yawning, dazzling opening. A tingling of apprehension ran down my spine. Before I could process what was happening, the sky exploded into a hundred shards of light, hurtling towards me with the speed of banished angels.

from the left: Johana Trejtnar,  Rade Meech-Tatić,  Michael Lovitt and Amelie Piper | Photo: Radio Prague International

We will hear the whole dramatic story in the programme. Rade’s grandfather was from Canada and had the chance to fight for his freedom. In occupied Europe, life was much more complicated. The only the ways to resist were by going into hiding and joining the resistance, or by being subversive in more subtle, everyday ways. In both cases the dangers were immense. Amy Piper’s great-great grandfather is an unsung hero of the period. As the postmaster in the town of Čáslav, east of Prague, Ladislav Lukeš warned people that they were about to receive a letter summoning them to the Gestapo. In her story Country Terror, Amy writes:

Čáslav | Photo: Dominik Jůn,  Radio Prague International

As a result they often decided to move to a different place or go into hiding before it was too late. But someone soon found out. The traitor told on Ladislav who was sent to a concentration camp.

Ladislav Lukeš was shot in Berlin on September 9 1943.

Amy Piper | Photo: Radio Prague International

“Some people believe that humanity is going backwards,” Amy warns, “because humanity hasn’t learned its lesson. It can happen any time. It can be in the hands of someone who is powerful and may take advantage of the situation. You never know.”

The third story in this episode is also one of great personal sacrifice, but in a very different context. Anushree Kshirsagar is from India, but has been living for the last five years in Brno.

“I remember once my grandpa telling me this story, where we all sat around him, listening patiently. We were mesmerised when he told us this, because it was a very courageous thing that my great-great-grandfather did. He sacrificed his life for our country, which is a great thing, and I’m very proud of him.”

Anushree Kshirsagar | Photo: Radio Prague International

In her story, The Great Struggle for Independence, Anushree writes about how her great-great-grandfather Gopal Krishna Kshirsagar joined a secret revolutionary group in 1936, fighting for Indian independence. He was just nineteen, three years older than Anushree is today. He ended up being arrested. Anushree writes:

After facing the court case, he was sentenced to five years in jail. The days of his life in jail were very tough. He was kept in a dark cell for five years, treated with inferior quality of food and was not allowed to have any meetings with family or friends. He was totally isolated to avoid any connections with people and didn’t even have access to newspapers.

Anushree Kshirsagar | Photo: Radio Prague International

Anushree’s great-great-grandfather died at the age of 37, just a few months after his release from prison, and just before India gained independence in August 1947.

I asked Anushree about the gulf between her own life today as a teenager in the Czech Republic and the experiences of her great-great-grandfather.

“It’s very easy for us to imagine and just say – if I was there, I would do that and act like this, and be the hero, but in the real life it’s very hard to do it, to give your life for your country. It’s not a normal thing to do.”

Listen to this episode to hear these three stories as read by their authors, and to hear Anushree, Amy and Rade talking about what inspired them.

This series was created in cooperation with Class Acts. Special thanks to Leah Gaffen, Tereza Dubsky, Lenka Žižková, Robin Smith and to many others who have helped to make the series happen.

Author: David Vaughan
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  • A Stitch in Time

    I was approached by Leah Gaffen from Class Acts, an initiative that works with bilingual children in Czechia, with a particular focus on drama and writing.