A Winged Lion for Prague

Photo: fcafa.wordpress.com

A new statue is to be unveiled in Prague in honour of over two thousand Czechs and Slovaks who fought in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II. The idea is to provide a lasting memorial to express the gratitude of the British people to the airmen who risked their lives. Casualty figures were high and a quarter of the airmen never came home. The statue, designed by Colin Spofforth will be cast here in the Czech Republic, and aptly enough, it will be unveiled in June by Winston Churchill’s grandson, British Member of Parliament Nicholas Soames. David Vaughan asked Britain’s Defence Attaché in Prague, Colonel Andrew Shepherd, to tell us more about the idea.

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“The project was originally conceived on the basis that the British community were keen to do something in order to recognize what the airmen had done.”

You mean the British community in Prague.

“That’s right. As the British Defence Attaché I go to a lot of memorial events around the country, but it always seemed to me that there was a gap insofar as the British community had never really said thank you in a lasting way to the Czech people. When I discussed this with Euan Edworthy, who has lived in Prague for the last 19 years, it rather captured his imagination and between us we came up with the idea of starting a fundraising effort, in order to commission a statue that the British community could give to the Czech and Slovak people.”

Euan Edworthy is a British businessman in Prague and he is also, I believe, the son of an RAF pilot. So he has a family link to the Air Force.

“He does indeed. He grew up as the son of a serving RAF officer and his father used to tell him as a child about the brave Czechoslovak pilots. When he came to live here in Prague, this was very much on his mind. He’s always had this itch that needed scratching, you might say!”

A bomber crew of No. 311 Squadron RAF
So the seeds were sown. What happened next?

“We put together a fundraising team which essentially consisted of British businessmen in Prague and I’m pleased to say that we have almost raised the money for the most ambitious variant.”

It’s going to take the form of a winged lion. Tell me more.

“Yes, rather an unusual notion, but the lion of course has an important place in the heraldry both of the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. It will have a split tail, to reflect the Bohemian lion and clearly the wings are representative of the wings of the Royal Air Force.”

The lion will be cast in bronze. How big is it going to be and where will it stand?

“The body of the lion is about two metres. The wingspan is also about two metres and he has a one-metre tail. So he’s a fairly substantial beast. Exactly where he is going to stand, I regret I am not able to tell you yet. We are in discussion with Prague City Hall and we very much hope that they will be able to find us a position that is appropriately dignified and respectful, so that the tourists and the local people alike are able to visit the lion and learn more about the history, because the plinth of the lion will contain a few details of the history.”

And this will all be unveiled on 17 June. You will have two military bands coming over from Britain. Because there were both Czechs and Slovaks serving in the Royal Air Force, there is also going to be an event in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

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“It was important to recognize the Slovak aspect of the Czechoslovak contribution. To that end, on 18 June, in Eurovea Square we will be staging a very similar event to that which is staged here in Prague the previous day. We will unveil a plaque. It will be unveiled by Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who is the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff and the most senior serving Air Force officer. He is coming over especially for the event.”