Commonwealth representatives mark Remembrance Day in Prague

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The military section of Prague’s Olšany Cemetery filled with foreign uniforms on Sunday as soldiers of the Commonwealth of Nations marked Remembrance Day, and commemorated the sacrifices of their countrymen who lost their lives on Czech territory during the Second World War.

Around two hundred civilians and soldiers of the Commonwealth of Nations gathered in Prague’s largest cemetery on the second Sunday of November for a ceremony to pay respects to the hundreds of their fallen compatriots who have lain here since the Second World War. There are 264 British soldiers buried in the Olšany cemetery around the large monument of the cross and sword. But there are also Cypriots, Egyptians, South Africans and Canadians buried here, most of whom were either prisoners of war who died in the camps or pilots who died during air raids. Andrew Shepherd is the British Army’s defence attaché in Prague.

“Principally, this service is a Commonwealth service, so there are representatives here from Australia, from Ghana, from India, from Pakistan… So the Commonwealth countries.”

The ceremony and the laying of wreaths was led by an Anglican priest and all in attendance observed two minutes of silence. Among them were representatives of the Czech army and surviving Czech veterans of the Second World War.

“There’s a very proud history shared by the Royal Air Force and the Czech airmen who flew with it; there is a very strong link there that endures today.”

More than two and a half thousand Czechoslovaks served in the Royal Air Force during WWII and more than 500 lost their lives in sorties and in the Battle for Britain. Many of them, like pilot Colonel Jaroslav Hofrichter who was present at the ceremony, returned to Czechoslovakia after the war only to be persecuted by the Communist government. Colonel Hofrichter escaped to Britain via Palestine and Cape Town in 1940 at the age of 20 and joined the 311th bombardiers’ squadron of the RAF as a gunner.

"In 1938 we made a promise to the republic and to the president that we would protect the country, and we kept our promise.”

The Czech Republic held its primary ceremony marking Armistice Day last Friday, on November 11, with a service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the hill of Vítkov in Prague.

Photo: Pavla Poláková