Czechia loses its last Czechoslovak RAF pilot with death of Emil Boček
Sometimes popularly referred to in Czechia as “Knights of the Sky” (Rytíři nebes), Czech RAF pilots have a glorious reputation in their home country and are still honoured in Britain to this day. Last Saturday saw the passing away of the last of their kind with the death of Emil Boček, just a month after his 100th birthday.
Emil Boček was born in what is today the Brno-district of Tuřany on February 25, 1923. He was only 16-years-old and learning to be a car mechanic, when the Nazis occupied Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. Together with a friend, he soon chose to get out of the German occupied territory.
After a long and gruelling journey through the Balkans and the Middle East, which included being interned in a Hungarian jail, he eventually made his way to France and joined the Czechoslovak exile units that were forming there. He would was an active combatant during the Battle of France before being evacuated to Britain. His first encounters with the language of the island could be rather awkward as he recalled in an interview with the Memory of Nations project.
“When we arrived in England, we got on a train and there were individual coupes there. Some were marked with the sign ‘SMOKING’ and ‘NO SMOKING’. Like an idiot, I thought that it meant they were divided for people who were wearing a tuxedo and those who weren’t.”
The word “smoking” means tuxedo in Czech. However, Boček would soon pick up on the language, in part through meeting local girls at dances.
“After we arrived in Cholmondeley Park, we went to a dance in Chester the next day, still in our French uniforms. We wrote down some phrases on a piece of paper with the pronunciation and with the Czech translation.
“I tried to speak to one of the girls, but she didn’t understand. So I showed her the paper and she couldn’t stop laughing. So in the end, it was the girls who taught us English.”
Boček soon applied for the Royal Air Force and was admitted into pilot training in October 1942. After learning how to fly in Canada, was attached to the No 310 (Czechoslovak) Fighter Squadron, from October 1944, notching 26 operational flights over Western Europe.
“The Spitfire…was a carriage. An incredible plane. A perfect aircraft,” he would later recall. In an interview for Czech Radio he also mentioned one of the dangerous situations he faced during his many missions.
“My engine suddenly started to stall and then gave up completely, the propeller was ceasing to turn. I told myself: ‘The lights don’t work, I have to jump out’” I told myself that once I am at a thousand feet, I will kick, it’ll throw me out and I will jump. But when it’s November, you don’t want to go into the water, so I thought I’d stay in a little longer. It happened in a split second. The engine started working again and I landed at my home airport.”
In August 1945, Boček, along with other Czechoslovak airmen who had served in the RAF during the war landed at Prague’s Ruzyně airport. A year later, he left the air force and started up a car parts business.
Emil Boček has received many awards throughout his life, including the highest Czech state distinction, the Order of the White Lion. He was also promoted to the rank of Major General. A documentary film titled Nezlomný was made about him in 2012.
Flying continued to be his biggest joy in life. Just two years ago, at the age of 98, he was taken for a 15-minute flight in a De Havilland Tiger Moth – a plane he first piloted when he joined the RAF 80 years before.
He died in his native city Brno, of which he was a citizen, on Saturday, March 25.