Emil Boček, last living Czechoslovak RAF pilot, turns 100

Emil Boček

General Emil Boček, the last living Czech airman who served in Britain’s RAF during WWII, celebrates his 100th birthday this Saturday. The veteran pilot, decorated with the highest state distinctions, served with the RAF’s 312 and 310 squadrons and participated in over two dozen operational flights.

Emil Boček  (1944) | Photo: archive of Emil Boček/Paměť národa

Emil Boček was born in 1923 in Brno. In 1939, after the Nazi troops invaded his hometown, he decided to leave Czechoslovakia to fight for his country from abroad. At the time, he was still a minor, so he didn’t mention the plan to anyone, not even his mother.

After a complicated and perilous journey through the Balkans, Egypt and Greece, he finally reached Beirut, where he boarded a ship to Marseille. In the summer of 1940, he took part in battles as the French retreated.

That same year, Emil Boček joined the Royal Air Force in Britain, first serving as a mechanic of fighter planes in the 312 Squadron, which was Czechoslovak. At the time, he didn’t speak a word of English, as he recalled in an interview for the Memory of the Nation project:

Emil Boček in the Harvard plane,  Canada,  1943 | Photo: Post Bellum

“After we arrived in Cholmondeley Park, we went to dance to 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.”

The 310 Squadron | Photo: Post Bellum

In October 1942, Boček was admitted into pilot training, which he received in Canada in 1943. From October 1944 he served as a fighter pilot in the 310 Squadron, notching 26 operational flights over Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.

In an interview for Czech Radio, he described one of several incidents in which he nearly lost his life. It happened during a training flight in Britain, before he joined another Czechoslovak squadron, 310:

Emil Boček | Photo: archive of Emil Boček

“I was still above the airport when the engine stopped working, so I had to land without it. In England, there were these little fields surrounded with barriers of bushes and trees, so landing there wasn’t easy. You basically had to go straight down.

“I got caught up in the trees and lost a piece of wing. I crash-landed on a cow pasture and jumped out of the cockpit, because there was something fizzling there. I lit a cigarette and started swearing, of course.”

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 | Photo: Pavel Vítek,  Czech Radio

Emil Boček has received many awards throughout his life, including the highest Czech state distinction, the Order of the White Lion.

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.

Author: Ruth Fraňková
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