In memoriam: Czech wartime RAF veteran Tomáš Lom

Tomáš Lom in 1945

Tomáš Lom, a Czech veteran of World War II who served in Britain’s Royal Air Force, died on Wednesday, just weeks ahead of his 97th birthday. As one of this country’s last RAF airmen, his passing was marked by the government with a moment of silence, and Lom is to be buried with military honours.

Tomáš Lom was born in 1924 into a Jewish family by the name of Löwenstein, who managed to flee Czechoslovakia just days before the German occupation and settled in the UK. He signed up for the British Army the moment he came of age, but later requested a transfer to the fabled 311th Czechoslovak Squadron of the RAF.

“I was 18 years of age and reported to the Czech Embassy for service because I was very keen on teaching the Germans a lesson.

“I wanted to be in the air force, but the Embassy put me into the army depot at Cholmondeley. There I did army service and took every opportunity to demand to be transferred to the air force.”

Why were you so keen to be in the RAF?

“You see, after I had heard what had happened in Austria, in Germany, and probably also in view of very efficient propaganda of Churchill and his party [laughs], I was absolutely keen to teach the Germans a lesson.

Tomáš Lom | Photo: Paměť Národa

“And in the Czech army… doing parades in England just didn’t satisfy me. The air force was the only Czech armed force which really fought in those days.”

Much to his disappointment – Tomáš Lom told Radio Prague International in that same interview recorded a few years ago – after undergoing a month of basic training, he was not selected by the RAF to be an airman but was trained as a radio operator.

“After about a month of [basic training], a committee arrived which had to select who was bound for ground crews, who was to be airborne, and among the airborne who was to be a pilot, who was to be a radio man, who was to be a navigator and so on.

“Of course, I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but no luck.”

After completing just one operational flight in Europe, patrolling the skies between Norway and Iceland, Tomáš Lom was transferred against his wishes to the RAF’s 111th OTU Squadron stationed in the Bahamas, which, he was told, had greater need for a soldier with his technical training.

After the war, he returned to Prague where he graduated from Charles University, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. He reluctantly joined the Communist Party after 1948 because he was told that was the only way he could finish his doctorate.

Tomáš Lom was expelled from the Communist Party after the 1968 Soviet invasion, his RAF service, among other things, having raised a red flag during a new vetting. But he was allowed to finish his studies and remained engaged in scientific research up until retirement.

(Interview by Ian Willoughby)