One of last two surviving WWII Czechoslovak RAF veterans turns 100

Jiří Pavel Kafka

One of the final two Czechoslovak RAF veterans still alive today celebrated his 100th birthday on Thursday. Jiří Pavel Kafka, also one of the “Winton children”, marked his centenary in the hangar of Prague’s Kbely military airport in the company of family and army representatives.

Jiří Pavel Kafka was born to a Jewish family in Prague on 2 May 1924. At the age of 15, he was one of the 669 “kindertransport” children rescued from occupied Czechoslovakia by Sir Nicholas Winton and others on the eve of World War II and taken to safety in Britain. Like many of them, he joined the military to fight the Nazis during the war once he came of age.

 Winton's monument at Prague's main railway station | Photo: Jan Rosenauer,  Radio Prague International

When he turned 18 in the summer of 1942, he first joined the army, but his real ambition was to join the air force. Three months later, his dream came true, and he joined the RAF as an on-board radio operator and gunner. Years later, he compared his experiences in the air force and military for Memory of Nations.

“The air force was something different – it didn’t have the same type of strict discipline that the army had. On the contrary, they taught us to rely on ourselves, to think for ourselves rather than just robotically following orders without question.”

In 1944, he joined the No. 311 Czechoslovak RAF Squadron, whose task was to patrol the Atlantic and deter or destroy enemy ships and submarines. The squadron also took part in the landing of Allied troops in Normandy on D-Day.

Czechoslovak pilots in England during World War II | Photo: Military History Institute

Jiří Rajlich, a historian from the Military History Institute in Prague, told Czech Radio about Kafka’s contribution to the historic invasion.

“Jiří Kafka simply knew where he belonged and he behaved accordingly. On 6 June 1944, he was on a 10-hour-long patrol flight as part of D-Day, which we will be commemorating the 80-year anniversary of this year.”

However, Squadron 311 also suffered the heaviest losses out of any Czechoslovak formation in the RAF, with over half of the 511 Czechoslovaks who died while serving in Allied air forces in World War II coming from that unit.

But Kafka was one of the lucky ones who survived, and after the war he went back to Czechoslovakia for a couple of years, before returning once again to England in 1947. He lived in Israel for a few years, and after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, he returned to his birth country for good.

As well as his family and relatives, some of whom came from as far as the UK and even New Zealand, Kafka’s official 100th birthday celebrations were also attended by Czech Defence Minister Jana Černochová and Czech army head Karel Řehka, who told Czech Radio that people like Kafka are an inspiration for the armed forces.

Jiří Pavel Kafka's 100th birthday | Photo: Jan Schejbal,  Czech Defence Ministry

“The whole building of a country’s defence is not only about having a strong military, but also about having a cohesive society, sharing common values and having the will to defend ourselves. The fact that people who, in the face of alienation and uncertainty, alone and without their families, were willing to join the armed forces and risk their lives for their homeland – I find that admirable.”

And Kafka also received another important birthday greeting – although not in person. The British ambassador to Czechia, Matt Field, came to personally give him a letter from King Charles III, congratulating him on making it to 100.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Kateřina Gruntová | Source:
run audio