Unique WWII recordings found in an attic

Frantisek Perina (le troisième de gauche) en France

Every year in May, ceremonies take place on town and village squares across the Czech Republic to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II. Since the fall of communism, a particular effort has been made to remember the Czechs and Slovaks who fought in the British armed forces, whose role was long neglected by the communist regime. Recently rediscovered recordings offer a unique and highly atmospheric insight into the life of the Czechoslovak RAF pilots. David Vaughan has more.

A couple of years ago, someone at the Czech Foreign Ministry stumbled upon a large trunk. It turned out to contain more than 700 old gramophone records. It was clear from the labels on some of them, that the recordings were made in Britain during the Second World War, but nobody was quite sure what they were. How they came to be at the ministry remains a mystery to this day. After some negotiation, the recordings, most of which are in excellent condition, were transferred to our own archives here at Czech Radio. Our sound archivist, Miloslav Turek, is now busy sorting them out, and it turns out that they are a very exciting find. It had long been thought that the wartime broadcasts made by the Czechoslovak government in exile, independently of the BBC’s own Czechoslovak service, had nearly all been lost, but it turns out that they are preserved on dozens of the records found in the ministry. On top of this, there are numerous BBC recordings, including a number of fascinating propaganda broadcasts in English about the contribution to the war effort being made by the Czechs and Slovaks serving in Britain’s armed forces.

For the rest of this programme, I’m going to play you the whole of one of these broadcasts, not heard for nearly 70 years. It’s a dramatized documentary, a day in the life of the Czechoslovak pilots in 1943. The fact that the narrator is American makes me think that it could well have been originally intended for audiences in the United States. The scenes are clearly staged and there is no attempt to pretend that it is anything other than propaganda, but the atmosphere is authentic and the pilots’ voices are real enough.