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7 May 2019 19:00

Soldiering on: Czechoslovak Freedom Fighters in Great Britain 1940 -1945

Following the 1939 occupation of Czechoslovakia and French capitulation, more than 4,000 Czechoslovak soldiers arrived in Britain during the summer of 1940 to fight alongside the British. Refugee filmmakers Jiri Weiss and Karel Lamač captured the faces of fellow countrymen (including those stationed at Cholmondeley Castle and the 311 Squadron Coastal Command), as they undertook arduous duties and domestic work such as doing the laundry, peeling potatoes and exercising. With rare footage ranging from the life of a pilot and a briefing in the operations room to humorous takes on the peculiarities of British life, the short films produced by the Czechoslovak Film Unit and Crown Film Unit are not only examples of the Ministry of Information pro-war propaganda but an important and unique testimony to those willing to sacrifice their lives in the fight for freedom.

Following the screening of archive films Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Imperial War Museum London, and Roger Darlington, author of Night Hawk: Biography of Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher, D.F.C.and Bar, the R.A.F.'s Greatest Night Intruder Ace (1985) and Karel Kuttelwascher’s son in law, will discuss the contribution of the Czechoslovak soldiers to Britain’s war effort and the role of film propaganda. Chaired by BBC journalist Chris Bolwby.


Dr Toby Haggith is a Senior Curator in the Department of Second World War at the Imperial War Museum and Mid-20th Century Conflict and an adviser for IWM’s Short Film Festival, which has been running since he set it up in November 2001. He has a PhD in Social History from the University of Warwick and has published various essays on film and history. He is the co-editor of Holocaust and the Moving Image: Representations in Film and Television Since 1933 (Wallflower Press, 2005) and was instrumental in restoration of the film The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (1917) and the Allied concentration camp documentary, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which was premiered at the Berlin Berlinale in 2014.  He has overseen the publication of a Blu-ray/DVD of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (BFI/IWM, 2017) and a Blu-ray/DVD of The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks (IWM, 2017).

Roger Darlington first became interested in the Czechoslovak contribution to the wartime Royal Air Force when he obtained access to the family records of the Czech pilot Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher who was the RAF’s greatest night intruder ace. This resulted in publication of a biography called “Night Hawk” in 1985 which was reprinted in Czech in 1993 and in English in 2017. Kuttelwascher achieved all his 18 RAF victories with the British No 1 Squadron but “Night Hawk” also describes the record of the four Czechoslovak squadrons 310-313. Further information about Roger and Czechs in the RAF can be found on his website: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk

Chris Bowlby is BBC Radio and Online journalist in news and current affairs and regular contributor to BBC History magazine. He studied history at Cambridge and Harvard and joined the BBC in 1988. He worked as BBC Prague correspondent in the early 1990s, covering the split of the federal state.  He has presented and produced a wide range of BBC radio documentaries and profiles, including radio programmes about Czech samizdat literature under communism, the history of Jachymov, and most recently ‘Tony Harrison’s Prague Spring’. Chris became interested in the Czech and Slovak RAF pilots when in Prague, he wrote obituaries of some of them for the Times newspaper and an article about Czech ace fighter pilot Josef Frantisek for BBC Online.


Tickets: £7 + booking fee


The Rape of Czechoslovakia
, Jiri Weiss, 17’

Lament for Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia

The Czech Army in England, 1940, 8’
Domestic scenes of the Czechoslovak Army and Czechoslovak Air Force at Cholmondeley Castle
You can watch the film on IWM here

The Czechoslovaks March On, Karel Lamac 1943
Humorous commentary on and off-duty scenes of Czechoslovak soldiers in the UK

The Fighter Pilot, Jiri Weiss, 1943, 8’
Thanks to Czech pilots in the RAF
You can watch the film on IWM here

Day and Night, Jiri Weiss, 1945, 17’
A typical day for the men of 311 Squadron, Coastal Command (Czechoslovak Air Force)
You can watch the film on IWM here


Organised by the Czech Centre London in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum and Czech National Film Archive.


Part of Insiders/ Outsiders, a nationwide arts festival taking place from March 2019 to March 2020 and celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.


Photos from The Fighter Pilot by Jiří Weiss, courtesy of Czech National Film Archive



Czech Embassy Cinema, 26 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QY


7 May 2019 19:00


Czech Centre

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