A review of ‘Let’s Add A Little Oil to the Fire!’
The autobiography of Jaroslav Novak
World War 2 began just as Jaroslav Novak commenced his university studies in Prague. Following the shooting of 9 student leaders and the closure of all universities indefinitely, Jaroslav determined to join the troops fighting against the Nazis.
He fled through Slovakia to Hungary – where he was caught and convicted but escaped again thanks to the local judge – then to Yugoslavia and finally Beirut. From Beirut Jaroslav sailed to France where he joined the Czechoslovak forces in exile and was sent with a radio unit to the front line. The unit, with the French Army and civilian refugees, was soon in hazardous retreat but Jaroslav eventually reached Sete in the South of France where he joined a ship bound for England.
Jaroslav served with a telegraphic unit in the Czechoslovak Army until mid-1941 when he transferred to the air force. He trained as a navigator and joined 311 Czechoslovak Squadron, then part of Coastal Command. On one occasion when blips were noted on the radar screen Jaroslav said, somewhat bravely, “Let’s go and add a little oil to the fire!”. The plane was very low, and when the flare illuminated the space below to their horror the crew saw a submarine protected by 4 German Destroyers. The convoy opened fire, but miraculously they survived as the anti-aircraft guns were unable to deflect to such a low angle. After 20 months of service with 311 Squadron and more than 40 dangerous missions against enemy shipping, Jaroslav transferred to Transport Command.
Following his return to Czechoslovakia at the end of the war, Jaroslav was vilified by the Communists for having fought in the west and, concerned about his prospects for work, emigrated to South Africa. Life was, however, uncertain in that country and in 1951 he set off again for Australia, where he finally found his permanent home. With his wife, Jaroslav built a network of shops with photographic equipment and combined his hobbies of photography and flying through participation in the Tiger Moth air races and round-Australia flying safaris.
This book portrays Jaroslav’s inexhaustible determination to succeed, firstly in his fight against fascism, and later in the building of a new life when the homeland to which he returns is no longer free. It describes vividly the ordeals of his flight out of Czechoslovakia and his time in France, his service in 311 Squadron and Transport Command, and the fate of many of his friends and colleagues who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Jaroslav writes in the book “It was my great privilege to serve in the Czechoslovak Air Force in Great Britain and to fight for the freedom of my country”.
A worthwhile read for any English speaker who has an interest in Czechoslovak airmen who served in the RAF during WW2 and wishes to have a better understand of their lives during this time. A good insight is also gained into the experiences they encountered on the journey to England and the post war problems encountered under Communism.
More details on this book are here