Prague Pimpernel – review



Prague Pimpernel


Joe Doubek




The True Story of one Czechoslovak patriot, whose enemies were pre-war arrogant Germans and a post-war evil Communist party, who was prepared to risk his life and freedom to defend the rights of his people against these enemies

Joe Doubek was a young man, living in Prague and working in the accounts section of the Daily Newspaper “Narodni Politika”, when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia on 15th March 1939. A reservist in the Czech Air Force, he determined to escape and join the fight against the Germans.

With 3 friends he joined an escape route, travelling by train to Frydek near the Polish Border, then on foot across the border escorted by a young girl. Once in Poland, they took a train to Krakow where they reported to the Czechoslovak Consulate, and as a member of the Czechoslovak Air Force Joe was sent to Gdynia where he boarded a ship for France. On arrival – with the alternative choice being a displaced persons’ camp – Joe elected to join the French Foreign Legion, but his luck held and the sea voyage to North Africa was aborted mid-way when war broke out.

Returning to France, Joe was sent to the French Air Force base at Tours, where training in the French language, armaments, drill and firing commenced. With the war now in full swing, Joe and his compatriots were sent near to the Spanish border to collect new aircraft. Then Paris radio announced the capitulation of France and they resolved to get to Britain to carry on the fight; finally making their way to Bordeaux where a Swedish captain agreed to take them by ship to Britain.

Sent to Cosford for training Joe soon met an English girl, Betty, who – in spite of initial communication difficulties! – was later to become his wife. Joe joined the newly formed 311 Czechoslovak (Bomber) Squadron as a navigator, and subsequently flew 34 night bombing missions in Bomber Command and 5 anti-submarine missions in Coastal Command. He describes vividly the anxiety of the missions, the lost friends, and his particular responsibility as navigator to get the crew back safely.

After completing his tour of duty Joe transferred to a training role, and when the war ended he returned to Prague with his wife and 2 small boys where he joined the academy as a navigation instructor. Disillusioned with the infiltration of communist ideas, however, he resigned from the Czechoslovak Air Force and moved to Marianske Lazne where he took on the role of managing a health spa.

By the time of the communist coup on 25th February 1948 Joe was already under suspicion by the S.N.B. (Guard of National Security) because of his English wife, and was a link in an escape route to Germany. Sending his family ahead, he used the passport of a Dutch friend and managed to cross the border safely, finally returning to England and rejoining his family and the Royal Air Force.

Joe continues his story with his home and overseas postings, the latter to Egypt, Kenya and lastly Australia where he participated in exploratory expeditions to gain experience of adverse operating conditions. Retiring from the Royal Air Force in 1965, Joe was subsequently invited by the Ministry of Defence to join a further British Forces Expedition in Australia. After the expedition ended, Joe remained in Australia.

The book ends with the author’s visit to the reunion in London in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Czechoslovak Squadrons, and the reunion the following year in Prague organised by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defence. He records his euphoria when liberation came in 1989, but also his concerns that the results of the communist regime had left the country – for which they had fought and for which so many of his friends had sacrificed their lives – plundered, neglected and lagging 50 years behind the west.

The author has written the book to influence young generations into rethinking previous reasons for domination by others and in the hope that future generations will have true, sincere respect for other nations. It is definitely a book worth adding to a library of accounts of the Czechoslovak airmen who fought in the west.

Publisher: Doubek
ISBN: 0-646-13447-7
Format: Hardback
Language: English
Published: 1993

** This book is now out-of-print but it is still possible to obtain a copy from the shop at the RAF Museum, Hendon.

For the website visitor interested in learning more about the Czechoslovak Airmen in Great Britain during World War II, second-hand copies should be available through specialised book shops, book fairs, or on-line sources such as abebooks or amazon


This entry was posted in 311 Sqd, Autobiography, Books. Bookmark the permalink.

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