An article, by Mike Le Galle, in the February 2019 newsletter of the Jersey Aero Club, about Josef Řechka, 310 Sqn Battle of Britain pilot.
The Jersey Aero Club has seen many famous pilot members over its history, some lived in Jersey all their lives and some came for a few years then left, some were well known and stood out whilst others were unassuming and kept their heroic past to themselves. Joe was one such pilot.
I first met Joe when I joined Intra Airways in Jersey flying the DC-3, it was my first commercial airline job and first commercial aircraft. I was aware of Joe before this as he worked for Intra, and as a club instructor, I would often see Joe in the clubhouse.
Joe was a very quiet and modest character, he had an infectious smile that seemed to say “don’t worry, all will be well”.
Flying with Joe was an experience, first, he was such a lovely man you always felt he was not only a colleague but a friend. However, he kept us rookies busy as he would often change heading or altitude without waiting for ATC approval leaving us F/Os to catch up and rapidly approve it with ATC. I very quickly learned that Joe knew the DC-3 like the back of his hand, that old saying “it talked to him”, was spot on with Joe. Many times, I would be reaching for the emergency checklist when Joe, with that wry smile, would stop me saying “hold on Mike let’s do this to fix it”, it always would.
It was very unusual for Joe to talk about his past life, most times just a few words, and it only became known to me when one day the Intra chief pilot Wally Smith told me the story.
Joe was born in a small town near Prague, his parents were in the hotel trade and at the age of 17, he started learning the hotel business. Joe, however, had other ideas and persuaded his mother to sign her parental consent on the application form which would enable him to join the Czechoslovak Air Force. He had told her that the application form was for an engineering course.
After training, he qualified as a fighter pilot and later as a test pilot in the Czechoslovak Air Force. In May 1937 he left the Czech Air Force and became an airline pilot with the civilian airline CLS. When Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, in March 1939, all Czech military and civilian planes were grounded. Czechoslovakia was now part of the Reich Protectorate. The pilots, about 1500, were invited to join the German Luftwaffe. Joe was one of the many Czech pilots who decided to leave before this invitation became an order.
Joe escaped over the border into Poland and then to France. Shortly after arriving in France war was declared and he was rapidly conscripted into the Armée de l’Air. He flew Morane-Saulnier MS-406c aircraft which had a single engine, single gunned fighter aircraft. He flew with the French Air Force from October 1939 to June 1940 when France capitulated.
Joe grouped up with other Czech pilots and went by train and boat to Casablanca. From here they boarded a British ship which took them to Gibraltar and then onto Liverpool where they arrived on 15 July 1940. Here he joined the Royal Air Force as a Volunteer Reserve with the rank of Sergeant and was based at RAF Cosford. On 6 August 1940, he was posted to the newly formed 310 Czechoslovak Squadron, flying Hurricane I fighters and were based at Duxford. He was one of the 88 Czechoslovak pilots who participated in the Battle of Britain. One of the few.
In 1941 he was posted to RAF Ferry Command and ferried aircraft between Montreal, Canada, and Prestwick, Britain. The usual route was via Goose Bay, Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland. During this period, he was temporarily posted to Medicine Hat, Canada, as an instructor.
During this period, he was promoted to Flying Officer and flew DC3’s. One of the highlights of this period was flying Winston Churchill to Paris and Brussels. He stayed with 24 Sqn. until 1 May 1945 when he was posted to 147 Sqn, who were a Transport Command unit based at Croydon, which was his final RAF posting of
At the end of hostilities, he returned to Czechoslovakia and flew with a Transport Command unit of the Czechoslovak Air Force based at Prague. He was demobbed, on 31 December 1945, with an RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant and the following day he joined České Aeroline ČSA, the state airline, as a pilot. This was a common destination for many other Czech ex RAF people. Initially, he flew ex Luftwaffe Ju 52’s and a year later ČSA purchased some 29 DC3’s which Joe flew on international flights around Europe.
Unfortunately, the situation in Czechoslovakia was becoming very unsettled with the Russian ‘liberators’ staying in the country intent on forcing their Communist ideology onto the nation following the putsch in February 1948. Under this new regime, the ex RAF people became unwanted people as they were deemed to be traitors and tainted with Western capitalism which had no place in the new Czechoslovakia. Most were eventually dismissed from their work and only permitted to do manual or farm work. Others were gradually arrested and imprisoned, some were executed whilst others, and their families suffered further persecution from the Communist authorities.
Some chose to try and escape and Joe, now married, was one of these. With two other former RAF pilots with 310 Squadron, they planned to steal an aircraft and fly to England. This took a year in careful and cautious planning but finally on 30 September 1950 the plan was successfully implemented. Joe and the other two pilots took one of their Dakota DC3 aircraft OK-WAA for a test flight from Prague airport, but unknown to the authorities it had an extra 500 gallons of fuel on board. He flew to a field a short distance from Prague where he landed and, with engines still running, picked up their wives and two children and was quickly back into the air on route to Manston, England. The price of failure would have been severe, all aboard would have received harsh prison sentences and the 3 RAF men would most likely have been executed.
Joe successfully achieved his UK commercial license in September 1952. From November 1952 he flew with Transair Ltd, based at Croydon where he remained until July 1960 when the company, along with 3 others airlines, merged to form British United Airways. During this period Joe flew regularly to and from Jersey. In the final years of his career, Joe flew for Macedonian Aviation and Intra Airways.
After an aviation career that had spanned some 50 years, he retired from flying in February 1981. He died 15 January 1984, and is interred at the Czechoslovak plot at Brookwood, Surrey.
It was a privilege to fly with Joe, an aviator the likes of which we are unlikely to see again. I know that Joe enjoyed his time in Jersey with Intra, he enjoyed long walks and spending time off at the Jersey Aero Club.
A hero amongst us.
© Mike Le Galle