Friday, September 7, 2007

Spitfire Tribute to a 60-Year Love That Refused to Die

This story was in the Scotsman newspaper, online edition, today. It was sent to me by my friend Richard in Scotland, who lives near the site of the crash.


A SPITFIRE aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain will fly low over East Lothian this Saturday in honour of a Czech airman killed in the war and the woman who loved him.
Juliette Liska, now 85, will be standing by the graveside of her fiancé, Vaclav Jicha, in St Martin's RC Cemetery, Haddington, in memory of the airman who was killed in a wartime crash over the Lammermuir Hills.

Juliette Liska, 85, at the grave of her fiancé, who was killed in 1945 Picture: Ian Rutherford

Ms Liska survived a German labour camp and went on to marry another man, but she never forgot the love of her life, whom she met at a flying club in Prague before the war.

"He was a very serious man, but I understood him very well because we were both pilots," said Ms Liska, who was captured by the Germans in 1943 then became a translator for the American forces after the war ended.

Mr Jicha fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 to escape the Nazis and ended up flying missions for the Allies. After the occupation of France, he worked in Britain as a test pilot and was awarded both the DFC and the AFC.

In the closing months of the war, the Czech pilot was posted to RAF Kinross and it was from there that he took his last flight, on 9 April, 1945. Mr Jicha was one of three people on board a flight that crashed into the Lammermuir Hills in deep snow.

He survived the impact, but froze to death trying to make his way back through the snow and was found six days later by a shepherd on the hills.

Meanwhile, Ms Liska did not know if her fiancé was alive or dead. On returning to Czechoslovakia after the war, she finally learned the truth about what had happened.
Following the wishes of her family, Ms Liska married, but she never forgot her wartime sweetheart and has made several visits to his grave. This year, poor health following a fall almost prevented her from making the trip, but she was determined to come to visit the grave.
Inspired by her determination, Bill Nicholson of the Spitfire Club and Jack Tully Jackson, a local historian, arranged for the flypast at 2:30pm tomorrow.

The spitfire, which is in Scotland for the Battle of Britain fundraising ball at Leuchars, was at the Battle of Britain and its body is pockmarked with shrapnel holes.

Bill Nicholson said: "I contacted the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and told them the story of Vaclav Jicha and Juliette Liska and they agreed to arrange the flypast."

Standing in the East Lothian cemetery where her fiancé lies alongside other airmen, Ms Liska wondered if it might be the last time she will make the trip. "This is a lovely place, a peaceful place," she says, admiring the freshly planted flowers around her fiancé's grave.

"I think I will ask to have my ashes sprinkled here alongside Vaclav. But I don't think I am ready to join him yet."

She said she was looking forward to watching the planes flying above the cemetery on Saturday and will do as she always does when she visits the grave: "I will speak to him in Czech."

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