Families come to the rescue of war memorial

The relatives of members of the Free Czechoslovak forces based in the Leamington area during the Second World War are in the forefront of efforts to restore a memorial fountain.

One of the ideas is to restore the rose garden and once again plant roses from Lidice – a village which was razed to the ground by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, who was known as the Butcher of Prague.

A close confidant of Hitler, Heydrich died in May 1942 two days after a grenade was thrown into his staff car after it was ambushed by Leamington-based members of the Free Czechoslovak forces.

A memorial fountain paid for by the Czech Legionaires –ex-servicemen who stayed in the UK after the Russian-backed Communist takeover of their country –was opened in Jephson Gardens in 1968 and the triangle-shaped area had drinking and ornamental fountains and roses.

The ornamental fountain depicts a parachute and bears the names of the seven men who took part in the assassination operation and who died in the aftermath.

Michael Kalas’ father Josef was part of the 4,000-strong Czechoslovak forces in the area and knew the two men who held up Heydrich’s car.

Along with Christopher Pavel – whose father George served with the Free Czechoslovaks and was a driving force behind getting the memorial put in place – and his wife Georgina, they have been negotiating with Warwick District Council in a bid to restore it.

Mr Kalas, aged 70, of Dunblane Drive, Cubbington, said: “We are in the very initial stage of contact with the council and the Czech and Slovak military attaches will be involved.

“It will be an ideal opportunity to open up the area, put back the roses, put in some benches and an information board to explain its significance.”

Mr Kalas said survey work will need to be done on the state and stability of the fountain, which is reported to be leaning, and they will have to find out what can and can’t be done to fit in with the memorial’s park setting.

“At this stage we don’t know how much it will cost, but it will be thousands. Warwick District Council has been very helpful and we are not asking the council to pay for it.

“We are hoping to get money from the Czech and Slovak governments and from the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

Mr Kalas said there was also interest from people in the two countries about helping the fund and the role of the Free Czechoslovak forces in the war.

“With the coming of the Communists, the people had no history of the Free Czechoslovak forces. We’re also hoping relatives of the Free Czechoslovak forces who live around Leamington and throughout the country will help.”

People who want to help in the restoration project can email georgina.pavel@tiscali.co.uk.