Nostalgia by Peter Hawkes

Many people enjoy going to Prague for the weekend. This Czech capital is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However many people do not know that Buckinghamshire has strong links with the Czech Republic.

During the Second World War, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech and Slovak Republics) became a victim of Nazi Germany and about 20,000 Czechs and Slovaks came to Britain as refugees.

Czech refugees came to live in Beaconsfield, Wendover, Berkhamsted and other places in the area. Some of these escaped through Poland or Hungary and came to England by various routes. Some were Czechoslovak Jewish children who came on Kindertransport organised by Sir Nicholas Winton. Most of the adult men were recruited into 2 battalions of the Czechoslovak Army and many served in the R.A.F. Amongst the refugees were the Korbel family who lived for a while at Beaconsfield and later at Berkhamsted.

Their daughter Madeleine Korbel became Madeleine Albright, and served from 1997 to 2001 as U.S. Secretary of State under American President Bill Clinton.

Amongst the refugees in Bucks, was the President of Czechoslovakia, Dr Edvard Beneš. He originally came to live in Putney, but after the Blitz in London, he left Putney to come and live at The Abbey in Aston Abbotts near Aylesbury from 1941. This very English village served as the capital of Czechoslovakia in exile.

At nearby Wingrave, the Old Manor House, was a safe house for members of his close staff. These houses were leased from their owners, and the connection was the Rothschilds at Ascott House near Wing who helped their Czech friends.

At Aston Abbotts the President would meet with other wartime leaders such as Winston Churchill, but also with other exiled leaders especially General Sikorski of Poland, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, King Haakon VII of Norway and Charles de Gaulle of Free France. These people were also in exile in the area.

At another village called Addington near Winslow, there was a safe house for the Military Intelligence staff. These men worked with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and there was a network of training centres in Bucks, Beds and Herts where Czechoslovak soldiers were trained to work with their Home Resistance.

Men were then flown from a secret airfield in Bedfordshire and parachuted into occupied territory to work with the Resistance.

The most famous event that they planned was called Operation Anthropoid. In this one Czech and one Slovak man were trained and parachuted into occupied territory, and assassinated the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. This heroic event has been portrayed in a number of books and films.

Some of the children of these people attended local schools at Swanbourne, Wingrave and Aylesbury. Others attended special Czechoslovak State boarding schools which taught in the Czech language. There was a primary school in Cheshire and a secondary school at Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales.

The President was guarded by the local Home Guard. They worked with a unit of the Czechoslovak Army who were stationed in Nissen huts in fields behind his residence.

These Czechoslovak soldiers took part in local military parades in towns around Bucks, for example they and were seen in High Wycombe for Salute the Soldier week in June 1944. The men used to frequent pubs in Aston Abbotts, Weedon and Aylesbury. Many of these are since closed but the Royal Oak in Aston Abbotts is little changed since those times.

Most people have heard of “G.I.” (American) brides, but there were also some Czechoslovak men who married British girls. In total about 600 Czechoslovak men married British girls, including some people from Bucks. The Czechoslovak Government in Exile, and the Czechoslovak men with their English wives all returned home to liberated Czechoslovakia in 1945. Sadly many returned to Britain as refugees again in 1948 when communism fell upon that land.

Many were taken in by their wife’s families. Another wave of exiles happened in 1968 when there was a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Communism ended at Christmas 1989 and since then Czech and Slovak people come and go peacefully and freely.

The only real monument to their wartime presence in Bucks, is a brick-built bus shelter on the A418 between Aston Abbotts and Wingrave, and on the road from Aylesbury to Wing.

This was paid for by the Czechoslovak Government in Exile as a gift to the local community in 1944. The bus shelter is now a Grade II listed building due to its historical importance. There is a plaque on it which reads “This bus shelter was donated by President Benes of Czechoslovakia to thank the people of Aston Abbotts and Wingrave whilst he and his cabinet were in exile here during World War II.” Many people have driven past it without realising its significance.

Today, dotted around the area are people and places with Czech connections. Many of these stories have been collected by local historian Neil Rees, into a book called The Czech Connection, which tells the social story of the Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London and Bucks during World War 2. Neil lives near Chesham, but he became interested after working in Czechoslovakia and then coming home and people telling him wartime stories of Czechs in the area. Using information, photographs and items from people who were there, his book tells the hidden history of the local wartime Czech Connection.

The latest edition of Neil’s book The Czech Connection was launched recently at the Czech Embassy in London. If you have a Czech connection, or you would like to book a talk on the subject, you can contact the author on or phone 01494 258328. The book is available to buy at £9.95 on eBay.