Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“A far away country ….”

Overcoming tragedies that happened in 1942 and 1947:
Statuette presented to the Cumberland miners by the Czech miners (May 1959)
It commemorates the friendship between two  mining communities
Photograph courtesy of: 
"The Beacon Museum, Whitehaven (Copeland Borough Council)"
In late 1938, in the midst a growing crisis in Europe because of German territorial claims and an increasing threat of war, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Germany to meet with Adolph Hitler and other European leaders. Adolph Hitler, the German Chancellor had been making demands about Nazi Germany’s right to annex part of Czechoslovakian territory known as Sudetenland which had a sizeable German-speaking population.

The result of this conference was the signing of the ‘Munich Agreement’ whereby the main European powers agreed to the German territorial claim for the Sudetenland. On 30 September 1938 Neville Chamberlain returned to Britain and speaking before cheering crowds and the newsreels he waved a piece of paper and stated that it was "... peace for our time".

Earlier, in a radio broadcast on 27 September 1938 Neville Chamberlain had referred to the growing conflict between Germany and Czechoslovakia as "... a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing". According to Adolph Hitler, after the signing of this Munich pact Nazi Germany had no more territorial demands in Europe …. ..!

[For continuation of this story click on 'Comments' below]


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

A few months after the Munich Agreement, in March 1939, the German Army invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia taking over the whole country with relatively little opposition. Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister, warned that any further aggression by Germany would be resisted. On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun. Czechoslovakia, Poland and much of the European mainland, including eventually France, were to spend much of the next few years under Nazi Occupation.

On 27 May 1942 in Occupied Czechoslovakia the Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia - SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich – was attacked in the former Czech capital of Prague. Heydrich was attacked by Free Czech Agents that had been trained in Britain. His car was shot as it slowed to round a sharp turn. The Czech Agents then threw a bomb which exploded and Heydrich sustained wounds that would prove fatal. Heydrich eventually died of wounds on 4 June 1942. In Berlin, Heydrich’s funeral was a major state occasion with Adolph Hitler referring to Heydrich as "… the man with the iron heart."

In Occupied Czechoslovakia as well as in Germany the Nazi SS and Gestapo and SS carried reprisals for Heydrich’s assassination, with the killing of more than 1000 persons suspected of being involved, and several thousands of people belonging to the Jewish faith deported to concentration camps, most to a certain death. Men of the Czech mining village of Lidice were – wrongly – suspected of having aided Heydrich’s assassins. In those days under the Nazi Occupation there was no trial, no appeal, and no defence plea. Consequently 172 men and boys over the age of 16 were put to death, the women deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp (most died) and about 90 ‘German-looking’ children sent to Nazi orphanages. Lidice was than completely levelled, covered over and the name expunged from German maps.

As is usual with these kinds of atrocities there were survivors and witnesses. At the end of the war in 1945 the story of the Lidice mining community was one of those that became known in the wider world. The British miners union raised funds among its members for the survivors of the Lidice community. Little as this generous assistance and moral support can have been in the aftermath of such a dreadful atrocity it was evidently very welcome and remembered by the mining community of Czechoslovakia.

Two years after the end of the Second World War, another mining community, this time one in Britain far from Czechoslovakia, was to suffer a terrible tragedy. On Friday 15 August 1947 an explosion at the William Pit, Whitehaven, Cumberland, resulted in 104 miners losing their lives, leaving 89 widows and 230 children fatherless. This too made national and international news at the time. Among the first to send practical support to the bereft widows and children was the miners’ union of Czechoslovakia. Czech miners remembered the hand of friendship in helping the Lidice community and knew some of those who had helped them were now in need themselves.

The Czech miners were eventually to raise several thousands of pounds and even arranged for many of the Whitehaven widows and dependent children to spend a holiday in Czechoslovakia. This gesture of support and friendship was also very welcome at a time when many people were in great need. Subsequently a long-lasting friendship developed between Czech and British miners, particularly from Cumberland.

A few years later a statuette was presented by the leader of the Czech miners, Mr Jiri Svatonsky, to the Area Secretary of the Cumberland miners, Mr Tom Stephenson at a conference in Glasgow to mark the close relationship between the two communities. In presenting the statuette to Mr Stephenson, Mr Svatonsky said the statuette was being presented "... as a reminder of the lasting friendship and solidarity clearly proved by the Czechoslovak miners in their action to help the 'Whitehaven Fund' - the William Pit Disaster Fund". Mr Svatonsky also expressed the gratitude of his countrymen for the solidarity shown by the British miners regarding Lidice.

In August 2007, in Whitehaven (now in Cumbria) the town marked the 60th Anniversary of the William Pit tragedy. It was a time to remember those who had lost their lives in one terrible tragedy in 1947. It was also a time to remember the victims of another, perhaps even more dreadful, tragedy at Lidice (now in the Czech Republic).

In 1938 Neville Chamberlain described the Czechs as a "... people of whom we know nothing". If Mr Chamberlain’s assertion was true in 1938, it was totally different 10 years later. By then there had been six years of World War, a massacre of innocent families at Lidice in 1942 and a terrible tragedy when the William Pit exploded at Whitehaven in 1947. Lidice and Whitehaven were just two communities affected by dreadful personal tragedies although different as to how they had happened. Yet those that were left found that Friendship and Humanity know no distance. Good deeds can overcome frontiers and many obstacles. These positive things that arose out of terrible tragedies should also be remembered.

J. Ritson

Written: September 2007

Wednesday, 26 September, 2007  
Blogger Nick Clark said...

Excellent piece and very interesting as it’s good to learn that something positive came from our relationship with the Czechoslovakian people during the Second World War.

After the Lidice atrocity it seems we had a second chance to help the Czechoslovakian people and this time it came from the ordinary British people - the British miners union.

Chamberlain's shameful and dismissive comments of “A far away country ….” was hurtful to many Czechs who were left to fight to save their country from invasion while the world stood back and waited to see if Hitler would be satisfied or expand his interests into neighbouring Poland.

In 1942 the British and Allied forces were putting pressure on the Czechoslovakian people to sabotage the Nazi occupation as they felt they were not doing enough! This of course resulted in SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich being assassinated and the resulting horror of Lidice. Indeed many Czechs had protested that there would be serious reprisals by the Nazis for such an action and predictably reprisals they got.

Thanks for posting this.

Thursday, 27 September, 2007  

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