Embassy honors two British servicemen who took part in the Prague Uprising

The Britons are counted among the many foreign nationals who fought alongside Czechs against the Nazis.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 04.05.2021 16:33:00 (updated on 04.05.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

The British Embassy in Prague will unveil a commemorative plaque to two British servicemen who participated in the Prague Uprising of May 1945. The Britons helped negotiate the surrender of a German unit that posed a grave danger to the rebels near the Czechoslovak Radio building, embassy representatives told journalists yesterday.

While there are no large public memorial ceremonies for the 76th anniversary of the Prague Uprising, people can use a new interactive map to find other commemorative plaques near where they live, and they can also light a candle either online or at the actual location. The new plaque, since it has yet to be unveiled, is not included on the map.

The new commemorative plaque will be installed on a school building on Na Smetance street in the Vinohrady district. It is intended as a permanent expression of respect, not just for the British soldiers, but for all who were engaged in the Prague Uprising, the embassy said.

Last year, the embassy made a special recording highlighting the story of the two British soldiers, Thomas Vokes and William Grieg. The pair escaped from German captivity and came to Prague just before the uprising started. During the Prague Uprising, they took part in a tactical ploy in which they pretended to be a vanguard of British paratroops, who threatened the German units with an airstrike if they did not surrender.

The German unit, situated near the Czechoslovak Radio – the focus of the uprising – surrendered soon afterwards, and passed its weapons to the rebels. Greig also made a broadcast on the Czechoslovak in English Radio, asking Allied forces for help for the uprising in Prague.

Czech Radio headquarters. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)
Czech Radio headquarters. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

According to historians, foreigners from many countries joined Czechs in the fight against Nazi forces, during the dying days of the German regime. 

“Many foreigners fought in the uprising,” said Jindřich Marek, a historian at the Military History Institute (VHÚ).

Mr. Marek explained that they were mostly members of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) who were recruited by Germany in its fight against the Soviet Union, but in the closing days of the war, they lent their support to the Czech rebels. In his book, the Chestnut Barricade, he details the nationalities and the places in which they fought. 

In the Libeň district, there were Russian soldiers who had escaped or been liberated from German captivity, while at Bubeneč railway station there was a company of Poles who had escaped detention in Litoměřice, north Bohemia. French and Yugoslav nationals were also recorded on the barricades, and the approaches to Prague were defended by Italians. 

A Dutch sailor named Christiaan Noorlandt is recorded as having taken part in the fighting in the Vysočany and Holešovice districts and some German doctors, such as deserter Wilibald Richter, treated the injured from the uprising.

“According to some witnesses, even an Ethopian took part in the uprising” said Mr. Marek.

During the Prague Uprising between May 5 and 9, 1945, approximately 3,000 Czechoslovaks died, who took part in fierce fighting, were killed in bombing or were executed by the Nazis. Along with the loss of human life, there was significant damage to property. Part of Old Town Hall was burned, and the Astronomical Clock was all but destroyed.

Virtual memorial now online

The new plaque is just one of many across Prague commemorating people involved in the Prague Uprising. Most other plaques are in memory of those who died in the fighting. These places of reverence can be visited in person, provided sufficient distances and hygienic measures are observed.

Prague City Hall in cooperation with the Prague Institute of Planning and Development has made an interactive map so people can find plaques near their residence, and honor the memory of the fallen by lighting a candle either at the monument or symbolically online. There is a counter on the website showing how many people took part in this event, and each spot has a counter showing how many candles were lit.

“The aim of the interactive map of places of worship is to commemorate again all the brave men and women who fought and died for our freedom, and their significant sacrifice during the Prague Uprising. These heroes defended our capital until the last moment, before foreign reinforcements arrived in the already practically liberated city,” Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said.

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