By David Allars
Volunteer Host and Guide IWM Duxford
I was recently asked by my local (Addenbrookes Trust, Cambridge) branch of the national charity “The Sick Children’s Trust” to give a talk about the history of Duxford Airfield. I happily agreed as I have been a volunteer for Imperial War Museum (IWM) Duxford coming up to seven years and as part of our volunteering we are comfortable giving talks and tours.
“Could you keep it to 45 minutes, please?” I was asked. After putting together my presentation, I was in a quandary, when I timed myself at 55 minutes, as to what I could leave out.
Reluctantly, as I did not want to cut anything, I settled on leaving out a section about 310 Czech Squadron who were commissioned at Duxford and flew from there during the Battle of Britain. I was planning to concentrate on one particular individual, Jaroslav Sterbacek who, tragically, was the first Czech pilot fatality on active service with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (1).
Czech and British pilots of No. 310 Squadron confer at Duxford, September 1940. Pictured are Vaclav Bergman, Bohumir Furst, Rudolf Zima, Emil Fechtner, Stanislav Zimprich, Jan Kaucky, Karel Seda, Jaroslav Maly, Vilem Goth, Josef Vopalecky, Svatopluk Janouch, Raimund Puda, Gordon Sinclair, John Boulton and Jerrard Jeffries. © IWM (CH 1291)
Then, in November something happened which changed my mind.
I was in Hangar 4 at IWM Duxford on my “duty” day when I was beckoned over by one of my colleagues who was talking to an elderly couple. They were onsite to visit the Czech Pilot’s Memorial and Mike called me over as he knew that I had been researching 310 for my talk.
The subsequent conversation with the lady of the couple was sensational.
It transpired that Jaroslav was a bit of a “fast worker” and had become engaged to a British girl during the short time he had been over here. This lady, although not a blood descendant of his, was the daughter of the British girl in question and was trying to find out as much about him as she could. She only knew that he had served here and that he was killed in action and not a lot more. It was a privilege for me to tell her all that I knew about Jaroslav, his trek across Europe with his comrades and their involvement in the Battle of France before they got to Britain. Sadly, I had to tell her the details of his death (missing presumed drowned in the Thames estuary after bailing out of his Hurricane) at which she was visibly moved. Jaroslav is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, however a gravestone has also been placed at Brookwood Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
Needless to say after this encounter, which I looked upon as some sort of omen, I restored the 310 Squadron to my talk.
One of the huge pluses of volunteering is that you never know what is in store at the museum from day to day and who you may meet.