Koreis; Author, Translator, Journalist, Dramatist, Visual Artist,
My books in English:
The Fools' Pilgrimage
A novel, fantasy
The Kabbalah: a timeless philosophy of life
A book on the Tarot cards, edited by Voyen Koreis
A stage play
( & The Robber / translated from the
Czech, edited and introduced
My name at the time of my birth was Vojen Korejs. It remained so, until I realised that at the places I stayed in, people had all sorts of problems pronouncing my name properly. Both the "j" letters in English are pronounced quite differently than in Czech, making my name almost unrecognisable when attempted by a native speaker. Being of an altruistic making and suffering while seeing them struggle so much, this had bothered me a lot! I pondered over this for quite some time, but in the end the solution came to me, and it was quite simple. All it took was changing the first "j" into an "i", and the second into a "y". Voyen Koreis. The problem solved. No more facial contortions. A clear, crisp pronunciation.
I should have thought of this sooner, at least of the surname. This branch of my family happened to write its name with an "i" for quite some time, at least till the middle o the 20th century; in fact it was my Father who changed it and it still remains a mystery to me why he did so. Amongst the old papers and documents I have a funeral card of my great grandfather, who was the Protector of the Imperial Waterworks in Prague, and was still writing his name as Koreis. So was his son, my grandfather, who was the choir master of the cathedral in Zbraslav, an ancient town with the 12th century Cistercian monastery south of Prague, which has now become one of its suburbs. He had altogether 12 children, whom he gave mostly traditional Czech names, like Přemysl, Lumír, Záboj, Milada or Dalibor, my Father. He followed the same tradition, if not in number of children he produced, and named his only son Vojen, after the fourth member of the Premyslid dynasty, which had ruled Bohemia for at least half a millennium, until the beginning of 14. century.
As far as the surname Koreis or Korejs is concerned, there are several theories about its origin. It could be of a Celtic origin ─ one large Celtic tribe Boii was established in the central Europe and is mentioned in the Roman sources as early as in the 4th century BC. It later has apparently merged with newcomers to Central Europe ─ the Slavs. From the root Boii comes Boiohaenemum, or modern Bohemia. The root boi even now means fight, fighting in the Czech language, and the name Boii itself meant "warrior people" ─ this warrior image seems to stick out everywhere out of my own name, as Vojen means essentially the same thing ─ a warrior, military leader, or general. No wimp, that's for certain! The name Koreis could have nevertheless come from several other sources and places. It's bearers could have come from Latvia or Lithuania, or quite possibly from Holland. That would have happened most likely during the Thirty Year War early in the 17. century. One of my relatives who is that way inclined, has recently discovered in the old marriage registrar of those times that there was a Koreis in Prague, musician who at about the age of 50 had married a young singer in her early twenties. Not bad! If we substitute the "C" for "K", as is common in many languages, we would get to the names like Corris or Corres. The first could easily adorn some Irishman, while the other has a distinct Spanish flavour to it. Enough speculations, don't you think?
There are several pockets where the Koreises concentrate. Some are in the south of Bohemia, some in the north-west, many in the capitol Prague, but the place, at least up to recently, seems to be the town of Příbram, about 50 km south/west of Prague. This used to be the main mining place of silver, and in the !(th century even held the world record for the deepest mine. But it's significance has faded, and mining is no longera as important as it once was. Koreises were heavilly involved in the silver mining industry, by the look of things, mostly as mining engineers. The other line of interest to them was and is art, mainly music, but there were among them some painters, sculptors, etc. Lets move to the time and the place of my birth now.
I was born on the 14th February 1943 in London. Had I stayed in
England, I would have probably soon discovered that I was a "St
Valentine baby", most likely even before I knew what it meant and what
were its implications. That I were to find out only years later, on my
return to England. In the mostly dull post-war Czechoslovakia, where my
parents took me, and where I was to grow up, St Valentine Day was not
celebrated at all. The Czechs have since discovered its commercial
potential though, and have set it right, as far as the
consuming orientated society is concerned, anyway. About the house you
see on the
picture above it can only be said that a savvy Londoner would certainly
have declared it "a
good address". The house number 12 Pitt Street Kensington London W8,
stands only a little over a furlong away from the Kensington Palace,
the birthplace of the quintessential British ruler, Queen Victoria!
Not only that. Prince Charles with Princess Diana had lived there, and
so do nowadays
even Prince William with his wife Kate and their son George. That's
three generations of future kings, all within a stone throw of my
birthplace, well ... maybe within a medieval bowman's range! If you
absolutely insist on being born into this valley of tears and
lamentations, you could do worse than making it happen at Pitt Street,
Well, wasn't that a typical British understatement? It proves that I'm British, while all of the above proves that I must be a British man of some pedigree. In my own mind, anyway. If I were to make such a statement in front of a true Englishman it would probably draw a response not unlike the famous "We are not amused" uttered by Queen Victoria. Only, these days it would probably be somewhat stronger. Surely not from the lips of a Royal, but the said gentleman would salmost certainly say: ay: "Shit! With this sort of an accent?"
You might well now ask the question: "How come that someone with such a
demonstrably awful accent could have been born in such a place, teeming
with history, ancient and modern?" Well, it's a long story, but at the
beginning of it stands a
romance that did it, and it wasn't even a very young one. Still, it
that St Valentine image rather well.
A Not So
was 1936 and it was summer. A 32 year-old Antonie Jandejsková was
travelling on train from Prague to Rjeka in Croatia, from where she was
to sail to the island of Krk, where she intended to spend the holiday
on the beaches. Somewhere between Bratislava and Budapest a man about
forty came into the coupe which she shared with a female friend. He was
tallish, with glasses, of smooth manners, he asked if he could join
them, he introduced himself as Dalibor Koreis, and he started a
conversation. The other lady had discreetly withdrawn when it became
obvious that that my future father was only interested in my future
mother. Even though she had had a few serious and semi-serous
relationships, she was still unmarried.
He had recently
overcome the brunt of a rather dramatic marriage split-up followed by
as yet unresolved divorce proceedings, after he had caught his wife in
flagranti, and with a man he had up to that point considered to be his
best friend! He had intended to travel somewhere else, but this had
proved flexible, and he had changed his destination, so that he could
also go to Rjeka. He astonished her with his language abilities. While
they were still in Hungary, he talked with the conductor in his
language. With the Croatian sellers at the railway station he spoke
Croatian, with the Serbian in Serbian, with the Italian, in Italian...
He worked at the time for a Yugoslav travel agency, but it was a
stop-gap sort of a job. He already had an offer to take over a branch
of a travel agency in Brno, another for being a trading partner in
Moscow, and yet another from the Czech Ministry of Trade as a trade
attaché at the embassy in Tirana in Albania.
The romance had blossomed, the divorce was settled, Father was free to
marry again, on which they have both agreed. Mother was to choose
between staying in Czechoslovakia, going to Moscow or living in Tirana.
Albania won, as of these places it appeared to be to most romantic, at
least in my future Mother's mind.
The Marriage in Albania
All was not a romance, though. The year was 1938, early spring, and Mother was on her way to Tirana. When she reached the port of Durrés, which is about 50 km away from the Albanian capitol, Father was not there waiting, as previously arranged. He could not make the journey because of the heavy bout of malaria, which he contracted in the same parts of the world during the First World War campaign. He had sent instead one of his colleagues to meet his bride to be. She was worried, and the condition she found him in was even more worrying, but in her presence he had recovered quickly. Malaria bothered him from time to time, but this was the worst bout for many years. Dalibor was soon fine and he even managed to put the marriage date forward by several weeks. An opportunity came his way, so that he could one day ask his bride to be: "How would you like to have a twenty one gunshot salute at our wedding?"
She was puzzled, but had no objections, hardly any bride would have. It so happened that the Albanian king Zog was to marry a Hungarian countess on the 27th April 1938, and no Albanians were allowed to hold any marriage ceremonies on that day. The trick was that this such a ban had not applied to foreigners, and so the relevant authorities have even offered Father to have his marriage on the same day. The morning ceremonies have therefore been conducted with the sound of guns in the background, with the wedding feast being held on the embassy grounds in the afternoon. Father's witness was Major Vaculny, who was repaying the same favour to him rendered a few months before. The Major was to marry a Montenegrin beauty named Milica. However, it was not to be a straight forward proposition. In the mountain village where she came from and where both Czechs now went, Father was to become a witness to a veritable spectacle! The hitch was that the Major had lived together with Milica in Tirana for some months before the intended wedding, and the village spies had discovered that. Under normal circumstances, the young lady would be disgraced and no consent would be coming from her parents. However, think about how many Albanian village girls, even as beautiful as Milica, would catch a foreign army major for a husband? There was an urgent meeting of village elders, who have eventually allowed an exception to the code of morals held sacred by them. The Major nevertheless had to first ask all inhabitants of the village for forgiveness, and do so publicly on the village green. Not only that. He had to do it while kneeling down! Only when this condition was met, he could take his black-haired stunner to the altar. The Major was so much in love with his girlfriend that he consented. He took Father with him to be his best man, because he trusted him not to tell anyone what he had witnessed. Though Father was sworn to secrecy, the circumstances of the Major;s marriage had still somehow leaked through. It seems that it was the Major himself, who in a moment of weakness, perhaps under the influence, had told some companions of his. My father was a man of his word, and how else could I be able to now write about it? We can only sigh, it was a different world, different were the times, and the customs...
Only a few short months remained of peace in their little world, and Mother liked to recall those times to me very much. They would often have what in Australia we would call barbecue, but which would be a luxury in Europe in those days. They would roast a lamb on an open fire outdoors. They would travel to the mountains, all the way to the lake Ohrid on the border with Macedonia. But there could be no doubt that the war was just around the corner. When the Munich Agreement came, which had foreshadowed the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Hitler's troops, Father received via the German embassy in Tirana an offer of collaboration, which he flatly refused. The invasion of Albania by the Italian troops was also about to happen any time. In January 1939 both my parents had made a short visit to Prague, Mother could see for the last time her sister Maria, who was about to die of tuberculosis. Father meantime was leading some negotiations about possible closure of the embassy in Albania, with himself taking over as a Consul. Nevertheless, in the end it did not happen, and all had remained the same.
At the time, Father had begun to work against the Germans and particularly the Italians, who were quite obviously making preparations to an invasion to Albania. Under the pretention that he was buying some rare wood, he made trips to the south of Albania, so that he could follow the movements of the Italian troops in the Otranto Straight, which joins the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea. Whatever he found out he handed over to his friend the French Consul Sorlot, who had sent it farther. When the Italian troops invaded Albania, Father noticed that they were moving their men to south, near the border with Greece. He had told Sorlot, and soon there were some English military vessels near the Corfu island. The intelligence channels had obviously worked. The invasion of Greece was postponed by about two years, and when Mussolini finally invaded that country, the results were not exactly in his favour...
Here I'm going to digress slightly. Only very recently had I been able
to finally take a look at some documents found in the most secret
section of the British Secret Service. I had to get a special permit
based on the Freedom of Information Act. Another condition to be met
was that the person involved would now be over one hundred years old,
which was easily the case with my father. I found out that Father was
being checked out
by the Secret Service in 1940, particularly because of the information
regarding the situation in Albania and his knowledge of some officials
have been useful to the British side in the war. I found out that for
instance, Father had been recommending some people, while rejecting
that the British would have otherwise wanted to contact. Including the
Albania, whom they wanted to use for propaganda purposes, while he was
in exile in England. The British, with their well known loyalty towards
their Royals, seemed to have assumed that the ordinary Albanians would
be like the British and feel the same. Father, who had had enough time
to judge the
strength or otherwise of the ordinary Albanians' feelings towards their
them and did so successfully. What happened immediately after the war,
when there was a communist regime installed after the end of Italian
occupation, as early as in 1944, and when the king Zog had to again
seek exile, have proved Father right unequivocally! The Communists
ruled that country until quite recently, in the end.
The way to Czechoslovakia was closed to my parents, when on 15th March 1939 Hitler took over their country. The Italians marched into Tirana about three weeks later, and the ground became hot for my parents. Father meanwhile had another offer of collaboration, this time a more serious one, from the Germans. According to Mother, they offered him 500,000 marks and a German passport. That seem to be a lot of money to me, some 200 thousand dollars, according to the conversion rates, which was a small fortune at the time, and which would have been very tempting. The Germans made certain that he understood that if he refused, and he got into their hands, he would be in trouble, especially for being a reserve army officer.
The Flight From the Occupied Albania
My parents intended to leave Albania by the end of July, as Father was still trying to finalise all that could be done. On the 13th of July they went to see the French Consul Sorlot, who was a good friend of my father. While walking there, they were met by an officer of the city council, who told them he was on his way to see them. He took them aside. He told them, that he had in his hand a joined German-Italian arrest warrant for both of them, which would have meant deportation to the Lipari Islands, from where no one returned. He said that he was going to hold the warrant back until noon the next day, but that by this time they must be gone out of Tirana. When asked why he was doing this for them, he said that when Albania was to be invaded, Father had enlisted as a Captain in reserve for the defence of Albania, and Mother was listed as a nurse. As it turned out, there was no organised defence, but he said that he was the one who had received their offers of help, and because of that he is now glad to be able to repay them in at least this way. They went to the Sorlots, where the Consul took away their passports and came back with them in the evening, bearing the Greek visa. They hired a car and in the small hours they left Tirana with the Alsatian bitch Lenka and only a few belongings in a couple of trunks, pretending to be going on holidays. In the evening they reached Korce, where they shared the hotel room with bedbugs, in the morning they went to the military headquarters to gain the permission to leave Albania. When the Italian officer had left the building and walked towards the town, probably to ring Tirana, as there was no telephone in the building, Father began to worry. It didn't look good for them.
Father knew he had to do something and do it quickly. As soon as the Italian officer disappeared behind the horizon, he went back, where he had run into an Albanian officer, who naturally had no authority and was probably there only as an interpreter. He'd begun to converse with him in Albanian. The native officer was chaffed, and even more so when they found out that Father knew his uncle, whom he met when they were stationed nearby during the 1st World War. He told Father:
"You Czech are in the same boat as we, both our countries are being occupied. I'm going to give you that stamp and I'm going to deal with that Italian somehow. Knowing him, he's going to be drunk anyway, it should be easy."
So they could now jump into the car and drive to the border as fast as
could. Thanks to the brave Albanian, God bless him, there was a time
window presented to them, which they had to use quickly. However, when
they reached the border
there was a thorough inspection awaiting them. Quite obviously no one
had been crossing the border on the day, so the Italian soldiers on the
Albanian site were quite diligent in their searches. Mother had some
cheques in the French currency hidden in a toothpaste tube, and when
the custom officers together with the Italians were getting near her,
Father just hissed to her: "Stand
on Lenka's tail!"
Mother did that, the dog that was thus far laying on the floor had got
up with a
loud bark, the soldier baulked, asked if she was vicious, Father
naturally nodded his head, Mother had helpfully taken her out on a
leash, no one noticed that she took her handbag with her. In the end
they had let them go; the custom officers on the Greek side were amazed
that the Italians had let anyone go. They eventually reached
Thesaloniki, where the next day they found a ship going through the
Aegean Sea to Pireas. Up till now theirs was a near miraculous escape,
but in this most frequented Greek port everything had come to a halt.
When they tried to exchange the cheques in the French currency, no
Greek banks would agree to the deal. They managed to sell a few of
their belongings though and got some money so that they could find an
accommodation of a sort, but they had to bear in mind that they needed
some money to get themselves a passage to Marseilles, which was the
nearest non-Italian port, and therefore safe to them.
Greece to France (1939)
To get safely to France, they had to find a ship that would not be
Italian, that would not berth at any Italian port, and that they could
afford with the low state of their finances. It was not going to be
easy. Almost three week had passed, before the waves of the
Mediterranean Sea delivered such a boat to them. It was Egyptian, it
was going to sail from Pireas straight to Marseilles and after some
bargaining the Captain consented to taking aboard the three pilgrims,
and for the amount that represented all their ready cash. Except the
cheques that would not be of any use to them until they reached France.
They boarded the ship and prepared to go hungry for several days.
They got an unexpected help to overcome the famine. While still in the
Aegean Sea, there came a storm, which made them both so sick, that it
had sent away any thought of food they might have harboured. However,
when the weather got clear again in a day or two, they walked onto the
deck, only to see their dog Lenka, the fourth-class passenger, lay on
the boards surrounded by meat cutlets that the sailors did not like for
some reason. She had obviously devoured quite a few already and could
not eat any more. While they were hatching plans to get to the cutlets
without being observed, another storm had arrived, which had made the
sight of unconsumed cutlets less appealing to them.
My parents reached Marseilles on the 2nd August 1939 at 10 PM. Without any money, with a dog, two suitcases and a parcel. They stood on the pier, wandering what to do. A taxi arrived, Father explained the situation to the driver ─ with the French language, being the diplomatic one at the time, he was quite good. The man threw a quick glance at the leather suitcases, which looked quite good even after the journey they have just undertaken, and took them to some small hotel whose proprietor he obviously knew. The owner agreed to take their baggage as a back-up, gave them a room. They slept there, still hungry, but in the morning Father went to the bank, came back with a glowing smile in his face, and invited Mother to a banquet. They paid the hotel owner and the taxi driver, and by the evening they were on the train to Paris. Upon reaching the French capitol, they found a room to rent in the Latin quarter, as was recommended to them.
Father, being the Captain in reserve, had immediately enlisted with the Czechoslovak Army Abroad, which was just being formed. Mother did the same as a nurse. Soon they were required to carry on them the gas masks ─ by then Hitler had invaded Poland. At the beginning of October, Father was in charge of the first transport of the Czechoslovak troops, formed mostly of volunteers who happened to be in France when the war had begun. They were from then on having their headquarters at Agde in southern France ─ the wives of the soldiers had joined them a few days later. Several of them had rented a house; Father became the battalion Commander, at least until some regular army officers arrived. After that he became the Commander of the Staff Company, but basically he was the most exposed one amongst the Czechoslovak Army ofdficers. His ability to speak French and English was invaluable to them, and he had to be practically at all meetings, to also act as an interpreter.
From France to England (1940)
When in June 1940 France capitulated and signed truce with Germany,
under very humiliating conditions to the French, it looked as though
Czechoslovak troops might be handed over to the Germans. Churchill
reacted swiftly and decisively, when he sent British Navy to the shore
of southern France, from where they picked up the Czechs and Slovaks
marooned there. Convoy of several ships guarded by destroyers took
about two weeks to reach Liverpool, because it took a course evasive of
the German submarines. One of the submarines had still found them, but
was sunk by the
destroyers. Mother told me how anxious was the atmosphere on the ship
she was on ─ they had no idea where they were going,; for some time
they even thought it might be America. One young Czech mother, in a
bout of madness, had thrown her four-year-old daughter overboard and
tried to follow her, but was restricted by people around her. The girl
was lost, the mother was sent to psychological care in England, where
her husband, who was a pilot had met her, that's all my mother knew...
It sends shivers down my spine even writing about it.
All the ships they have been transported on were sunken during the war, as it came out later. That included the ones my parents used to sail to Pireas and to Marseilles. The transporter Mohamed Ali el-Kebir, which took them to England, stayed afloat only several days after it delivered them to Liverpool ─ then it was sunk by a German submarine near the coast of Ireland, with the loss of 120 people. SS Britania, which carried the dog Lenka (who had left a souvenir in France in form of seven puppies), went to the bottom of the sea under similar circumstances about 6 months later. About half of the 484 people on board have survived on safety boats, after captain of the German destroyer had left the survivors to their fate. It was a bad war!
In Liverpool they became separated. The soldiers were sent to a
camp and the civilians went to London. Lenka had to go to Croydon
into the quarantine, where she had to stay for 6 months.
managed to go to see her once, after she was released she became a kind
of mascot to the troops, going everywhere with them. Unfortunately, a
couple of years later she died, of some by the vet unidentified
An ID card of the
British Army, in the name of Major Dalibor Korejs
In London Mother lived on Tottenham Court Road, not far from the Euston Railway Station ─ Father complained when he first came to visit here there that he is supposedly going to the largest city in the world (which London was at the time), and finds his wife right behind the first corner. To think of it now, it couldn't have been very safe, living so near one of the three main railway stations, which must have been prime targets for the German Luftwafe and their bombers! The famous Battle of Britain had begun at about this time, and they were staying in the underground shelters more often than in their flats.
Things happened at the time, which had affected several lives. In 1941 my sister Živana was born, but her name, which means "lively" proved a misnomer, as she lived only a day or so. She had some breathing problems ─ in present time and with the care she would have no doubt received she would have survived without a doubt, but the wartime London was not a place to be for the newborn. A wife of one of the soldiers in Father's regiment had an accident at the same time, when a dressing gown caught fire on her from a gas heater. She was in the hospital, and in a very bad state. She had recently born a son Lumir, who was only a few weeks old. Mother, who had lost her child recently, took Lumir and nursed him. His Mother Táňa, who was in the hospital half-way between life and death, found out about it and had always insisted that this was the turning point that lead to her recovery. Both families have naturally become close to each other, and years later we even shared a large flat in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). When I met again with Lumir, who became an architect, in the 1990's, he told me that he had recently visited my Mother's grave in Zbraslav.
Father marching in front of his
during a military parade.
Father was in several campaigns during the war. I don't know a great
deal about the mission that took him to Northern Africa, I'm not even
sure if he was at Tobruk, but it is possible. When in England, they
were stationed in the Midlands, in the camp near a village Morton
Morrell. Soon after my birth, it was decided that we would be safer if
we too moved to the Midlands, where the German planes were nowhere near
active as they were in and around London. Mother with me as a tiny baby
had moved several times, between Warwick, Leamington Spa and for a time
we even stayed at Stratford Upon Avon, the supposed birthplace of
William Shakespeare. But it was at Morton Morrell from where I have my
remembrance. Remarkably, it came to me only many years later, when I
went to high school. I woke up from a vivid dream, in which I saw
myself as a baby, being carried by my mother. Around us were green
pastures with a lot of sheep grazing ─ I have never seen such a place
so it must have been England. I even remembered the colour of
Mother's coat, rather unusual one, a beige with some pink flavour, and
I was able to describe it to
her, also the texture of the fabric. I was able to tell her enough and
supply details, that she was able to identify the place I was dreaming
about. here was no question about my being right, but we had lived
there only about three months in 1944, and I could not
have been older than about fifteen months. This makes it quite
remarkable, but there is no other explanation, somehow I must have
the time we lived at Morton Morrell!
With a group of Czech soldiers somewhere in Northern Africa, Father is third from left.
Among photos that I have selected to keep after
my Mother's death in 1992 was also this one (right). It is quite
rare and remarkable. On it we can see my Father walking and making
inspection during the line-up of his soldiers, most likely at the camp
near Morton Morrell, around 1941. The middle one of three soldiers
standing and with the flag by his side, is Jan Kubiš. About a
year or so later, Kubiš became one of the key men in the resistance.
Together with another man from the same regiment, Jozef Gabčík, they
made the assassination attempt on the chief of the German command Reinhard Heydrich
in the occupied Czechoslovakia. They were selected from the pool of
volunteers, and undergone training in Scotland lead by the British
experts. Together with several helpers they had parachuted to
Czechoslovakia, and on the 27th May 1942 they attacked the car Reinhard
Heydrich was travelling in. Kubiš was the man who
actually threw the grenade that did the damage, after Gabčík's riffle
had jammed. Heydrich was only wounded, but died several days later. The
assassins were soon after that betrayed by one of their helpers and
eventually they were killed in a church underground crypt in Prague,
after a siege by the Germans. There were heavy repercussions, and many
Czechs were executed by the Germans in an act of revenge, including the
entire population of a small town of Lidice ─ one of the most
outrageous and horrific events in the entire 2nd World War.
The Night Parachute Drop to Yugoslavia (1944)
1944 Father went onto a mission of which Mother knew very little. It
was top secret. It's not even known how he came to be sent as the
leader of a battalion of paratroopers to Yugoslavia. He may have
volunteered or he could have been ordered to do it, who knows? There is
the possibility, of course, that he might have had some other tasks to
fulfil, connected with his probable cooperation, if not downright
affiliation, with the British Secret Service. In any case, he did not
talk about it at all, and very little when he returned after several
months. Obviously, it remained a secret, even after the mission was
over. That something was going to happen, Mother knew or rather
and that it was going to be something dangerous she knew too, as he
took longer to say his goodbye and did so more solemnly.
out eventually that Father was sent together with a battalion of
British paratroopers, as their Commander. One of the reasons must have
been the fact that he spoke perfectly the languages needed to be able
to communicate with the Tito himself and his partisans. This was the
was the most successful in causing problems to the Germans ─ more so
other. Even in 1944, Josip
Broz Tito (left)
was generally expected to lead the post-war regime
in his country, and for this reason the British had decided to support
him. The mission was an important one, so important in fact that Winston Churchill (right) himself was
overseeing it personally. That's about all that Mother knew about this,
and that she could tell me. Many years later however, I was able to add
to it, gaining information from completely different sources.
Father had no previous experience with the parachuting, so he had to undergo some training. As it was a nigh-time drop that awaited them, it had to be a pretty tough one. When I found out that I might be able to squeeze some information under the Freedom of Information Act from the British sources, after I found out that Father's name was on the list of SOE (Special Operations Executive) Agents, I was hoping that some light might be thrown onto this to me dark episode. Nevertheless, all I was able to find was concerned with the period of about 1940, when Father was still being tested by the Secret Service. I had little doubt that he was accepted and played some role during the war, and almost certainly even after the end of it, but whatever is there remains hidden, and it might need another super-human effort to find out, which I felt I would have lacked the necessary strength to successfully pursue. As often happens, some help was to come from unexpected sources.
Quite amazingly, I had found out that my Father must have known one of my favourite writers, Evelyn Waugh (left)! I knew of Waugh since my early twenties, when I read the only book available in translation in Czechoslovakia, The Loved One. I had read more of his titles only after I learnt English. I doubt that Mother even knew that Waugh existed, how could she? During the war, unlike his older brother Alec, as a writer he was still quite unknown, and his books were not translated into Czech until much later. So it is only circumstantial evidence that supports this theory of mine, however, it is a strong one, virtually watertight. When I had read, only several years ago, the detailed biography of this author, it had dawned upon me that Waugh and my father must have known each other! Consider this: They were both on the same mission to meet the Tito's partisans. They were both ranked as Captains before the mission. They both became Majors, and at the same time, presumably after the mission. They both undertook training as paratroopers, early in 1944. In fact, Waugh broke his leg during the training and had to take three months off, during which time he wrote the novel The Brideshead Revisited, which is my favourite. Waugh returned to the service only shortly before commencement of the mission, when Winston Churchill also flew to the island of Vas, where the Allied Forces had their airbase and where the planes with the paratroopers had flown from for the night drops. And, of course, they both met Churchill (who was very much taken in by Waugh, apparently) and they both met Tito. Father had mentioned his meeting with Tito, but only in passing, as it was probably still the classified area. Waugh wasn't particularly enthused by the communist Tito either. And finally: Churchill, Tito, Waugh, they all would have needed my Father's skills as fluid speaker of English, Serbian and Croatian. Almost certainly, he would have been the highest ranked officer who could be relied upon in this way...