“In 1939 I tried to get to the West in the legal way. I obtained the permission and passport to Italy. At that time it was possible to go there, as Italy was an allied country. And I went to Italy as a student. I counted that from there I would get to France then. I managed it then in 1940, when through the French Embassy I got the permission to enter the Czechoslovak army which was being formed in France at that time. In this way I got to the foreign Czechoslovak army.”
“Myself I was arrested for about five years. Partly because I was in the foreign army, partly due to the fact that I again entered the Capuchin order after the war. In 1948 I was in North Bohemia. In 1949 they arrested me. In the 1950s they were closing down all the monasteries. There was a so called catholic action planned at that time. Bishops published a pastoral against it which was read in churches. The communists chose people who were popular and had a social influence, and they arrested them then. I was locked until 1955. Some time I spent in Mírov, in Mladá Boleslav, then I was in a labour camp near Ústí nad Labem, finally I was near Humpolec in Želiv.”
What was the French unit like? “It was impossible to say about the French that it was a unit or that it was an army. Us Czechoslovaks who were in Agde, we were in all different uniforms they had. Uniforms still from the World War I, trousers, jackets…whatever they just found for us. We chosen for the third regiment and for the division health troop had trousers with belts and green pullovers, such khaki ones, and caps shaped like ships. We had at least a unified uniform, but the others had on everything possible.”
“When in 1940 France fell, our unit tried to get to one of the harbours. The Czechoslovak caretaker government seated in Paris and Czechoslovak pilots were stepping back to Bordeaux. There they tried to board a French or an English ship and get to England. We who had been in the South of France were trying to get from Agde to Séte which was a harbour near Marseille. There we wanted to board British ships. Most of us finally got to an Egyptian ship called Mohamed Ali. It was a personal ship used in the time of peace for holiday makers and tourists. During the war the English took it for the personal transport of soldiers. On the ship there were about three thousand people. At that time British ships were not allowed to enter French harbours, so we were transported to the ship by destroyers from Séte. We made a convoy, around 13 ships, which sailed then through Gibraltar to England. Our ship belonged among the biggest. We had to avoid French coastline as from there German submarines were starting already. The Germans, when they had got to France, they occupied harbours first. Especially the harbours leading to the West. Only later they occupied harbours in the Mediterranean like Marseille or Toulouse.”
“At the end of 1940 we guarded the east coast of England, because it was quite open to the attacks. The Germans tried at that time to get to England across the Channel. They thought that they could occupy England and in this way they would end the war easily. But the English pursued enormously. I remember that at one time I stayed in an English family. They had two boys and two girls. Both the boys were in the air force. The older one was killed during the fights. And both the girls went after the finishing of school to the help forces of VAF. There were lots of women there, in the army as correspondents, clerks and various auxiliary helpers. Women also worked in agriculture, because men and boys were leaving for the army. The same was in industry. For example the lady I stayed with was employed in an aircraft factory. One had to admire how they sacrificed everything – the whole industry and also their whole life – to the defence of England. I don´t know if anything like that would be possible in our country, if our people would be able to do it.”
“In the beginning it was bad, especially for our unit, the 11th infantry battalion in the Middle East. There were namely mostly soldiers there who had been originally supposed to go to France, but who did not get there. May they land in Syria and Lebanon from the journey through Hungary to Beirut or from the East, from the Soviet Union where they had been interned until 1942. The British were quite looking down their noses at them. They relied namely on the fact that after the fall of France units from French colonies would massively join them, mainly from Lebanon, Syria and French colonies in Africa. But this did not happen, because in French colonies there was a foreign legion and officers and petty officers were mainly Germans. The French simply bargained for the army and not for shabby ragamuffins. But when they later saw the achievements and successes of our soldiers, they started to take them with a greater respect. A big faith in our army was won by our pilots in France and England.”
I witnessed when Germans burnt down a Jewish synagogue in Olomouc
Antonín Petružela was born on 14th August 1914. He came from a poor family. His father was a trained shoemaker, later he worked at the construction of the road from Prostějov to Brno. His mother was in the household, then she was employed in the cloths manufactory in Prostějov. Father served on the Russian front during the World War I, at the end of the war he was in the Czechoslovak legion.
Antonín Petružela studied the seraphin school in Prague. He entered the Capuchin order. In Holland and Belgium he studied for three years philosophy at the International Institute for Philosophy. In 1939 he decided to flee to the West. He got to France over Italy where he travelled as a student. In 1940 he got through the French Embassy the permission to enter the Czechoslovak army which was then being formed in France. He fought in France, England and the Middle East. He took part in the fights at Tobruk and the defence of Dunkerque.
After the war he again entered the Capuchin order. Between 1949-1955 he was arrested in Mírov, in Mladá Boleslav, in the labour camp near Ústí nad Labem and in Želiv near Humpolec. He unsuccessfully asked for rehabilitation already in 1970, he was rehabilitated only in 1991. In 1989 a so called unit of former foreign soldiers was established in Olomouc, Mr Petružela was among the founder members. Later it was renamed as the Czechoslovak Legionary Commune and enclosed in the Association of the Freedom Fighters.