Josef Pochman

* 1921  

  • “In all the time I spent in Britain it only happened a few times that we slept in a hotel. All the other times the English took us to their homes to stay overnight. You can imagine how I felt when they asked me how I got there and I didn’t understand because I didn’t speak any English. But you learn with time, gradually you pick up words, sometimes I looked words up in a dictionary. I really got to know the English very well and I have to say that their behavior during the war was exemplary. They were very friendly to us, it was impressive. On the contrary to the French who didn’t want the war and did nothing to win it, the English all went to fight the Germans, from the noblest lord to the last worker. They all made a great effort. In the hospitals you could see countesses wiping the buttocks of the wounded soldiers. Taken together they had nothing but a few soldiers in the colonies but they were able to put up munitions factories and supply the Russians. They armed themselves in a unique way.”

  • “Me and a friend planned to flee from the Republic. We didn’t tell anybody about our plan except for my sister who gave me five hundred crowns. We later lived off of this money because my friend was very poor and barely had any money. We expected the former member states of the so-called “Little Entente” to take us in without problems. We traveled via Slovakia. The good thing about Slovakia was that the small coins of former Czechoslovakia were still valid in Slovakia at this time so we could use that money. We traveled mostly by train and on foot. We lived off chocolate and water from the mountain creeks. After a long journey we arrived in Mukačevo which was, at that time, already Hungarian. We were taken to the Romanian frontier by some people from the Czechoslovak Evacuation center. After three days they took us across the Sava river (here Mr. Pochman is mistaken – the Sava river flows through the territory of former Yugoslavia). Doktor Sládek, who was the chief of the mission, then took us across the border on a motorcycle. We walked through a forest all night long until we arrived at a maize field early in the morning. There we met a small girl that was guarding it. She took us to her home – it was a shack made of planks, the children slept in one corner on hay, the parents in the other corner. Her father gave us food and to drink and then instructed us to visit the ‘financial station’ where, as he said, we would certainly get help. At this station, however, we were arrested and moved from one station to another until we got to a military penitentiary in Cluj in central Romania. In the evening we got some soup but it was so hot and spicy that it was almost impossible to eat it. We also got mamaliga – sort of a pancake made of maize flour that was burned at the bottom and unbaked inside. We only ate the crust. As we had money we could buy food in the prison canteen. Our Crowns were highly valued there, something like the Swiss Franks today. Well, then we got robbed of our wrist watches and I don’t remember yet what else. After about two weeks we went on trial together with murderers. In that trial they sentenced us. I don’t know what for as we didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. Afterwards they put us in a jail that was completely overcrowded – we slept on bunk beds shoulder to shoulder with the other inmates.”

  • “The army equipment in France was poor. England was a country that had almost no arms industry before the war but they built factories and provided the army with truly modern armaments and equipment. We had the most advanced tanks, stenguns and tomiguns. Those tanks very really good.”

  • “We turned around and walked to the city of Šala that was occupied by Hungarians. After we had bought the tickets we wanted to go back to Budapest to the French consulate. For reasons of safety we split up. I took the first train and my friend took the next one. However, he was caught by a Hungarian policeman. He didn’t understand a word of what he was saying so he started to make odd noises and pretended he’s deaf and mute. The policeman saluted him and let him go. In Budapest we found accommodation with a Jewish family. We went to the French consulate where they gave us some money and took us to the Hungarian border. A guide was supposed to take us back to Yugoslavia. He took us to the border and left us alone. We couldn’t agree on the direction so our group split in two halves. My group of about five people went to the train station in Subotice where we drank some coffee and where we were found by Yugoslav soldiers. They bought us lunch and tickets to Belgrade. In Belgrade we slept in a former rally house of the Sokol.”

  • “I left the army and was playing with my orchestra from England in the Lucerna in Prague. That’s where I met my wife who was originally from Brno and I passed a competition for a place in the Brno orchestra. But there was only one place in Brno so instead we went to Zlín and because my wife liked the city we stayed there and I played with the Zlín orchestra. After February 1948 I encountered a lot of vile people. One school mate, a violinist, who was a member of the National Socialist Party had to leave the orchestra. Me and three other colleagues were trying to help him and made a tour of various institutions to get him out of trouble. Later on, after he had joined the Communists, he was making proposals to send us to the mines. After I moved to Brno one of my colleagues accused me of being a reactionary. Fortunately, I’ve never joined the Communist party.”

  • “From Yugoslavia we went to France via Greece, Turkey and Beirut. We sailed on a ship from Beirut to Marseilles. On board of that ship, we got sea sick and were given wine daily but nobody drank that wine. From Marseilles we took a train to the central military training center in Agde. There we were handed out uniforms and after a military training we were sent to the front. Our task was to guard the territory between the Marne and the Loire. But the French started to retreat and didn’t even inform us about it. That was terrible because we had to retreat at the last moment. We were fleeing together with civilians on the roads and the Germans were making air raids on the fleeing columns. I saw a young mother with a child being killed during a German air raid. This vision haunted me for many nights afterwards. People who joined the army in France and who had their families in France stayed there. There were two regiments in France, about 1500 people but just a tiny fraction of them returned to Agde. We didn’t know what to do next and were thinking about how to escape from France. Eventually, General Fauché, a friend of President T. G. Masaryk, found us a few small boats in which we sailed to the Gibraltar strait. We were without weapons and had to leave the barges on the shores once we arrived there. It’s interesting that during one of the German air raids there suddenly appeared a heavy machine gun on board of one of the ships and it took down one of the German fighters. They dismantled it in France and took the parts with them and put it back together on board of the ship.”

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    Pardubice, 09.12.2008

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I got to know the English very well and I have to say that their behavior during the war was exemplary

Joseph Pochman was born on February 24, 1921, in Chrášťany, near Rakovník. After accomplishing the fourth grade of municipal school he switched to a military music school and then he was assigned to a regiment in Bratislava where he also studied at a college of music. In order to escape conscription to forced labor after the constitution of the Protectorate he and a friend fled from Czechoslovakia. They were caught first in Cluj, Romania, and later in Budapest, Hungary. Joseph was eventually deported to the Slovak frontier but with the help of the French Consulate, he managed to cross the border to Yugoslavia. What followed was a journey through Greece, Turkey, Beirut and Marseille to Agde where the Czechoslovak exterritorial army corps was being formed. He was given a uniform and a military training and went to war. After the collapse of the French defenses and a runaway to Gibraltar, Mr. Pochman managed to escape to Britain. He applied for the Royal Air Force but since he wrote in his documents that he had studied at a college of music, he was assigned to the army band. However, he continuously tried to become engaged in combat operations and also applied for the air-born division. He eventually found action in the battle for Dunkirk. He was a medic in an ambulance and he was wounded by a grenade splinter. After the war, Mr. Pochman left the army and played at concerts together with an orchestra from England. It was here that he met his future wife. They moved to Zlín where he played with the local orchestra.