Milos Bodlak Letters


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A donation of heart-breaking letters sheds some light on the life and love of Milos Bodlak, one of the eighteen brave men from the Czechoslovak 311 Squadron who are buried at Tain.

These letters were the cherished possessions of Joan Parker, who served with the Women's Auxilary Air Force during WW2. In the summer of 1942, she was stationed at RAF Talbenny in South Wales where she met twenty-year-old Milos Bodlak a Czech Pilot of the 311 Squadron.

The earliest of the six letters is one sent to Joan by Milos, which was typed at RAF Tain on Christmas day of 1944. He begins this by thanking Joan for the two letters he had received from her. He tells her that he is always thinking about her and how much of a relief it would be to him if they were together again. He tells her about the 'snobs from London' who were at the Christmas celebrations at RAF Tain, which he did not attend, preferring just to return to his hut with 'Olda' (Oldrich Bures). He wrote about incidental things like the poor weather, lipstick, coffee, chips, and the things, he hoped, they would do together when they met up again. Milos ends his letter, which he had typed in English, hinting to Joan that they would have five children. He then adds a handwritten note; "All the boys from the crew wish to be remembered. Lots of love and kisses from me-sweet-M." 

Milos and Joan had met two years earlier and from the letter, it seems that they had grown very familiar with each other. Before Milos was stationed North to Tain, in August of 1944, it is thought that they planned to get engaged but tragically they were never to meet again. The next correspondence from Tain was a telegram sent to Joan on the 3rd of January 1945. It contained the following painfully short message;

 

I REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT MICKEY IS KILLED. ALL CREW OF BURES CREW IS DEAD.
MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY. HIS FRIEND JERRY.
 

This was followed by a handwritten letter from 'Jerry' Jarolím Sapak written the same day.

"J. Sapak
311, Squadron
 RAF Tain
Ross, Scotland
3/1/1945


Dear Miss Parker,
I don’t know how to start, but first I’d like to introduce myself. Well it is enough when I say that I’m Mickey’s (Milos-Bodlak) friend, more than a friend, if you hear from him the name ‘Jerry’ yes that’s me. I’d like to tell you, that we grew together since childhood; his house was practically next door to mine, and we had very much common ways and socials, for the whole of our lives.

Please don’t think it wrong to tell me if you do need anything, because I know about you, as Mickey told me a lot, and he wished I do for him, that he can. Please let me know I will do my best for you as would do for my Poll. I have lost more than anyone can understand, as we been old friend, but our way and the emotions went far before.

I feel with you as I feel with lots of his friends, because he was good boy and everybody liked him. I hope you received my telegram which I sent you this morning. I spent the last minutes with him. I had a half day on 1 Jan. 1945, and we pleased to go out as we never been off the camp since Xmas. But he rather stayed in case of an emergency. He went to the station cinema at 8 o’clock in the evening, but he had to leave before the programme started. They took off at 10.05 p.m. on 1st January 1945, and never came back. They crashed somewhere on Hebrides Island. I don’t know any more details, but only that all crew is dead.

    You have my deepest sympathy
    From his sincere friend 

    Jerry"

Jerry or Jarolím Sapak was Milos's childhood friend, who at this time was a Mechanical Fitter in the 311 Squadron. It was likely Jerry Sapak, and his two brothers, that Milos left Lisen in Czechoslovakia with in January 1940. Together they made an arduous four-month journey traveling through Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Syria, and France before arriving in England; where they all enlisted in the Czechoslovakian 311 Squadron in July of the same year.

Joan kept two further letters from Tain, another from Jerry Sapak, and one from the Wing Commander of the 311 Squadron. They reveal little more about the crash stating only that it was a tragic accident; whilst informing Joan that Milos was buried with full military honours at Tain on the 8th of January. It is clear from Jerry's letter that Joan has asked for a photograph, which he sent on to her stating that it is a shame "they, are not so good." 

After the end of the war, Joan somehow acquired an address from Milos's family.  She wrote a letter to his parents, which she kept a copy of, informing them of his tragic death. She told them of their meeting in Wales and the time they spent together there, walking and cycling, and how thrilled she had been when Milos had twice taken her flying. She also, again, requested a photograph, ending the letter by telling them how proud she was to have known and loved Milos. 

Joan eventually received a reply from Milos's younger brother Stanislav written on January the 2nd 1947. He first introduces himself, then explains that he is replying because his father had died a political prisoner in the 'Oswieczym Concentration Camp' (Auschwitz), whilst his mother is too ill from her imprisonment to write. He had already heard the terrible news of Milos's death from 'Jerry' Sapak, but continues;

"When your letter arrived, I was away from home - I am serving in the Army Airforce at present. On coming home from Christmas leave, it was left to me, to thank you for my mother, sister, and myself for all your love, friendship, and understanding and for everything you gave Milos and for your sympathy for us. It was exactly two years yesterday when Milos died. Our thoughts and memories of him were enlivened by your letter in which you told us of your relations with Milos. Brother and friend, Milos was always an example for me. This is why even today I am following his way. 

He left home very young - 18 years, and at the same age, I left my home for prisons and a concentration camp. He fought for us, we were suffering and waiting for his return. He was our consolation and hope. The news of his death was all the more painful because we had then received the belated report of our father's death. Three long years behind barbed wire and prison bars have not won the expected prize for any of us...

Thank you very much for the care you have taken of Milos's grave, it is nice to know that on his deaths anniversary as well as other days it is not forgotton. While it is imposssible for us to take care of it, we visit it in our thoughts and the memories of all our friends belong to them-the airmen. And you too, I feel, are one of those who will never forget them..."

The last letter we have is Joan's reply to Stanislav. She writes to him expressing her sympathy for what his family had to endure during the war, whilst again asking for a photo of Milos. Joan never did get a better photo of Milos, the letters and the poor-quality image of them together are all she had but we can be sure she never forgot him. Joan never married, after the war, she dedicated herself to a professional career.  The tragic telegramme, the letters, and the photo were found by her niece Anne Hewett when sorting through Joan's belongings after she passed away. 

A huge thanks to Anne for coming all the way up to Tain to donate copies of these letters to us. They let us all know a little about Milos Bodlak, one of the eighteen men from the 311 Squadron who are buried in our wee town. These men undoubtedly have their own stories, homes, and families that missed them. 

(Whilst researching for the article I discovered that Milos has a street named after him in his hometown of Lisen. The street is called Bodlakova and I was surprised to discover that Bodlak in Czech means thistle, our national emblem.)

Notes from Anne Hewett;

"Joan was a fabulous aunt to both me and my sister Lynne. she lived down the road in the family home. My mum once told me when I asked why she did not marry, that Joan considered herself committed to Milos forever. She spoke of how Joan visited Tain quite often over the years. I remember as a child waving her off from Temple Meads station several times when she caught the night train up to Scotland; she was able to take her car up on the train too. My mum also said that she went over to visit his family fairly soon after the war. Joan returned to work for WD and H O Wills after the war. She was working there when she was called up and they had continued to pay all their employees a retainer while they were serving. She stayed loyal to the company and worked her way up through to become the highest ranking woman in the company; Secretary to the managing director. But she never reached management status because she was a woman. I feel so proud of all she achieved. As she approached retirement in the mid-seventies, I was just about to start my career, taking management positions and equal pay for granted." 

Further Info

In the research files of the late John Fleming, an honorary member of the 311 Squadron, there is a crash report. It explains;

"The aircraft from 311 Czech Squadron took off from TAIN at 22.02 and crashed at 22.40 hrs at night in the dark, at CUILAGS 4.5 Km N.E. of Rora Head on the island of Hoy. It flew into high ground in clouds while transiting at a low level on an anti-submarine patrol. The inquiry found the navigator and the radar operator, failed to heed warnings about the high ground near their track, did not make use of land contact, and did not use radar aids to the full." 

The research also contains a list of his crewmates.  W/O  Oldrich Bures (35); F/Sgt  Ivo Karel Englander (20); F/Sgt  Antonin Bednar (31); Sgt  Martin Dorniak (29); F/Sgt  Jaroslav Zapletal  (33); F/Sgt  Otto Mandler; F/Sgt  Zdenek Launer.