The Lidice Shall Live Committee organised for children from Lidice to visit Britain on a number of occasions. One such cultural encounter took place in the summer of 1962, when 15 children and 5 women arrived on Tuesday, the 19th of June, to be the honoured guests of communities such as Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, London, and Deal in Kent.
From June 19th to July 3rd, the party enjoyed a rollercoaster ride of civic luncheons and receptions, exhibitions, and more informal leisure time during a visit that served as part holiday and part ambassadorial experience.
A familiar welcome awaited the guests at the beginning of their stay. On landing at London Airport, they were met by the coach driver, Mr Jan Vavara, a Czechoslovak who lived in Stoke-on-Trent. With the permission of the accompanying officials, he greeted the visitors in their own language. Mr Vavara then proceeded to drive the party to Coventry for a special tea with the Lord Mayor, Alderman Arthur Waugh.
On Wednesday morning, the party paid a commemorative tribute to Coventry’s air raid victims as Karel Lander and Mrs Marie Jarošová laid a wreath on their communal grave at London Road Cemetery. Later, the delegation visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
On Thursday, they arrived in Stoke-on-Trent at the invitation of the Lord Mayor, Cllr Thomas Beddow. While welcoming the guests, the Lord Mayor recalled his recent visit to the 20th Lidice Commemorative Gathering. He said that he found the village a “charming place to live” and added:
“It is a monument to the bravery and pride of the inhabitants of Lidice, who are the victors over the wild atrocities caused by the Nazis in the last big war. Stoke-on-Trent has launched a call for help in rebuilding the village, but in addition to these tragic beginnings, our two communities have formed friendships that will last for all time.”
The women and children kicked off their stay in Stoke-on-Trent with a visit to WT Copeland and Sons in Stoke. There then followed a specially arranged lunch at the Jubilee Hall, where Dr Stross gave a speech welcoming the youngsters. There was also an opportunity to visit the Victoria Hall in Hanley, where the Lidice Shall Live movement had held its inaugural meeting, before returning to Coventry for dinner.
A ceremonial reception took place on Friday at the Czech Embassy in London as well as a tour of London, and then it was off to Kent, as the women and children spent a week at the seaside in the town of Deal as guests of mining families.
Back in the capital, before leaving for home on the 3rd of July, the Lidice women laid a wreath at the Whitehall Cenotaph and had lunch at the Houses of Parliament with Dr Barnett Stross. The fortnight-long trip was funded by Coventry City Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council; the Transport and General Workers’ Union; the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants, Kingston upon Thames; as well as engineers and miners from Betteshanger Colliery in Kent.
The memories of Zdenka Kotková:
“I was 13 years old. We were very happy! Our friends, who couldn’t go, were very sad. Our mothers started to buy everything for our journey. We learned English words, songs. For all of us, it was the first time on a plane. And it was the first time we saw the ocean! We flew from Prague by TU104 Soviet plane. From windows we saw the English Channel and soon landed at London’s airport. A bus took us to Waverley Hotel in the town. We were in London for about three days.
“We saw old London, Buckingham palace, Tower bridge, some museums, London Zoo, double-deckers, with Dr Stross we visited Parliament. We had lunch there. We visited the Czechoslovakian embassy. There were diplomats about from other countries.
“After London we went to Stoke, there we sleep in miners building in big park. From Stoke we go to Coventry. We saw the Cathedral, monument, and the town. We have own show, and I danced as a Japanese girl, because I am going ballet. And boys play and all we sing English songs. At Stoke we was at a ceramic factory where we got some presents.
We stop at Stratford-upon-Avon. It is wonderful for us to see Shakespeare’s theatre, his home. We all was happy full to at first time to see ocean. We wait was be a first. When we saw this, we call. We was two weeks in small town Deal.
We sleep at own house with typical English women. We make friendship with boys and girls from Deal. Name of my girl was Penny Knight. She was nice and quiet. Give me very nice bangle and silver animals. I give her something, when I returned, I sent her typical Czech gift. Every day we go swimming at sea. We was happy, but ocean is not quite.
We visited France and we go to see towns near Deal like Dover, Canterbury. We had lunch in the gardens. We was also at some amusement park. All the time was with us about three miners. In London and Stoke was with us Mr Barnett Stross. If I see Dover’s cliff, English country, London buildings, Stoke’s towers I remember our fantastic holiday.
“I came back to Stoke in 2015. I was with Gerrards. I saw Lidice’s monument in front of Victoria Hall, Lidice Way. l was at school and children know much about Lidice. Now, that our flags are on buildings of Stoke those children know why. I was at Stadium Stoke city with Cheryl. Lunch with player’s, played Stoke with Leicester 2:2. I met with our friends in Fenton Hall. I was sleeping in hotel at Hanley.
Yes, Mr. Stross was visionary! He said in year 1942 “Lidice shall live”. And now Lidice is new, with big park of roses, with gallery, all thanks Mr. Stross. Next year is 80 years of tragedy in old Lidice. Many peoples, friends of Lidice will come – From England, Greece, Brazil, Cuba, USA, French, Mexico, Italy, and others. Women’s named Lidice are about one thousand.”
Zdenka Kotková, Honorary Member of Lidice Lives