University of Oxford
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Diary of Josef Kalas, a Czech War Hero

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 19:51 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Josef Kalas was born in Brno in Moravia in 1912. He left his homeland after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. On escaping from Czechoslovakia via Poland, he reached France on a cargo ship and joined the French Foreign Legion. He was sent to North Africa and then back to France where the Czech Brigade was released to fight the Germans. He escaped from France on a coal cargo ship to England and was stationed at Cholmondeley Castle until the Czech army moved to Leamington in 1940.

During the two-year period he was stationed in Leamington, he met Joan Garrett and they were married in 1943. Josef was a trained sniper and spent some time with the Special Operations Executive for special training. He was a close friend of the two Czech soldiers who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. He was with the Czech army when they surrounded the 20K plus German Garrison at Dunkirk on the 3rd day after the invasion. He was then sent with 130 Czech soldiers with the American 3rd Army to relieve Czechoslovakia. At the end of WWII, Joan took her son to live in Czechoslovakia but, due to ill health, homesickness etc., they returned to the UK in late 1945. Josef followed as soon as he could and sought British Citizenship. He was helped by Anthony Eden MP who fought for him in Parliament. He was the first refugee to be allowed to stay in the UK after the war.

Josef's wife Joan joined a dance/gymnastics group organised by some of the Czech refugees in Leamington, and became friends with Joan Jeffs (later Reginson). The group followed the principles of the SOKOL movement, founded in Prague in the Czech region of Austria-Hungary in 1862. It was based upon the principle of "a strong mind in a sound body". In wartime Leamington, the SOKOL group provided a way for Czechs to socialise with the local community.


Item list and details

1. Medals awarded to Josef Kalas 2. Letter relating to the SOKOL group 3. Photo of SOKOL dance group 1942 - Joan Kalas top left, Joan Jeffs second row left 4. Josef's wartime diary

Person the story/items relate to

Josef Kalas and Joan Kalas (nee Garrett)

Person who shared the story/items

Michael Kalas

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor


Type of submission

Shared at Ahmadiyyah Mosque Hall, Warwickshire on 7 October 2023. The event was organised by Leamington History Group.

Record ID

99155 | LEA037