On 6 May 2012, two ceremonies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the the birth of Josef Koukal.
The first ceremony was held at the house in Luže where Josef Koukal lived after he returned to Czechoslovakia after World War 2.
The main ceremony then followed and was was held in the village of Jenišovice, near Chrudim in the Czech Republic, where he was born and he is remembered with a Memorial.
He was one of the 88 Czechoslovak pilots who had fought in the Battle of Britain. During the Battle of Britain he flew with 310 Sqn until 7 September 1940. That day he was flying Hurricane I V7437 at 20,000 feet over the Isle of Sheppey, Kent when following his shooting down of a Luftwaffe Me110 he was shot down himself a few minutes later by 20mm shells from a Me109. His fuel tank was hit and his aircraft caught fire and started to dive. The cockpit became engulfed in flames and Koukal, who had also received shrapnel damaged to his right eye, was unable to open the cockpit due the airflow around the diving aircraft.
The fuel tank exploded throwing him from the cockpit, his clothes soaked in petrol. Already badly burnt and his clothing was on fire and Koukal realised that his only hope of survival was to try and extinguish the flames on his clothes in the airstream before he could use his parachute. He was only 2,000 feet above ground before he was able to open his parachute. He recalled “I could hear only noise, it was like being in a fire-place”. He landed on farmland on the Isle of Sheppey and his clothes re-ignited. Mr Wright, a farmer had seen him fall from his aircraft, immediately rushed over to him and ripped-off his burning clothes. Koukal was alive but had suffered burns to 72% of his body.
He was taken to The Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, the specialist burns unit – known as ‘The Guinea Pig Club’ – run by Sir Archibald McIndoe where over the next two years, he underwent 22 operations.
Despite these injuries, he wanted to return to flying and on 4 May 1942, after having retaken a pilots course, he joined 312 Sqn and resumed operational flying.
Czech TV coverage of this event, in Czech, is here