The Czech relative of the heroic pilot who flew the Wigan Spitfire during World War Two enjoyed an emotional visit to the borough.
Vladimir Ptacek and Jana Ehlova, who are cousins of Rudolf Ptacek who was killed in action fighting against Nazi Germany in 1942 aged just 23, were invited to Wigan by John Magee who runs the borough’s branch of National Service RAF.
Mr Ptacek was in control of the aeroplane paid for by the people of the borough and was shot down in the aircraft over France in 1941.
He survived and returned to his duties in the war effort against Hitler’s forces but second time around he was not so lucky, fatally plunging into the English Channel after his plane was struck.
Vladimir and Jana enjoyed a packed few days in the borough during which they paid tribute to Mr Ptacek’s heroism and also enjoyed some of the sights of Wigan in a trip organised with the help of Wigan Council.
They spoke of their amazement that Mr Magee was so determined to keep Mr Ptacek’s name alive in the borough he was connected to and told the incredible story of how for much of the 20th century the pilots who fought for the Allies could not be spoken about in their home country.
Vladimir, who along with Jana talked to the Observer with the help of interpreter Tomas Bulis, said: “It’s a great honour that something like this is happening.
“It’s something we wouldn’t expect because in the Czech Republic we would not be doing something like this.
“There might be a ceremony for pilots if they fought for the country but there wouldn’t be something for each of them.”
Jana said: “It’s very emotional. I feel very close to crying. I am sure Rudolf is looking down on us and he must be very happy.”
Family friend Tomas said: “This is the first time Vladimir and Jana have been to the memorial events for pilots or Rudolf.
“The first email came from someone in the country saying someone in from the UK was looking for relations of Rudolf. Vladimir was totally amazed, no-one is looking for this information in the Czech Republic.”
While in Wigan Jana and Vladimir enjoyed an official reception in the Mayor’s Parlour with Wigan Council’s leader and the borough’s first citizen before they went to the Museum of Wigan
Life to see the war exhibits there and the plaque dedicated to the aircraft Mr Ptacek flew.
They then headed to the DW Stadium to see Wigan Athletic play Nottingham Forest as well as meeting chairman Dave Whelan, who was told about the international visit by the council’s strategic manager for armed forces John Harker.
Jana and Vladimir visited Haigh Hall and enjoyed a canal cruise before going on Monday to Petwood Hall, best known as the home of the legendary RAF Dambusters Squadron, where there was a Battle of Britain memorial flight.
During the trip they were also presented with a new painting of the aircraft by a local artist.