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and “Nazdar”

Charles Bezdicek, aged 27, a soldier in the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, died for France on 9 May 1915 in La Targette, killed by enemy fire. He was a Czech hero. In the Artois, Karel Bezdicek was the standard-bearer of the “Nazdar” (translation: “Salute our success”) company made up of Czechoslovak volunteers – a minority which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Bezdicek fell in the German trenches wrapped in the Czech flag – a powerful symbol indeed. Names such as Dostal, Dubisz, Houska, Kramata, Kubanek, Marek, Pribyl and Stetka, who died in the trenches of Berthonval, La Targette and Souchez, are buried in the Czechoslovak cemetery between La Targette and Souchez. At its entrance stands a monument unveiled in 1925: “Z Volili Zemriti Za Svobodu” (They chose to die for Freedom). Examples include Josef Pultr, who was also killed on 9 May 1915 and was the Sokols’ instructor during their month of training in Bayonne; and Josef Sibal, 49 years of age, who died on 10 May 1915 as a result of his war wounds, and who was the president of the Rovnost association.

From the summer of 1914 onwards, the Sokols in Paris and the socialists of Rovnost had decided they would enlist if war broke out; the Czech colony in Paris (made up of artists and artisans) organised one demonstration in front of the Austro-Hungarian embassy and another on Place de la Concorde. Enlistment forms were printed in the two languages. Every able-bodied Sokol was quick to fill them in and sign them, and on 22 August they marched behind the Sokol flag to the offices of the recruitment board.

On 23 October 1914, a battalion of 250 men trained in Bayonne headed for the Champagne front with the 2nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the Moroccan Division.

On 11 December, the first Czech legionnaire was killed. On 9 May 1915, the division went on the offensive in the Artois, resulting in eleven hours of fighting and culminating in the legion’s withdrawal. Following the attacks in May and June 1915, the “Nazdar” company ceased to exist as an independent unit and its remaining troops were divided up between the various formations within the Legion’s infantry regiment. In 1918, a Czechoslovak brigade was established in France, returning to its homeland in the autumn of 1919. In total, 650 Czech legionnaires perished in France during the course of the First World War.