A Story of Continuing Commitment

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Czech ‘Army Mother’

John Docter

Brigadier Violet Merritt (R)

Brigadier Violet Merritt (R)

 

By Robert Docter –

Brigadier Violet Merritt (R), a true Army hero, shared with genuine humility her remarkable story of selfless commitment and dedicated compassion in service to the Army’s work in Czechoslovakia over an entire career.

Merritt was in Los Angeles for the wedding of Lt. Charity Pontsler to Lt. Premek Kramerius, the first Czech officer commissioned since the re-opening of the work.

A British officer assigned often to clerical responsibilities on International Headquarters, she forged an identity for herself as the “mother of the Army in Czechoslovakia” with her “can-do” spirit and her “make-it-happen” attitude. Her officership has never been easy. She entered training in 1940 as a Crusader during the most intensive period of blitz bombing in World War II. She never slept in a bed during her entire period of training, which focused primarily on ministry in the shelters with work on the canteens at night.

Her early assignment to the Army’s Social Services department made a profound impression on her as she met with officers like Commissioner Herbert Lord and (then) Captain Len Adams who had been interned in the Far East.

A later assignment in the IHQ Overseas department as Under Secretary for South Europe shaped her destiny. This responsibility included ministering to and facilitating communication with known officers of the region behind the Iron Curtain–particularly in Czechoslovakia. It was during this time that she first met Sr. Major Filipa Vensova, who had been living and working extensively in Prague. It was at this time that she began the task of learning the language–a task she soon mastered.

She remembers two exact dates of almost 30 years ago. On August 21, 1968, she was scheduled to meet with a group of Czech officers in Prague. The trip was canceled, however, because on August 16, the Soviet army took over the country.

During Christmas of 1968, she did find a way to obtain a visa and traveled to Prague where she met a small group of officers who had remained loyal to the Army through wars and occupations. On that occasion she promised to return every year–a promise she has faithfully kept with over 30 visits.

Since then she set up the Sr. Major Vensova Fund which supports Czech cadets during their time at the International Training College.

In 1989, inspired by the Tiananmen Square episode in China, groups of Czech students and other freedom lovers initiated a “velvet revolution”–a peaceful change in government in which a Communist orientation was rejected and democracy instituted. Shortly after this, on a visit to Czechoslovakia she found ways to bring a number of the older officers to London for a Congress. “Don’t worry about the money,” she said to them. “I’ll get the fares. You plan to come.”

During her wedding to Kramerius, Pontsler read the names of the officers who had remained faithful during the very difficult years when the Army was banned in Czechoslovakia. The couple will be assigned to command the Brno Corps from which Brigadier Joseph Korbel (R) was arrested and imprisoned in 1949.

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