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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 11:35 GMT
Stalin stole my honeymoon
The young British war brides persecuted in Communist Czechoslovakia
The UK war brides who followed their Czechoslovakian husbands home in 1945 found not peace and happiness but decades of persecution under Communist rule, as a BBC Radio 4 show reveals.

As many as 1,800 British women who married Czech and Slovak servicemen stationed in the UK during the war followed their husbands back to Eastern Europe once it was liberated from Nazi occupation.

The soldiers who had been under my husband's command evicted us into the snow and mud

War bride Ailsa Doman

But what they hoped would be a romantic adventure abroad became a nightmare following the Stalinist Communist takeover of their new country in 1948.

Behind the Iron Curtain

All those associated with the West - including the women and their husbands who had served alongside British forces - were regarded as enemies of the state and persecuted as "imperialist stooges".

They were forbidden to travel, many of the ex-servicemen were imprisoned, and their young British wives left to fend for themselves under secret police surveillance.

Ailsa Doman, who grew up as Ailsa Cousins in pre-war Britain, now lives in a small flat in a concrete high rise tower block in the small central Slovak town of Zvolen.

Ailsa's husband worked briefly as a Czech diplomat in London after the war ended. However, once the Communists took over Czechoslovakia, he was recalled to serve as a garrison commander in Zvolen.

When he refused to both divorce Ailsa and join the Communist party, he was sacked and they were thrown out of their accommodation.

Evicted without warning

Ailsa said: "The soldiers who had been under my husband's command suddenly arrived without a word of explanation and evicted us and all we owned out into the snow and mud."

Prague demo 1989
Many still suffered after Communism crumbled
In desperation, she travelled to the British Embassy in Prague where an official lent her £10 to buy coal and potatoes so her family would survive the winter.

The loan was made on condition her parents reimbursed the government in London immediately.

Back in Zvolen she was cut off from almost all links with her homeland. She met no one from the UK for 40 years and had no access to British publications. Letters from her mother were almost her only contact with home.

Ailsa said: "Inside every letter she put a spoonful of tea. I was always happy if the tea was there and hadn't been taken away." Every leaf was used, dried and re-used as there was no tea in Zvolen.

Suspected of spying

Another British war bride, Lilian Schorova - born Lilian Phipps - visited her Czech husband Josef's homeland in 1945.

Inside every letter my mother put a spoonful of tea

Ailsa Doman
It was supposed to be a brief trip but Josef fell ill and Lilian was left to earn the family income as a permanent émigré.

Despite knowing precisely two sentences in Czech: "I love you" and "Give me a kiss", she got work in a coal mine and learned the language on the job.

"This was hardly what a Stratford lass expected to end up doing," Lilian said. After working at the mine she eventually got work delivering the mail.

The secret police arrested Lilian on suspicion of espionage but eventually released her.

Second-class citizens

Many of the women were denied any opportunity to visit the UK - they were told it was "not in the interests of the state".

Often the women's children were also discriminated against - many were denied higher education because of their parentage.

Some of the war brides are still alive today and witnessed the end of Communism in 1989 - only to suffer continued problems in old age due to lack of support from the British, Czech and Slovak authorities.

Stalin Stole My Honeymoon will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 4 on 27 December at 2000GMT.
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