A SUNDERLAND woman was left in shock when her pilot husband was sentenced to death as a Gestapo agent in 1947 – six years after he was reported “missing, believed killed” during a training flight.
Czech-born Augustin Preucil, a flying instructor at RAF Usworth, had been hailed as a hero after fighting to defeat Hitler’s Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The 26-year-old was believed to have died a hero’s death, too, in September 1941 – when his Hurricane was seen spiralling towards the water, smoke billowing behind it, following a practice dog-fight over the North Sea.
But, on April 17, 1947, Preucil’s Wearside “widow,” Muriel Preucil, was informed her missing husband had been sentenced to death by the People’s Court in Prague – as a Gestapo agent.
“Mrs Preucil finds it hard to believe that the bright, happy young man who courted her for 12 months before their marriage in 1941 has betrayed the country which gave him refuge,” a Sunderland Echo reporter revealed.
“When I called on her today, she was still dazed by the news and unable to give any reason for the passing of the death sentence. She has been shocked by the news that he has been sentenced to death.”
Preucil was one of hundreds of Czech and Polish pilots to serve with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He “proved popular among his flying colleagues at Usworth,” and was warmly welcomed by Muriel’s family too.
Just three months after their wedding, however, the airman disappeared during the training mission. Preucil was presumed dead and, after a brief visit from an Usworth-based padre, Muriel heard nothing more for five years.
“Then, in 1946, when I was able to write letters to Czechoslovakia, I wrote to his parents to tell them he was dead,” she told the Echo. “I had my first shock when their answer came. It said my husband was alive, but detained in prison as an ‘English’ agent.
“Since that time I have been in continual suspense, wondering what was going to happen. I have written to the governor of the prison, to try and get more information, but without result.
“Now comes the terrible news that he is to die – and I just cannot believe the allegations against him. Newspapers say he shot a Polish pilot in another plane and fled to Belgium; but my family say this Pole came back to this country and visited friends at Roker.”
News of Preucil’s death was reported in the Echo just a few days later, on April 28. Czech authorities informed Muriel by letter that her husband had been hanged after evidence “proved conclusively” that he had acted as a Gestapo agent.
Muriel, of Hill View Gardens, told the paper she had “worked unceasingly” to prove her husband’s innocence – even tracking down the padre who was working at Usworth when Preucil failed to return from his training flight.
“He said that he had no recollection of any Polish airmen being shot during the flight – which was one of the allegations against my husband,” she added. “But I realise now that all my efforts have been in vain.”
l Investigations have since revealed that, rather than dying in the crash, Preucil actually flew his RAF Hurricane to Belgium. After landing on a farm, he was offered food and shelter by the farmer and his family – whom he later betrayed to the Gestapo.
Preucil went on to work for the Gestapo, infiltrating Czech political prisoner groups in concentration camps. Some of those he betrayed were shot. When Germany was finally defeated, Preucil was put on trial for treason by the Czechs.
Detail’s of Preucil’s treachery made headlines for a second time in 2003, after photos came to light showing his stolen Hurricane on show at the German National Aviation Museum in Berlin in 1941.