History and tradition
One of the first decisions made by President T.G. Masaryk following his triumphant return to the independent state of Czechoslovakia was the establishment of the Military Division of the Office of the President of the Republic; this was established as of January 1, 1919. Act No. 654/1919 Coll. established its permanent name - the Military Office of the President of the Republic - and eventually the office gained also a precisely defined jurisdiction, the basic conception of which remains similar to this day, after more than eighty years.
It was headed by a Chief Ordnance Officer - always a higher officer, who was subordinate in terms of organisation to the office and at the same times in military matters superior to the Commander of the Castle and Castle Guard. Members of the Military Office of the President of the Republic from the ranks of the officer corps were recruited to this service from their military units for a transitional period upon the proposal of the Minister of National Defence, confirmed by direct decisions of the President.
The actual jurisdiction and competence of the Military Office of the President of the Republic was defined very narrowly. In principle it had the standing of an auxiliary body of the President as Commander in Chief of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces, implemented the President's decisions and acted in accordance with his direct orders. The nature of its work was of a primarily informational character: it formally and materially prepared decisions of the President as Commander in Chief, mediated contact between the President and the Minister of National Defence, communication with civil institutions and the public. Its permanent tasks also included processing of proposals and reports of a military nature for the government and other central state bodies. In addition its activity naturally included flexible securing of military-ceremonial events attended by the Head of State.
That provides an account of the official definition of the authority of the Military Office of the President of the Republic. However, the picture would be far from complete if we overlooked those military personages who stood at the head of the office as Chief Ordnance Officers or later as Chiefs of Staff, and who gave this body a fundamentally greater importance through their personal input. The fact that they were close to heads of state of such standing as T.G. Masaryk or Eduard Benes naturally meant that the requirements for their selection were very stringent.
In the inter-war period it thus applied that candidates for the Chief Ordnance Officer of the Military Office of the President of the Republic were always leading representatives of the Czechoslovak foreign legion, men who stood behind the establishment of Czechoslovak voluntary units - legions, and who had already fully proven their flexible military and often also political and diplomatic capabilities. These included for example the first Chief Ordnance Office, Colonel Otakar Husak, later Brigadier General and Minister of National Defence, or Division General Stanislav Cecek, one of the first volunteers of the Czech Legion and distinguished commander of the Czechoslovak legions in Russia.Without doubt the most distinctive legacy was left by Division General Silvestr Blaha, who occupied this function for almost ten years, until the tragic end of the First Republic. The Russian and French legionnaire, who was also a leading representative of Czechoslovak military-theoretical thought and the author of numerous works devoted amongst other matters to the problem of the relationship of the army to the public, defence of the nation and military tradition, was in fact a founding father of modern thought concerning the position of the army in a democratic society, whose ideas still have relevance to this day.
His successor, later Army General Antonin Hasal, in the same function, which he performed under President Benes in London in the trying conditions of World War II and subsequently in the post-war years, also showed himself to be faithful to the principles under which Czechoslovak statehood was established and renewed. The same applies if we name further post-war Chief Ordnance Officers: Brigadier General Oldrich Spaniel or Division General Bruno Sklenovsky. Unfortunately the decades immediately following 1948 did not produce comparable personages and the performance of the function of Chief of Staff of the Military Office of the President of the Republic took on gradually merely official dimensions, without greater scope or weight. More than forty years had to elapse before this function regained its former dignity.
Ceremonial Act of Awarding Commemorative Ribbons to the Prague Castle Guards' Battle Flag on the Occasion of the 88th Anniversary of their Foundation
The general public of the Czech Republic celebrates the 28th October as the "Day of Foundation of the Independent Czechoslovak State", especially since 1989 and together with revived Fist-republic traditions. It is not, however, with a further date - December 6 - as closely related to the recent history of the Prague Castle as the "Day of the Foundation of the Prague Castle Guard Corps".
The foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic on 28 October 1918 was the initial impetus for the establishment of a detachment singled out for guarding the seat of the President of the Republic at the Prague Castle. The history of the Prague Castle Guards is very rich, reflecting development and all changes in the society from the date of their foundation, which is especially obvious already in the brief and concise summary.
In the first period, after the Republic had come into being, the Prague Castle was guarded by the Sokol Association from Hradčany. Thereafter the legionaries who fought on the Alliance’s side in Russia, Italy and France took over. During the Second World War, Prague Castle was guarded by government and German troops. Starting in May 1945, the duty of guarding was taken over by security guards of Dr. Edvard Beneš for a short period. However, the history of Prague Castle underwent the most significant changes after the so-called Post-February period, and then in the year 1952, when the Prague Castle Guards ceased to be an army detachment and came under the command of the Ministry of Interior as a power-wielding tool of the governing party’s apparatus.
A significant milestone in the recent history of the Prague Castle Guards was the year 1990, which brought about important changes in all regions of their lives. The detachment was recreated into a new, modern unit, respecting the principles of a democratic society and assuming the appearance of similar corps in Europe. Apart from normal tasks, the Prague Castle Guards take part as a co-organizer of many events relating to the life of the Prague Castle. In particular, these include events organized by the Office of the President, Prague Castle Administration, The Václav and Livie Klaus Foundation or the Olga Havel Good Will Committee. Events such as, for instance, the Christmas and Easter for Children or the Children’s Day on the 1st of June are in particular known to and much visited by parents with children.
However, what should be mentioned in respect of a great deal of events undertaken by the Prague Castle Guards, and intended for society at large, is the long-term cooperation with the Military Association of Rehabilitated, the Soldiers Together Association, Union of Auxiliary Technical Battalions - forced labour military camps, the Civic Initiative of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, the Czech Army Union of Officers and Warrant Officers, Confederation of Political Prisoners, the Czech Union of Fighter for Freedom, Czechoslovak Association of Legionaries and the Czechoslovak Sokol Association.
On December 6, 2006, on the occasion of the 88th anniversary of the Prague Castle Guards foundation, a ceremonial act was held when commemorative ribbons were awarded to the Battle Flag of the Prague Castle Guards by the first five aforementioned organizations. The ceremonial act was held in the 1st courtyard of the Prague Castle and was attended by representatives of these organizations, representatives of the Military Office of the President and personally by the Chancellor of the President, PhDr. Ing. Jiří Weigl, CSc., with the Prague Castle Guard Corps forming a ceremonial line-up. The act was opened by the arrival of the VKPR Chief of Staff, Chancellor and chairmen of organizations, who, following a speech by the commander of the Prague Castle Guard Corps, decorated the Battle Flag in turns. After brief speeches by the chairmen of organizations addressing the significance of mutual cooperation in particular, the ceremonial act was bought to an end by staging a parade.
With the application of diligence and good will, we cannot but hope that the Battle Flag of the Prague Castle Guards will be decorated by another ribbon as an appreciation of good work done as an asset for all society.