President Pahor and Prince Edward mark the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day in Gornji Suhor

Gornji Suhor, 14. 5. 2019 | press release, speech

President Pahor and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, marked the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day in Gornji Suhor

Today, in a special ceremony in the village of Gornji Suhor pri Vinici, the Slovenian president and the British prince marked Slovenia-UK Friendship Day, in the hope that it would become an annual tradition.

In 1945, a bomber carrying a British crew crashed in Gornji Suhor, some of whom were rescued from the German forces by the Partisans.

The ceremonial speakers proclaimed today’s commemorative event Slovenia-UK Friendship Day and underlined the importance of their countries’ friendship in the past and in the future.

In his address, President Pahor noted that he and British Ambassador Sophie Honey had visited Suhor last year and commemorated the site of the crash of the Royal Air Force plane for the first time in history, and that they had agreed that the event and the place are appropriate for Slovenia-UK Friendship Day.

The Slovenian president also spoke about this with Queen Elizabeth II this year while on a visit to the UK, and today they are actually able to proclaim this day of friendship, and this in the presence of Prince Edward, a member of the royal family, he added.

The president continued that this year will mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, “one of the greatest human barbarities and tragedies in history”, and that the two nations are allies today in part due to the actions of the brave people of that time. He concluded by saying that he hopes Slovenia-UK Friendship Day will become “a famous tradition”.

Prince Edward, who began his two-day visit to Slovenia today, said that today is a day when the nations realise that they were connected in the past, that they are connected in the present, and what is for him even more important, that they will be connected in the future.

“Today is a day of friendship. This is my second visit to Slovenia and as you may know, all of the members of my royal family have already been to Slovenia. We are celebrating this day, the first day of Slovenian-British friendship, and as the President of Slovenia said, we hope and are pleased that there will be more such days in the future,” said the Earl of Wessex.

President Pahor and Prince Edward also laid a wreath in front of the memorial plaque commemorating the Allied members of the crew of the lost B-24 Liberator Mk VI bomber.

The memorial plaque unveiled last year in Gornji Suhor commemorates the crash on 31 March 1945 of an Allied B-24 Liberator Mk VI bomber and its nine-member British crew, four of whom managed to survive by parachuting away from the wreck.

The downed bomber had been part of an attack by British and American forces on airports, rail hubs and factories in Graz, Austria on the Saturday before Easter 1945. It was hit by a German counterattack, and the plane was eventually incapacitated and burst into flames after being hit in the fuel tank by a German gunner somewhere above Celje.

The bomber became a flying torch. The five airmen who had been waiting at the doors jumped out with parachutes, but for the rest it was too late. They came down together with the plane in Bela Krajina, in Puhek’s field, the aircraft striking and severely damaging a nearby house.

Four of the parachutists, who were rescued by local Partisans, survived the jump, while the fifth was seriously injured and later died at a Partisan hospital. The four surviving crewmen were flown to their airbase on 2 April 1945 from the Krasinec Partisan airport in Bela Krajina.

President Pahor and Prince Edward mark the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day in Gornji Suhor
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

The text of the ceremonial address by the President of Slovenia is given below. Check against delivery!

“Your royal highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, dear Madam Ambassador, dear Mayor, esteemed locals and guests.

On 24 March of last year, the British Ambassador and I, for the first time in history, commemorated the site of the fall of the Royal Air Force bomber on 31 March 1945 and the noble assistance that the local people gave to the surviving pilots.

We both agreed that this date should be the date of Slovenia-UK Friendship Day and that Gornji Suhor should be the birthplace of this friendship.

I spoke about this with Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in February of this year. She was delighted about the idea. I cannot begin to describe her support and her kindness.

Today we are actually able to proclaim this day of friendship, and this in the presence of Prince Edward, a member of the royal family.

Prince Edward and I have known each other and worked together for a long time. He was my very pleasant first host on my visit to the United Kingdom. Tomorrow, he and I will host youths from Slovenia who will be receiving awards as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme, which promotes the personal development of young people and encourages them to be creative and to acquire interpersonal social skills.

This year will mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, one of the greatest human nightmares and tragedies in history, which still lives with us despite its distance in time; the generation that fought the war and survived it are now in the autumn of their lives. Many stories and living memories have already left us and been lost, but many have been recorded for posterity, on sheets of paper, on the internet – and in stone.

One of these records has become a part of our permanent memory today; a story about the fate of nine people, nine airmen; a fate that was written for them on the eve of the end of the war in Slovenian skies, on Slovenian soil and among Slovenian people. For five of them, Slovenian soil became their grave (or their final resting site before being returned to their homeland), while the fate of the other four is forever tied to Bela Krajina and its people, as they would not have got home safely without them.

However, this memorial plaque represents something more – it is a link to the common struggle of both nations, the British and the Slovenian, during the time of the greatest challenges of the previous century.

During a moment in history eighty years ago, the United Kingdom stood alone before the greatest evil of its time, and became a beacon of hope for European democracy and the last bastion of the nations in resistance.

But we were not an acquiescent nation; we resisted, we fought for our lives and we ensured our survival; we fought for the beginnings of what we are today: and independent and sovereign nation.

But we were not alone in this. Without the Allies and their battles in eastern and western Europe and in the Mediterranean, our struggle would not have survived.

The United Kingdom was such an ally; it quickly recognised the importance of our struggle to the saving of Europe as a whole. The importance of the first British missions to Slovenia, the supplies of arms and equipment, transporting the wounded and sick to hospitals in Italy, the individual soldiers of the Empire who fought with the Partisans – and the rescuing of downed airmen – will probably never be sufficiently recognised.

It is in part due to the actions of the brave people of the time that we are allies today; we are both members of NATO, we work together to maintain peace and stability around the world, and we will remain friends after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Dear Mr Mayor, people of Črnomelj, Suhor, Bela Krajina.

Thank you for preserving your memories and thank you for being ambassadors of friendship.

Friendship with the United Kingdom means a great deal to Slovenia and to Slovenes. We will do everything in our power to foster it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby proclaim this commemorative event “Slovenian-UK Friendship Day”, and may it become a famous tradition.”

President Pahor and Prince Edward mark the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day in Gornji Suhor
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA