A memorial to Czech airmen killed flying for the RAF during the Second World War was unveiled yesterday.

The pilots and crew were part of 311 Squadron and based at Tain in Ross-shire. They were formerly members of the Czechoslovak Air Force who escaped to the UK after the French collapse in 1940.

Some 21 of those who died are buried in Tain's old cemetery on the shores of the Dornoch Firth.

Yesterday, their graves were adorned with a single fresh flower, as they and their countrymen who flew with the RAF were remembered.

Around 100 people gathered to see the ambassador of the Czech Republic, Jan Winkler, and local MP John Thurso unveil a stone in their memory.

Around 2000 Czech airmen served in the RAF during the war and 480 lost their lives. The heaviest losses were suffered by the bomber crews of 311 Squadron. Some 273 came from this one squadron. Even in the last days of the war 39 men lost their lives in their work for Coastal Command.

One man who travelled to Tain yesterday was 97-year-old William Kaunders, a navigator with 311 Squadron who built a new life in the US.

He told The Herald: "It is beyond words to be back here today. I can't really express my feelings because unfortunately I have many friends buried in this place.

One was a flight lieutenant who died just three weeks before the end of the war. It was so sad."

Arnost Polak, now 84, was barely 16 when he left Prague on a train. "The Nazis allowed me to leave because I was classed as a child. When I arrived in Britain, I worked as a farm labourer and joined up when I was 18.

"My family stayed behind and lost their lives. I celebrated my 21st birthday in a pub in Tain. I don't remember which one but I know that by that time I had flown 51 missions as a wireless operator."

After unveiling a memorial stone, Mr Winkler said: "You probably all know Czechoslovakia didn't pay back very well the people who fought as pilots for the liberty and freedom of our country.

"Many who came back were not found compatible with the communist regime and many went to prison, some to die.

"Even after the fall of communism in 1989, my generation feels we still owe full recognition of the sacrifice made by those who lie here and those who came back."