This is pretty unusual in any service:

Chemainus war hero promoted to brigadier-general by Czech officials

Robert Matula, left, is honoured on his birthday, Dec. 18 at the Chemainus Seniors Centre.

courtesy Gordon Hughes Published: January 05, 2010 6:00 PM

Valley war hero Robert Matula’s 90th birthday present was his promotion to brigadier-general.

The Chemainiac received the honour from Czech military officials Dec. 18, the day before his birthday, during a luncheon at Chemainus Seniors Centre.

“Robert was promoted to brigadier-general by the Czech Republic,” said long-time pal and veteran Gordon Hughes.

He helped arrange the ceremony that included a Czech major-general from Washington, D.C., MLA Doug Routley, and interpreter Jan Klinka.

Matula — a former commando who fought Nazis behind enemy lines — received a general’s uniform and an array of medals, said Hughes who also received a medal saluting his assistance to Matula and Czechs.

“It was all a little daunting for Robert because of his age and infirmities but he was excited about these people coming out.”

The deputy-mayor of Ostrava, a Czech city where Matula’s a war hero, also attended.

“Robert’s credited with saving Ostrava from a German column that closed in on the city,” Hughes said. “He and his resistance group took out the German officer’s car leading the column.

“Robert personally killed the officers in the car with a Sten gun and that disrupted the whole column.”

MLA Routley called Matula’s bravery a “lesson in compassion and empathy.”

“He exemplifies the reality that true courage comes from love and commitment to community and family.

“It was love of these things he was protecting.”

The promotion for former Lt.-Col. Matula is part of the Czech government’s drive to honour its war heroes.

“This was the third time a Czech contingent has come to Chemainus to honour Robert,” Hughes said of the seniors centre and Chemainus Legion member.

The Second World War saw Hughes serve in the Royal Navy Marines in Italy and Yugoslavia.

“It was the horror of seeing war, and the terror of fearing you’d be next.”

Hughes’ address at Matula’s birthday described his old friend’s heroism.

“Robert fought his way across Europe with the Czech Army in 1939 then escaped to France to fight alongside the Allies until France’s surrender.

“He escaped to North Africa and joined the French Foreign Legion, then British forces in Gibraltar.”

Matula joined Czech forces in Britain, trained as a special operative, and had two comrades die killing SS leader Reinhard Heydrich.

Matula and his team parachuted into Europe for sabotage work and to rally resistance in his homeland where resistance fighters were tortured and killed.

Ultimately, he and his men engaged a German column near Ostrava until Russians saved the town.

Matula and Hughes know they’re lucky to have survived the carnage.

“Robert’s a good buddy of mine and we reminisce a lot,” Hughes said