English Heritage has launched an appeal for memories to be shared of a unit of elite Polish paratroopers who trained in Britain and led the resistance against Hitler’s forces in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The call marks the 80th anniversary of their first mission, when the Polish Home Army parachutists were dropped behind enemy lines into occupied Poland on the night of 15-16th February 1941, beginning the fight back for their homeland.
Named the Cichociemni or the Silent Unseen, the group trained in covert operations, sabotage and intelligence-gathering and would go on to become the pride of the Polish Republic. Many undertook their final stage of training at Audley End House, an early 17th-century country house outside Saffron Walden, Essex, now in the care of English Heritage.
A memorial to the Cichociemni stands proudly in the grounds, commemorating their achievements and sacrifices.
English Heritage is calling for those with family connections to, or memories of the Cichociemni at Audley End to share their stories.
The group played a major role in helping the Allies defeat the Germans, including gaining key intelligence ahead of the D-Day landings and providing information on the launch bases of V1 and V2 rockets.
Between 1941 and 1945, 316 Cichociemni were dropped into occupied Poland. The youngest was 17 and the oldest was 54. 103 were killed on operations or executed by the Gestapo and a further nine were killed by the communists in Poland after the war.
Andrew Hann of English Heritage said he was committed to helping share the story of the Cichociemni “in the hope that their sacrifices go on to inspire future generations”.
“We’re particularly interested in hearing from those in the local area at the time.”
The project is backed by the Polish Embassy where the ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki, said the anniversary is “an important date in the history of Poland, Polish special operations forces and Polish-British relations. Thank you to all those who can help with this project.”
Those with memories to share should email [email protected]
Picture: Cichociemni agents play football at Audley End. Photo from the collection of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust – London, colourised by English Heritage.