Cichociemni – Polish James Bonds
What was the best way to keep Great Britain safe during WWII? Set Europe ablaze! This could only be done by the best – elite special operation paratroopers called Cichociemni, and it was these Polish paratroopers Churchill called on to burn Europe. But what does this have to do with Scotland?
Cichociemni translates to ‘Silent and Unseen’ in English. In Polish, this word means ‘the quiet and the dark ones’, as they would always appear quietly and disappear in darkness. In the morning you could not find any trace of their camps.
The Cichociemni were trained to be the leaders of the Polish underground domestic Army called AK. Some of them were specialized in sabotage and guerrilla tactics, others were experts in communication and the rest supplemented intelligence. They were often referred to as the Polish SOE (Special Operations Executive).
The Cichociemni were carefully selected from 2613 volunteers. The training was successfully completed by only 606 of them and as few as 316 were actually dropped on Poland.
As you can guess, training for soldiers like these could not happen in Poland, which was occupied by Germany and USSR. The training, along with SOE standards, took place in Scotland and England.
Before these soldiers became Cichociemni, they arrived in Scotland like thousands of other Polish men did in those days. The ones from the German-occupied part of Poland usually escaped through Hungary, Romania and France to Great Britain. The ones from Russian-occupied Poland were more unfortunate. They had to persevere through the horror of the Gulags in the USSR to be later allowed to join the Polish army that was being formed in the Middle East (more about USSR – Middle East – UK journey can be found in the story of Wojtek the Soldier Bear).
There are few places and memories in Scotland associated with the Cichociemni. The sabotage team went through extreme physical training in Invernesshire (Inverlochy Castle near Fort William). Many years after the war some of them still remembered 20k morning hiking sessions in the wild Highlands where ‘they would meet many more sheep than people’. Techniques of silent killing, the rule ‘kick and kill’ and constant muscular pain were their daily bread.
In Largo House in Fife (Largo House was a grand country house, built in 1750, now ruined) there was a so called Małpi Gaj (The Monkey Grove) – an exercise area and specialist 27 meter high paratrooper tower (the first ever built in UK) designed by Polish Engineer called Iwanowski specially to train for parachute jumping.
You can see some footage of Cichociemni’s training in the first 20min of the movie below.
After much training, with a brand new name, new profession, new personal history and a little capsule of poison in their pockets in the event of German capture, they were dropped over Poland, to become the leaders of AK – the Polish Army. Many of them played important roles in WWII and post war in Poland and Europe. This article is simply too short to list them all by name.
The wildness of the Highlands was not the only thing Cichociemni remembered from Scotland. Many years after the war they would also often mention the Whisky, and… the Scottish girls. Obviously, as the Intelligence, they needed to learn good English, and this was the simplest way…
Polish soldiers were considered very attractive by the Scottish girls. They were taller than an average Scot, often from noble families, with stunning manners (flowers and hand-kissing; yes gents, it did work!) and with amazing dancing skills (They all danced like Fred Astaire!). No wonder there are plenty of romantic stories from that period, and less wonder still that today the words ‘Polish Soldier’ will cause many an elderly woman to blush and smile.
Probably the best known person who fell in love with a Cichociemni was Sue Ryder – Margaret Susan Cheshire, Baroness Ryder of Warsaw and Baroness of Cheshire. She was 15 when as a volunteer to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry she was assigned to the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive. Sue’s job was to drive SOE agents to the airfield where they would take off for their assignments in Europe. Her Polish sweetheart, as many others, died in action in Poland. Sue was involved in many charitable activities after the war and established a few foundations helping people in the UK and Poland and eventually all over the globe. For her hard work and inspiring commitment to charitable work she was made a life peer and was awarded with the Order of St Michael and St George, the Order of the British Empire and Polonia Mater Nostra Est as well as a few cities honourable citizenships and street names in Poland.
In interviews recorded years after the war, Cichociemni recall their life in Scotland as a good and happy time filled with hard work and optimism about the future. The story of the Cichociemni profoundly connects Scotland, Poland and England. The Cichociemni significantly influenced all these countries, as well as many others, in sometimes quite surprising ways.
Page dedicated to Cichociemni (POL)
Page about Largo House (POL)
Page dedicated to General Stanislaw Franciszek Sosabowski – great selection of interesting photographs
Page deditated to General Leopold Okulicki – great selection of interesting photographs (POL)
Cichociemni – legenda prawdziwa (POL)
Tobie Ojczyzno – Cichociemni (POL)