Polish Section SOE. Agents trained at station 43 (Audley End House and Gardens near Saffron, Essex which is now owned by English Heritage) This section became known as the Cichocienmni – the silent unseen. Between 1941- 1945, 316 Polish SOE agents were dropped into occupied Poland and 103 men and women were killed in action or executed by the Gestapo and a further 9 were killed by Soviet Forces after the war. In 1983 a memorial urn was placed in West Park in memory of the 103 Polish parachutists who lost their lives during the war.
Every year on 11 November (Armistice Day and Polish Independence Day), the staff at Audley End stop their work, and gather at the memorial for a short service, ensuring that the dedication and bravery of the Cichociemni are not forgotten.
Copied from a plaque at the Polish Garden of Remembrance, Northolt London.
“Poland fell after being invaded on 11 September 1939 by Germany and by Soviet Russia on 17 September, despite this the Polish Government and Army were re-established in France and later Britain.
The Polish Army fought on in the Norwegian campaigned, the Battle of France, North Africa (Tobruk), Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.
The Soviets deported approximately 1,500,000 Polish civilians and military personnel to various parts of the Soviet empire. Thousands perished including approximately 22,000 prisoners of war who were murdered on Stalin’s orders at Katyn and elsewhere.
Some of the Polish soldiers murdered in Katyn Forrest
The Polish 2nd Corps, led by General Anders, created mainly from Polish citizens released by Soviet Russia in 1942, took part in the Italian campaign. Monte Cassino blocked the road to Rome; three allied assaults had failed to capture it. In May 1944 the Polish 2nd Corps succeeded but the cost was high 1,000 killed and nearly 3,000 wounded or missing.
The First Armoured Division under General Maczek took part in the Normandy campaign of 1944. Captured Hill 262 Mont Ormel, ‘the Mace’, it closed the Falaise Pocket, holding the hill for three days, suffering almost 30 percent casualties and 325 dead, it helped block the withdrawal of 100,000 German troops.
The 1st Independent Parachute Brigade was formed to support an uprising against Germany in Poland but were sent into operation at Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden where during gallant fighting they suffered heavy losses.
The Home Army or Armia Krajowa (AK) was the largest resistance movement in occupied Europe. The AK with its strength of around 400,000 soldiers played a vital role in sabotage and intelligence-gathering, even smuggling parts of a V2 rocket from Poland to Britain.
The Warsaw uprising in 1944 was intended to last a short time but with the Red Army, on Stalin’s orders, halted its advance on the of the Vistula, it lasted 63 days. During this time the Germans massacred civilians and systematically destroyed Warsaw. Some 200,000 civilians and 25,000 AK soldiers were killed.
The Polish Armed Force as a whole are considered to have been the fourth largest allied army in Europe after the Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom.
Irena Stanislawa Sendler was a Catholic nurse and a prominent member of a Polish resistance network dedicated to rescuing Jews after German forces occupied Poland in 1939.
Although the punishment for helping Jews was the death penalty this did not deter Irena and members of her network from providing Jewish families with food, new identity papers with Christian names and helping them relocate to areas where they were unknown by the German authorities, but the greatest dangers she faced was during her work inside the notorious Warsaw Ghetto.
Thought to have been taken in the Warsaw Ghetto
After becoming aware the German authorities were concerned typhoid might spread beyond the ghetto Irena used her official papers identifying her as a nurse to frequently enter the ghetto to check for typhoid and other infectious diseases. After obtaining permission from parents she used many innovative methods to rescue children including escaping through sewer pipes and putting young children inside suitcases which were on trollies. It is believed Irena Stanislawa was personally responsible for rescuing around 400 children.
Once the children reached safety they were given Christian names which were supported by identity papers and were housed with adopted families who agreed to trace their parents after the war, but it was later discovered few parents survived the concentration camps.
On 18 October 1943 Irena was arrested by the Gestapo; over a period of several days she was tortured but refused to provide useful information, Irena was then transferred to Pawiaki Prison where the torture continued. After the Gestapo found they could not break her, and it became clear their prisoner was prepared to die rather than betray the children or members of her network Irena was sentence to death.
There is scant information regarding her escape, however, it is known before she was due to be executed a member of her network bribed her guards and because the Gestapo later displayed posters in public places announcing her execution as a deterrent against assisting Jews suggests her escape was well planned.
After hiding for several weeks Irena was provided with new identity papers in the name of Irena Sendlerowa and then continued her escape work under a new cover story.
It is believed her underground network rescued around 2,500 children but the number of Jewish families saved by Irena and other members of her network is unknown.
On 12 May 2008 Irena Sendler died in Warsaw and few were aware of her wartime connection with the Polish Resistance.