Hidden Graffiti in English Heritage Mansion Reveals Secrets of Polish War Heroes

  • 2022 marks 80th anniversary of Audley End House in Essex becoming main training base for the WW2 'Cichociemni' – the Silent Unseen
  • English Heritage launches new display telling stories of these elite soldiers

© From the collection of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust - London

On the eve of the 80th anniversary of Audley End House in Essex becoming the principal training school for the Polish section of the Special Operations Executive in World War Two, English Heritage has identified the names of six Polish special forces trainees scrawled on the wall of a candle store in the house’s coal gallery. The stories of these men, along with other artefacts and accounts from the time, will be going on show at Audley End House next week as part of a new display on these elite soldiers, known as the 'Cichociemni' – or 'Silent Unseen'.

Sunday 1 May 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of Audley End House becoming the 'finishing school' for the Polish Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. The Cichociemni were a handpicked group of special operations paratroopers, trained to drop behind enemy lines into occupied Poland to fight for their homeland. Much revered in their home country, these brave men undertook their final stage of training at Audley End, a grand 17th century mansion, which was then called Station 43 and is now under the care of English Heritage. A memorial to the Cichociemni stands in the grounds, commemorating their achievements and sacrifices, but the graffiti is one of the few tangible reminders of Polish presence at the house.

© From the collection of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust - London

Dr Andrew Hann, English Heritage Historian, said: "The story of the Cichociemni at Audley End House has long been a source of fascination, and we’re delighted to have been able to identify the men whose names have been scrawled onto the wall of the house’s Coal Gallery candle store. Their story is of particular pertinence, given current events in Ukraine. With ever changing land boundaries, there is a deep connection between the Ukrainian and Polish people. Indeed, one of the men who scratched his name onto the wall at Audley End came from Lviv, and another studied at university there.

"Last year, we invited those with family connections to, or memories of, the Cichociemni at Audley End House to share their stories and we were overwhelmed by the response. The wealth of information that we received has enabled us to expand our research and deepen our knowledge of this important period in Audley End’s history. We’ve been able to use this material in our new display telling the stories of some of the brave men who were trained at Audley End during the war."

Whilst the Cichociemni left few physical traces at Audley End, their presence at the house is recorded for posterity in a collection of photographs, taken from the archive of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust (PUMST). These photographs, along with a selection of personal possessions and artefacts used by the Cichociemni, will form the basis of the new display at Audley End House. Exhibits include devices used in secret communications training, everyday objects adapted to conceal and carry hidden messages, and a book of photographs presented by the Polish SOE to Lady Braybrooke when they left Audley End and returned the property to the family in December 1944.

The display opens on Monday 2 May at Audley End House and Gardens, and will run until 31 October 2022. Entry is included in the admission price. English Heritage members go free.

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