Restored grave for WWII hero nicknamed “father” of top secret special agent unit called Silent Unseen – The First News
The small rally in a cemetery in Hounslow, UK, earlier this month to commemorate a Polish WWII hero was a grim affair.
In the presence of officials from the Polish Embassy in London and several Polish community organizations, the ceremony also went relatively unnoticed.
Since the hero was recognized, that was probably what he would have wanted.
For the man in question was Colonel JÃ³zef Hartman, otherwise known as “the father” of a top secret WWII Special Agent unit known as the “Cichociemni” (Silent Unseen).
Trained in the UK by Hartman, the officers were parachuted into occupied Poland to help fight Hitler’s occupation forces.
Born October 27, 1898 in Kielce, Hartman’s important role in training and mentoring young Polish soldiers who had volunteered for the special infiltration mission came shortly after his arrival in Britain in 1940.
After the fall of France, and with the Polish government in exile now operating from London, Prime Minister General WÅadysÅaw Sikorski gave the order to create Section III of the Commander-in-Chief’s Staff which provided for the planning of covert operations in Poland, including training of paratroopers to drop behind enemy lines.
Following the order, Col. Hartman was tasked with training elite special operations paratroopers, which were made up of volunteers, many of whom had left their units in secret in order to enlist for the special mission.
Having been one of the first Poles to receive training in Britain on sabotage and having taken courses in organizing underground resistance, Hartman had the skills and experience to be sent to Poland as the one of the âCichociemniâ himself.
But despite several attempts, his superiors refused on the grounds that he was known and recognizable as a former adjutant to the Polish president and the risks of the covert operation if he was involved.
Disappointed to be denied the chance to participate, Hartman devoted his energies to providing the best possible training possible to those who had volunteered for the unit, showing his tireless care and dedication to each of the young men and women he was in charge, which ultimately earned him widespread respect and the affectionate title of “Father of the Invisible Silent.”
With training taking place in various locations from Scotland to Cheshire, from early 1942 the main training base, known as Station 43, was located at Audley End House, near Saffron Walden in the ‘Essex.
Hartman assumed a leadership role as head of the Special Training School, as one of two Polish commanders working alongside their English counterpart, Colonel Roper-Caldbeck.
Among other things, the volunteers learned to use all types of weapons (British, Polish, German, Russian and Italian) as well as mines. They were also trained in skills such as topography, cryptography, shooting at invisible targets, marksmanship, parachuting, as well as details of life in occupied Warsaw, including dominant fashions.
Hartman also introduced the requirement that every volunteer must be able to drive a car and ride a motorcycle and bicycle, which was not a common skill in pre-war Poland due to the high cost of bikes.
Part keeper, father figure, mentor and teacher, Hartman took a holistic approach to his students, believing that each of the skydivers should not only be technically prepared for combat, but also mentally prepared.
He therefore took care of their psychological and spiritual well-being by developing their moral virtues, their patriotic feelings and their spiritual resilience.
Recognized for the active role he played in the formation of the âCichociemniâ and the results he obtained, Hartman was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1944.
A superior wrote about him: âan attentive observer with good judgment, very intelligent, affectionate, extremely loyal to his superiors and with an approachable attitude towards his subordinates, who love him very much. He is extremely conscientious, precise and reliable.
âHe has considerable military knowledge and is tactically well prepared. He has the makings of a great battle commander. As the commander of a “cadre” company, he obtained very good results.
Of the more than 2,600 volunteers who applied, only 606 managed to complete the training. While the vast majority of volunteers were men, 15 women also passed the training to qualify for the âSilent Unseenâ.
Of those who passed the training, between 1941-1945, 316 were dropped in occupied Poland and among them 103 were either killed in direct combat with the Germans or were executed by the Gestapo.
A testament to Hartman’s unique and fatherly bond with each of the Cichociemni is the fact that he planted a rose bush in the front garden of his London home to commemorate each of his fallen subordinates, cultivating them with great care until at the end of his life.
In a poem about Hartman, a surviving special agent of the Cichociemni, wrote: âYou walked humbly, a modest man who loved the Cichociemni more than his own life and his fickle fame, A quiet hero waiting for no reward.
After the war, Hartman remained in exile in London unable to return to Poland, like other Polish soldiers, due to fear of persecution by the Communist authorities who now rule the country, a fear confirmed by the death of 10 Cichociemni paratroopers killed after false show trials in Stalin’s Poland.
Until his death in London in 1979, he continued to maintain active correspondence with the surviving “Cichociemni”, cultivate the memory of deceased members and be active in veteran circles, notably the Cichociemni Associates UK.
He also contributed to the creation of the PiÅsudski Institute.
At the ceremony on October 11 at New Brentford Cemetery in Hounslow, in honor of Hartman and his wife Grace, Jacek Garncarson of Grupa Zadaniowa “PamiÄÄ Cichociemnych” (The Memory of the Cichociemni Group), who helped restore his grave alongside Stowarzyszenie Odra-Niemen (Odra-Niemen Association), gave a short speech, which he ended by saying: “May the memory of this honorable couple live in our memory and remind us of the fundamental values ââof friendship, solidarity and responsibility towards others.
In addition to unveiling a restored tomb, the ceremony also saw the installation of a permanent bouquet of red and white roses in recognition of Hartman’s own culture of his rose memorials to fallen Cichociemni.