Leamington was host to Czech heroes

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The story of Czech soldiers based in Leamington during the Second World War and their daring undercover mission is told in the book Leamington Lives Remembered by Alan Griffin.

In September 1940 several specially chartered trains pulled into Leamington station.

On board were almost 4,000 men of the Free Czech Army, who were to spend the next two years in mid-Warwickshire.

Many of the group were mere teenagers who had trekked across occupied Europe to reach the assembly point at Agde in the south of ~France.

The Czechs set up their headquarters at Harrington House in Newbold Terrace and occupied many of the properties in that part of town. Many of the men were billeted with local families and hutted accommodation was built at Kineton.

The Czechs were very well received and quickly made efforts to play a positive role in the community and to demonstrate the richness of Czech culture. They organised choirs and orchestras and put on plays and entertainments.

The men were very keen on physical fitness and fielded an excellent football team which played matches against many of the Midland first division sides. A number of international matches were played on the Lockheed FC ground between the Czechs and the Army teams of other European teams who were exiled in England.

While in Leamington Czech military intelligence officers conceived a plan to train some of their men as paratroop agents for covert missions in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. A number of volunteers were trained in Scotland.

On moonlit winter nights they were flown out in small teams on British heavy bombers for a variety of high-risk operations. Many of these agents were discovered and shot on sight, but in May 1942 two warrant officers successfully assassinated Hitler’s right hand man, Reinhard Heydrich, on the streets of Prague, where he was the Reichsprotektor.

The men who had carried out the assassination took refuge in the crypt of a Prague church but their hiding place was betrayed and they shot themselves rather than surrender. The seven men who died in the church crypt are commemorated on a fountain in Jephson Gardens.