October 24th, 2016

Story of Czech Leamington war heroes told in film

Updated: 10:24 am, Sep 19, 2016

A FILM focusing on Czech soldiers based in Leamington who carried out one of the most daring missions of the Second World War hit UK cinema screens.

Anthropoid tells the story of a secret operation of the same name which saw exiled Czechoslovak soldiers sent to assassinate Nazi SS commander Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. The killing of Heydrich, known as the architect of the Holocaust, was the only successful assassination of a senior Nazi figure during the war.

Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy and Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan play Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, who were members of the Free Czechoslovak Army exiled in Leamington following the Nazi occupation of their homeland.

They led a seven-strong team of paratroopers flown to Czechoslovakia in converted RAF Halifax bombers in the winter of 1941. With the help of resistance fighters in the country they caught up with Heydrich, who was being driven in an open top car, just outside of Prague on May 27 of the following year.

They attempted to shoot him but the gun jammed, so threw two grenades at the car. Heydrich was seriously injured and died a week later in hospital of blood infection septicemia.

The names of seven paratroopers can now be found on a memorial to Czechoslovak troops in Leamington’s Jephson Gardens – a stone’s throw from where their old headquarters, Harrington House, used to stand.

More than 4,000 Free Czechoslovak Army soldiers were based in Leamington in the years after 1941.

While staying in town, a small number were selected to be trained as paratroopers by the British special forces, and after rigorous training, were regularly parachuted back into Czechoslovakia to carry out sabotage missions and support resistance movements.

Alan Griffin, vice-chair of the Friends of the Czechoslovak Memorial Fountain, told the Observer: “Many Leamingtonians do not know the significance of the memorial in the gardens and the important role the named men had in the Second World War.

“Their actions were one of the few developments of the war which showed the Nazis they were not invincible.”

“We hope this film will help gather some more support to our cause in trying to keep the memorial in good condition and make sure people know about the brave men who called Leamington their home.”

The film will be shown at Leamington Spa Centre on October 22, 24 and 25 at 7.30pm, with a matinee showing at 2.30pm on Sunday October 23.

* Former member of Free Czechoslovak Army, Teodor Leysek, who passed away at the weekend, was a member of the Free Czechoslovak Army and was billeted in Leamington during the war. It is thought he escaped from a working party from a concentration camp before he made his way to England.

Known to his family as Ted, he knew Lieutenant Adolf Opalka, one of the key figures in the Czech resistance movement and Operation Anthropoid.

After the war he emigrated to Australia and led a happy life as a painter and decorator in Canberra and on his last visit to Leamington in 1992 was extremely moved by the garden’s memorial.