14th July 2021
SWW2LN/National Trust Information Board Unveiled at Bellasis House, Headley Heath, Box Hill, Surrey – formerly SOE’s Special Training School STS 2.
Bellasis House, named just Bellasis in WW2, was one of the first six of the training schools of the Special Operations Executive.
Established in early 1941, Bellasis first provided paramilitary training for SOE staff and Italian/Italian-American anti-fascist would-be agents. Later trainees came from Denmark and the Netherlands.
By November 1941 Bellasis had become the Holding School for Czechoslovakian personnel, giving initial and refresher instruction for agents waiting to progress through the training syllabus, or to depart on missions in enemy-occupied Czechoslovakia. The SOE agents for whom Bellasis is chiefly remembered were the two members, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, of OPERATION ANTHROPOID, the mission to assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the combined security services of Nazi Germany and acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia.
By the summer of 1942 Bellasis hosted several nationalities, including British, American, French, more Danes and even two trainee agents from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). From 1942 to 1943 Bellasis offered training for what were termed coup de main missions – commando-style raids for which instruction included physical training, map reading, fieldcraft, Morse code, coding and demolitions. We now that F (French) Section trainees were here at this time.
From June 1944, prisoners of war from the German forces who claimed to be anti-Nazi, including Austrians, Poles and Russians, as well as Germans, were interrogated at Bellasis to determine whether they might be suitable for training to be inserted as agents behind German lines and in Germany itself. These men were codenamed BONZOs. Austrian BONZOs who were screened at Bellasis were dropped into Austria in 1945 in order to secure a large collection of Nazi-looted art treasures and its subsequent rescue by an Allied mission. The 2014 Hollywood film ‘The Monuments Men’ purported to tell the story of the rescue of the treasures, but omitted mention of the crucial role played by SOE’s BONZOs.
STS 2 Bellasis was closed by SOE in June 1945.
The information board was a SWW2LN initiative, accepted by the National Trust (the owner of the land on which the board stands) and taken forward by a project team of Ashley Barnett (Friend) and Paul McCue (Trustee) of The SWW2LN and Aly Holly of the National Trust. Other aspects of the area’s wartime history, including two RAF bomber crashes and use of the heath by the Canadian army, were also covered (largely thanks to Ashley’s efforts and including a series on online walks, see here) but STS 2 Bellasis remained the main focus. Funding contributions were secured from the local authority, Mole Valley District Council, and the Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Charitable Trust.
At a 30-person ceremony on 14th July 2021, the SOE history of Bellasis, and its part in ANTHROPOID, were told by Paul McCue and Jonathan Saunders (SWW2LN Friend and co-author of the ANTHROPOID book ‘You’ll be hearing from us’) respectively and a message was read out from John Martin, author of another ANTHROPOID book ‘The Mirror Caught The Sun’ (see also the Facebook group). The monument was unveiled by Chief Warrant Officer Kašpar of the Defence team at the London embassy of the Czech Republic and George Bearfield, grandson of Jaroslav Bubik, who was the cousin of Josef Bubik of SOE’s OPERATION BIOSCOPE and who died with the ANTHROPOID members in Prague. Jaroslav and Josef Bubik both trained at Bellasis and George has just completed a book Foursquare: the Last Parachutist on his courageous family members.
Wreaths were placed by Councillor Chris Hunt, Chairman of Mole Valley District Council; Chief Warrant Officer Tomáš Kašpar from The Defence Attaché’s Office, Embassy of the Czech Republic; Commander Dale Turetski of the Defence Liaison staff of the Canadian High Commission; Flight Lieutenant Gail Bragg on behalf of the Royal Air Force; Mr John Polak, of the Memorial Association of Free Czechoslovak Veterans, on behalf of Colonel Vladimir Stolarik, Defence Attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Slovakia; Louisa Russell, Chair of the SWW2LN and Ashley Barnett on behalf of The Falklands Pals. Bugler SAC Rachelle Bilham played by kind permission of the Commanding Offficer, the RAF Regiment Band, RAF Northolt. An open-air reception after the ceremony was held at The Paddock, Saint Andrew’s Church Box Hill.
Credits: Paul McCue
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