New book explores role of Czech parachutists during WWII and one of their last operations

Czechoslovak army signallers on arrival in Cholmondeley Park, Cheshire, England in 1940. Jaroslav Klemeš (Far left, PLATINUM), Čestmír Sikola (Second from left, CLAY) and Jaroslav Bublík (Back row, third from right, FOURSQUARE)

More than 70 years after the end of World War Two, new information is still coming out about the brave efforts that allied parachutists played in the Nazi occupied Czech lands. In the newly published book Foursquare: The Last Parachutist, George Bearfield explores the development and deployment of these special forces, with central focus dedicated to his grandfather, who was himself sent on a mission to Czechoslovakia in the final stages of the war.

George Bearfield lives in Britain and does not speak Czech, but he is related to two Czechoslovak parachutists who played important roles in the covert war against the Nazis in World War II Czechoslovakia. One of them is his grandfather Jaroslav Bublík, who served as a paratrooper signals instructor before being himself dropped into Czech territory during the last days of the war. The other is Jaroslav Bublik's cousin Josef, who was one of the parachutists that died alongside Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš during the brave last stand in Prague's Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius following the Gestapo hunt for the assassins of Reinhard Heydrich.

“My grandfather had been trained in signals due to his linguistic abilities. This is why he came to the attention of the head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence, František Moravec.”

It is this close relationship to the actors in one of the key periods of modern Czech history that makes his newly published 400 page account not only an informative, but also highly personal account which elegantly mixes history, investigation and memoir. Well known stories, but also lesser known episodes are woven together through the author's archival research and interviews conducted with parachutists.

From a German labour camp to Czechoslovak intelligence

In our conversation, George Bearfield recounted how the two relatives ended up in the special forces that were being trained in the United Kingdom during the war.

"Jaroslav Bublík was born in Bánov, Moravia in 1914. He studied languages and was a gifted linguist. At the time of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 he was working as a translator, before he was taken by the Nazis and transported to Northern Germany, near Kiel I think. He was used as forced labour building a naval barracks. I suspect this was in part because he was able to speak German, Czech and other languages too.”

George Bearfield | Photo: archive of George Bearfield

On Christmas Eve of 1939, when there was a lot of discussion about the formation of a Czechoslovak Army in exile to try and take the country back, Jaroslav Bublík decided to leave the labour camp.

"I am not sure exactly how, but he managed to find his way back to his hometown of Bánov sometime between late 1939 and early 1940. There he met up with his cousin Josef Bublík who was a law student but was back in Bánov as well after the Nazis decided to close the universities [in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia].

„They decided to make their way across the Balkans to [French controlled] Lebanon and eventually found their way to the south of France, where they fought with the Czechoslovak Exile Army in the Battle of France, seeing action in Paris.”

As the fall of France unfolded and allied forces were being evacuated at Dunkirk, the cousins were part of a force quickly marching to the south of France where, together with other soldiers, they managed to get onto a boat and got evacuated to the north-west of England.

"My grandfather had been trained in signals due to his linguistic abilities. This is why, when he joined the army in England, they were based near Leamington Spa, he came to the attention of the head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence, František Moravec.”

"Initially, he was actually selected to be part of the first batch of parachute missions. However, due to his signalling skills, he ended up being kept in Britain as a specialist for the bulk of the war to train paratroopers as telecommunications experts before they were dropped in Bohemia and Moravia."

“Communications was the absolute lifeblood for the Czechoslovak cause over those years.“

Radio operators were very important in the teams that were dropped into occupied Czech territory during the war, because they facilitated communications between London and the Czech resistance. As Mr Bearfield highlighted, this capability was also important for ensuring that the Czechoslovak Government in Exile could re-establish its legitimacy among the allies.

"Remember that at this time Edvard Beneš was no longer Czechoslovak president [he had been forced to resign after the Munich Agreement in October 1938] and he had to re-establish himself as the leader of the nation.

"Communications and intelligence was the bargaining chip that he used with the British and other allied countries to re-establish the credibility of Czechoslovakia as an independent country again.

"This is why communications and intelligence were absolutely essential, because they were the key contribution of the Czechoslovak government in the opening stages of the war, as well as allowing Beneš to communicate with the resistance on Czech territory and conduct operations there.

Photo: archive of George Bearfield

"As I have understood more about this, communications was the absolute lifeblood for the Czechoslovak cause over those years.  During the bulk of the war, these communications were handled by about 15 or 20 men based in tin huts on a farmers field to the north of London. So it really was a very important role conducted by a small, select group of individuals."

The man in charge of the Czechoslovak intelligence efforts, General František Moravec, was a former World War One legionary who had entered the Czechoslovak Military Intelligence Service in 1929.

In the subsequent decade, Moravec had developed a highly sophisticated intelligence network which enabled him to find out ahead of time that Germany was preparing to break the Munich Agreement and invade what was left of Czech territory in 1939. He had informed his British contacts, taken a plane out of Czechoslovakia and brought key contacts, agents and files to the United Kingdom. This network became a major asset for both the Czechoslovak exile government and the Allies.

Josef Bublík and Operation Bioscope

“My grandfather's generation...were raised almost with the recognition that they would have to fight for their country.”

While George Bearfiled's grandfather served as a signals trainer for much of the war, his cousin Josef Bublík was dropped along with two others into Bohemia as part of Operation Bioscope in April 1942.

"Their mission was to sabotage railway lines or power stations [in Moravia], whichever was the most viable target. However, what happened was that their leader was discovered by the Gestapo and killed, their equipment was not recovered and so they gravitated towards the network of safe houses in Prague where all of the parachutists were being sheltered.”

Eventually the team, together with five other parachutists, found a hideout in the crypts of the Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius. It was here that Josef and the others, including Heydrich’s assassins Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, would eventually find their deaths after being attacked by Nazi troops.

"My grandfather talked about Josef who was younger than him. He felt perhaps that he had led him into the intelligence services, so I think he felt a bit responsible for that. It was one of the things that he did feel comfortable talking about, because the story was so famous. He was always very proud of [Josef's] contribution and his sacrifice throughout his life."

Operation Foursquare

Josef Bublík standing second left and Jaroslav Bublík seated on rear of camel. En route from the Lebanon to the South of France in January 1940. | Photo: Private collection of the family of Jaroslav Bublik

Jaroslav Bublík was not content with being a signals trainer in Britain and wanted to take part in one of the missions himself. His chance finally came in the closing days of the war, when he was selected for the operation that forms the main search of George Bearfield's book - Operation Foursquare.

"He never really wanted to talk about these sorts of things, but I had done enough research to ask some intelligent questions and start to tease out some information. He mentioned his mission at that time, but the first time I heard the word 'Foursquare' was when I mentioned it to my grandmother and said I was interested. She mentioned the name.

“I then looked into it and found out that it was acknowledged as a mission in the final days of the war. What I did uncover within my grandfather's belongings after he died was the official mission report. He had kept his own copy of the report of the mission which I still have and which is partly described and shown in the book as well."

“I think my grandfather was recruited to go and fight against the Communist regime.”

Jaroslav Bublík, by now a lieutenant, was put in charge of the mission and led a team composed of Corporal Karel Hubl, Corporal Josef Krist and Corporal Josef Špinka. The files indicate an unsuccessful drop on May 4, 1945, somewhere outside of the West Bohemian city of Plzeň. The mission report says only that it was for provision of supplies and to support "organisation".

George Bearfield is unwilling to reveal the exact results of his search, because it could spoil the book. However, he says that, in its own way, it was as important an operation as Anthropoid and involved an effort to maintain Czechoslovak independence at a crucial point of change.

Uprising against communism?

After the end of the war, the book recalls another incident. A meeting between Jaroslav Bublík and one of his old colleagues from Czechoslovak intelligence during the war. George Bearfield's grandfather was apparently offered to take part in the setting up of a base in the Middle East which would be used for the preparation of an uprising and the overthrow of the Communist regime in post-war Czechoslovakia. Bublík's contemplation of the idea was apparently met with a threat of divorce from his wife.

Oldřich Dvořák  (centre) was parachuted into Bohemia in a single man mission Operation STEEL. Dvořák’s coach and trainer for his mission was Jaroslav Bublik  (right) who went on to lead his own parachute mission,  operation FOURSQUARE,  in 1945. | Photo: Private collection of the family of Jaroslav Bublik

How far this plan got going remains unclear. However, the author of the book says that he found stories in his research which suggests that one of Bublík's colleagues did make his way back to Czechoslovakia under a false name after the Communist coup d'etat in 1948, was discovered by the regime's secret police and committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill.

George Bearfield says that there is reason to believe the former parachutists would have been eager to continue the fight after their country joined the Eastern Bloc.

"The way I understand it, when Czechoslovakia was formed, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was obviously very far sighted. Both he and Edvard Beneš knew that at some point Czechoslovakia would have to fight for its independence. That it would have a difficult adolescence, let’s say.

"My grandfather's generation was, the way I understand it, deliberately raised a certain way. He was born in 1914, grew up during the 1920s and 1930s. They were raised almost with the recognition that they would have to fight for their country. They were raised to be patriotic. Many of them were Sokol members and very patriotic Czechoslovaks. A group of them obviously self-selected by going into exile and fighting for Czechoslovak democracy and independence against the Nazis.

"I never had the conversation directly with my grandfather in that way, but I suspect that, when another totalitarian regime came in place, it would not surprise me at all that they would want to fight for Czechoslovak independence and that that would be their natural inclination.

“You do the thought experiments sometimes when you look at it like that and think: 'What would I have done in that situation?'”

“I think my grandfather was recruited to go and fight against the Communist regime and that was probably one of the reasons why it was something that he did not particularly want to talk about. I think that is part of the additional perspective to put into this. When looking into the political context and environment, many things fell into place in my mind. Not just about my grandfather, but about some of his colleagues and the way that they were treated and victimised by the government in the 1950s and 1960s in particular."

Jaroslav Bublík did eventually find validation for the sacrifices he and his fellow servicemen had made during the war. He saw his country return to democracy and was rehabilitated during the 1990s. He died on July 12, 2000.

George Bearfield says that while his grandfather spent most of his life in exile, his heart was always in Czechoslovakia.

"The stories of these men are... They are martyrs in many ways. They are real role models and archetypes which should stand as an example to everybody.

“I understand that their stories are well known in Czechoslovakia, I found that out over time. However, aside from Operation Anthropoid, I have struggled to find sufficient details about this for the non-Czech community, so I hope my book can be part of preserving that memory and help ensure that the memory of these men and women are remembered as role models for others.

“You do the thought experiments sometimes when you look at it like that and think: 'What would I have done in that situation?' The answer scares you a little bit. But it does show you how we can all be put into difficult circumstances. If you have a conscience and find yourself surfacing in difficult political times, you can get yourself into a real quandary. I guess it comes down to strength of character and what you can do."

The book is currently available exclusively on Amazon, before a wider rollout across other seller and bookshops in the early summer.