Fascinating new book reveals true life story of the Polish forgers who helped fool Hitler
The fascinating story of three Polish forgers working with a secret WWII British intelligence group to fake thousands of documents for Allied resistance movements has been brought to light in a newly released book.
Entitled ‘The Secrets of Station 14: Briggens House, SOE’s Forgery and Polish Elite Agent Training Station’, the book tells the history of Briggens House in Roydon, Essex, and the team of forgers established there in 1941 by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the orders of Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”.
The task of the team was to produce high quality forged documents including ID cards, passports, visas, driving licences and ration cards to help secret agents from being discovered by the Nazis.
These even included specialised documents like entry visas to neutral countries such as Spain and Portugal and postage stamps from the Third Reich.
Forged money was also made and was of particular importance in helping to finance the resistance movements across Europe. Polish banknotes with a value of PLN 43 million were forged at Briggens and smuggled into Poland to be delivered to the Polish Home Army (AK).
By the end of the war, 275,000 forgeries were produced at Briggens, with the documents used, amongst others, by now legendary Allied secret agents Viollete Szabo and Krystyna Skarbek (aka. Christine Granville).
The first agents of this elite counterfeiting unit were three Poles, Jerzy Maciejewski, Ludwik Surała and Dawid Sobirajczyk, all members of the Polish resistance, who had been evacuated to Romania in 1939, then on to Paris and finally to England in June 1940, before taking up work at Briggens in February 1941.
Before the war, all three had worked in the Technical Unit of the Second Department of the Polish General Staff, also called “Dwόjka”, led by Captain Stanisław Gano, a department of the Polish General Staff dealing with military intelligence, counterintelligence and cryptography.
They had also all worked together in Romania and Paris, where they had been involved in carrying out important forgery work, such as forging their own permission papers for entry into France and specifically the approval stamps on these papers.
Starting as a unit of three, the Poles were soon joined at Briggens by a Scottish printer, Morton Bisset, who enlisted the help of his fellow printers and arranged for the delivery of a professional lithographic printing machine for use by the team.
Other experts were also employed, amongst them handwriting experts from Scotland Yard, artists and other specialists, so that the team grew to around 50 people, supported also by volunteer women from the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and led by Bisset, who was promoted to the rank of Captain.
The team’s forgery was impeccable and highly praised, as shown by a letter which Bisset received from the War Office in 1942 and which was recounted by Des Turner in ‘The Secrets of Station 14’.
In the letter, the War Office commended the team on the excellent quality of their counterfeits, giving the example of one Allied agent who had been stopped when crossing into occupied territory and had his papers checked by the Nazis, but was released without suspicion of conspiratorial activity.
Taking 11 years to research, ‘The Secrets of Station 14’ also includes first hand testimony from Captain Morton Bisset, who Des Turner interviewed before his death. In one of these testimonies, Bisset described the work of the forgers. He said: “We had to be sure that the counterfeits would be exactly like the originals, we knew that the lives of our agents relied on this…with such a team of incredibly skilled craftsmen we were able to forge every type of document for various underground movements.”
At one point, as part of a joke, the team even produced a counterfeit of Hitler’s passport, amusing themselves by giving his occupation as ‘painter’ and distinguishing signs as ‘a small moustache’.
Whilst Briggens was mainly used as the base of the forgery unit, for one year in 1941, it also served an important function as the training base for the Polish Silent Unseen, before the base was moved to Audley End House.
After the end of WWII, the truth about the work carried out at Briggens was almost entirely unknown, those who worked there were bound by a several-decade-long pact of secrecy and the documents relating to its activities were subject to the Official Secrets Act until 2018.
Even the families of many of those who worked at Briggens were until recently unaware of what their parents and grandparents had done during the war. This was the case for the family of British forger Charles Frank Roberts, who only found out when contacted by author Des Turner as part of his research for ‘The Secrets of Station 14: Briggens House, SOE’s Forgery and Polish Elite Agent Training Station’.
It was also true for the family of one of the three original Poles, Ludwik Surała, whose grandson was recently contacted by London-based Polish historian Tomasz Muskus and told what his grandfather did during the war. Meanwhile, the family of Jerzy Maciejewski only found out just before his death.
Speaking to TFN, the niece of Jerzy Maciejewski, Dorota Żerkowska said: “We only found out from my uncle what he did at Briggens in 2004, a few months before his death. My son recorded his testimony. He also passed on a lot of valuable photos to me. Until recently, their work [the work of Maciejewski, Surała and Sobierajczyk] was forgotten or even unknown, but it significantly contributed to the work of underground resistance movements in occupied Europe. The resistance movements used the forged documents and money for their needs.”
Inspired by Des Turner’s book, historian Muskus recently embarked on a trip to Briggens and decided to track down the families of all three men, successfully making contact with the families of Maciejewski and Surała, but as yet unable to find any traces of what had happened to Dawid Sobirajczyk after the war or his surviving relatives.
Muskus told TFN: “After helping to make some discoveries about the identities of the Polish Silent Unseen at Audley End House, I was looking into other buildings used by the Special Operations Executive and came across Des Turner’s book about Briggens House. I bought the book and the next day I decided to visit Briggens. It is largely abandoned now. I also wanted to try to make contact with the families of the three Polish men. The family of Ludwik Surała, his son and grandson, were really shocked, they had no idea at all.”
Through the publication of ‘The Secrets of Station 14: Briggens House, SOE’s Forgery and Polish Elite Agent Training Station’ and the work of history enthusiasts, the little-known story of the vital contribution played by Briggens and its forgery team in WWII is slowly coming to light for the wider public.