Malpy Gaj - The Monkey Grove

"If You Are Looking For Death, You Have Come To The Right Place - Please Stop Here For A While"

This was a motto recruits cheekily painted on a sign at the gates to Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife where this "Malpy Gaj" (Malpiego Gaju in Polish) or "Monkey Grove" existed. Intense physical training in preparation for an air drop back over Poland to win their country back was the inspiration for recruits to train here.

The Purpose of "Malpy Gaj" At Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife

Why The Name?

Largo House was known locally as “Małpy Gaj” or “Monkey Grove” because of the strange items there that were built by the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) themselves using their own funds.

"Malpy Gaj" means "Monkey Grove" or more colloquially "Monkey Playground". It's name derived from the sheer amount of work that was done in trees or between trees,  very similar to what monkeys themselves would do.

This would include swinging from tree to tree, rope work, plank work, trapezes, rope swings and more.

"Malpy Gaj" was not located at Largo house per se, but rather in the forest grounds at the rear.

Purpose of "Malpy Gaj" - The Monkey Grove

The purpose of "Malpy Gaj" at Largo House in Upper Largo, Fife, was to train the would-be parachutists of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) into an acute state of fitness and agility.

They were in poor shape from starvation, disease, malnutrition and extensive travelling from the USSR to the UK.

So a Captain Barberry was appointed as a fitness instructor there. His regime was intense to the point that few could stand by the end of the day. Anyone who trained at Largo House would have been superfit and super agile.

Malpy Gaj (Largo House) - Physical Training

This is a summary of just some of the equipment and the types of exercises that would have been done, all in "Malpy Gaj" at Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife. If you know of any more please let me know. Most of their exercises at Malpy Gaj were focused on strengthening below the knees, specifically for the parachute landing. It's ironic that so many legs were broken in the process of strengthening the lower legs..

Training Equipment

Amongst other things the training items there were:

  • Training jumps
  • Planks
  • Obstacle courses
  • Iron rails
  • Hobby horses
  • Swings without seats
  • Trapezes
  • An onsite gym
  • Ropeways that were erected amongst the trees

Daily Training

Daily training consisted of:

  • Swinging from tree to tree
  • Jumping from trees and practising landing techniques
  • Climbing hills
  • Running up trees
  • Jumping ditches
  • Jumping through apertures
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping, standing, lying, falling, swinging, bending, stretching
  • Somersaults (forwards, backwards and sideways)
  • Being thrown from trees
  • Hanging upside down on trees

Hard Training With No Mercy

It really must have been quite a sight to walk past and see this training in progress! Sometimes, even the local school gym was requisitioned for training purposes. Apparently, the P.E was so intense that "stomaches reduced and lungs expanded" inside 2 weeks according to General Sosabowski's biography.

It really was an intensive workout, the best gym workout you could possibly do. To know my grandfather, Wladyslaw Hoscik, trained there brings me great pride, I knew him as an old man with a stick, but in his day he was superfit!

Often at the end of the first day of training, members of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) could not stand on their own feet. But there was no mercy. One negative score at the end of the course from any of the instructors resulted in a repeat of the entire training. Wow!

Learning To Exit Aircraft - Training In The Stables At Largo House

Inside A Whitley Bomber

A Whitley bomber was the preferred plane for the parachutists to jump from. However, it did not lend itself to being parachuted from, it was confined, cramped, could not be stood up in, had no seats and windowless in the area where parachutists would sit..

To parachute out, a wooden hatch would be opened up, you would sit on the rim and drop out more often than not being pulled in the planes slipstream before descending.

Jumping Through A Mockup

The Polish Parachuters at Largo House made a mockup of the Whitley bomber hatch. They did this in the Stables building at the rear of Largo House. A hole was cut in the ceiling to the same proportions as the plane hole. Parachutists would then go into the loft area, sit on the rim and drop through onto mattresses, learning to land correctly in the process as well.

This is a photo from around 1971 of the remains of the hole in the stables. It's most likely deteriorated altogether now.

The recruits of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade at Largo House in Upper Largo had to prepare for real jumps from aircraft. The aircraft they would jump from would have huge circular holes in the floor through which they would jump out having to rotate 90 degrees during the jump out.

To practice this, at the stables at the back of Largo House they cut a hole in the ceiling and practised this manoeuvre jumping through the hole in the ceiling and landing on mattresses below (Source: "Lata Zanikajacej Nadziei" by former parachuter Zbigniew S Siemaszko Page 124).

On the same page he refers to doing initial jumps from the parachute tower (at Lundin links) at the end of week one. So we can see the training was super-intensive covering physical fitness, learning to exit the planc correctly, learning how to control the parachute mid-air and learning how to land.

On page 127 he refers to the training period being shortened to less than 2 weeks. earlier accounts state it was 4 weeks long so clearly changes to the period of training at Largo House were altered and it would appear the change to less than 2 weeks happened mid 1943.

According to Zbigniew, he jumped from the 26 meter high tower a total of 12 times during training.

A Little About The Badge

As stated above, the badge of the "swooping eagle"  was not a symbol of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade but rather a symbol that one had passed a parachuting course with the Polish unit.

The distinctive marks of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was as follows:

  • Collar Emblems - were poster grey patches sewn on shirt collars. At the top they were yellow and depicted small parachutes. Grey was traditionally used for infantry and combat parachute parachutists, any service units would use their own colours.
  • Beret - Like the collar emblems these were poster grey. In later years this changed to a darker grey.

Getting The Badge

The badge was not simply proof that one had taken the parachuting course and "passed". Rather, owning a badge was viewed as a sign of honour, of distinction,

Initially the badge for those that had passed the parachuting course was the same as those that had also undertaken combat parachuting. But later this was to change.

Polish airmen, irrespective of how much combat action they undertook, had the same badge. General Sosabowski decided that the swooping eagle badge would be the same, no distinction for those who undertook combat.

Losing The Badge

Parachutists did not get automatic entitlement to keep their badges.

If a parachutist was engaged in something dishonourable he could be stripped of his badge by a C-in-C (Commander In Chief).

But he could also lose his badge is=f he failed to make a jump without any provable medical condition,

The badge could be earned back if he stayed in good standing with the unit for 6 months from the date of having his badge stripped from him. But this only applied if he had been exemplary and undertaken all jumps (without medical directive to the contrary). If a parachuter had been stripped of a combat badge, this could be earned back straight away if he took part in combat.

 

 

Special Badges

Initially, the non-ferrous metal alloy badge was silver plated then oxidised and finally coated in lacquer. Those that saw combat wore this badge, but with a gilded wreath that was soldered onto the badge.

Then, in a surprise move in 1954, 9  years after WW2, a fresh batch of 2700 badges were cast, slightly bigger than before,§ this time adding a wreath and gilding the wreath. As before, the rear of the badge said "Tobie Ojczyzno" which in English means "For you my country". As before each badge was uniquely numbered.

These new badges had something the old badges did not: an identity card, with the name and details of the person entitled to wear the badge.

Further, an anchor, being the sign of the Polish underground, was present in the center of the wreath. These new badges were issued to those that had parachuted into Poland.

Qualifying As A Parachutist

The badge that recruits got on passing the parachute course was also known as "Donkey Ears" in polish. I suppose when you look at the badge you can see why...However it is important to realise that the badge, the "Znak Spadochronowy" was not a sign or emblem of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. It was merely a badge to say that training had been completed with the Polish Parachute unit. In other words, even allies (i.e Norwegians, Czechs etc) could obtain the badge.

Competancies

I intend to locate the exact criteria that a potential parachutist would have had to meet in order to qualify and earn his "Swooping Eagle" badge (called a "Znak Spadochronowy"). However, we can surmise the following:

  • Physical agility & fitness
  • Weapons training
  • Ability to competantly exit plane
  • Circa 12 descents on the parachute tower
  • Ability to land correctly
  • Ballon descent at RAF Ringway?
  • 3 descents from a plane (at RAF Ringway)

It would appear, according to a 1948 memo that training in 1948 consisted of 2 descents from a ballon at RAF Ringway and 5 descents from an airplane (at RAF Ringway).

The Badge Of A Qualified Parachutist - "Znak Spadochronowy"

This is the badge of a qualified parachutist. Any who saw action were awarded a badge where the eagle is clutching a gilded wreath.

Proviso

Some parachutists never actually completed their training (thus no badge) and went straight to Arnheim in gliders (due to a lack of aeroplanes) and in due course landed on enemy soil. 

General Sosabowski decided that these too should be awarded the combat badges. Some that landed by plane onto enemy soil were also awarded the badge even though  they had not parachuted in.

Find Your Relatives Badge Number For Their "Znaku Spadochronowy"

The badge awarded to all who passed with the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade was serial numbered on the back. Give us a name (or even a badge number) and I can look them up.

Materially | Historia Polskiego Znaku Spadochronowy - Jan Lorys

I have this book, it lists all the Polish parachutists, their badge number and rank. Yes, your relative will be in there too - exciting!

Unfortunately, this book is EXTREMELY hard to get hold of and typically costs £130. I'm happy to lookup your relative in exchange for a £5 or more donation to the running costs of this site (Such as buying a £130 book!).

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