Foursquare: The Last Parachutist, by George Bearfield

A little-known operation during WW2 is given a close examination in a new book.
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Most of us have probably never heard of Operation Foursquare, a top secret operation into Czechoslovakia at the end of the Second World War. On the night of 4th May 1945, an RAF plane takes off from Dijon in France, with four Czech soldiers on board, who have been given secret instructions. The plane flew over Bohemia; the men feeling a sense of pleasure at the justice they hoped to secure. They felt the weight of gold sovereigns carried against their chest and the cyanide pill tucked away in case they should need it.

Foursquare: The Last Parachutist is the true story of this clandestine mission as researched and told by the grandson of one of the four men to be parachuted into Czechoslovakia at the beginning of May 1945 – at the moment when Europe is about to be liberated totally from Nazi forces. The two superpowers, Russia and America, are moving towards the capital, Prague. The Czech president in exile, Edvard Benes, is determined to prevent the Red Army from taking his country, having worked so hard in exile to fight for Czechoslovak sovereignty. He secretly hopes that the United States will arrive on the western border faster than the Soviets. Operation Foursquare was to instigate an uprising amongst the Czech countrymen to give the American forces an excuse to enter Prague and secure it for Benes.

It all started for these men after Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by Nazi Germany in 1938. Yaroslav and his cousin Josef Bublik fought their way out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to find the exiled Czech Intelligence Service in England. There, they began training as parachutists to be dropped back into their homeland. Of the group, Josef was among the first to be dropped back behind enemy lines in one of the most daring actions of the war to assassinate Nazi commander in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, in Operation Anthropoid. The mission had consequences: after Heydrich died from his injuries, Josef and his colleagues were tracked down and killed. Back in England, Yaroslav (the author’s grandfather) was training parachutists. At the end of the war he was asked to undertake a final mission, Operation Foursquare. Why was it ultimately shrouded in secret, even 70 years later? Bearfield seeks to provide answers to this question. The narrative is interwoven with historic wartime stories and his own interviews with his grandfather.

The reader finally finds out whether his grandfather really did lead the Czechoslovak parachute drop of a war. The files for Operation Foursquare acknowledge that the decision about whether to jump was his grandfather’s and his alone. And as Bearfield says, of course he jumped. The mission threw the occupying German forces into complete disarray at a crucial moment. By 9th May, Prague had been liberated and was back in Czech hands. The men of Operation Foursquare had played their part in that liberation.

This is a finely-researched book and an absorbing. It is more than a narrative of this heroic operation; it is the moving quest of a grandson to discover the courageous actions of his grandfather.

Helen Fry is the author of Spymaster: The Man Who Saved MI6.