Ashby Folville Polish Camp
 
 

Ashby Folville, a small village on the banks of a rivulet near the Wold hills, situated about 6 miles SW of Melton Mowbary and 10 miles NE of Leicester just off the B6047.  The village is dominated by a  large stone  gothic style manor house  with  extensive parkland which,   at the beginning of WW2 was requisitioned by the MOD for two camps which were built on the land for military use. One comprising of Nissen huts in front of the house the other by the main gate.

 

In1948 the camps were taken over from the MOD by the National Assistance Board (NAB) for housing Polish displaced persons. By 1956/7 the N.A.B. were in the process of reducing the number of camps by closing the smaller ones and Ashby found itself in the group. The scheme of closures was met with a good deal of opposition by the residents and was led by the camp's priest Fr. Cannon Jan Starostka, who sought the help of the local M.P. and other influential persons including a petition to the Queen.

 

In the event the local Farmers Union came to the rescue. Concerned that with the close of the camp they will  lose casual female labour, they arranged  with the owner of the land a lease for five years and undertook to finance the venture. The residents of the camp highly valued this noble gesture of the Farmers Union but, not wishing to remain indebted, met the cost themselves. The camp eventually closed in 1965, the huts were dismantled and, in time, the grounds were restored to their former glory.

 

 

Corrugated metal Nissen huts on the front lawn of the manor

 

The main gate with the barracks of the second camp. These were  wood framed clad with plasterboard and weather proofed with black roofing felt.

 

The Manor today

 

The Gate

 
 

On the 5th of September 2010 many of the Polish ex-residents of Ashby Folville camp gathered together with families and friends in St. Mary's church Ashby Foliville for a thanksgiving service and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in memory of Mr. John Hanbury Smith-Carington, on who's estate the  two Polish camps were established in 1948. The Ashby Folville Estate had been in the Smith-Carington family for several hundred years and the Wing Commander and his family lived in the lodge by the main gate with the second camp only a few paces from the front gates. His memory is held with great fondness by the Polish community and  people felt he understood their situation. On his walks through the camp he would stop and chat with the residents and even the children felt at ease in his presence.

 

 

Prior to the Second World War he began his medical training to become a doctor. These studies were interrupted when he volunteered and joined the Royal Air Force for pilot training and  served with Bomber Command. Shortly after VE day, partly because of his initial medical training, he was chosen to be one of the team working at the Nazi Concentration camp at Belsen. After the War he spent time in Poland at The British Embassy. On one of his periodic returns home he gave a slide show in the camp community hut of his stay in Poland. The community hut was packed out and the show is still remembered today. The camp residents had been displaced from regions all over Poland and the show was watched intently for a possible glimpse of known locations. This was the first tangible link back to their Homeland at a time when travel to Poland was extremely difficult and very hazardous for Polish nationals.

 

 

At the service Mrs. John Smith-Caringdon with her daughter Shiona's family at her side, unveiled a brass plaque in memory of her late husband.  The  many distinguished guests included Jennifer, Lady Gretton JP Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, and Consul of the Republic of Poland Mr, Mirosław Kornacki.

 
 
Ashby Folville Polish Camp
RESIDENTS & FRIENDS REUNION
1948 - 1965
ZJAZD BYŁYCH MIESZKANC√ďW
OSIEDLA POLSKIEGO i PRZYJACI√ďŁ
05 SEPTEMBER - WRZESIEŃ 2010
2:30 pm St. Maryís Church Ashby Folville
Refreshments provided
Czesio Paluszkiewicz  
 
 

NISSEN HUT CAMP IN MANOR GROUNDS

Reproduced by kind permission of MACE

 

 Transcript of the plaque which is in the church.

The village hall where the reception took place.

 

At the  reception held in the village hall, a 1953 Ashby Folville archive film was shown and old friends exchanged stories and photographs. With the kind permission of the current owners of the manor house,  Mike and Rosemary Rimmington, the  grounds were opened for visitors to walk round the restored lawns and park.  Ex-residents reminisced abut the time they lived there and tried to work out were  exactly stood their huts. At the end of the day every one was presented with a CD with photos of the camp, people and events, prepared by Czesio (Tish) Paluszkiewicz one of the organisers of the re-union.

 

The following photos are a selection of the 130 photos on the CD and photos brought in by ex-residents on the day.

 
 

The church and religious ceremonies.

 
 

The first church was in a Nissen hut.

Later the church was moved into a barrack.

 

Unlike most other camps, the Ashby Follville camp was practically in the village so there was an unusual degree of integration between the camp's residents and their village hosts. The following description of a Corpus Christi procession, written by the camp's priest Fr. Dr. Jan Starostka, provides a wonderful insight into the empathy and mutual tolerance that existed between the two disparate communities.

 

DIALOGUE OF BELLS

Fr. Dr. Jan Starostka,

 

The Sunday of the Corpus Christi octave was celebrated solemnly in Ashby Folville. And the beautiful procession in the then Polish settlement on English soil, over the years, had established a reputation and fame. It attracted crowds from everywhere. Particularly from the Midlands: from Leicester, Nottingham, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray. The émigré Pole liked to sing. Then and there, on that Sunday, when the people assembled from near and far, one could indulge oneself and sing. Equally well inside the cosy, acoustic polish chapel, and also in the adjacent enormous manor's park, full of avenues, trees, flowerbeds and flora. And the Pole abroad likes homeliness and parade. And there and then this procession everything was so homely,

The procession walking past the manor.

polish and impressive. The children in white throwing flower petals before the Blessed Monstrance. The parish leader and councillors escorting the celebrant under the canopy; the lads and lasses in regional costumes; various fraternities and organisations with candles, flags and feretories; and even calls and cheers from "the youngsters". A traditional church fete followed the procession.

 

People said - only one thing was missing at this procession in Ashby. A bell or even an Ave bell was needed. An Ave bell that would - as the elders remembered from Poland - call the faithful to church and would accompany their singing during the procession and generally add gravitas and splendour to the celebration. But the camp had a wise parish leader, Mr. Ferdynand Wroblewski. He overcame this shortcoming.

 

During a favourable session with the site Warden, Mr. Bell, he charmed up a bell that was used for alarm. At another session after the "odd one" or even "two doubles" he managed to obtain enough spruce logs from the local forest owner. Together with his councillors these were dragged to the chapel and from them they rigged up a small bell-tower to which the bell was tied.

 

It did not matter, that when he first rang the bell - people ran out of their dwellings with buckets and staves, thinking there was a fire. It did not matter, that whenever

people looked at the bell, they laughed at it. And every time it rang, they mocked it. But after some time they became accustomed to its sight and sound and even came to like it. And in appreciation of its founder they christened it after him. They used to say "Ferdek" is calling, "Ferdek" can be heard, "Ferdek" is ringing. I will not forget the first Sunday, the Corpus Christi octave procession when "Ferdek" rang. It was, I remember it well, the 23-rd June 1957, somewhat late for Corpus Christi, but the Heavenly Ruler of Evangelical Dates had extended spring a little with its freshness and beauty. Nor did He skimp on His Great Holy Day, giving it its usual summery charm and magic; everything was bathed in the sun's fresh and golden rays.

 

That year Ashby was scented as never by the limes, the roses and jasmine. Swarms of bees buzzed in the air and the cuckoos and blackbirds called to one another in the park. The brook flowing through the camp murmured by the waterfall and by the bridge it sparkled with a rainbow and cascade of the colours of the rhododendrons growing above it. Anyway it was quiet in the camp. Even the usually noisy motorcycles and motorcars of the visiting guests stood, as if struck dead, on the square by the chapel. This was because everybody who lived in the camp, or had arrived that morning, was in the chapel at Holy Mass. The chapel itself was sinking under chestnuts and lilacs. From the chapel roof fluttered three flags: the Papal, the Polish and the British. The Holy Offertory was just finishing.

 

Dressed in a golden cape and veil the Celebrant, having blessed the Monstrance with incense, picked it up in both hands and intoned: "Your praise and glory..." The organist Mr. Karwoski and all people of god took up this song of glory and with the organ blared out: "Today we all offer You everything together, We bow and sing, Your servants..." This singing hit the chapel eaves; shook the chandeliers and garlands; jangled the glass in the stained glass windows and flew out of the doors and windows. At this moment the bell-tower creaked and flapped and started swinging amongst the trees. A horde of blackbirds and pigeons burst from the trees. "Ferdek" had joined the people's song and was conveying it to the park, the sites and the whole of Ashby.

 

The Procession assembling on the driveway in front of the manor

The procession winding its way around camp 2

 

Meanwhile the processional cross appeared in the chapel doorway. It was carried by old Makarewicz, dressed in surplice. By his sides, also in surplices, were his altar-boy grandsons carrying lanterns. Behind him were the school children, in white with lilies in their hands, that had taken their first Holy Communion at Corpus Christi. Scouts marched behind them with their banner. Then girls dressed in Krakowski national costume carried pillows, feretories and Holy pictures. They were separated by boys wearing Krakowski jackets carrying with national flags.

 

The maidens of the Sodality walked proudly with their banner, that had recently been to the Congress in Rome and had been singled out by Bishop Gawlina. After them strutted the rosary ladies with candles in their hands. Further on Mother Superior Filomena with her nuns from St.Joseph's convent in Rearsby and the sisters of St. Francis convent in Melton Mowbray. Just after them headmistress Mrs Lyczakow led her girls in veils with baskets son ribbons throwing flower petals widely and chanting rhythmically "Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, The skies and the earth are full of His praise ".

 

Then He, The Lord God of Hosts appeared in the doors of the church. And from the gold monstrance, from under the snow white canopy he blessed the settlement and accepted his praise. In the smoke of the incense-burners, the ringing of the altar-boys, the monstrance was carried by the local priest. He was supported in the old Ashby tradition under his arms by the parish leader, Ferdynand Wroblewski and by Consul Gluski. The canopy was carried by the representatives of the four local organisations as had been stipulated by its funding benefactor Mr.Kuzmicz. The proceedings were overseen by Mr. Jozef Burandt, the master of ceremonies. The canopy was followed by nearly all of Ashby.

 

1956

Jelly, Czerwinski, Oriowac, Betlejem. Boryn, Swiatlon, Gozdik, Wojtowicz families were there. The Piotrowski, Rymaszewski, Kulczycki, Brulinski, Pasiak, Jamroz, Rudko, Turkowiak. They moved in site order, how they lived and befriended each other. They led their children, their cronies, their relatives, their friends from Melton, Leicester and Nottingham. They also led their "friendow", the English, Irish and Italian from Barsby, Rearsby and Queniborough.

 

They stopped and kneeled with them at the four altars. These were raised at the four corners of the settlement, and were buried in tons of flowers, they glowed in the light of multicoloured lamps and candles in candelabras. They competed with one another in the holiness of their blessed pictures, the freshness of their tablecloths and the richness of their tapestries. Here the priest stopped and sang the liturgy. The choir executed their verses.

 

Then they stopped again and stood up and moved on. Along the allies and walks planted with chestnuts and ashes. Along rows of whitened and decorated in may green huts and windows decorated with woven pictures, candles and flowers.

 

And they sang joyously and proudly "The Lord comes from heaven, under guise of holy bread" and "comes to see their enclosures and how His children are faring...."

 

And "Ferdek" was ringing and ringing. He was also happy and proud that the "Lord from heaven" looked upon his lot and that he can ring for Him and "call in all directions: The Blessed is coming amongst us...."

 

And even though they had exited the settlement and its gates and were among the village cottages and manors - he continued to ring. He panted and groaned and cried for joy, that he could pray and sing with them and follow "The Blessed".

But Lo! What's that?

 

When they were in the village and the procession was just reaching the Anglican Church another voice was added to that of "Ferdek". Moreover, a whole scale. And they grappled, as if by the shoulders, with the sound of "Ferdek". They wrestled with him, trying to kill, to mock him, as if ogres were attacking, trying to drown out his sound. But in a short time, unbelievably these voices and "Ferdek's" agreed with one another, and they started a dialogue, in harmony, a wonderful symphony, together,

 

These were the bells of St. Mary's ringing!

 

And together with "Ferdek" they praised the Lord and played for Him in the Polish procession. The playing spread around the church and the echoes rebounded through the village and along the lanes and the in the country. In the old church of St.Mary, which recalled the times of a Catholic England of Knights of the Foivilles and Satchvilles who went from Ashby to the crusades, the crusaders were being roused. Those resting on their sarcophagi were trying to rub their eyes and bend their ears. They were asking if the time had come and there was a single sheepfold and a single shepherd.

 

Walking past the Nissen huts in the camp.

 

On the farms and in the cottages people opened their windows and listened with amazement and concentration to the ringing of the bells at the Polish procession, and Catholic. On the roads and lanes passersby stopped, as did limousines and heavy goods lorries and those driving them, looking on the procession of the Holy Sacrament with the ringing of the bells of the Church of England, crossed themselves piously and smiled happily in a friendly manner. But the wannest smile and happiest person was the pastor of St. Mary's, the Reverend C.N. Daybell who, from his church tower, had observed the procession and had led the bell-ringing. He was the architect of dialogue of the bells; that is the beating of his bells in time with the Polish bell. On the previous day, he had noticed some commotion close to "Ferdek" and understood, that it was important for the Poles to have bells ringing on the following day; he arranged his bell-ringers and with them organised the whole event. He himself, having heard the "Ferdek" started to ring the first and largest of the bells.

Later having descended from the church tower after donning his cassock, he joined the polish procession and followed it right into the settlement up to the church porch. Here he humbly listened to "Te Deum Laudamus". Here he lowered his head for the blessing of the Holy Sacrament and finally departed after the last tones of "God who blessed Poland", traditionally sung at the end of the procession, had died away.

 

 

That afternoon, in the local pub, the Carrington Arms near the church, there was a crush as if it was a fete day. The happy owner, Mr. Walker, wiping the sweat from his brow and filling his clients' glasses welcomed everyone saying: "That was very good, Sir, wasn't it?" His other half, Connie, smiling whilst washing and drying glasses echoed her husband with: "Beautiful, really beautiful, indeed".

 

The farmers, Mr. Allan, Mr. Gee, Mr. Preston and others agreed: "Yes Mr. and Mrs. Walker. That was very nice, Very, very nice indeed." Buying draught for the Poles they praised the procession and the churches "splendid cooperation". The Poles, accepting the English drinks, as well as the toasts and compliments, bought "doubles" in return and proudly held their heads high.

 

Anyway, if truth be told, in our thousand year history, our country has not known reformation or any church wars. And in terms of other religions and beliefs has always been liberal and tolerant. And in the Ashby settlement, although one could find the odd Evangelist or Orthodox Christian, nobody objected or made anything of it. Any such person, if he was fair, decent and reasonable, was treated equally, was acknowledged, respected and even loved. For example Teofor Sienko, who was an Orthodox Christian, never missed a Catholic Mass or service in the settlement, and as he lived close to the bell-tower, he always rang "Ferdek" and it was he that rang it during today's procession.

 
Thus thinking of the ecumenism of their procession, the Poles of Ashby were not only proud of it but also thanked God. Particularly, that on that morning in their small, Polish community, lost somewhere in England they had experienced "a dialogue of bells" long before the good Pope John XXIII called a Council in the Vatican for such a dialogue. And here that morning they were witnesses to the "kiss of peace" between brothers of separated churches before such a kiss was exchanged between Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
 
It is the way that the Divine Leader had wished in the Gospel inviting to his feast "the poor, the crippled and the blind..."
 
Rev. Dr. Jan Starostka.
 

FIRST COMMUNION

 

Every year, just like Corpus Christi, Children's First communion was also a big occasion for a celebration in the community. Everyone in their Sunday best attended the  Mass and afterwards a happy, carnival like atmosphere pervaded the camp.

 

Fr. Starostka leading children into the church at the start of the ceremony 1955

Group photo taken in front of the manor. 1955

 

First Holy communion group photo, less posed more fun. 1955

First Holy Communion Procession about to be led into church by Father Starostka. Girls in National costume flanking recipients to receive their First Holy Communion - 1960

Joseph Gębski, Andrzej Burandt, Father Starostka, Czesio Paluszkiewicz, Stan Pasiak, Michał Węgrzyn

First Holy Communion family group photo 1960

Elżbieta Pasiak and Teresa Paluszkiewicz with Fr. Starostka

CHRISTENINGS WEDDINGS AND OTHER RELIGIOUS EVENTS

 

There were many weddings and christenings over the life time of the camp and having a beautiful mansion in the grounds made a grand back drop to the wedding photos.

 

Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Nowak, 1953

The happy couple Mr. and Mrs. Krasucki (nee Teresa Orłowska)

Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Borzyszkowski, outside the church entrance.

 

Christening of Marian Borzyszkowski, centre, Godparents Mrs. Janina Paluszkiewicz, Mr. Witek Kreń. Parents Mr. and Mrs. Borzyszkowski standing either side.

Family group photo after the Christening of Christopher Biegański outside his parents hut.

 

 The "Sodalicja Mariańska"  is a lay association whose aim is to combine the principles of a Christian life with higher education.  It was very prominent in Polish communities in the first half of the 20th. Century.  Following the 2nd. Vatican Council it is being gradually superseded by the "Community of Christian Life".

 

Sodalicja Marianska  (Marian Sodality)

 Prelate Bronisław Michalski with a group of students during a visit.

 
 
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