CHECKENDON Oxfordshire

 

In 1948  Checkendon Camp was acquired from the MOD by the  National Assistance Board and turned into a hostel housing displaced Polish families arriving from the Middle East and Africa. As with all the camps/hostels accommodation was very basic, corrugated Nissen huts and strategically placed ablution blocks but after nearly 8 years in exile and crossing 3 continents, Polish people soon adapted to their new conditions. Checkendon became one of many  bustling Polish enclaves with its own church and priest , school and  entertainments, a hall were culture and traditions were strictly observed. Many of the residents were actively involved in the camp's social life, there was a lively amateur dramatics group putting on plays,  a choir that sung both Polish and English songs and a traditional Polish dance group. A 6 person dance band played  regularly at dances held in the camp's entertainment hall and weekly film shows were held there too. There was a  well stocked  library with both Polish and English books, a youth club, and a table tennis and chess group.  Life in Checkendon was similar to all the other Camps/Hostels throughout the UK. The camp finally closed in the early 60s.

 

Article and photos submitted by Czesław Adamczyk.

 

What a stroke of luck

 

There is a beautiful church in Checkendon in Oxfordshire.  In the churchyard there is a cemetery which contains a number of graves of Polish displaced persons.  One of those graves contains the remains of my grandmother Anastazia Adamczyk (nee Syryca) who passed away in 1953.  She had lived with my grandfather Adam, in Checkendon Hostel which was situated about a mile north of Checkendon village. My father, Jan, passed away in August 1990 and we laid his ashes to rest in a plot about a foot away from his mother's grave. 

My mother passed away as recently as May 2008.  Whilst "surfing the net" for contact details to arrange for her ashes to be interred with those of my father, I chanced upon the  www.northwickparkpolishdpcamp.co.uk.  website - this was a stroke of luck.  As I explored this site and its links, memories of my childhood came flooding back.  Reading the information about various camps took me back to Checkendon Hostel where I spent the first 4 years of my life. 

 

Whilst Checkendon camp got a brief mention on the web page, I was slightly disappointed to find no link and consequently no information about it.  I "slightly disappointed" only because when I started reading about the camps, how they came about, accounts of life in the camps, then when looking at the photographs, it appeared to me that all these things could have just as easily described Checkendon Hostel, the people that lived there and how they lived. 

 

The square above Checkendon shows the area covered by Map 2

Yellow shows the layout of the Polish Hostel CHECKENDON

 
CHECKENDON CAMP
 
Situated at Scot's Common, Checkendon 513320 N 102 49 W, the camp was located about a mile north of the village of Checkendon in Oxfordshire.  If you are ever in this part of the country the village is worth a visit - it is quite picturesque and has won awards for best kept village. The Hostel was surrounded by woodland and, since its closure, the woodland has reclaimed a large part of the former camp
 
During the 2nd World War it would appear that the camp formed part of RAF Woodcote where 70MU (Maintenance Unit) was based.  The site was also used to house Italian Prisoners of War and was described as being situated at Scots Common, Checkendon, just before Garsons Lane. The site was later used by American soldiers and finally as a camp for ex Polish Service men before being given permission for light industrial use.  Rentokil had a wood treatment plant there.  It is now a Timber Yard and supplier of wooden sheds etc., - Norman Cox and Partners.
Between November 1943 and January 1944, one American unit, the 320th Coast Artillery Barrage Balloon Battalion was stationed at Checkendon which was used as a staging area.
 

The sketch is taken from a book called "Mud, Dust and Five Stars" the story of the 440th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion stationed for a short period at Checkendon.  I would suggest that the sketch contains "artistic licence" as the Four Horseshoes Pub is actually in Checkendon village.  The pub which was closest to the camp, which is where the Nissen huts were, was The Black Horse, which undoubtedly made a very good trade up until the camp closed in 1961.  It was usually referred to as "Maggie's" on account of the landlady being called Margaret "Maggie" Saunders.

 

I have myself visited the Black Horse Pub on a number of occasions, most recently in July 2008 when I had a conversation with the landlord Martin Morgan about the Polish Hostel, which he remembers.  When he was in his early teens, he would ride to the camp with his friends on their bicycles.  Sometimes he would go there to watch English films which were shown in the theatre / cinema building.  Martin's wife, whose name is also Margaret, is the daughter of "the original Maggie".  The pub has been in their family now for 106 years.  Margaret produced a bound document which contained the above map showing the Polish Hostel and very kindly made a copy for me.
 

CHECKENDON POLISH CAMP /HOSTEL

 

My parents Rozalia Leszczyńska and Jan Adamczyk met and married in Checkendon Camp. I was born in 1955 in Battle Hospital Reading as were my brothers Krzysztof, who was a year older, and Edward, who was 2 years younger.  We lived in Checkendon until 1959 when we moved to Reading.  Naturally the first language I learned to speak was Polish and, whilst I still speak it fairly fluently, once we moved to Reading and I started making friends with children in the neighbourhood, English very quickly became my first language.

 
My parents wedding 1953
 

One of the priests at Checkendon was Fr Nowak - he went on to be the parish priest at High Wycombe- seen here on the right of the picture next to my paternal grandfather Adam Adamczyk - at my parents' wedding (Jan and Rozalia) with my maternal grandfather Michał Leszczyński on the left

 

Friends relatives at my parent's wedding breakfast.

 

 

I have some recollection of living at Checkendon  as well as being told some stories about me and about life on the camp. 

My father worked at a car plant in Oxford, about 20 miles away. There was a bus station on the camp and sometimes we would travel by bus to Reading, about 10 miles away. Only recently, at my mother's funeral, I was reminded by some women from my mother's generation how they used to see me making my way to my grandmother's Nissen hut carrying my egg, being ever so careful not to drop it, for her to cook it for me for breakfast whilst my mother went to work in the shop on the camp.  I remember that we used to keep chickens and rabbits.

Another story which my mother told me was about when we went to visit a friend of hers who had moved to Sonning Common, about 5 miles away, and lived in a "proper" house, unlike us who lived in a Nissen hut.  I was so taken by the fact that our friends had pretty wallpaper on their walls that when we returned, I wanted to tear down the tar paper that lined the walls of our hut saying we should replace it with nice wallpaper.

 

My grandmother, Anna Leszczyńska is feeding chicks. 1950

My mother, Rozalia Leszczyńska  (on the right) with friends Helena Makowska (in front) and her sister Janina Makowska (behind).   1950                 

 

My mother and friends outside the nissen huts they lived in 1949/1950

 

The village of Nuffield was about 3 miles away, to the north - this is probably where the nearest doctor was and we had a car and a television set.  I know all this because I went to find by brother one day to call him back home so that we could watch our favourite television programme, Ivanhoe.  Unfortunately I found him pinned up against a hut, being attacked by a swarm of wasps.  He had disturbed their nest by poking it about with a stick.  I went to call by father who rescued my brother, took him home, stripped his clothes off, smeared vinegar all over him, wrapped him up in a blanket and drove him to the doctor's house / surgery in our car - I went along with them.  I was recently reminded that the doctor was called Doctor Foster and at the time would have been a fairly young doctor.  I am told he continued to work out of his surgery at Nuffield for many years until he retired.

 

RELIGIOUS LIFE

 

Religious life always played a large part in Polish History so it is no surprise that the first thing people wanted when they arrived in the camps was a priest and  a place of worship and Chekendon was no exception. One of the Nissen huts was converted into a Chapel and apparently next to the Chapel was a building that was used as a mortuary. There was another Polish displaced persons camp at Nettlebed, about 5 miles from Checkendon and possibly another at Kingwood Common not too far away from Nettlebed.

 

The Altar in the Nissen Hut Chapel at Checkendon Hostel

 

Fr. Alfred Botor came to England in 1947 with the Polish army were he served as army Chaplin and was the first priest in Checkendon. He left in 1950 and Fr Nowak took over the pastoral care of the community

 

An account of Fr. Alfred Botor's life can be found in an article on the internet under www.parafiawreading.net

 

 
 
 

Children on the day of their First Holy Communion.

One of the priests at Checkendon Hostel was Fr. Nowak.  The other was Fr. Alfred Botor seen here in the Nissen Hut Chapel at Checkendon during a First Holy Communion Service

The notice in the middle of the two large hangars says

 POLISH HOSTEL CHECKENDON

 

CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION

 

 

Every year the at Corpus Christi a Procession would wind its way around the camp to the four altars that were build in various places specially for  that day and every one took part come rain or shine.

 

 

My parents had quite a collection of photographs, many just loose but some in albums and my mother does feature in many of them.  I have been trying to sort them, analyse them and try to find out who some of the people were in them.  Having looked through the photographs on the Northwick Park web site, I have deduced that one of the people in the photographs below is General Anders and presumably he visited Checkendon.

 

VISITATIONS  from  DIGNITARIES.

General W. Anders and Infułat Michalski.

 

 

Pictures above 

Left- General Anders being greeted by the people of the camp1952/53

 

Right-General Anders is seated on the left of the person standing and my mother is the young lady sitting in the corner in the top row, three to the right of the person standing.  How did my mum manage to find her way into this one? Honestly, it's a genuine photograph.  My mother was a bridesmaid at quite a few weddings - was she popular; was she photogenic, or; was it because she had a bridesmaid dress? (I am of course only joking about this

 

Picture on the left - General  Anders at the Cenotaph in the Forbury at Reading.

Infułat B. Michalski

 In the 50s Ks. Infułat Bronisław Michalski from the Polish Catholic Mission in London visited most of the Polish Camps in the UK.

Photo on the right shows  Infułat Michalski coming out of the camp's church.
 

Infułat Michalski with Fr. Botor on the right and a view of part of the camp.

Infułat Michalski leading a procession.

 

SOCIAL LIFE  and OCCASIONS

 

 Traditional dance group.

Choir

 

A social get together in the club house with "ponczki" Polish doughnuts on the table

Snow in 1949 my mother, Rozalia Leszczyńska with Hela Makowska and friends

 

 Weddings  Helena Makowska's marriage to Stach Sidorowicz 1952

And then the final farewell - my grandmother's funeral 1952

 

These are just some of the photographs that I have from that part of the lives of my parents and grandparents that was spent at Checkendon.  I also have some other photographs from their lives before and after Checkendon although unfortunately many, many of the photographs are of people whom I do not know or recognise.

Thanks to the  www.northwickparkpolishdpcamp.co.uk. website, I was spurred on to contribute some documentary evidence of this brief period of history.

Most recently, whilst in the process of selling my mother�s house, I found the deeds relating to the purchase of the house by my father and his address was given as Number H.9 Checkendon Hostel near Henley-on-Thames in the county of Oxford.

 
Zosia has done a wonderful job so far putting together the website about displaced Polish people and she is right in saying "It would be sad if we allowed the history of our parents' generation go unrecorded", so I determined to provide some information.  If you are reading this and you have something to add about Checkendon or some other camp, particularly ones that do not have a link yet, why not share it?  Maybe you have carried out you own research.  If you can, why not supply some photographs taken at one of these camps.
Thanks to this web site, I found my mother's maiden name, Rozalia Leszczyńska, and that of her parents, Michał and Anna, on the ship's passenger list for the SS Scythia which docked at Liverpool on 11th March 1948.  What a stroke of good fortune to come across this information - I felt as though I had discovered a long lost treasure.  I have looked through the passenger lists and found the names of other people that I still know and I shall be contacting them. 
 
I hope you have found this interesting
 

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