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DODDINGTON CAMP page 2

 

JAN CZERSKI was only seven when he came to the camp. These are his recollections

 

Jan Czerski 18 years old.

In 1948, as a seven year old boy with my father Jan mother Matylda and sister Urszula we came to Doddington  from another camp, Foxley near Hereford, where my father was initially based as part of the Polish Army which arrived in the UK from Italy in 1946. As I remember there were more than 1000 people in the camp with up to 4 families living in a hut sharing a communal   washing  bathing, and showers. In what can be considered typically Polish fashion it was not long before we had a  Polish school and church. The camp's first priest that I can remember was Fr. Stasz. The head master of the school was Mr. Piałucha assisted by Mr.Czaplinski and my father Jan Czerski, the English teacher was Miss. Pugsly. For us children life was relatively happy we had lots of friends and few restrictions.

Jan as an alter boy taking part in the Corpus Christi Procession

The woodlands near the camp were great playing areas and we had plenty of scope to take advantage of the open spaces in the camp. Life for our parents  on the other hand was very stressful. Not knowing English and in many cases with failing health, finding work was difficult but nevertheless, as I remember, the men were soon travelling to Stoke to work in the potteries and coal mines of Staffordshire. Also the building sites and railway works in Crewe, while the women found work as cleaners and cooks.

 

Polish traditions such as the Corpus Christi Processions were rigorously maintained in the camp and we were not allowed to forget out Polishness through participation in the Polish scout movement and taking part in  various national celebrations "Akademie" like the 3rd of May National Constitution Day and 11th of November Independence Day. I well remember visits from General Anders and other senior members of the Polish Government in Exile when the topic of conditions in Poland and possible return there was frequently discussed. Sadly most did not live to see that day. As time went on camp facilities improved a Mr Whalley set up a grocery shop in the camp - we also had frequent visits from local traders from Crewe and, as our English improved, we became more friendly with the local farmers . The older children were able to earn some pocket money on the local farms picking potatoes,   helping in looking after the animals, even milking.

In the early 50s some families left the camp finding new accommodation and work principally in the Manchester area. There was more room in the camp and we were able to move to a barrack with 2/3 rooms. We were also provided with cooking facilities so a more regular family life became possible. In terms of entertainment a weekend cinema came into being- where we were allowed to go - if we were well behaved during the week, we also had a communal TV and snooker room. The decision was also taken in the early 50s by some parents to send their children to an English School , the nearest one being in Wybunbury. No transport was available so we had to walk there and back about 4 miles each day. We were fully accepted by the teachers and other pupils with no problems and we were soon able to take part in school activities with enough English to get by.  Two years later we were transferred to a Roman Catholic school St. Anne's in Nantwich - a year later I moved on to the local Grammar School. Again I remember the children from Doddington were fully accepted both in St. Anne's and the Grammar School with the local authorities providing a bus to take us and the local English children to Nantwich.

Many of the older Wybunbury  locals still remember the Doddington Camp and its Polish tradition. On a sadder note another link to Wybunbury is the presence of over 30 Polish graves in the village cemetery where every year on All Saints Day it is visited by many relatives of the residents who died while in the camp.

The camp formally closed in 1960 when the remaining families, including my parents and sister were given council housing in Crewe and I left to begin my life as a student, in many ways grateful that some of my formative years had been spent in the Polish Camp at Doddington. Happy memories.

 
 
 

JUREK and ROMAN SITEK . DODDINGTON CAMP 1947-1961 PERSONAL ACCOUNT

 

Our mother Janina Matiasz  and grandmother Katarzyna Matiasz  lived in Słowita which is a small settlement near the city of Lvov. Mother was a teacher and worked in the nearby village of Wyżniany. When war broke out, trying to escape the forces of the Soviet Union as they gradually too over Poland, both mother and grandmother were caught and deported to Austria.  Our father, Antoni Sitek, came from Komorow a small village near Mikstat. He had a garage business with a partner in Warsaw.  When war broke out in 1939 he joined the Polish resistance and took part in the Warsaw uprising at the end of which he was taken prisoner and detained in a P.O.W. camp from which he escaped  and ended up in Austria. Our parents met and married in Salzburg  only to be separated as Dad, having joined the Polish army, was assigned to the Red cross and travelled by naval ship arriving in Liverpool on the 16th Sept. 1947. Mum and granny travelled by train to France and then sailed from Calais to Dover. They were reunited in the Polish camp at Doddington in Cheshire.

 

Jurek and Roman

JUREK AND HIS  MEMORIES

 

I was born on the 4th. April 1947 in the Polish Hospital at Penley in Flintshire and for the first thirteen years of my life lived in Doddington camp. My earliest recollection of life at Doddington goes back to about 1952-3 when I was six years old. I remember the camp as a warm and cosy place to live where people looked out for each other and helped one another. The camp was very basic but the residents of Doddington had come from far worse places and were very happy that the war had finally ended and that they had survived the horrors of it.  Although rationing was still in force they were no longer hungry, there was no shortage of food and  medical help was available to everyone on the camp from a Polish doctor, Dr. Wegrznowska. People soon became very organised. Each hut had a little garden plot allocated where we grew flowers and vegetables but the vegetables always took preference for obvious reasons. I remember helping Mum and Granny preparing the Sauerkraut which was put into a little wooden barrel.

 

The camp consisted of over a hundred buildings of different types and sizes. The majority were barracks or huts which were used for residents' accommodation. These were made of wood with an asbestos pitched roof. The outside walls were covered with bitumen felt and coated with tar. There were two washhouses and shower blocks that we all had to share and it was the only place were there was running water. I remember our mother had to carry buckets of water to our hut for cooking and washing up.

 

Other buildings were nissen huts made from corrugated steel. The largest one was used as a cinema  showing a different film  every week and having a stage that was also used for staging shows and national events like the 3rd of May  The other nissen huts were used as a  nursery and school, a dance hall, and a club house with a snooker room at one end and a television room at the other. In the early years there was a communal cookhouse but later people cooked for themselves in their huts. The camp Church was located in one of the barracks, the only  difference being that the windows were fitted with stained glass and there was no heating. Standing next to the church was a wooden tower which housed the Church bell. Although there was a church on the camp there was no cemetery. The people from  the camp where buried in a cemetery at nearby Wybunbury, a village about three miles away.

 

It always seemed to me that everyone living in the camp attended every  funeral that took place at the camp making their way to Wybunbury cemetery by whatever means they could. Some even walked there and back. The tallest building on the camp was a water tower which was in a field between camp 1 and the A51 road. It was built with brick and had a large steel water tank on top. We had a grocery and general provisions shop and it was run by an ex-policeman from Birmingham called Percy Walley and his wife. They also had a shop in Crewe on West Street and they lived in a flat above that shop. Mr.& Mrs. Walley ran the camp shop right up until the camp closed but even after Doddington camp closed Mr. Walley still used to deliver Polish produce to people living in the Crewe area. I remember Percy Walley as a very pleasant character who had picked up a lot of the Polish language over his time in Doddington

 

Grandmother Katarzyna Matiasz, Janina and Antoni Sitek with Jurek

Jurek in the camp. The tower in the background  stood in the middle of the camp and although the camp has long gone the tower known as the old castle is still there.

Jurek in the camp by the barracks that were home.

 

The camp was one of many  National Assistance Board camps but the day to day administration and general running of the camp was the responsibility of Mr. Tadeusz Laganowski His British counterpart was a man called Frank Elliot. Mr. Laganowski had been a Captain in the Polish Army and  commanded Polish troops in the battle at Monte Cassino.  Dad was  employed by the Assistance Board as the camp electrician.  Mum worked in the nursery with Irena Trembaluk, Janina Kus and Janina Dzuban plus a few others the names of whom I cannot remember. I attended the school at the camp before moving to Bridgemere primary school which was about three miles away.  While at the Polish school  I remember Mr Jan Czerski who taught us geography among other subjects. We had  English lessons at the camp school but I  learned more from watching T.V. programmes such as Rin Tin Tin and Flash Gordon.

 

Antoni and Janina Sitek with Jurek standing between a large nissen hut and  one of the Corpus Christi alters.

Apart from religious events like Corpus Christi processions and First Holy Communion  we had annual pilgrimages, some times with up to eight coaches, to the shrines at  Holywell and  Cannock. There we would meet up with many other Polish pilgrims that came from different camps.

 

The seasons in those days seemed to be a lot more pronounced and the winters were bitterly cold with snow and  icicles, some of which were two feet long, hanging from the roof. We had a little stove in the middle of the hut which gave a nice glow but little heat and we all had feather filled duvets "Pierzyna" and hot water bottles. I do remember that some nights were so cold outside that dad would get up during the night to keep the stove going.

 

The summers were long and hot the school holidays went on and on but there was always something to do and nobody ever got bored. We would play at Cowboys and Indians in and around the woods near the camp. There were two lakes near the camp, one was called Blackmere and the Kids used to fish and swim in it as it wasn’t too deep, the other large lake was Doddington mere.

 

Life was very hard for our parents but it was a good life for the children at the camp.  Mum often said ‘Nothing and nobody is forever’ but I still remember with great affection many of the people that gave the camp its character like .Mr.

 

Jurek Sitek With a view of one of the huts

Smolinski  known as "Dziadek",one of the camp's older residents, he was the camp's boiler man and always carried the cross at the head of the Corpus Christi procession. Mr Bogacz the camp shoemaker, Mr. Tłuczk the tailor, Mr Regula a great musician and teacher and Mr Tadeusz  Wąs a portrait artist.

When we moved into a semi-detached house in Crewe with running hot and cold water and a coal fire in the living room, nobody missed the little hut we left behind in Doddington. But now I look back on those days and remember them with fondness and I cherish those childhood memories of a happy and carefree life.

 

ROMAN'S MEMORIES

 

As a child who had grown up in Doddington DP Polish Camp, my recollections are of a wonderful time in a picturesque setting with children of similar age, culture and outlook.  As an adult and researching my roots, I have learnt that reality, from the parent’s perspective, was quite different. My story has two distinct branches so readers, including today’s migrants, need an understanding of the context to fully appreciate the conditions.

Mother, my sister Maria and Me

I was born in “The Cliff", a cottage hospital in Wybunbury the neighbouring village to Doddington Camp, the middle child to Antoni and Janina Sitek.  We lived in barrack No 5 along with my elder brother Jerzy, younger sister Maria and Grandmother Katarzyna Matiasz.  Essentially my Mother and Grandmother brought us up as my father, as other men, were working to support  their families.

 

To me life seemed to revolve around a pot belly stove in the middle of the barrack where coffee and food was always in the making and also the central heat source around which we huddled. Polish food like " Pierogi"," Uszka" and "Gołąbki" being particular favourites.  Gran tended to the garden plot, our source of fresh vegetables such as potatoes, beetroot, cabbage, lettuce, radishes etc. I recall occasions where Dad had “caught” a fish (Sczupak) which then resided in our tin bath which we used for our evening baths in front of the fire.  Minor things like using a potty (Nocnik) did not bother us.  Life was great as the whole of the camp was our playground which was only interrupted by “Kosciół” Going to church and “Procesje” the yearly Corpus Christi Processions .  Of great importance were the pomp and ceremony

 

Academia) attached to the special events in the year such as 3rd May and 11th November.  At Christmas we dressed up and paraded  around the camp carol singing , took part in plays and on St. Nicolas day (6th December) we all received presents. On these occasions dad played violin alongside "Pan" Mr. Regula on accordion providing the music whilst Mum organised and sang in the choir.  Boys and girls belonged to scout troupes that were very active, I was a bit too young but my brother George was a scout. There were two lakes near the camp, Doddington and Blackmere, where my love of fishing must have emanated from. In the evening my father along with a number of people held a card school where great political debates took place, including the occasional arguments.

 

Janina and Antoni Sitek with George

Roman and George with some of the children form in camp

Grandmother dad, mum and Roman outside their hut

 

From my perspective, life was good however there were occasions where my parents  were discussing unfortunate circumstances such a suicides and deaths in the community.  The hardships evident in the adult community were shielded from us. In summary my recollection of life at the camp from my young perspective was one of adult camaraderie, national pride, hard work, music and song, deep seated faith, laughter, support and determination.  It is only now in researching my roots that I wished I had listed intently to the stories and tales my parents tried to relay to me.

 
If you lived in the camp and would like to share your memories and photos please contact me.
 
  Page 1  Doddington Polish Camp
  Page 2  Current
  Page 3  Doddington Cemetery
  Page 4  Doddington Photo Exhibition.  
  Page 5  Jaśmina Dopierała's Memories.  
  Page 6  Barbara Białzorska's Memories.  
  Page 7 Zofia Grycewicz Remembers
  Page 8 My Journy to Doddington Barbara Auer
   
   
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