GROVE PARK CAMP - IVER  1946-1957

 
Iver Grove house in Buckinghamshire, a red brick building, was built between 1722 and 1724 for Lady Mohun.  When completed in 1724 it  was one of the first houses in Britain built in the radical Palladian style. In 1802  the house and grounds where acquired by Admiral Lord Gambier who died in 1833 leaving no heirs and over the years the property became derelict, was smothered in ivy and riddled with dry rot.  It is remarkable that the house is still here today.  As it was in such a poor state it ran the risk of becoming one of the many hundreds of country houses demolished in the 1950s. WW2 saw fresh activity taking place around the house and park as Nissen huts and army barracks were erected in the grounds as part of the war effort.
 
After WW2 the political settlement between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill enabled the Soviets to annexe Eastern Poland and incorporate it into the Soviet Union while the rest of Poland became a Soviet puppet state with a communist government imposed by Russia. It is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of the large Polish army, air force and navy owing its allegiance to, and under the control of the Polish Government in London, chose to remain in the West and continue the political struggle for an independent Poland.
 
In 1946 the British Government acknowledged its commitments and raised the  Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC), as a corps of the British Army, into which Poles were enlisted for the period of their demobilization - which would be completed by 1949. The only way such numbers of men and their families could be accommodated was by placing them in army camps that were build in the 1940s and now were standing empty. The camps were run by the army until 1948/9 when the PRC was demobilised.
 
In 1946 the 3rd Carpathian Sapper (Engineer) Battalion of the Polish army were billeted at Grove Park Iver in Buckinghamshire, this was one of many PRC camps to which the Polish army was assigned until their demobilisation. On arrival at Grove Park the men found some of the buildings in such a poor state that they set to work making the huts more habitable.
 
After demobilisation, camps that were deemed to offer a reasonable standard of family accommodation were handed over to the National Assistance Board for housing families of Polish soldiers. Accommodation close to centres of industry in need of a workforce and suitable for housing single men was provided by the National Service Hostels Corporation.  In some areas  local authorities took over camps as temporary homes for bombed out British families.
 
None of the above organisations showed any interest in taking responsibility for the appalling living conditions of the Polish ex-service men and their families living in Grove Park. The MOD with no experience of running family camps was not interested either so to get the camp off their hands, they leased 10 acres of land in Grove Park to the Poles together with 44 Nissen Huts which included ablution, laundry facilities and some larger Nissen huts for an annual rent of £250.
 

Bonaventura and Anna Fursewicz 1947

Janek and Zosia Nowagiel, Bonaventura and Anna Fursewicz, Piotr and Eugenia  Jurkiw

 
The Poles in Grove Park camp now found themselves in a unique situation in which no official body was prepared to take charge and administer the camp.  In each case the main reason being the poor physical state of the huts. The only option left for the  Poles in Grove Park  camp was to administer themselves. A camp management committee was elected to cater for the day to day needs of the inhabitants. The committee set and collected rent from every family to cover the cost of electricity, gas and water plus the agreed annual payment to the MOD.
 

Repairing the  Nissen huts 1947

One of the Nissen huts that was home.

 
Despite the committee's best efforts living conditions were very primitive.  They lacked the wherewithal or the right to attend to the structural condition of the dwellings so they patched them up as best they could.  In most cases water had to be carried in buckets from outside taps to the huts where it was needed for cooking and washing.  None the less, the residents took much pride in maintaining high standards in personal hygiene and dress.  One of the Nissen huts had been converted by the residents into a place of worship where Sunday Masses, celebrated by Fr. Karol Świętoń, the camp's resident priest, were always well attended by the residents dressed in their Sunday best.
 

In their Sunday best parishioners leaving the Nissen hut church after Mass. In the background stands the empty Grove Park House.

In the centre is Bonaventura Fursewicz next to him Anton Słowikowski, Mr. Król and Paweł Wieczorek

 
Fr. Świętoń looked after the spiritual needs of around 260 or so of the men, women and children that lived in the camp.  He performed  many christenings that took place in the camp's Church and prepared the children for their First Holy  Communion.
 

First Holy  Communion

 

Children from left to right Emilia Fursewicz, Wanda Mrówka, Słowikowska sisters, John Jurkiw, Ryszard Nowagiel, last boy unknown.

 

Behind the children are their parents

 

Anna and  Bonaventura Fursewicz, Anna Mrówka the camp's priest Fr. Karol Świętoń, Janek Mrówka  Zosia Nowagiel, Jan Nowagiel, Eugeniusz and Piotr Jurkiw

 
 
 

Girls  Basia and Krysia Miszker boys unknown

Unknown, unknown  Krysia and Basia Miszker, Zenek Wojtecki
 
Children from the camp attended English local schools and, to ensure that the Polish language was maintained, a Saturday Polish school was set up in a large classroom at the back of the church. Here children were taught not only to read and write in Polish but also Polish culture, traditions and  customs.
 
The headmaster of the Saturday school was Marian Bulicz who very often  acted as compare at social events and performances organised in the camp. Mrs H. Wasilewska organised a dance troupe and the choir was conducted by Mr. S. Chorążyczewski
 
Most of the children  had traditional Polish dress which was worn on special occasions.
 
Photo on the left; Young people in their National dress, among them are:
Józef Kozakiewicz, Emilia Fursewicz, Janek Jurkiw, Wanda Mrówka
 

Emilia Fursewicz, Janek Jurkiw

Children dancing the "Krakowiak."

 
The NAAFI was converted into a social club which was in constant use for various cultural activities.
 

Grove Park camp Polish male voice choir giving a concert.

 
For the next nine years Polish ex-service men and their families lived contented in their little Polish enclave.  The was no shortage of work in the area and all the able bodied persons found jobs in local industries such as Mars chocolates, engineering firms and construction. The camp evolved and thrived as a self-help Polish community but ten years on living in a Nissan hut with no home comforts was not the way to bring up the new generation
 

A very young John Jurkiw and Emila  Fursewicz

Years later John Jurkiw with friends and his Birthday Cake

 

 Krystyna Fursewicz Christening, L/R Emilia holding her dad's hand, Bonaventura Fursewicz, Kasia Charowska (god mother) Józef Kurowski (god father) 1950.

Michał and Anna Tkaczuk outside their Nissen hut,

Piotr and  Eugenia Jurkiw with their son John and newborn Michał Jurkiw,

 

Nissan Huts in the background and Fiorinda Kurowska with her baby

Ryszard Nowagiel outside his Nissan Hut

 
In the early to mid 50s there was pressure on government departments to run down and close as many camps as possible. As people found homes in the British community and moved out of the camps, the National Assistance Board, with over 40 active camps, was able to move the remaining tenants from camp to camp and then close the empty ones.  The MOD  had just a handful of camps on land they were responsible for but did not run them.  Grove Park camp was on of them and although they collected rent from the residents for use of the land and facilities, when they wanted the land for other purposes the MOD declared their tenants as "squatters"  in order to remove them from the camp.
 
In March 1956 the army  gave  notice to 80 or so families to leave the camp or be evicted. Those who were  thrifty managed to scrape a deposit to buy a house left the camp, the majority applied to the local councils in Eton and Slough to be put on their housing lists. Sadly in each case Polish applicants were turned down and renting was not an option as many landlords  imposed  restrictors like no children, foreigners or dogs. Those who could not find other accommodation stayed put.    
 
In the mean time the Ministry of Works  decided to restore the derelict house and grounds of Grove Park but to achieve this the camp had to be cleared and so at the end of May 1957 the army started to evict the remaining Polish families with young children leaving them with their worldly positions on the side of the road.
 

Evening News 2/3/1956

 Many more articles and photos can be found in the National Archives

Photo from The Advertiser and Gazette 31st May 1957 Buckinghamshire

 

Article from the Daily Mirror 28th May 1957

Extracts from the Slough Observer 7th June 1967

 
Eventually the unfortunate evicted families were found new accommodation by the local authorities. Many of the descendents of Grove Park Camp  still live in the area. Emila Fursewich-Kelly lived in Grove Park camp as a child, over the years she kindly sent me most of the photos displayed on this page depicting life in the camp. The rest of the information came from the National Archives, Polish Daily newspaper and Hansard.
 
 
Grove house was  one of the first to be bought by the Ministry of Works in an effort to save it and restore it to its former glory with a view to its preservation and opening to the public. The cost to public funds was over £40,000
 
In 1961 the property was sold for £18, 000 to the Deputy Director-General of the coal Board Mr. James Mitchell. In the 1970s it was bought by Sir Tom Stoppard and sold on in 1997.
 
Sadly the public has very limited access to this unique building!!
 
 
 

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