Memories of my early life at the Displaced Persons Camp at Husbands Bosworth,  Northamptonshire.

Kazia Malińska Myers      2017

 

A brief history of the prequel before arriving at Husbands Bosworth Camp:

 
My parents Kazimierz and Anastazia Maliński were arrested by the Russian soldiers in the middle of the night on 10th February 1940, at their address of Leśniczówka ‘Pianka’, Stary Mizuń, Dolina, and with thousands of other families packed on cattle trains and deported to Siberia.Their families lived in the Rawa Ruska region, and my mother’s family were rounded up by the Germans and sent to labour camps in Germany. My parents survived Siberia and in the years 1941 – 42 made their journey across Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and across the Caspian Sea in an overcrowded old freighter to Pahlevi, where after the much needed recovery of their health and strength, they both joined  Anders’ Army.After my birth in October 1943 my mother stayed in Palestine. My father was sent to Egypt in preparation for the deployment of the 2nd Corps to Italy, in January 1944.
 
My mother and I, together with a great number of Polish mothers and children, waited out the war years in Palestine, then under the British mandate. The situation in this once safe British colony dangerously deteriorated with the escalation of fighting between the Jews and the Arabs. In 1947 the British were forced to evacuate their families. The Polish mothers and children were allowed to leave too, in order to join their soldier husbands and fathers in England. My mother and I sailed from Port Said on the boat SS Samaria in January 1948. After the sunny and warm Palestine, Liverpool in the middle of winter, was piercingly cold and depressingly misty. I still remember shivering  violently  in my summer coat and sandals. I was four.
 
The waiting coaches took this contingent of Polish mothers and children to various destinations across England. Our coach, after a seemingly interminable journey (I still remember the  telegraph poles flying past our coach window and the fields like a vast green sea) transported us to Hertford Bridge, near Morpeth in Northumberland. Our new home was a quarter of an army hut, shared with three other mothers and their children. We lived there for the next nine months. Sadly, the much awaited reunion with my father did not take place. The four-year-long separation and the wartime trauma caused my father to form a relationship with someone else In September 1948, my mother and I together with a large group of people were transported to Husbands Bosworth Camp.
 

  Husbands Bosworth Camp

 
This military camp with an airfield, situated between Northampton and Leicester, had been used by the Airforce  during the war.  The Nissen huts made of corrugated iron were predominantly used for living quarters and the long  brick buildings for administration or community purposes. There were four sites, and the number of Poles occupying them could have been close to  800, at the beginning. Gradually, as people found work in the nearby towns of Market Harborough,  Rugby, Northampton and Leicester, they moved to rented accommodation to be close to their work. Many emigrated to Canada. U.S.A. and New Zealand, especially as it was becoming clear that Stalin had no intention of loosening his grip on Poland.
 
Initially, because of the number of people, four families were allocated to each hut, with just a hung-blanket partition between the families. As a small child I was unaware of the discomfort, but for the grown-ups this must have been a nightmare. Yet no worse than crowding on the cattle trains on the journey to  Russia. As time went on, families could spread out to two per hut, then, when the numbers significantly decreased, each family could enjoy having their very own hut. I lived in ours for nine years, till 1957.
 
The iron beds, the small square table and the four folding chairs must have been the Air force’s legacy to us, and very pleased we all were for that. The more enterprising people created additional furniture by cleverly reusing empty orange boxes or any wood acquired with not too much of a cost. The women soon transformed these basic huts into homes with lace curtains, colourful bedspreads, cross-stitched cushions and embroidered wall hangings. The corrugated iron made the huts very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, despite the iron stove in every hut. Once the fire went out during the night, I often woke up to icicles on the windows inside our room. The winters in the 1950’s were harsh with heavy snow-falls, the top layer often reaching the windowsills.
 
Everyone became a keen gardener, making the most of the patch of land closest to their hut to grow vegetables, and softening the drabness of the huts with climbing roses and colourful, seasonal flowers. Many people kept hens for eggs. We had four, which I adored like pets. We also had two cats for keeping the mice at bay.
 
Our camp was very well organised, which, as children we did not realise. I have wonderful memories of care-free play, with lots of other children on the daisy-spotted meadows, in the shady woodland areas, by the stream on the edge of Site 4 and of cycling with no fear of any traffic on the lanes that criss-crossed our camp between the sites. In our camp we had a community hall which was used for meetings, dances and theatre. There was a separate cinema building. There was a church building (once a Gym), a school, and a separate building for playschool. There were communal  baths and communal toilets. There was also a cottage hospital and an administration building.
 
The warden of the camp was an English gentleman, who drove around dashingly in a sports car. His Polish counterpart was Mr. Ertman, who was a great help to those who had not mastered yet another new language, encountered on their travels since leaving home in 1940.
 

Corpus Christi  Procession Kazia Malinska and Krysia Anczarska holding the flower basket  1953

THE  CHURCH.
This was the most used building of all the public buildings at the camp. At the very beginning Father Jan Stelmach (a young man) was the resident priest, then after a year Father Franciszek Dziduszko replaced him and remained with his congregation till the camp was closed  in 1957. I do not know where either of them went afterwards.  Masses were conducted every Sunday, at 9 a.m. then High Mass at 11 a.m. On Sunday afternoons the vespers were sung (‘nieszpory’). Certain May time scents still remind me of those afternoons, when I walked to church with my mother, and the hawthorn, the lilac and the acacia trees were in full bloom.
 
The church was fully attended throughout the year:  the carols still sung throughout January, as is the Polish custom, then in Lent, the Stations of the Cross leading to Easter celebrations, with all the rituals of Good Friday and Easter Saturday, the blessing of the Easter baskets filled with coloured eggs, culminating with the Resurrection procession, for which everyone dressed up in their best clothes. It was quite remarkable how even in those very lowly living conditions, people managed to turn up elegantly dressed with hats and gloves and handbags and high-heeled shoes.
 
Easter was followed by daily devotions to Mary in May, to Jesus’ Heart in June, and the Corpus Christi processions. Little girls, dressed in white, were the flower girls throwing flower petals onto the path before the priest carrying the monstrance.October was devoted to rosary prayers. In November there was the Christ the King feast day, and then the 6 a.m. daily matins throughout advent leading to Christmas.
 
The helpers in the church made sure there was never any shortage of flowers, but what made our church unique were the wall paintings – the creation of a very talented artist, Mr. Leon Tetianiec.Before he was deported to Siberia, he was a student at the Fine Arts Department of the Vilno University in Poland. On the brick walls of this long army barrack, he painted trompe d’oeuil figures of Angels and Cherubs who looked so convincingly 3-dimentional, that one had to touch the wall to check that they were indeed, NOT sculptures. Sadly, no one knows what happened to the panels that they were painted on, after the closure of the camp. The building is now used for stables, and there is not a trace of the church that it once was. It may be interesting to add, that Father Dziduszko ruled his congregation with strict discipline and it was not unknown for him to tell people off for coming late to church.
 
SOCIAL  AND  CULTURAL  LIFE  The teaching staff and all the young people were exceptionally enterprising in organising  lively and pleasant occasions for the community. There were regular dances, to which young people from the nearby DP camps would also come (Lubenham and Melton Mowbray, and young Polish ex-servicemen based in Brunthingthorpe). We were lucky to have our own very good band; the Wróbel brothers , who played on their accordeons, and Mr. Merkis, who played the violin.
 

Kazia Malinska, Basia Pytiak, Jasia Czapnik, Wandzia Kwacz,

Krysia Krawiecka, Irka Kowal

Niusia Salwarowska, Jasia Czapnik, Kazia Malinska, ? Diubinska

 
The camp was regularly visited by the Polish travelling theatre based in London, but the young people in the camp would also put on their own plays. School children were regularly taught to recite poetry, sing national songs  and dance Polish dances on occasions, special to the Poles: 3rd May – celebrating  the Polish Constitution,  and 11th of November, not only the world Remembrance Day of the end of WW1, but for the Poles the commemoration of their country’s official break from the shackles of the Russian oppression, while in fact it took another two years - 1920, for the beaten Russian troops to retreat completely after the famous battle at Warsaw, known as the ‘Miracle at Wisła’ (River Vistula) ‘Cud nad Wisłą’.
 
There was weekly cinema, and Saturday matinees for children. We grew up with Laurel and Hardy, Tarzan and Cowboys and Indians, which we would then re-enact in the play-ground for days.  
 
MEDICAL  CARE At the beginning the camp had its own hospital (a long army barrack) with two doctors, who had arrived as displaced persons with the rest of us, (as I remember: Dr. Maciejewski and Dr. Grochowski). The nurses were also Polish, who had trained in Poland or perhaps during the war years. As time went on, and the numbers dwindled, the hospital was closed down and people with ailments had to get in touch with doctors in Lubenham or Market Harborough. This was not easy for mothers with young children, as one had to walk well over a mile to the main road to catch a bus, and the buses came by only at certain, infrequent times in the day.
 
THE  SCHOOL. Many of the older children and teenagers were sent away to Polish schools like Lilford Park, Stowell Park,  Diddington, Bottisham and a few others,  that had been set up by the Polish Education Authorities for the purpose of keeping up Polish Education and traditions for the time when Poland regained her freedom and we all returned home. History took a different turn, and as the hope of that began to fade, the Polish children were gradually sent to the English schools. But, to begin with, a school for younger children was set up in the camp as well as a playschool for the very young. The teachers from that period are worthy of a special mention.
 
Mr. Henrik Kozlowski. The Head. A cultured  man with a noble and kind nature and much patience shown to the children.
Mr. Jan Ozioro. A very kind, family man, understanding the needs of the children. He organised a trip for us to the ‘Festival of Britain’ in London in 1951. It was an experience beyond our imagination, for us enclosed in a tiny world of barracks and encircling fields: the enormous buildings, the busy  wide streets,  the neon lights at night time, the fun-fair at Battersea Park, the exotic animals in London Zoo, and the night spent on folding beds at a Polish Home! We lived off the impressions for weeks afterwards.
Mr.Franciszek Bejnarowicz. He was very kind and extremely popular because of his motorbike. He would give us rides, sitting pillion with him. ‘Health and Safety’ had not been invented, only great excitement reigned, as one by one we were given the joyous experience of speed and  the wind whistling through our hair.This also brings memories of our day in the fun-fair Wicksteed Park near Kettering. Four children who could not fit into a van with the others, were piled into somebody’s car boot and taken along for a day filled with adventure. No one complained about the mode of transport; everyone was happy and grateful  to our enterprising teachers.
Mr. Zbigniew Scholtz taught us English. When we were small children, we were rather scared of him as he was very demanding of our attention and performance. His intention was to push us so we would do well. When I was older, he gave me lessons in English and read Dickens with me to improve my understanding of the language. Later, he became the Minister of Education for the Polish Schools in England.
Mrs. Lucyna Derkacz Kamińska was the head of the Pre-school. She was an exceptionally kind lady, always very hospitable, and even when much older, for years she hosted Poles, who were on visits here, away from Communist Poland. She lived in Leicester most of her life, then in Melton Mowbray, where she died at the age of 95 in 2013.There were other kind people who made a good and lasting impression on us, small children, but I do not remember them all. It was only as a grown-up that I began to appreciate their input into our formative years – people, who only a short while before  arriving at the camp, had been through some horrific experiences and survived.
 

Ewa Nowakowska, Kazia Malinska, Basia Pytiak, Paola Tetianiec 1954

Tadeusz Ludwig  with Basia Pytiak and  Kazia Malinska  1951

 
The Polish School at the camp was closed down in July 1951. The following September the children were sent to the nearest English school at Welford.  It was an old village set in a picturesque countryside, where families had lived for generations. All the children were well known to the teaching staff at the school. Suddenly they were faced with a large group of foreign,  non-English speaking children. It must have been quite a challenge for the headmaster Mr. Twemlow  and his teachers. It was hard for the Polish children too, to whom the new environment of the lofty, red-brick building looked formidable and daunting. In fact, it is a small building, surrounded now by sprawling extensions. The school dinners, served in the village hall across the road were a strange novelty, especially the boiled cabbage which was no one’s favourite. I imagine that the rations and the lingering post-war shortages governed the menus to a large extent.
 
The English teachers showed kindness and patience to us Polish children, but any punishment for bad behaviour was relegated to Mr. Karus to mete out to us. I imagine that this Polish teacher must have been especially appointed by the Education Authorities to help out in this difficult situation. He was severe and expecting us to do well and a slap on the back of the hand was his way of keeping discipline. For that reason he was not our favourite teacher, but many years later, as a grown-up, I discovered from another teacher of that era, that Mr. Karus had lost his parents and his brother during the war. He was probably in his thirties then, but he looked much older to us. I don’t know what happened to him when the Polish children moved on from Welford School. I remember particularly the lessons on the Egyptians with him and the models of the pyramids and palm trees that we made out of card and crepe paper. Also the riddle of the sphinx: what creature has four legs in the morning, two at mid-day and three at night?
 
The other teachers were Mrs. Twemlow, the headmaster’s wife, strict but very fair,  Mr.Barnes  (I remember reading  with him the story of Long John Silver and making puppets of the pirates) and Miss Pike, who married Mr. Gardiner, when I was in her class. She was young, very pretty and everyone’s favourite. Mr. Twemlow, the headmaster, led assemblies and played the piano to accompany the hymns. He taught us a number of songs and also the Nursery Rhymes, which had been second nature to the English children, but we had to learn them from scratch.  He was the image of an English gentleman in his tie and tweed jacket. But one day he did something which I found very puzzling. It was in March, 1953, when I was nine. He came into my classroom (of perhaps 20 - 25 children, some of which were Polish) and announced the death of a great man. He asked us all to stand up for a minute’s silence to honour him. That great man was Stalin. I was bewildered. I could not understand how Mr. Twemlow could not possibly know what Stalin had done to our parents. But now I believe that he most probably did not. Six decades later, when my book ‘The Journey,’ which depicts our parents’ deportation to Siberia, was published, every single of my numerous English friends spoke or wrote to me to say they knew nothing about this part of WW2 history.
 
I attended Welford School for three years. In September 1954, my mother (Anastazja Malińska-Ludwig) and my step-father (Tadeusz Ludwig) sent me to the Convent School at Pitsford Hall, where I stayed till the age of sixteen, coming home only for the holidays.
 

2014 in Nazareth, Israel Kazia Malinska-Myers and Basia Pytiak-Reid

 With each passing year, the camp community got smaller, until October 1958, when I came home for half term, and there was hardly anyone left at the camp. All the communal buildings were closed, the church, the cinema and the meeting hall.  It was extremely sad and lonely and I missed all my friends who had been my companions in my early years.
 
Between  that half-term and Christmas, my parents were allocated a council house in Rugby, so that when I came home for Christmas that year, I stepped inside a ‘real’ house. It was a prefabricated bungalow, but I had my own room, there was a bathroom, a sitting room and a kitchen with enough space for a small dining table. Luckily for me, my best childhood friend, Basia Pytiak (married name Reid) was also in Rugby. At the camp we virtually lived in each other’s huts. Here we had to cycle across the town to meet up with each other. However, I loved visiting her house; it was even more ‘real’ than mine. It had a staircase!
 
Another lovely surprise was to find that Mietek Majcherczyk, another friend from the camp, lived just around the corner from our street in Rugby. His parents managed to scrape enough money for a deposit for a terraced house.  Our friendship continued. When he qualified as a lawyer, we married in 1968. He changed his name to Michael Myers, because in those days, when ‘Political Correctness’ was unheard of, no one was prepared to even try to pronounce his name in Magistrates’ Courts where he practised as a prosecuting Solicitor.
 
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