ILFORD  PARK, STOVER Devon

 

As you travel along the picturesque A38 from Exeter to Plymouth, on the edge of Dartmoor, you could not imagine that just off the roundabout for Bovey Tracey  towards  Newton Abbot hidden behind  trees and sandwiched between an overgrown and now derelict WW2 American Military Hospital and a golf course is a  place known locally as "Little Poland". Ilford Park Polish Home for old and infirm Polish ex-service men and  women. This modern home and hospice built in the early 90s stands in the far corner of the decaying old camp.

 

To day a place known locally as Little Poland.

 
 

After the war  in 1948 the abandoned  camp, with its  long rows of  concrete  huts with corrugated asbestos roofs and covered walkways,  became home to hundreds of Polish Displaced Persons.  Stover Park camp as it was  known,  was one of 45 camps/hostels run by the National Assistance Board catering for the needs of displaced Polish people who survived the war, the traumas of deportations into the depths of Siberia and exile.

 

Over the years the young and able were leaving the camps in search of jobs and a better life. The old, infirm and psychologically scarred by the traumas of war, remained behind clinging to the security and relative certainties of camp life.  As the numbers in the camps declined the National Assistance Board was gradually consolidating and closing down camp after camp. Individuals and families that still needed the security of camp life were moved to the more solidly constructed camps such as Northwick Park and Stover Park.  By 1969 Northwick closed and all were now moved to Stover/Ilford Park camp.

 

This camp appeared to be  no different to the other camps run by the N.A.B., but the solid construction of its hospital wards meant it could provide a better standard of accommodation than the temporary buildings that were usually found at war time Air Force and Army bases and allowed it to evolve first into a relatively comfortable family camp and then to an old people's home, hospice and rehabilitation centre.

 

The wartime accommodation in the camp became increasingly unsuitable for the needs of an aging population and, in1987, a ministerial commitment was given that the residents would remain on the site with a new home to be built on nine acres of the 41 acre site. This purpose-build home was formally opened on the 16th. December 1992.  It provides residential and nursing care to people who qualify for admission under the 1947 Polish Resettlement Act.

 

Ilford Park Stover  in the 1950s

 

Like other camps, Ilford Park had its own chapel with a resident priest Fr. Głarzewski looking after the spiritual needs of the community.  A doctor's surgery  and a sick bay looked after the less seriously ill so avoiding the stress of being moved out of the community they knew and into hospitals and institutions where they felt alien and alone.  A communal kitchen and dinning hall catered for all those who could not look after themselves.  A large hall was used for all kinds of entertainment; dances, stage and  cinema shows.  There was also a library and a grocery shop on site. Unlike other camps Ilford Park also boasted a well equipped and professionally staffed Occupational Therapy unit.  In all, Stover camp was a self contained Polish community with initially little contact with the world outside and, as in all Polish camps, life revolved around the church and Polish culture with great emphasis placed on bringing up children and young people in true Polish spirit.

 

The camp

 

Three ex residents who lived in  the former camp as children and now work in the new  residential care  home for elderly Poles have painted a picture in words and personal photos of their memories of life in the camp.

Helen Johns nee Białas came to the camp in 1948 aged two,  Wanda Lampersberger nee Siwy was born in the camp and Henry Werpachowski

 
 

Helen Johns nee Białas came to the camp aged two with her parents Janina and Władysław and older sister Irena as displaced persons. Although both parents were born in Poland they escaped though Austria, where their first daughter Irena was born, and Italy were Helena was born. They arriving in England in 1948 and were sent to Stover camp. They lived in the area of the camp called  "Colony"

 

Janina and Władysław Białas

Helena with her father.

Janina Białas with the youngest daughter Ewa born in the camp in 1954

 
 

Her childhood memories are of playing with other children in the camp, climbing tees and playing marbles. At week ends she looked forward to walking the adjacent golf course picking mushrooms and finding lost golf balls. Most families in the camp  had an allotment where a vast array of vegetables and flowers were grown. Helen remembers also that they had an allotment where, besides growing all kinds of vegetables, her  parents kept chickens, rabbits and pigeons and she helped to look after and feed the animals,

 

Mrs. Olenicz and Helen's mother Janina  Białas on the "Colony" site

Helena Białas in her national costume.

Helena's First Holy Communion.

 

It was very much the Polish way of life in the camp, and as children they felt safe and happy.  When Helen was fifteen her parents bought a house in Newton Abbot and, although they now lived a few miles from the camp, the camp was still the main attraction. Week ends were spent in the camp visiting  friends and joining  in all the Polish traditional events, and every Sunday they attended Sunday mass in the camp's church.

 

Helena and Ewa Białas with the barracks in the background.

Sisters Krysia and Wanda Siwy and Irena and Helen Białas around the snowman

Jasia Stofel, Irena Białas, Władzia  Uchman. We never had enough boys to dance so girls had to take their place.

 
I met and married a local man and was thrilled to get a job in the camp's offices. In time a new purpose built home for the elderly was erected on the site and I was delighted  to get a job as a carer in the home  finding joy, laughter and good times. I really feel I  am back where I belong.
 
 
 
 

Wanda Lampersberger nee Siwy parents Piotr and Anna Siwy  came to England in 1947 from Italy as part of the Polish Resettlement corps. Wanda's father was in the army and they settled in Stover Park camp. In May 1948 their daughter Krysia was the first child to be born  in the camp. In 1952 Wanda, their second daughter, was  also born in the camp. They lived in no.66.one of the long barracks, they had three rooms and  kitchen/living area.

 

Piotr and Anna Siwy with daughter Krysia 1949

Krysia with baby sister Wanda in the pram outside their barrack 1952

 

Her childhood memories are of long hot summers playing with all the other children, "We did not have many toys but there were a lot of  children and I had many friends to play with  making up our own games like  pretending to be on a train using chairs, yes, there was always something to do" Most residents had gardens around their barrack and there was an  area designated for allotments were people not only grew vegetables but also kept chickens and rabbits.  Wanda remembers feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs.

 

Out side their homes Krysia Siwy with friend.

Anna  Siwy with her two daughters Krysia and Wanda,

 

 Left:-Pretending to be on a train

 

Helan Białas, Ryszard Szewszyk,

 

Wanda and Krysia Siwy.

 
 

Right:-

 

Wanda and Krysia Siwy with freinds.

 

Outside the church.

Corpus Christi Procession.

 

Going to church every Sunday was always a big occasion, every one in the camp turned out in their Sunday best clothes and after church people socialised and if the weather was nice people went for a stroll around the camp.  Corpus Christi procession was another occasion for the people in the camp to get together and it was an exiting time for the children who participated in the procession dressed in white.

 
National days like 3rd of May Constitution day and 11th November Independence Day were always celebrated with speeches, singing, reciting poetry and national dancing. As always children were at the centre of all such celebrations, performing on stage dressed in their national costumes.
 

Krysia Siwy and friend in their national costume.

Some of the camp's children on stage celebrating National Constitution Day 3rd May 1952.

 

In 1985 Wanda returned to the camp this time as a Polish speaking care assistant. In 1992 a  new purpose build home was opened in the grounds of the old camp and all the staff and residents were moved in to the new home. Wanda recalls that many of the old people were very reluctant to leave the security of the old barracks and move, be it a few meters, to a new location. As the home came fully furnished  not all the old and well loved furniture could come with the residents because of fire risk and it took some time for many to settle in their new surroundings. Speaking flaunt Polish Wanda and the other carers could reassure the old and frail residents that they will be more secure in their new surroundings.

After many years working as a care assistant Wanda hurt her back, she did not want to leave Ilford home and the people she knew and helped over the years so when an opportunity came up in the little shop within the home, selling well loved Polish products, she took over and now runs the shop. On her way to work  she goes through the old camp and passes her childhood home barrack no.66, "It feels as if I have never left and I just love working here"
 
 
 
 

Henry Werpachowski parents Antonina and Felek came to England in 1950 on the Dundalk Bay from Tengeru camp in Africa. After a short stint in Springhill Lodges camp in Gloucestershire, in search  of work, Antonina and Felek ended up in Cornwall and eventually in 1952 settled in Ilford Park camp in Devon. They had two children Wanda and Henry.

Like all other Polish children both Wanda and Henry took part in all the camp's activities. There was no Polish school in the camp so all the children attended local English schools but to ensure that they did not lose their mother tongue a Saturday Polish school was set up in the camp with teacher Mr. Słowik.   Henry recalls how all the children resented having to attend.  Many years later  Henry, as a Polish speaker thanks to Polish Saturday school, found a temporary job  in the new home as a  carer and thirteen years on is still there and loving every minute of it.

 

Wanda and Henry with their parents Felek and Antonina.

First Communion breakfast

Wanda and Henry Werpachowski, Lady unknown,  Zdisław Bazak, Fr. Głarzewski,  Bolek Szymański,  Roman Bednarz.

 

As a teenager Henry was a member of a Polish band "The White Eagles"

 

1967 "The White Eagles"

Henry Werpachowski,   Janek Kopiński,  Heniek Dynowski, Władek Diakończuk.

Fr. Głarzewski, leading a sing along with some of the youth of the camp.

Tadek Garnecki,  Fr. Głarzewski,  Janek Kopiński,  Heniek Dynowski,

 
 
If you lived in Stover/Ilford camp and would like to contribute to the site with photos and comments please contact me.
 
 

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