In the heart of the East Midlands

MELTON MOWBRAY Leicestershire 1946- 1960

 

In the heart of the East Midlands, in Leicestershire, lies the town of Melton Mowbray known world wide for its famous Pork Pies and Stilton cheese.  Yet the world outside the area knows very little of the large WW2 Airfield which, in 1946, became a Polish Displaced Persons Camp

 

The camp was an old Polish Air Force/RAF Station.  In 1947 Melton Air Base was formally turned over to the Polish Resettlement Corps, at that time there were 350 Polish airmen, officers and a small contingent of British officers still on site, carrying on as an RAF Station with the King's Regulations rigidly enforced.  This made family life for the incoming Polish civilians, wives and children of the air men, extremely difficult.  Husbands and wives had to live in separate quarters which naturally caused some friction between the military and civilians, one cannot marshal civilians, especially mothers and children, in the same way as troops

 

Ex-army camps were not ideal as family accommodation.  The barrel shaped Nissen huts could hardly be regarded as very homely at the best of times and families, arriving in the winter of 1946/7, from sun drenched Africa found them cold and depressing.  It was like living in a fridge and, to make maters worse, at first the huts were partitioned only by blankets so privacy was minimal. There were shared ablution blocks and a communal kitchen where meals were dished out military style.

The camp consisted of several sites scattered over small hills with distances of up to three miles from one to another. Three of the sites were allocated for use by Polish dependants arriving from Displaced Persons (D.P.) camps in Africa.

 

Within a few months the National Assistance Board took over the running of the camp from the military and things improved.  The blanket  partitions were replaced with solid walls, a crčche, nursery and primary school were also set up within the camp and there was a library with Polish and English books.  One of the Nissen huts was converted into a church.

 

Because of the distances between the various sites there was no single community centre, instead there were two recreation rooms on different sites.

 

Although the camp's capacity was estimated at about 1,100 it never exceeded 1,000 as people were constantly on the move.  As new people were arriving others were emigrating to the USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina.  By the early 1950s the camp's population stabilised at around 700.

 

A 1955 inspection report prepared for the Committee for the Education of Poles records that;- there were 572 residents in the camp consisting of 420 adults, 27 adolescents and 125 children and babies. Practically all able-bodied men and women found employment in local industries such as Stanton Iron and Steelwork at Ashfordby, Palmer Boot and Shoe Manufacturers,

 

Chappei’s Ltd., Animal Foods, St. Margaret’s Clothing Manufacturers and various other firms.  There was also seasonal work on farms which provided extra income for many households and many enterprising people used their pre-war skills within the camp to earn money.

 

A view of the Nissen huts on site 1 off Dalby Road    Photo curtsey of Beata Hanks (Nikel)

 
 
RELIGION AND TRADITIONS
 

Father Maximilian Kotowski was the first priest in Melton. He arrived in 1947 as an Air Force chaplain and was the driving force for many years in the building of the community and the Polish Church. One of the large Nissen huts was transformed into  the camp's place of worship.  In 1953 a  white marble statue of Our Lady came from Italy and was placed outside the church.  More then a 1,000 people attended the open air service of dedication.  Today the statue stands outside the new Polish church

 

The large Nissen hut that served as the church

Worshipers inside the church

 

CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSIONS from different years

 

By 1955 Melton Mowbray town expanded with Council houses and new streets to the very doorstep of the Polish church and community centre in the northern settlement. A small number of Polish families obtained Council houses but it took many years before all  the Polish families were re-housed.

 

This was site 2 on the corner  of  the junction of Hartopp Road & Sandy Lane just a few hundred yards from where the new Polish church now stands.

The contrast of living conditions between the local population and the Poles can be seen in this photo of Polish Nissen huts against a back drop of  English houses. 

Leszek Wolski, Bobek Rajski, Edek Kocik,  Irka Józwiak,

On the tricycles are; Tadek Stenzel  and Karol Klonowski

Children's First Holy Communion with the statue and  the Nissen hut church against a backdrop of conventional Houses. 1960

 

In 1961 the Polish community in Melton purchased a plot of land on which  the camp once stood in Sandy Lane, to build a new Polish Church. The first collection for the construction of the church raised Ł600 and the church was  built largely by the parishioners themselves with Fr. Kotowski leading by example. The church was consecrated in May 1963 and although the camp had now closed many families settled in the area of Sandy Lane and the processions continue to this day.

 

With the steep ridge of the church roof in the background the procession going past houses in  Oxford Street where many of the Polish families still live.

 

EDUCATION AND CULTURE

 

To make sure that Polish children learned about their heritage, schools were set up in most of the DP camps teaching Polish language, history, culture, religion and English. The camp's first  nursery and primary school was set up in 1947 with one teacher, Mr. Iżyk, and 18 children.  By July 1948 the number of children increased to 48 and more were expected with the new transports from Africa.  Larger premises had to be found to accommodate the children so a Nissen hut was allocated at the south end of the camp and, because of the vast distances between camps 1,2,3, 4 and the school Nissen hut, children had to be bussed in from the various sites

 

Mr. A. Guckler was the first headmaster in 1948/9 and there were three teachers.  Miss Barbara Broom, Mrs. Margaret Webber - who was a teacher from Melton Mowbray grammar school teaching English - and Mr. Jerzy Grabowski teaching both English and Polish

 

A list of children born 1946 to 1949 attending the infants class May 1953.

Girls

Boys

Józefa Gwardys Irena Czuchaj Wiesław Żeglicki Jerzy Szopa
Krystyna Bargiel Barbara Ewart Jerzy Szeber Leszek Wolski
Teresa Łodyga Irena Otto Marian Dutkiewicz Jerzy Słupczyński
Bożena Koch Danuta Szebor Tadeusz Stenzel Ryszard Rużyłło
Krystyna Nażaruk Lucyna Janowska Mieczysław Szopa Zbigniew Gowin
Danuta Grusnecka Halina Szkoda Czesław Barnacki Edward Kocik
Krystyna Szkoda Irena Dutkiewicz Janusz Gowin Ryszard Szopa
Dorota Zielińska Jadwiga Pirog    
Krystyna Pirog Danuta Witek    
Władysława Witek      
Headmaster Mr. A Gockler and teacher Mrs. M. Kułakowska 1953.
 

Nursery school 1955

Junior children with their teachers - 1955

Nursery school

Nursery children having their morning one third pint of milk

 

Later Mr. J. Kuchn taught primary classes on site 4, intermediate classes were on site 1, advanced classes on site 2.  Other teachers were Mrs. Maria Kułakowska and Mr. M.S. Romanek.  The education authorities were very aware that English had to be taught not only to the children but also to the adult population.  Adult education evening classes were established and, despite the distances between the sites, were well attended.  Teachers cycled  from site to site which was most unsatisfactory, specially on dark cold evenings.

 
CULTURE AND TRADITION
 

Polish culture steeped in tradition is deep rooted in every Polish heart. Wherever they find themselves and whatever fate may throw at them they try to keep up all the traditions. 3rd May Constitution Day,  Independence Day, religious ceremonies, like Corpus Christi and Christ the King,  St. Nicholas " Święty Mikołaj", Christmas Eve "Wigilja" and midnight mass "Pasterka" to mention just a few.

 

Melton Mowbray Folk dance group

Dancing the“Krakowiak”1955/6

A group of children in their traditional “Krakowski” costumes

 

Photos taken in the camp in the 1950s

Celebrating  Constitution day the 3rd May 1791

Celebrating Independence day 11th November 1918

 

Children  celebrating St Nicholas day

Nativity scene

 

A celebration,  possibly end of the school year 1957

 
A VISIT TO THE CAMP BY GENERAL WŁADYSŁAW ANDERS
 

Article from the Melton Mowbray Times 23/2/1951

 

On the 18 of February 1951 Melton camp  welcomed General Anders, commander of the Polish Second Corps that fought in Italy. Over 500 men, women and children from Melton and neighbouring camps gave him a tumultuous welcome. The General spent the day at the camp and attended Mass at the camp's chapel before a get-together in the afternoon in the main  hall.

 

Article found in the  Melton Mawbary Times  23rd. Feb. 1951

 

 

Melton Cracovia football team from the 1950s

 
 

Sport provided many opportunities for meeting English people. Every week the camp's Sports Club "Cracovia" played football and table-tennis matches against local teams like Waltham, Scalford, Long Clawson, Ashford, Holwell Works and many others. It should  by noted that the Club included a number of English players.

 

Over the years the team played against other Polish teams from different camps and on a number of occasions took part in the General Anders Cup finals played in Cannock

 

 

PEOPLE AND THEIR HOMES.
 

Having a trade such as cobbler  also provided extra income.

Józef, Maria and Stefan Sobko outside their hut, net curtains in the windows made the Nissen hut more homely 1954

Jan Kołodziejczyk and Krzysio Wojtak 1955/6

 

Mr. and Mrs. Maj with their daughters Halina and Bożena.

Outside their Nissen hut home enhanced by flowers are; Musiek Łętowski, with his mother and friends.

 

Jan Powroźnik, with his bike, outside the hut he lived in.

Stefania and Sylwester Konopa 1954

Irena Grzybowska and Janek Kołodziejczyk

 

Szczepan Wojtak:-  On the 10th of February 1940 the Wojtak family, father Józef, mother Maria and their children Stanisław, Antoni, Szczepan, Franciszka, Karol and  Wacław were deported to Uzbekistan.  In 1942 with the announcement of an amnesty the family made a bid for freedom.  Sadly Józef died in Uzbekistan. The older sons, Stanisław and Antoni, joined the Polish army while mother Maria and her younger siblings Wacław, and  twins Franciszka and Szczepan were sent to Masindi camp in Africa.

 

In 1948 the family sailed to England on the MV Winchester Castle (Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd.) from Mombasa with 790 Polish displaced persons arriving in Southampton on the 15th August 1948. The family now reunited settled in Melton Mowbray camp. 

 

A very poignant photo taken in Pahlavi Persia 1942.  Maria Wojtak with two of her sons Antoni, now in the army, and the youngest  Karol.

1954 Szczepan  and Hela on their  wedding day

 

Hela Kołodziejczyk,  her widowed mother Julia and three surviving siblings Adela  Tadeusz  and Jan  managed to escape  from Archangel in Russia where they were deported to in 1940.  Tadeusz and Jan  joined the newly formed General Anders army in 1942 which enabled the family to leave Russia and while the boys went on with the army Julia and her young daughters were sent to Abercorn North Rhodesia. In 1948 they came to the UK on board the HMT Empire Ken and the family were reunited in Melton Mowbary camp. Hela was sent to Stowell Park girls school to finish her education. 

 

Living in a close knit community Szczepan  became an active member in the camp’s Ex-Combatant’s Association (SPK),  he  was a founder member of a band in which he played the cornet,

 
For many years both Szczepan and Hela were deeply involved and sung in the  camp’s choir. In later years he became their chairman.
 

As the camp was in the process of closing down Szczepan and Hela bought a  property in Sandy Lane, so when in 1961 the Polish community in Melton purchased a plot opposite Sandy Lane to build a new Polish Church. Both Szczepan and Hela were closely involved with the project raising money and physically helped in building the church.

 
 
 
Adam Gackowski on the accordion Szczepan Wojtak on the cornet
Tadeusz Kubacki on the violin Zygmunt Wrona on drums
 
 

The Band

 
 

Choir

 

The conductor:-  Ryszard Jusiński

Marysia Stenzel, Teresa Manicka, Wanda Woch, Stefania Konopa, Hela Wojtak, Genowefa Bielska, MarysiaWłodarska,

Teresa Wrzyszcz, Bożena Woch, Krysia Woch, Iwona Boniewicz, Jasia Klecuń,  Gertruda Nowicka,

Czesia Bieniawska, Henia Smreczak.

 

Jan Wyśniewski, Grzegorz Mazar, Józef German,

Stanisław Zakościelny and chairman Szczepan Wojtak.

 
Just some of the names.
 

In 1973 The choir joined forces with four other Polish choirs from the Midland area performing a program of Christmas carols in Polish and   Latin. To encourage an English audience to attend, the concert was held in the Corn Exchange.

 

 
 
Page 1 Current
 Page 2  Tadeusz Stenzel Story
Home
 

Life in a typical Polish DP Camp Northwick Park

in Gloucestershire

List and Information

on other family CAMPS

Education

Polish Boarding Schools

Ships' Names and passenger lists

of  Polish DPs from Africa and Europe.

List of Polish Resettlement Corps Camps

.1946-1948

Messageboard and  

Guest book

Your

personal

 STORIES

Archive

Guestbook

Contact

 Links