Tweedsmuir Camp Surrey

 

This large camp, built by the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1941on existing  MOD land in rural Surrey near to the village of Thursley, was named Teewdsmuir in honour of Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, 15th Governor General of Canada. With typical basic accommodation of  corrugated metal nissen huts,  wooden barracks and strategically placed communal ablution blocks. The camp served as a transit camp for non-effective Canadian Army troops.  After WW2 Tweedsmuir Camp was home to many Polish ex-servicemen and their families it closed in the early 1960s.

 
 

Piotr Pietrusiewicz  lived in Tweedsmuir camp with his parents and twin sister and shares his memories of life in the camp.

 

Piotr  also runs a web site full of photos of life in Tweedsmuir camp some of which I have used in this page

a link to his site is at the bottom of this page.

 

 

My father

 

Eugeniusz PIETRUSIEWICZ was born on 13-9-1914 in Kraków, Poland and died on 14-01-1967 in Elstead, Surrey.  During the war he served in the 2nd Polish Corps - 4th Armoured Regiment. His war started in August 1939 when he was mobilised to serve on the Eastern front. He was taken prisoner by the Russians on the 26-09-1939 and imprisoned in the notorious Starobielsk Camp until late 1941. As a soldier of the Polish 2nd. Corps he travelled via Persia (Iran), Iraq, Egypt and Palestine to fight alongside the  British 8th Army, at Monte Cassino, Ancona and Bologna - Italy in 1944/45. He was demobilised, in the rank of Sergeant, at Witley Military Camp in 1948.

 

My mother

Eugeniusz PIETRUSIEWICZ.
 

My mother Aniela Pietrusiewicz (nee Wójcik) born in Tenczyn, Poland on 18-12-1924.  She was only fifteen when Germany invaded Poland,  she was taken from her home by the Germans in late 1939 and transported by train to Austria. There she was a prisoner and worked as forced labour on a large farming estate just outside Klagenfurt. She has countless stories of her imprisonment and how  she was missing her mother and father. When the war ended  in Spring 1945 she was evacuated to Italy joining up with the Polish Army, where she met my father. They were married in a mass wedding ceremony in Italy in 1946 and were transported to England  to Hiltingbury Transit Camp, Chandlers Ford near Southampton,  in August of that year.

 

In 1947 My twin sister Maria and I were born in Diddington Polish Hospital no. 6 near St Neots and  we all moved from Hiltingbury camp to Tweedsmuir camp. We  first lived in a wooden hut  at the top end of the camp. The hut was divided into two family units and one night our neighbours left a coal fire unguarded whilst going out to a film show in the "świetlica" (community hall). My mother was looking after us and Lucia Keller whilst my father had gone to visit a neighbour, we were just over one year old,

 

Our wooden hut

Me outside our first hut before it burned down

Our Nissen hut

Photograph shows us with my mother and a line of Terry nappies which had to be washed (boiled ) and dried every other day.

 

It appears that cloths left by our neighbour near their fire caught alight and very quickly spread (the hut was of wooden construction). My mother only had time to grab us twins, put us outside near a brick building before she ran back to find Lucyna . The hut was fiercely on fire and my mother, in the dark, was in a terrible panic but eventually found Lucyna under the kitchen table. Relived as my mother was to have saved us children she was unable to save most of our belongings and personal items. Next day the camp administration found us new accommodation and supplied us with new beds, furniture, etc from the Camp's storage pound. We moved into a Nissen Hut near the centre of the camp opposite the road that lead to the Communal Bath house.

 

I can remember many a time being taken to what was a large room with at least half a dozen baths and showers for a good scrub down, then wrapped in a warm towel and taken home to bed. Our new home was very comfortable. We were detached, had electricity, water and an indoor WC (heaven). Cooking was done on a primus stove fuelled by paraffin. How did my mother manage without the present washing machines etc?

 

THE CHURCH

 

As most Polish people are devout Catholics it was no coincidence that every camp had its own church and resident priest. Father Józef Bystry looked after the spiritual needs of his flock in Tweedsmuir  camp. Besides saying Holy Mass every Sunday, he performed christenings, marriages and funerals. Gave religious instruction and prepared children for their first Holy Communion.

 

Father Józef BYSTRY.

 

All our lives were linked to Church activities. From an early age I was volunteered as an alter boy which petrified me at first but later gave me confidence and respect from others. I was particularly inquisitive as to what the priest was drinking at mass as I offered him the dark red liquid. One day I found myself alone in the sacristy with a bottle containing this elixir and curiosity got the better of me. I opened the bottle to investigate and remember to this day the aroma. It smelt like sherry but I resisted the temptation to have a swig.

Inside the church Fr, Józef Bystry saying mass

I am nearest the camera 1953

 

My father had a powerful tenor voice and would lead the church choir into well rehearsed hymns. The church would reverberate with their strong voices. Mrs Ryzner was a pure soprano and sang with my father creating haunting melodies of familiar Polish songs. The Boże Ciało processions were always well supported and photographs show my father and other choir members following Father Bystry and his entourage.

 

CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION

 

Corpus Christi processions take place on the first Sunday following  Trinity Sunday. At the end of the mass it is customary to have a procession usually outdoors to four altars. In all Polish camps this tradition, repeated every year, brought the whole community to work together in building and decorating  the four altars, which were strategically placed so that every corner of the camp was visited. Children dressed in white lead the procession strewing  petals at the feet of the priest carrying the  Blessed Sacrament and all the people following in song.

 

On the right is one of the outside altars build against the wall of a hut.

The various stages of the procession winding its way around the camp.

 

 FIRST COMMUNION

Every year children that reached the age of eight/nine  were prepared for their First Holy Communion by the priest Fr. Bystry

 
 

My First Communion was on 13th June 1954.

 

Monika Bakałas, Józia Kuszal, Barbara Sysiak, Maria Pietrusiewicz, Teresa Stasiewowicz, Sandra Francak,? Poremba, Tadeusz Kublic, Piotr Pietrusiewicz, Leszek Chruscz, Jurek Klonowicz.

 
 

On the right is my sister Maria and me.

 

 

SOCIAL AND TRADITIONS

 

Polish children are very lucky as they receive presents not only at Christmas but also on St Nicholas day ( Święty Mikołaj) which falls on the 5th of December. In all the camps the ritual was very similar and well  organised by the respective parents who sneaked presents into the community hall, where  every one had gathered,  and  then St Nicholas, assisted by an Angel and a little devil, handed them out accordingly as children were called up to meet him.  We were in awe of the frightening figure of the Devil and the striking godly figure of Święty Mikołaj dressed in bishop's robes assisted by the Angel.  The role of St. Nicholas was played by one of the children's fathers and on one occasion, unknown to me and my sister my father was playing the main role of Father Christmas and asked me some very awkward questions about how good I had been that year, before handing over my present. I left the stage with my present clutched in my arms in tears because somehow "Święty Mikołaj" had known all my transgressions that year!

 

 

Right;- Around 1950s. Swiety Mikolaj. Mr Jozef Kuszel (left of Swiety Mikolaj.) Mr Franczak (right of Angel) Mrs Czertko (lady far right), Józia Kuszel (girl holding dog) girl to right Sandra Franczak

 
 

Left-Christmas 1952.My father is standing behind Father Christmas. My sister Maria is resting her head on Father Christmases beard and I am on her right hand side. Władysław Wilmowski is 4th from the right holding his present.

 
 

Sunday mass, processions and other religious celebrations were the norm. Adults would attend dances in the community hall building where the occasional film evening would also take place. Dances would attract people from a wide area to experience Polish music and culture. Later on, Thursley village hall was used for staging cultural evenings. A picture taken in 1955 shows me speaking and declaring my patriotic feelings.

 

 

 
 
 

Above declamation in Polish text I remember to this day.

My role dressed as Kosciuszko celebrating Polish constitution day 3rd May in Thursly village hall on 22nd May 1955.

Nativity play. Top left Pan ADAMEK, ?, Zosia  ANTONIAK. Middle row, girl on far left: Urszula RYZNER. Middle row, girl in middle: Urszula PORĘBA, girl to the right of Mary: Józia KUSZEL.

Margaret Adamek in her National costume.

 

My father had been involved in singing and acting since his early days in Kraków and he had one other passion - football. He had played First Division standard as goalkeeper in Kraków before the war and later represented his Army Unit in Iraq and Italy. Back in the Camp, the local Polish Football Team was called Jasper it travelled all over the country to play competitive matches. On many occasions I went with him and remember standing behind the goal and praying he would not be beaten. My mother would have the chore of washing the Jasper football kit and drying it uniformly on our washing line. It was hard work for her particularly after a muddy encounter but the extra money was a godsend. Farm work was available and women from the camp took advantage of transport laid on by Secrets of Milford to go daily and pick vegetables. It was hard work but had to be done.

 
 
 
 

LIFE IN THE CAMP

 

To supplement their normal food supply at a time of national food rationing, which was phased out in 1953, most people in the camp  had an allotment were they grew vegetables and kept chickens and ducks. My mother had her own piece of land converted just for this use, however her thirty odd chickens and three geese would range freely and would be seen near our house. Surprisingly over all the years in the camp (10 ) we did not lose one chicken either to theft or fox. The chickens would all uniformly march back to their own accommodation for a rest and egg laying without too much fuss. The goose down was used to make our very warm bed covers (pierzyna).

 

1954. Mrs. Klaptocz looking after her chickens.

Mr. Klaptocz  with his young son Franek checking out their smallholding

 

The camp was only about a mile from the small village of Thursley which had a Post Office, Grocers, Butchers and the Three Horshoes Pub. It was a difficult, steep and winding road to the village and few dared to walk it. However, a well trodden path had been established from behind the parade ground which took you over a stream, through a steep copse and alongside the cricket ground. We enjoyed the walk to the village and had to use this route if we wanted to go to the bigger town of Godalming or Guildford or catch a train to London. Many a time we would have a day out to Guildford using the No24 bus which we caught on the old A3 road and then walk some 2 miles back to the Camp as described

 

Mr Karn , the local Grocer/Butcher in Thursley, had a mobile van and visited the camp regularly with the necessary provisions including paraffin, cigarettes, butter, bread, milk etc. My mother would barter for any of the above by offering him her still warm chicken eggs. Mr Karn and his family were very generous to us and we cannot praise them enough in their help and understanding at this difficult time. Hardships were not only felt by us in the Camp but by the whole country as food rationing was still on and morale was fragile after a devastating period of war and deprivation.

 

SCHOOL

There was a pre school nursery run by experienced teachers and helped by mothers. Pictures show us sitting in a group enjoying the sunny weather with two helpers (1950). This was a magical time before we were transported out to our Primary Schools by bus which picked us up and dropped us off just inside the Camp. I went to Elstead C of E with my sister, others to Churt and some closer still to Thursley. Arriving at school on the first day was a major shock not only to us children but our parents and teachers also. We were unable to speak or understand English. Without any preferential treatment or special teaching we managed to progress with our studies and make steady progress in our education. We mixed well with all the children and soon made friends with local families.

 

The picture represents the end of the school year on the 29th August 1954.

A get together of the pre school group about 1950. I am in front of the lady on the left.

 

On Saturday mornings we attended school in the camp where we continued our education but this time in the Polish Language. This continued to give us sound grounding in our first language and I certainly enjoyed the extra challenge. Photographs show us in a group pose with Father Bystry and the Teachers (1954 end of term photo.)

 

Summer weekends included walking to Thursley and watching the local cricket team playing a game which was spell binding and produced local heroes like the village policeman, Dick Green. He was a superb batsman and became a legend in his own lifetime. Ironically, years later, I played for Thursley at a time when they had huge success which has not been repeated to date. In the years 1970/71/72 the club won the local I’Anson League (previously won in 1924) and it was then that I moved away to further my cricketing career. A further coincidence was my continued friendship with Dick Green and his family. I joined the Surrey Police in 1965 and by then Dick Green had moved and was stationed in Guildford with the C.I.D. department. We remain in contact with the Greens to this day.

 

September 1951. My Mum and Dad with the twins, me and my sister Maria

My father with me and my sister Maria

 

One could argue that this chapter describes a hard and basic lifestyle. This indeed may be true but the sense of solidarity and social cohesion that existed in the camp made our childhood idyllic and trouble free. As youngsters we had the freedom of the surrounding spectacular War Department (WD) land. We would sneak over to the Dropping Zone and watch parachute training from a giant balloon and then the real thing as planes flew above us and deposited scores of parachute jumpers into the vast valley below. It was like watching an epic war film and very exciting as we had to stay low and hidden so as not to be caught by the authorities. Just walking across the road from the main entrance to the camp would find us in deep bracken and pine forest. On one occasion a whole regiment of camouflaged faces appeared around us. We were frozen scared but luckily they ignored us and continued with their manoeuvres

 

JUST A FEW OF MY CHILDHOOD FRIENDS

My sister Maria on the right. Boy in the middle is a young Zaręba playing with water from one of the outside taps.

1952. L/R Urszula and Alex Czepil, ,? Poremba   and Władysław Wilowski

1952  me on the right with Jurek Jopek and Leszek Chruszczec

 

The same woods would provide us with the well known ‘polish mushrooms’ and every camp family had their special place which would guarantee a bumper harvest. It all boiled down to the earliest riser would get the best chance of filling their basket to the brim and leaving the later foragers disappointed. September was the start of the mushroom season but very much depended on the weather

 
In the Mid 50s the Camp began to empty as families left for overseas adventures, some moved to London and others to local towns. We had tickets and were ready to sail from Southampton to America when at the last moment my parents decided not to go. The Camp became a soulless place but we children found more areas of interest to play and hide. The Camp was falling into dereliction and we were one of the last families to leave in Nov 1957.
 

My heart remains in the Thursley area and I visit the Camp regularly. Driving past the Camp the water tower still stands out as a landmark to my early years spent innocently wrapped up in a magical world. In November 1957 we received a council house in the village of Elstead, approx 3 miles from the Camp, where my mother lived until she passed away on the 18th April 2011.

 
 

Thank you to Piotr for supplying the information and photos. View more of his photos on.  http://www.tweedsmuirpolishcamp.co.uk

 

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