WHEATON ASTON CAMP Staffordshire

 
To the north of Wheaton Aston village in Staffordshire between Marston and Little Onn along the Shropshire Union Canals is a disused WW2 aerodrome. This aerodrome was built  in 1941  as a  Service Training School No. 21  for foreign  pilots, mainly Americans. After the war the camp  was abandoned and in 1947 some of the accommodation was used again  as a " transit depot" for the Polish Resettlement Corps. A large number of Polish people had passed through  Wheaton Aston from many countries e.g. France, Italy, Lebanon, East Africa and the Sudan on their way to the USA, Canada and other parts of the world but many stayed and made their homes in the prefab huts. The camp  to all intense and purposes was like all the other Polish Camp run by NAB  that were scatters though out the UK. with very basic facilities like communal ablution blocks and central catering for the inhabitants, there was also a chapel were regular services and Sunday masses held by the resident priest Fr. Bosowski. Dances, film shows and plays were conducted in the communal hall. The Ministry of Labour worked hard to find jobs for the people in the camp but the major  local industries would not take Poles and there was, too, an initially critical and at times hostile public opinion.  The Polish work force turned out to be hard and  conscientious workers and a great asset to the local coal mining  and pottery industry. The National Assistants Board control terminated on the 7th May 1954, and what was formerly the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp became a British-Polish housing estate of converted huts. The camp  closed in 1965.
 
 

 Bronia Koźminska's nee Petela's story - from the age of ten.

 

From Poland through Siberia and Africa to Wheaton Aston Camp.

 

I lived a happy, relatively comfortable life with my mother, father, sister and three brothers in the small town of Biskowice in eastern Poland, now in the Ukraine. I was only 10 when war broke out, and all hell was let lose, families in our town  were  rounded up by the soviet NKVD (a precursor to the better known KGB) and deported to work camps in  Siberia. On the 10th of February 1940 the dreaded knock came to our household, one of my brothers, Leopold  who was  in a boarding school at the time escaped deportation,  but the rest of  us mother, father sister Hela, and brothers Edward and Tadek  with a few belongings, there was no time to pack, were taken to the railway station, bundled into cattle trucks and taken to Skorodum in the depths of Siberia. The train  journey took several days we had little food and with temperatures down to minus 40o C we  were very cold. In Siberia we lived in the forest in wooden huts, some times six families  to a hut but at least we could huddle together to keep warm and we were always  hungry. Father and the other men worked as loggers in the forests it was hard work and extremely cold and in 1942 sadly our father died. By now the soviets became allies of the west and, under the command of General Władysław Anders, a Polish Army was formed.  All able bodied men that were deported to Siberia joined the army and were allowed to leave this god forsaken land  with their families. In all about 130,000 people left Siberia. We travelled  to Iran though Pahlavi, Teheran and on to Africa. Thrown from the intense cold of Siberia into a hot but welcoming Africa.  Here we lived in a mud hut in a huge camp in Tengeru in what in now Tanzania. The camp was well organised, we were looked after and  fed, we were clothed by an organisation called U.N.R.A. The camp had a church with Polish priests providing all the spiritual needs and there were schools with  Polish teachers providing education to all the young people. I went to the high school were I learnt to be a dressmaker, I also learned some English. All the girls had a school uniform which we were very proud of. We lived in the camp for five years before sailing from Mombassa to Southampton to a new life in England.

 

School in Tengeru Africa

Left: Head teacher O. Trybuchowska, Mrs. Józefa Szałderowa, Mrs. Onyszko, Mrs. Genowefa Hupko. You can just see a mud hut with a straw roof in the background.

     
We arrived at Wheaton Aston camp in Staffordshire on the 27/7/1948. Conditions in the camp were basic, sometimes several families had to share a barrack and  so, to get some privacy, blankets were hung from the ceiling as dividing walls, you did not see but you heard everything. There were communal wash and toilet blocks and we did  our cooking on little round stoves. Luckily I did not have to live in the camp very long as I met and married a Polish soldier Henryk  Koźminski, I found work in Longton, at the Kent Pottery and we moved out of the camp into rented accommodation. My sister also married and moved out, our mother stayed in the camp until we became more established and then she came to live with us. After eight years of  uncertainty and hardship, of being pushed from pillar to post, we found  peace and stability in North Staffordshire. In the 50s Polish people were well established in the Stoke on Trent area with a Polish priest looking after our spiritual needs, there were  Polish doctors and  when I needed an operation, in the late 1950s, I was sent to the Polish Hospital in Penley North Wales.  Henryk ( he was known as Harry) and I raised three lovely daughters. Sadly Harry died some years ago. I really do not  like talking about the experiences and hardships that all deported Poles suffered  during WW2 and I block out all the bad things and just remember the better times.

 

Wheaton Aston camp

Bronia Petela and Henryk Koźminski with a group of of friends outside one of the barracks 1948.

Hela Petela, Edward Samek, Bronia and Tadek Petela

 

Some of the names; Antek  Piechowicz my sister Hela our mother Maria, my  cousin Tadek  brother  Edward and me Bronia.

Julia and Bronek Kozioł and Bronia Petela

Julia and Bronek Kozioł

 
 

Jurek (George) Pająk was one of many babies born in the 1950s in Wheaton Aston Camp.

This is a condensed version of  his family history

 

 

My mother Halina and father Mieczysław  1935

My father Mieczysław was born in Kraków, he attended Officer Academy in Grudziąz and in 1929 was commissioned into the Prince Józef Poniatowski 8th Cavalry Regiment. While in Grudziądz he met and married an heiress from a wealthy and long established family, Halina Ślepowron- Kossaczewska. They settled in Wilno and had  two children a son Zbigniew (1936) and daughter Elżbieta (1938). Life was good.

Prior to September 1939 my father was posted to 3rd. Regiment Mounted Riflemen (Pułk Strzelców Konnych) and was among the last units, fighting under General Kleeberg, to resist both the Nazis and the Soviets.  He was captured and spent the rest of the war in Offlag 7 in Murnau.

During this time my mother survived in Wilno (taking great risks by bartering for food on the black market).  On  June 20th 1941 the family was due to be deported to Siberia but Hitler's attack on Russia that day meant that all trains were used to evacuate Red Army soldiers so Polish civilians were spared deportation.

As a result of the Yalta carve up Wilno became part of the U.S.S.R. so my mother with her children moved to Western Poland.

After the defeat of Germany my father was re-commissioned into the Polish forces and served in Egypt and Italy before coming to England to join the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC). My Father Mjr. Mieczyslaw Roman Pająk  became Commandant of West Chiltington and Petworth Camps. In 1947 he managed to get my mother and siblings out of Poland through the so called "Zielona Granica" (border demarcating the Russian and allied areas of occupation) into an UNRA/Red Cross transit Camp in West Germany, by now they had been separated for 8 years. After the PRC disbanded the family moved to the Polish Camp in Marsworth near Dunstable where my brother Andrzej was born, and  finally to Wheaton Aston where I was born. We lived in the camp from 1950 to 1958.

My father initially worked for the National Assistance Board. While a POW he learnt good English and wrote with a beautiful copperplate hand, he prided himself that his spelling was better than that of most English people. Experience of life in camps differed greatly. 

For the young it was wonderful to grow up and play, with many friends and few restrictions, in the countryside. Teenagers also coped well, learnt the language, learned new skills then moved on and prospered. For older and elderly people it was very different and very difficult - not just because of post war austerity and rationing.

They were unable to settle in and integrate because they couldn't speak the language so couldn't learn or transfer skills. Many, particularly middle class professionals, harboured expectations of returning to Poland and resuming their pre-war life. People took any job they could - mostly manual - just to tide them over until they could return to Poland. Hardly surprising that people placed such importance on maintaining the past, Polish dances, folk songs, traditions, religious customs.

 

My mother sister and brother, Poland 1947

PETWORTH  POLISH RESETTLEMENT CORPS CAMP

This photo of the  family group is an historic and very poignant memory for us. My parents were separated in Sept 1939 and  re-united eight years later in Petworth Camp on the 16th June1947 this photo captures that moment.

Elżbieta's first communion  Marsworth camp

 

IMAGES OF WHEATON ASTON CAMP

 

The 2 handsome young men in front of the camp are me aged 2+ and my brother Andrzej age 3+. This photo must have been taken in 1954. Although at the time we
were not aware of poverty, rationing was still in place for many years and  this photo captures post war austerity.

These good looking young boys again - obviously fed on "kluski"- I am to the left with my Godmother Bożena Kolmer and my brother Andrzej is with our sister Elzbieta 1954
 

A pre-school group (Nov 1952). My brother Andrzej is in the black hat middle front row. The lady to the left Pani Podwojska,  When the parish moved to Stafford her
husband gave up his Saturday afternoons  to teach Polish children until approx 1966, the other lady is Antonina Załęska

December 1954/1955. The post war baby boom generation - all the friends I grew up with - I am standing top right  in front of the Christmas tree. On the far left stands Pan Professor Luszowicz 1914-2010 'cicho ciemny'and active in SPK affairs .

 

My sister Elizabeth is at the back of the group in fundraising Akademia on behalf of Skarb Narodowy dated 11/11/51 and signed on reverse by  Przewodniczący Komisji : płk Jerzy Bajan. I imagine scenes like this were repeated throughout UK Polish DP Camps

Jadwiga and Jan Sarnecki wedding celebration 1958, my Mother Halina is seated centre,
 the curved shape of the hut is clearly visible.

 

My father was Chairman of the Parish Committee for many years & often made patriotic speeches on significant dates (3 May/11 November etc ).  I suspect from the background this photo was taken in St. Austin's primary School Stafford circa 1960. I have included it because to Dad's right is Ks. Bossowski & to his left Dr. Jones Parish Priest at St.Augustine's and well disposed towards Poles.

This photo (late 50's) shows a typical gathering. Dad seated 3rd from left, behind him, with bow tie, Pan Janusz Kolmer

 

A picture of the kaplica (chapel) 1955-1960 beautifully decorated as ever for Christmas. Ks. Bossowski, with his back to us, is taking the service. In this photo the Chapel looks large but in fact it was about 10 x 4metres. It still exists although now deconsecrated and used to store silage for cattle.

A typical procession.  I am the 8- 10 year old altar boy to the left so I guess 1959-61.
 
I regret that my parents didn't live to see the collapse of the Soviet system & had to live their lives as ďż˝migrďż˝s.  It is for this reason that I am happy to contribute to your site so that there is some record for future generations.
 
Jurek (George) Pająk
 
 

MORE IMAGES sent in by Marian Nowakowski

Marian Nowakowski with his mother Antonina and sister Genowefa  sailed to England on the Dundalk Bay from Mombasa to Hull arriving on the 2nd September 1950. They lived in Wheaton Aston camp for many years. He is in all the photos taking an active part in the life of the camp. Today Marian is still  very active in the White Eagle Polish Club in Stafford.

   
 

What is left of the camp today - photographs sent in by  Zbyszek Hryciuk.

If you have any memories or photos of Wheaton Aston camp please send them to me and I will post them on this page.

Zosia@northwickparkpolishdpcamp.co.uk

 

 
 

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