FAIRFORD CAMP (H0stel) 1947 to 1958

 

Not far from  the town of Fairford on the fringes of the Cotswolds stood the largest of the many Polish  Resettlement Camps that sprung up all over the UK after WW2. These Camps, run by the National Assistance Board, were officially known as hostels but we knew them as  "obóz" camp. The  displaced Poles,  men and women who served in the Allied Armed Forces under British  Command during the war, together with their families and dependents who have been able to get to England from camps in Africa and India, made their homes in the now disused Army and Air force camps.

In 1947 the abandoned American 32nd Field Hospital close to Fairford, with  long metal corrugated nissen huts and some brick huts joined by a covered walkway,  became home to over a thousand Polish Displaced Persons. Although the administration and day to day running of the camp (hostel ) was in the hands of the Assistance Board with an English Warden, the  camp evolved into, as near as possible, a self-contained Polish village.  In 1950 there were 1,215 residents in the camp, this figure was increased by 150 in school holiday time, when the teenage children came home from their boarding schools in Bottisham and Didington in Cambridgeshire, Lilford in Northamptonshire and Stowell Park in Gloucestershire. To begin with, the younger children went to a Polish school in the camp and later to English schools in the area. There was a chapel with a Polish priest, Fr. Jan Czapski, a junior school and nursery with Polish teachers, a sick bay with a maternity unit staffed by Polish doctors and nurses. To help with the administration of the camp there were a hand full of English speaking Polish ex-servicemen.

 

From Warsaw to Fairford camp Celina Kabała now Wojciechowska   Remembers.

 

In 1944 after the uprising, Warsaw was in ruins and chaos. Somehow  I was separated from my family, and  taken to a German labour camp in  Innsbruck I was only a teenager. After  liberation it was not safe to return to Poland, anyway at that time I did not know if my family survived, so with many other orphans we were moved to a school in Trani Italy. In 1948 the whole school was then  moved to England. We went from camp to camp several times in England first Maghull then Doddington and West Chiltington  ending up in Stowell Park. There I met a dashing young  Polish officer Bolesław Wojciechowski  working in administration as a translator. Although we had a little church in the camp it did not have a licence for marriages so we were marred in a catholic church in Cirencester by a Polish priest Fr.Jan Przybysz and moved to Fairford  camp. My husband worked in the camp in administration as a translator and was the Chairman of the  Resident's Association, I worked in the camp's nursery.  Conditions in the camp were basic, large nissen huts divided into rooms. The windows down both sides of the huts had opaque glass with wire mesh  so we could not see out. Later clear glass was put in the windows. To begin with we had one room to live in but as our family increased we we allocated extra rooms. My first daughter was born in the camp's maternity unit in1949, Bogusia my second daughter was born in 1954 in a hospital in Oxford. Life was hard but we were free, unlike my parents and brother left behind in Poland. Sadly some of my relatives perished in Auschwitz. We eventually moved out of the camp and lived in Swindon and had another daughter Dorota.. I now live in London so does Dorota  my youngest daughter, the other two  emigrated to the USA.

 

My husband and I going for a walk along the covered walk way .

 

Christmas 1955

Jozef Wojciechowski with his niece. You can just see the nissen huts in the background.

Young Wojciechowska born in the camp.

 Christmas in a nissen hut  Józef  Wojciechowski, Celina Wojciechowska with husband Bolesław, their two daughters   and  Wladyslaw Kanas.

 

On the right.

 

English translator and secretary in Stowell Park camp sick bay Bolesław Wojciechowski  with doktors and nurses from the sick bay :-Dr. Rajeska, Dr. Stanisław Jedlicki, Dr. Rabska, Sisters:- Janina Głogowska, Lena Szymczyńska, Olga Kudlecka, Wanda Zarębina. are just some of the names.

 

In the late 40s and early 50s Stowell Park was a boarding grammar and secondary school for Polish youth some of them orphaned or separated from their parents through the war.

 

"Polskie Gimnazjum i Liceum im. I. Paderewskiego" and Królowej Jadwigi.

Picnic in the camp  Mr. and Mrs. Wojcechowscy  with daughter and friend Janka Machałowska.  Note the nissen huts and covered walk way in the background.

Stowell Park Gloucestershire.

 
 

RELIGION AND CUSTOMS

Poles being devout Catholics observed their religious traditions with enthusiasm.  Sunday Masses were always well  attended  people dressed in their Sunday best. Each year Corpus Christi procession would wind its way around the camp to the 4 altars with little girls strewing flowers at the feet of the priest carrying  the Host. With the camp's inhabitants following in song and prayer. For the children their First Holy Communion  was always a big event.

 

Mrs. Celina Wojciechowska , Mrs. H.  Heler with her son.  Just look at the hats.

 

Basia and Krystyna Gorniak  dressed for the Corpus Christi Procession standing in front of the  barrack they lived in.

 

First Holy Communion.

 

The children are Elżbieta, Jurek, Emil and Robert Obuch the little girl is Bogusia Wojciechowska

 

Other children not known.

On the way to church 

 

Right. Mr. and Mrs. Wojciechowscy with daughter Bogusia. 1957

 

The camp can be seen in the background.

 
 
 

WORK and  PLAY

 

To make ends meet people were encouraged to find work outside the camp.  Many travelled as far airfield as Swindon and Gloucester. But finding a job was not easy as there was a policy that no Pole could be placed in a job if there was an Englishman that could do it. The jobs Poles were offered were low paid and very menial, jobs that the native population did not want.  Yet the unions often objected creating problems not only for the Poles who wanted to work and pay their way but also for the National Assistance Board that had to maintain  the unemployed Poles. There was a communal mess that provided breakfast, lunch and supper for the young, infirm and unemployed.  Those, however who had a job paid rent on the nissen huts and  for their upkeep. To start with there were no proper cooking facilities in the huts, people cooked on little electric rings and on top of the round coke stoves, you can just see one in the corner of the picture below. As years went by conditions  in the camp improved. The authorities replaced the round stoves with  proper coal fired ranges and the communal mess closed down. The old and infirm were relocated to other camps like Stover Park in Devon,  Penhros and Penley in North Wales were there where  facilities to look after them. Stover and Penhros became retirement homes for the Poles and are still in full use to this day.

 

The English saying "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy " never applied to the Poles, despite their ordeals throughout the dark years of war and the uncertainty of exile, Poles worked hard and played even better. The camp had an entertainment "hall"  nissen hut, this was used weekly as a cinema, always well attended, all the national day celebrations were held in the hall and last but not least regular dances, with a live band, attended not only by residents but also by Poles living in other camps nearby, like Daglingworth camp  and Stowell  Park camp, Poles always liked a good knees up. Sundays, after  mass and  lunch, people went for walks, in good weather families in their Sunday best promenaded around the camp and park, exchanging small talk with friend and neighbours.

 
 
 

THE SCHOOL AND NURSERY

 
 

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