life in England
winter and a wonderful spring:
|After the Second World War, a large number of
Polish soldiers and their families made their way to England.
They were housed in army camps built during the
war to house allied forces (American, Canadian, French etc.) that returned
to their home countries when war ended. The camps stood empty until the
Polish forces arrived from Italy and other war time deployments.
Document showing the admission date to Monkmead Camp on 1946.
|My grandparents departed from Italy to
England after the end of the war and these camps were their home for
several years. They found a peaceful and pleasant place to live after many
years of suffering and uncertainty. Today,
there is little sign of the existence of these camps
at all, except in the memories of those who lived and grew up there.
|Alba and Józef Chorągiewicz met in
Italy after the end of hostilities in Europe in December of 1945. Alba was
born in Montelupone, Italy. She was eighteen years old, a pretty and
enthusiastic Italian lady. Józef, was born in
Kozłowice, Upper Silesia, Poland. He
was twenty-one years old, a brave and handsome man in the Polish
Underground Forces. He escaped from
southern Poland in 1942 and enlisted as a soldier in the Polish
Second Corps under General W³adys³aw Anders. Due to the
antagonism towards the Communist Regime, Józef decided not to
return to his homeland and enlisted in the Polish Resettlement
Corps (PRC). This was a Corps of the British Army into which
Polish soldiers could enlist and whose task was to prepare the
soldiers for independent civilian life in England.
|Alba and Józef were dating for five months
and were married on a sunny morning on April 25th of 1946
in the ancient medieval village of Montelupone,
near the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. Three months later they departed
for England. Alba had a mix of feelings in her heart. She was excited and
happy to find new opportunities in a new country but at the same time, she
felt sad to leave her friends, family and even the small town where she
grew up. She was a strong woman and knew that better living conditions
will wait for both of them. It was time to say goodbye.
They departed by train from the
Montelupone station and stayed in a Transit Camp
(probably the transit camp of the Second Polish Corps in Trani and
Barletta) waiting to continue their travel.
They were ready to cross the sea and look for new horizons. The train was
ready to leave the continent and departed from the coast of France to
England. Alba and Józef travelled together with many Polish soldiers
and their families.
They crossed the English Channel by ferry
and arrived in Folkestone Harbour railway station on July 24th
of 1946. Alba and
Józef arrived on the Island in the
summer with exceptional weather, frequent and
heavy thunderstorms occurred in Eastern England that year. At Folkestone,
they went through the immigration formalities and were transported by
military trucks to the Monkmead Camp at West Chiltington, Pulborough,
where they were registered on July 25th . Accommodation was assigned to them and
received their identity cards, medical books, and clothing.
The first days of Alba in England with some friends, wearing the
black Polish beret, 1946.
winter of 1946-1947 was remembered as one of the harshest and
coldest in the history of England during the 20th century. The snow began to
fall in December 1946, but the heaviest storm occurred at the end of
January. At that time, snow fell heavily in the south-east of England
covering the fields and the barracks. The temperature began to drop
drastically and the snow accumulated in an exceptional way.
were electricity cuts and livestock died due to
the persistent cold days. Alba and Józef remembered that extraordinary
cold winter in the camp that made it difficult to go out and get food.
Everything outside the hut was frozen, and they burnt some wood for
heating their place. Despite the weather conditions, they were happy to
enjoy the winter season together and safe.
cold and white days of an unforgettable winter passed and the
spring came full of great things. The morning of April 3rd of 1947, Alba was
admitted to the 6th Polish General Hospital at Diddington Park,
the former 49th American Army Station Hospital, located near
Buckden Village, Saint Neots. Józef stayed in a different camp until
On 25th April 1947, Alba delivered a healthy baby
boy, Franciszek Albert. The labour was hard because the nurses only spoke
Polish and even though they were kind to her, she could not figure out
what they tried to say. Franciszek was baptized in May 1947 in the Saint
John Evangelist church in Horsham. His godmother was Irena Cybulska
and his godfather was Antoni Stasiewicz, both also lived in the Camp.
Alba pregnant together with their Italian friends
Alba and Józef together with the new born baby boy
With some friends in the Barracks
in the winter of 1946-1947.
Franciszek in Possingworth Camp, Pulborough, 1947
of Possingworth Camp, 1947.
Most of the camps for Polish soldiers in exile and their families were
in extensive rural areas and distributed throughout the Island. At that
time, Alba was pregnant and the conditions at the Monkmead Camp were not
good enough to spend the winter there. Alba and Józef stayed there only
four months and they were later relocated to a new site. During the
autumn of 1946, they moved to Possingworth Camp, North Uckfield,
Pulborough, and were transferred once again to Menhro (difficult to read
handwriting) Common Camp, Lower Beeding, near
the town of Horsham in January 1947.
After moving to a better place, they were ready to spend their first
winter in England.
February of 1948, the family was transferred to another site in the same
area and moved to the Five Oaks Camp, Billinghurst in the County of West
Sussex. In this place, they stayed longer and really enjoyed the time
there. The huts were modest constructions that were built on huge plots of
rural lands. They were small, rounded, or semi-cylindrical in shape, all
were very similar. Alba and Józef lived in a nissen hut roofed over with
rusted galvanised sheets and covered in the front with timber. They were
cosy enough to establish a new home not only for them but also for many
people in a country with a different language and customs. The hut had a
central wooden door and two small windows one on each side of the door, a
small window above the door, and a couple of windows on the sides. It was
a simple and humble home. In a single space, there was a dining room, a
bedroom, and a bathroom. Surrounding the hut, they made a garden where
they planted some wildflowers and vegetables to contribute to their daily
food. Their lifestyle was very modest and even though the food was
rationed as a consequence of the war, they always had a meal at their
Oaks was always in the memories of Alba and Józef. The place was
quiet, nice, and peaceful. A humid climate with abundant
vegetation and a lot of trees, mainly oaks and pines made a good
time for relaxing. Józef worked for a short time on a farm and
later worked as a full time mechanic with administration duties in
the main office of the camp. Alba used to spend time taking care
of the baby, cooking, and having long talks with her Italian
friends. They enjoyed social meetings, picnics, and walks in the
countryside. Making a great effort to save some money, they bought
an oak wood crib for Franciszek. Alba had some difficulties with
the language. She never learned to speak either English or Polish.
She used to buy some pasta from a salesman holding in her hands a
noodle as a sample because she did not know how to talk with him.
|The barracks were
the home for Alba and Józef for three years, where dreams and illusions
little by little returned to them. Life there remained engraved in their
memories as pleasant and joyful moments. The Polish community, settled in
many camps throughout the Island, finally found some of that longed-for
peace. Undoubtedly, they did their best to adapt to life in the new
country even when they were not welcomed by some
residents. The opportunity to stay in the refugee camps gave them some
stability, shelter and well-being after so many years of gloom. There, a
large number of Poles settled down, maintained their traditions, and
celebrated traditional festivities dancing the Polka in their traditional
costumes. Everyday life was pleasant for the families and soldiers and the
Five Oaks camp was a very quiet place where they could enjoy peaceful
Not everyone found satisfying work in England.
Trade unions insisted that skilled work is offered first to
English people limiting job opportunities to unskilled work. Many
of the soldiers decided to seek better opportunities in other
countries and decided to emigrate with their families.
Possingworth Camp, 1947.
Five Oaks Camp, West Sussex, 1948.
Józef and Franciszek Five Oaks Camp, West Sussex, 1948.
It was time
for Alba and Józef to leave the camp and said goodbye to their partners
and friends who were like their family during their years in England. They
would always remember the huts, the smell of wet grass after the rain, the
snowy days, the walks, and the social gatherings. It was the moment to
take a new step in their lives. They left their home at Five Oaks Camp and
made their way to Argentina. They departed from Southampton harbour on
February 25th 1949 carrying two big suitcases, a couple of
things, and the oak wood crib which was later used by all the new babies
in the family.
|By Barbara Vento Chorągiewic
(From the book: “Memorias de Tierras Lejanas”
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