Pol­ish re­set­tle­ment camps re­vis­ited

Alan Crosby learns how the Pol­ish troops who fought bravely in the Se­cond World War were set­tled in camps once the con­flict had ended

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - HOME FRONT -

At the end of the Se­cond World War, many of the Pol­ish Al­lied Forces who had fought un­der Bri­tish com­mand re­fused to re­turn to their home coun­try, be­hind the Iron Cur­tain.

Poland was now a com­mu­nist coun­try and the Pol­ish forces ar­gued that de­spite all that had hap­pened to Poland dur­ing the war, one oc­cu­pier (Nazi Ger­many) had sim­ply been re­placed by an­other (the Soviet Union).

To re­pay its debt to the Poles, Bri­tain agreed to re­set­tle the Pol­ish sol­diers and their fam­i­lies and the Pol­ish Re­set­tle­ment Act, passed in 1947, gave them civil rights. These forces were tem­po­rar­ily housed in dis­used army bases by the Na­tional As­sis­tance Board to await em­ploy­ment and de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion. Con­di­tions within the camps were of­ten ex­tremely ba­sic, with no gas, elec­tric­ity, or run­ning wa­ter.

One such camp was on Thurs­ley Com­mon in south-west Sur­rey, be­tween Go­dalm­ing and Farn­ham. The site had been ac­quired by the War Of­fice in 1922 and, known as Tweedsmuir Camp, was used as a mil­i­tary rest and re­cre­ation fa­cil­ity un­til 1939. From 1942, it be­came an ad­min­stra­tive and tran­sit camp for Canadian sol­diers who had fought in Europe and were be­ing repa­tri­ated on med­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal grounds. The last Canadian sol­diers left Tweedsmuir in Fe­bru­ary 1947 and the camp was im­me­di­ately taken over by the Pol­ish Re­set­tle­ment Corps, which was re­spon­si­ble for the 115,000 de­mo­bilised Pol­ish sol­diers who had fought with Bri­tain and the Al­lies. The camp housed Pol­ish sol­diers and their fam­i­lies un­til it fi­nally closed in 1957.

In 2011, the trus­tees of the Ru­ral Life Cen­tre at Til­ford, near Farn­ham ap­proved a new project ded­i­cated to the dis­placed Pol­ish Al­lied Forces, who were sta­tioned and de­mobbed in Sur­rey be­tween 1946 and 1949. The project, which was the brain­child of broth­ers Wies and Zen Ro­gal­ski, took two years to com­plete and led to the cre­ation of a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to this di­as­pora, a book­let de­scrib­ing Tweedsmuir Camp and a DVD fea­tur­ing in­ter­views with mem­bers of the dis­placed com­mu­nity de­scrib­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences in the camps. There’s also a web­site based on the ex­hi­bi­tion which gives a vivid de­pic­tion of the lives of the res­i­dents, sup­ported by wide-rang­ing archival re­search( tweedsmuirmil­i­tarycamp.co.uk). The project also es­tab­lished a new Pol­ish ar­chive at the Sur­rey His­tory Cen­tre in Wok­ing, which can be ac­cessed by the pub­lic.

The project, fi­nanced by the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund, was sup­ported by vol­un­teers from the Ru­ral Life Cen­tre as well as in­di­vid­u­als with Pol­ish roots in the county.

The ex­hi­bi­tion was opened in Au­gust 2012 by the Pol­ish Con­sul and the Mil­i­tary At­taché from the Pol­ish Em­bassy in Lon­don as part of a spe­cial Pol­ish Day at the Ru­ral Life Cen­tre and was at­tended by lo­cal peo­ple as well as some for­mer res­i­dents of Tweedsmuir Camp.

For Wies and Zen, the project had per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance as they were born in Tweedsmuir Camp and lived there with their par­ents Miko­laj and Stanis­lawa. As part of the Ru­ral Life Cen­tre’s Out­reach Pro­gramme, Wies Ro­gal­ski ( w.s.ro­gal­ski@gmail.com) presents talks on this hid­den his­tory of Sur­rey. He spent the first six years of his life at Tweedsmuir and is happy to share his ex­pe­ri­ences with those who would like to learn more about this unique piece of lo­cal his­tory.

Ev­ery­one is wel­come to visit the ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ru­ral Life Cen­tre in Til­ford, which in­cludes some arte­facts do­nated by the Pol­ish com­mu­nity. The book­let and DVD of this his­tory is on sale in the cen­tre’s shop and all of the pro­ceeds are used to help main­tain the cen­tre’s per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion.

Con­di­tions within the camps were of­ten ex­tremely ba­sic

The Ru­ral Life Cen­tre ex­hi­bi­tion cap­tures the ex­pe­ri­ences of the Poles who lived at Tweedsmuir Camp af­ter the war

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