Tweedsmuir as a Polish Refugee Camp (1947 to 1960)

(From "Living in Tweedsmuir Camp - 1948 to 1957" / First published in 2003, held at the History of Thursley Society. A Book by Wies and Zen Rogalski)

Chapter 2: Domestic life

There were three types of buildings in the camp. The most permanent were brick built outhouses, which enclosed boilers and electric transformers. The second were Nissen Huts. These were tunnel shaped structures made of galvanised, corrugated sheet steel. Since each was shaped like half a barrel, we called them “beczki” (pronounced betchkey), which in English means barrels. We also understand that some Polish people called them “beczki smiechu” (Shmyehoo), which loosely translated means ‘barrel of laughs’, but to our knowledge the phrase does not have the same meaning in Polish as it does in English. Perhaps it was because when one laughed inside them, echoes seemed to fill their void with resounding noise.

Fig. 2.1: Tweedsmuir Camp late 1948. Our father standing by the side of a 'barrel'. This photograph was taken at about the time he was demobilised from the army
The Nissen Huts were often used as simple and secure workshops acquired by a few people in addition to the wooden barracks or hut in which they lived. Mr and Mrs Baczyk, whom we remember as a lovely, warm couple, had one of these. Mr Baczyk was a fine, Polish craftsman who would practise his craft by making pieces of furniture and tools such as mallets, hammers and wood-boring bits.

Fig. 2.2: Position of 39 Tweedsmuir Camp in relation to Thursley Village. (Click Fig. 2.2 for a larger scale map)
But by far the most common buildings in Tweedsmuir Camp were the wooden barracks, and it was in these that the Polish families lived. The barracks were constructed on concrete foundations, with pressure treated, clad softwood walls and doors, and ‘Crittall’ windows. For insulation, the inside of the barracks were lined with half inch (12mm) thick fibreboard and the roof with thick, felt tiles. Although the foundations remain to this day, they are now covered with moss and creeping vegetation. We lived at number 39 Tweedsmuir Camp, the position of which is shown in Fig. 2.2.

We lived in three rooms. One was the bedroom, where the whole family slept, another was the lounge/dining room, which was used on special occasions and the third a kitchen/dining room where we spent most of our time. The kitchen/dining room did not have any modern facilities. There was no running water, no power to run a cooker, no sink, and no gas.

Fig. 2.4: Tweedsmuir Camp, 1952. From left to right - Wies, Zen and Hania sitting on the step of 39 Tweedsmuir Camp. Hania was one of our next door neighbours. In the top left hand corner hangs a stirrup pump, which was a fire fighting device

Fig. 2.3: Approximate dimensions of 39 Tweedsmuir Camp (Click Fig. 2.3 for larger image)

Fig. 2.5: Tweedsmuir Camp 2001. Wies standing on the same step as shown in Fig. 2.4. Arrowed are 2 Silver Birch trees our dad planted in about 1951 in our back garden
One corner of the room was separated by a stud wall and acted as a larder. An approximate plan of our Tweedsmuir home is shown in Fig. 2.3. The door shown in light blue in the plan of Fig. 2.3 was permanently closed and locked. It was in front of this door that the photograph in Fig. 2.4 was taken. Nearly fifty years on, the same scene is very different, as shown in Fig. 2.5.

From 1948 to 1953, our mother cooked all our meals on a pressurised ‘Primus’ stove. In 1953 however, we acquired a coal fired, kitchen range which, not only provided heating in the kitchen/dining room, but a more convenient means of cooking.

Although we are not sure where dad acquired the range from, we assume it was left by a family who left the camp before we did. We have vivid memories of dad installing it in a strategic position. Fuel for the stove was delivered by a coal merchant and stored in our brick built outhouse, situated in a corner of the garden.

During very cold nights, the bedroom was heated by a ‘Valor’ paraffin burning stove. Whilst trying to fall asleep, we remember the intriguing light patterns that were thrown up onto the ceiling by its burning wick through the pierced top plate. There was no heating in the lounge/dining room and during the winter months this was a very cold room indeed. The lack of adequate heating in this room was probably the reason for it being used infrequently.

Fig. 2.7: In the back row are Joseph Modzelan and the mother of the little boy (Henry) on the tricycle. In the next row down is Zen on the left, Jadzia, Hania second from the right and Wies on the far right. The barracks in the background was a workshop. Our barracks stood parallel with, and behind, the workshop
Every evening our father would literally ‘fetch a pail of water’ from a standpipe in the long barracks shown in Fig. 2.7. Although everyday washing would be done by heating water indoors, serious ablutions took place in the camp’s communal shower and bath complex. For privacy, the user had to draw heavy, black tarpaulin curtains along a steel, scaffold frame. However, when we were small mum bathed us in a galvanised bath, which was set up in the middle of the kitchen/dining room, saving us a trek to the complex.

Fig. 2.8 (Logo
courtesy of Procter and Gamble UK Ltd)
The shower and bathing facility was a multipart unit, for it also housed large, white enamelled, earthenware sinks which were used to wash clothes. Modern appliances did not exist for these chores, the only aids being washboards and mangles. Once clean, the clothes were hung to dry on metal frames made from one inch (about 25mm) galvanised steel tubing, heated by circulating hot water. ‘Tide’ seemed to have been the most popular washing powder at the time. The soap solution was also ideal for blowing bubbles through natural straws, which we picked from the surrounding fields at harvest time. During washdays these facilities also became a meeting place where people laughed, told stories and indulged in friendly gossip.

Lavatories were situated in latrines. We often preferred to use the women’s lavatories simply because each cubicle had a door and hence was more private. We never understood why the basic ‘luxury’ of privacy was not offered to men.

Fig. 2.9: Tweedsmuir 1953. Wies (left) and Zen (right) wearing short trousers made by our mother from royal blue velvet, with button up braces
Fig. 2.10: Thursley Village 2001. Mr Karn's store was located in the building to the left. The store has since been redeveloped into two private dwellings, one called 'The Old Stores' and the other 'Stores Cottage'
As with many people in Britain after the war, our mother employed much creativity and ingenuity in providing the basic necessities of life. Some of our clothes were handmade rather than bought (Fig. 2.9), and meals were prepared from vegetables grown in our own, small garden. For ingredients that could not be grown we depended upon the local grocer and hardware merchant, Mr Karn, who delivered to the camp on a regular basis from his store in Thursley (Fig. 2.10). He brought fresh bread, butter, cheese and other such products in his dark green ‘Ford’ van. For special treats like cakes and biscuits, we also remember the arrival of a baker’s van.

Our parents kept chickens and geese which not only provided us with fresh meat and eggs, but with down for our pillows and quilts which mum made. Many an afternoon was spent with our mother, whilst she wrestled with a live goose on her lap, pulling the down feathers from the protesting bird’s breast; clearly a dangerous business. Picking wild mushrooms was also a favourite activity. We would spend a whole day tramping through the woods around Tweedsmuir in search of edible varieties, which were later dried on string suspended in the kitchen/dining room like washing on a line. Once dried, they were used to season soups and other dishes.

Fig. 2.11: Tweedsmuir 1952. Zen sitting on one of two reclining easy chairs we owned. The frame construction comprised Beech, stained dark oak, and a brown coloured vinyl seat and back
Our home was furnished with military style, utility furniture, much of which was salvaged by our father and pressed into service to make our lives more comfortable. For example, he restored cupboards by scraping off old varnish and recovering each panel afresh. As he did not have sandpaper to do this, dad used the edge of broken glass which did the job admirably. He also strengthened and reupholstered easy chairs for us to relax in.

To keep bedding and ‘Sunday clothes’ free from moth larvae, mothballs were strategically distributed throughout drawers and cupboards. We knew when Sunday Mass was approaching, for our parents put on clothes smelling of naphthalene!

Our GP was Dr Lascelles who had a surgery in Elstead. We remember him as a very gentle man, with greying hair, who wore spectacles and grey suits. Our parents referred to him as ‘Lassal’.

Fig. 2.12: Zen's medical card registered on 1 October 1948 with Dr Lascelles, who was relied on for medical advice by the whole Polish Tweedsmuir community
Dental treatment was provided by a dentist in Godalming, whose surgery was located on the corner of Bridge Street and Catteshall Lane.

For all our mother’s ingenuity it was not always possible to obtain everything we needed at home. Specialist items such as hair clips, p owder puffs, medicines, brushes and combs could only be obtained by going shopping to Godalming or Guildford. Such shopping journeys were quite an adventure for us children because, at the very least, it provided us with an opportunity to ride on the upper deck of the number 24, Guildford bound bus.

Fig. 2.13: The bus stop on the old A3 from where we caught the number 24 bus to Guildford. The bus stop was removed in 2002.
We would begin our trip by walking through Thursley Village, sometimes taking the short cut across the stream behind the village cricket ground, to the bus stop, located on the bend of the old A3, just south east of Thursley (Fig. 2.13).

Guildford High Street was a wonder, although its hilly incline was a little daunting for short, young legs. The bus station, located at the time on the banks of the River Wey at the bottom of the High Street, was the terminus for many bus routes in that part of Surrey. Seeing all those buses with unknown place names on their indicator boards was intriguing and perplexing. The act of buying something was also difficult as our parents only had a basic command of the English language. Many a time dad reminisced about once trying to purchase an ‘Ace’ pram by asking for an ‘arse’ pram.

Fig. 2.14: Wies (standing) and Zen with a 1956 Christmas present - a crimson tricycle which we shared between us.
For us children, Tweedsmuir Camp was an easygoing, safe place to play. The infant population increased significantly in the mid 1950s and provided us with many friends and playmates. Toys were available though few in number. One of our favourite toys was a crimson tricycle, Zen’s Christmas present in 1956, which we both shared. The photograph in Fig. 2.14 was taken in the summer of the following year, 1953. Within a matter of twenty four months or so, we had removed the front and rear mudguards to make the tricycle look more like one of the cross-country motorbikes we used to watch race in the ravines and mud of Houndown, the wood above the camp.

Three years later, our father decided it was time for us to progress to a bicycle and consequently, on 23 June 1956, bought us an 18 inch (about 450mm) girl’s frame bike, arguing that learning on a cycle with no crossbar would be safer and easier for us. Although we do not have any photographs of us using the bicycle, we have found the original Purchase Agreement (Fig. 2.15), which he had signed in 1956 with

Fig. 2.15. (Click Fig. 2.15 for a larger image)
‘Claxton’s’ of 6 High Street, Godalming. The agreement shows that although the cash price of the bicycle was £13, he had to pay £15, because he decided to pay by instalments. The deposit was
“… the sum of £3 ...” and the balance was to be paid “... by 24 weekly instalments of 10 shillings payable on the 5th day of each week commencing on 29 June 1956.”
(10 shillings equates with 50 new pence in today’s money).

Zen has two distinct memories of learning to ride the bike. The first being a lesson on the slightly sloped terrain immediately in front of our barracks. Dad had instructed him to freewheel down the slope and to concentrate on steering. Unfortunately, his efforts propelled him uncontrollably towards the barracks where he came to rest with his left shoulder against the side of the wall (just to the left of the step shown in the photograph of Fig. 2.4). Dad loved to recollect this event saying that although Zen had the whole space of our forecourt to ride in, he only managed to steer himself into a building. The second memory is of Zen following dad down Thursley Road to make a purchase from the proprietor of a smallholding near The Moat. Being a complete novice on the road and full of trepidation at the time, Zen cannot remember what dad went there to buy.

Dad also built us a go-cart using scraps of wood and wheels from an old pram. It was used regularly in a practical way and also in our make-believe play. One day it would be a carriage drawn by horses, the next a heavy goods vehicle. On another day it would be tipped onto its side and one of its wheels would become the steering wheel of a double-decker bus. As we grew older we ventured a little further from our barracks, until eventually our inquisitiveness took us to the stream flowing in the valley behind the camp. There we played many adventure games, as young children do.

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.