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 3: Making a living

One objective of settlers in any community is economic independence. Clearly, after being demobilised from the forces, mum and dad had to eke out a living.

The years between 1946 and 1950 were a steep learning curve for them. Their first crucial decision was to choose a part of the world in which they should settle. One option, for example, was America, another was Australia and yet another, Canada. Ironically, a further option was to go to Argentina, which had already given sanctuary to Nazi officers escaping Europe and justice. In fact, a plan to emigrate to Argentina was scotched by the Argentinian Embassy in London. Nevertheless, one thing was certain, our parents did not want to return to a Communist Poland. Many years later, they explained that a major factor for them not returning was that, Tarnopol (our father’s home district) and Lwow (our mother’s home district) were no longer in Poland but in the former USSR. Our father was particularly saddened by the whole scenario stating, “nie mialem gdzie wrocic” (meaning he ‘had nowhere to return to’).

Fig. 3.1: Part copy of a letter sent to our father in 1957 regarding the purchase of our South London home. We have removed a section of the address to protect the privacy of the present and future owners. Interestingly, all letters from Messrs. Zylinski & Co. were written in English. In this letter, mention is made of Mr Zylinski attending Holy Mass in the chapel at Tweedsmuir Camp after which our parents were invited to discuss their purchase.
Having decided to stay in England the priority for both of them was to seek and find employment. Clearly, language was a problem, as were the higher skills. The majority of the adult population of Tweedsmuir Camp was too young to have been trained, or educated for any kind of profession before the Second World War (our mother for example was sixteen years of age when the war started). As a consequence, there were no Polish doctors, solicitors or dentists living in Tweedsmuir. Such professionals, who qualified in Poland before war broke out, joined the armed forces as officers and settled in London immediately after its cessation. The Tweedsmuir community turned to these individuals when specialist help was required. For example, when buying our London home in 1957, our parents conducted their legal business through a Polish solicitor, Mr Zylinski of ‘Zylinski & Co’, who had offices in London W1 (Fig. 3.1). When they eventually moved to London they registered with a Polish doctor and a Polish dentist, both of whom had Polish military backgrounds.

Fig. 3.2: Front covers of our parents' Certicates of Registration issued in 1948.
For the Polish community in Tweedsmuir, securing employment was a tightly controlled process operated by the British authorities. Individuals were issued with a ‘Certificate of Registration’ (Fig. 3.2) which documented the person’s background (certificate number, name, nationality, arrival in the UK, address of last residence outside the UK and the like) together with a passport photograph.

Fig. 3.3: Inside cover and first 3 pages of our father's Certificate of Registration (1948).
There were also seven blank pages under the title of ‘Endorsements and Remarks’, which carried a record of the holder’s activities outside the Forces. Fig. 3.2: Front covers of our parents' Certicates of Registration issued in 1948. Our father’s certificate (Fig. 3.3), issued on 5 November 1948, for example, shows that on 6 December 1948 he was “... released from the Polish Resettlement Corps to the reserve for the purpose of employment by Nutbourne Brickworks, Vann Lane, Hambledon ...”, Surrey, (Fig. 3.4) “... on condition that” …
Fig. 3.4: Nutbourne Brickworks Ltd, October 2001. Since the issue of dad's Registration Certificate, Nutbourne Brickworks seems to have been renamed Nutbourne Works. On our (first) visit in October 2001, we found the site was awaiting redevelopment.
he did … “not take, or continue in employment without the permission of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, or engage in any other occupation for reward or business or profession without the permission of the Home Office”.

To ensure that dad fulfilled these requirements, he had to register with the Surrey Constabulary, Godalming Division, which he did on 18 December 1948.

When we moved to South London, he was obliged to register with the Metropolitan Police, London, SW11, doing so on 5 September 1957.

Fig. 3.5: Inside cover and first 3 pages of our mother's Certificate of Registration (1948).
Our mother’s Certificate of Registration (Fig. 3.5), issued on 21 January 1948, shows that when seeking work with Secretts Farm in Milford in June 1952, she had to report to the Surrey Constabulary to be interviewed by the Immigration Officer in Haslemere.

Fig. 3.6: Receipts for one shilling (five new pence) glued to the back covers of our parents' Registration Certificates.
The issue of a Registration Certificate required a payment of one shilling (five new pence) by the holder, the receipt of which was glued to the inside of the certificate’s back cover (Fig. 3.6). On her arrival in London, she too had to make herself known to the Metropolitan Police, on 5 September 1957. The requirement to register with the police ceased in 1960 as our parents’ documents show.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, many people from Tweedsmiur were employed in engineering, building and agriculture. Most of the ‘engineers’ in Tweedsmuir were employed by a company called ‘Dennis’; a plant which occupied land just north of Guildford, near the present A3. Today, most of the site has been redeveloped and in its place stand the likes of ‘PC World’ and ‘Homebase’.

For our father, 6 December 1948 must have marked a monumental change of direction. He was no longer required to wear a Polish Army uniform, report to his commander or rely on the army for his wellbeing. From this date forward, he became responsible for the success of his young family’s life in a ‘foreign’ land.

Fig. 3.7: Our dad at work for Nutbourne Brickworks Ltd. Top left - Second from the right. Bottom left - First on the right.
As an employee of Nutbourne Brickworks Ltd, our father was involved in the construction of houses in Godalming and the surrounding areas. His mode of transport to and from work was a bicycle and the back of a canvass covered lorry. In the morning he would cycle from Tweedsmuir Camp to the wooden bus stop shown in Fig. 2.13. There he would hide his bicycle in the undergrowth, and hop onto a Nutbourne Brickworks’ lorry that took him to his place of work. In the evening he would be brought back, jump off the lorry, pick up his bicycle and cycle home to Tweedsmuir Camp.

It is of interest to note that in the mid 1950s, Mr Karn secured our father’s services to build a garage for him.

Fig. 3.8: Secretts Farm 1954. The best, and only, photograph we have of mum (on the right) at work.
From 1948 to 1952, mum stayed home to look after us. In the summer of 1952, however, she secured work as a land-girl on Secretts Farm in Milford. She worked there with other young women from the camp. Early in the morning she would get up and then attend to us before preparing herself for the journey to work. Like our father, she too was taken to and from work on the back of a canvass covered lorry. In those days, the livery colour of Secretts’ lorries was orange/yellow. The workers were picked up at the camp and driven to the farm to start work. Together with other pre-school children we were left behind to be cared for in a nursery school, or kindergarten; a converted barracks.

There were times during the school holidays when some of the Tweedsmuir children were allowed to accompany their mothers to the farm. We would clamber up onto the back of the lorry and wrap ourselves in coats to protect us from droughts as the lorry lurched from side to side making its way through the country lanes to the farm. Although this may sound uncomfortable, which it probably was, for us children it was quite adventurous.

A land-girl’s work on Secretts Farm consisted mainly of crop picking; spinach, potatoes, sweet corn and tomatoes were typical crops. The children would be huddled together in one spot of the field whilst the mums would disperse and start their work. During the winter holidays the scene was truly atmospheric. A quiet misty field, women bent over reaching down to the plants, a distant chatter of ‘Polish gossip’, punctuated by the sudden raucous cries of crows rising skyward as they escaped an unseen threat on the ground.

The sweet corn field was next to the London to Portsmouth railway line, which gave us something to look at whilst mum worked. We would stare at the steam trains rushing past, whistling as they approached a tunnel entrance not far away. Although the spot was interesting for us, mum was often anxious because the three to four metre high sweet corn plants made it difficult for her to keep an eye on us.

Produce picked by the women was brought to collection points dotted around the field, loaded onto the back of horse drawn carts and taken to the business end of the process where it was unloaded and prepared for sale. Sometimes, we were allowed to take rides on the carts as a treat. We loved this but again, mum was rather nervous as we were out of her sight for some time.

One perk of working at Secretts was the chance to go on the annual works’ outing. One year the trip was to a pantomime in London. Secretts had hired a coach to take the Polish workers and their children to the show. This indeed was a treat! The show was colourful, exciting and memorable. We remember a magician pushing lighted cigarettes into one ear and pulling them out of the other. We remember the music and the dancing troupe. We do not, however, remember the journey back to Tweedsmuir probably because we slept through most if it.

Fig. 3.9: Secretts Farm 2001. Row of greenhouses in which our mother picked tomatoes in the mid to late 1950s.
In October 2001, we had the pleasure of meeting with the third and fourth generations of Secretts who, very kindly, showed us around some of the locations where our mum had worked in the 1950’s. One of the sites included a row of greenhouses (Fig. 3.9) which, we were informed, are awaiting demolition. Wies recollected how in 1955, a large volume of hot air hit him when he opened the door to one of the greenhouses in which our mother was picking tomatoes.

At the end of the working day we would sit in the canteen with mum, drinking ‘Tizer’ and eating ‘Wagon Wheels’, waiting for the lorry to take us home. The canteen is now an office whilst the place where crops arrived in horse drawn carts and were then washed in preparation for sale, is now a container loading site.

In the final analysis, mum and dad were earning money to provide us with the requirements of life. Their earnings were probably not high, but expert management ensured we did not go short.