Closure of Tweedsmuir Camp (Page 1 of 3)

From Chapter 4 of a book called The Polish Community in Tweedsmuir Camp, Surrey after WWII, published by The Old Kiln Museum Trust. The book is part of The Tweedsmuir Camp Exhibition at The Rural Life Centre, Tilford, Surrey, England. It is available from The Rural Life Centre, Amazon, Waterstones-on-line and other reputable book sellers.

When Tweedsmuir Camp completed its Second World War function the anxieties over its closure were felt by a broad spectrum of authorities, organisations and individuals. For the British Government, Tweedsmuir was but a tiny cog in a large wheel that assisted in the demobilisation of the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) whose personnel, for one reason or another, could not return to Poland. In this respect Clement Attlee's Labour government were less interested in Tweedsmuir the camp than in the dispersal of people it housed.

Since Tweedsmuir existed on Ministry of Defence land, the War Office (WO) reserved the right to dictate just what it proposed to do with the site. Hence in early 1947 WO officials announced that they were keeping Tweedsmuir open for their employees (personnel responsible for administrating the PRC) at the Pay and Record Office, Witley in Surrey. But in so doing they failed to foresee the repercussions this decision would have on their relationship with the civilian authorities particularly the National Assistance Board (NAB).

The National Archives (PRO)
(Reference: WO 315/67)
Under the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947 the NAB was the driving force behind resettling ex-PRC personnel into the British civilian way of life. Thus, having received confirmation of Tweedsmuir remaining open for army personnel, the NAB refused to accept the camp as one of its "housing estates" because for NAB officials Tweedsmuir was continuing as a military camp. As a consequence, a frail alliance between the WO and the NAB began to emerge.

In 1949 this delicate relationship became serious when Tweedsmuir's population swelled by the arrival of Polish civilians, some of whom were dependants of PRC personnel. Yet despite this development the NAB persisted in having "nothing to do with the camp." As will be discussed in due course, this prompted the WO to declare that it would close Tweedsmuir by the last day of 1949. Upon hearing this news Tweedsmuir Camp's occupants turned to the Polish Combatants Association (PCA) to help them explain to British authorities why the camp should not be closed immediately. On 18 November 1949 the PCA copied a letter, in broken English, to those whom they considered could influence the imminent fate of Tweedsmuir Camp. When NAB officials received their copy of the letter, they immediately corresponded with the Ministry of Labour and National Service (MoL and NS). Having reiterated that they did not regard the rehousing of the camp's residents as the Board's "job" and highlighting that the WO were desirous of closing Tweedsmuir by the end of 1949, NAB officials asked the MoL and NS to resolve the problem "as a matter of urgency." This was the second time that the MoL had been approached by the Board for this purpose and on both occasions the MoL refused to oblige because of the lack of employment opportunities in the area for Tweedsmuir's tenants. By 1950 the NAB persuaded a number of local authorities throughout the UK to become involved in the question of rehousing the Polish tenants who at the time were living in army camps similar to Tweedsmuir. Consequently, Hambledon Rural District Council (HRDC) stepped in to become responsible for the administration of Tweedsmuir Camp.

Records show that it was HRDC who brought about Tweedsmuir's eventual closure. The council soon found itself having to correspond with both the MoL and NS and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MoH and LG). For the MoL and NS the concern was one of finding appropriate employment for the heads of Tweedsmuir families. But, under NAB rules, employment without suitable accommodation could not be considered; ex-PRC personnel had to demonstrate that they had both alternative work (other than being employed by the WO) and alternative accommodation (other than in Tweedsmuir Camp), which they did not have. The matter became more involved because when, as in some cases, accommodation was provided by HRDC, the council was required to respond to national needs presided over by the MoH and LG.

Individuals, both the camp's occupants and local people, had their own grievances. The head of each Polish family living in Tweedsmuir Camp was unfamiliar with Britain's social and political conventions hence experienced moments of uncertainty with regard to their future. For local people it was a question of facing up to HRDC as it used compulsory purchase orders in an endeavour to rebuild the district after a devastating war by providing houses for both local English families and families living in Tweedsmuir.

These circumstances provided the backdrop to Tweedsmuir's closure. They were so complex and administrative policies so entrenched that for the authorities, closing the camp to everyone's satisfaction became a complicated procedure. It comes as no surprise, then, that the camp remained open for a further three or so years after HRDC declared Tweedsmuir would close.

Post World War Two

Immediately before the general election in July 1945, Winston Churchill pledged that Polish Army personnel both women and men, could, if they so desired, begin to rebuild their lives in the UK. Having lost the election, however, Churchill committed Clement Attlee's incoming Labour administration to accept the responsibility of accommodating thousands of Polish Army personnel as PRC 'enlistees' under British command.

At the time of writing there seems to be little agreement regarding the number of personnel who eventually enlisted in the PRC. Arguably the most accurate statistics were published in a letter to Mr F Jones (NAB) on 14 February 1951 by the Ministry of Labour and National Service; six years after the war had ended. By this time "agreed figures" representing repatriates, emigres, those who had passed away and the like had given the MoL and NS an opportunity to complete a "final analysis" in the form of a table, which is reproduced below.

Original Table: The National Archives (PRO) / Reference: WO 315/34

The arguments for creating the resettlement corps, the list for which opened in 1946 (Army Order 96 of 1946), are documented fully elsewhere and will not be discussed here. Surfice it to say that its purpose was to control the disbandment of the Polish Army, permitting its personnel to make a smooth passage from army life into British society. The political instrument that enabled this transition to take effect was the publication of the Polish Resettlement Act, which became law on 27 March 1947. It provided

"for the application of the Royal Warrant as to pensions, etc., for the military forces to certain Polish forces, to enable the Assistance Board (NAB) to meet the needs of, and to provide accomodation in camps or other establishments for, certain Poles and others associated with Polish forces, to provide for their requirements as respect health and education services, to provide for making arrangements and meeting expenses in connection with their emigration, to modify as respect the Polish resettlement forces and past members of certain Polish forces provisions relating to the service of aliens in the forces of the Crown, to provide for the discipline and internal adminstration of certain Polish forces and to affirm the operation up to the passing of this Act of provision previously made therefor, and for purposes connected therewith and consequential thereon."

{Chapter 19. Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
The National Archives (PRO)
(Reference: WO 315/67)
On 1 April 1947 the Board issued a circular, stating that their instructions (A.8/47) as outlined in the text of the Act could be carried out in full. (Click the image to the right for a larger picture of the document.)

The phrase "certain Poles and others associated with Polish forces" used in the Act referred to thousands of Polish civilians, comprising in the main women, children and others who were regarded by the forces as 'non-effectives'. Many of them were dependants of PRC personnel who, during the war, were evacuated to safe havens such as Uganda and Kenya. Although exact figures representing the number of civilians permitted to join the PRC have not as yet been fully analysed, in 1946 the WO acknowledged a count of around 50,000 dependants. As a consequence, between 1946 and 1951, British authorities accepted responsibility for roughly 164,037 Polish citizens some of whom were still deciding what next to do with their lives. As a stop-gap remedy they were housed in military camps that were vacated by Allied Forces immediately after WWII; and so for some 170 PRC personnel and their dependants Tweedsmuir Camp became "home" for more than a decade.

Administration Arrangements

Scotland, England and Wales were divided into six Home Commands. Tweedsmuir Camp lay in Eastern Command, roughly 600 metres north of Thursley village

Providing accommodation for over 160,000 people, for whom the English language and British culture in general were completely alien, proved a monumental task. In the first instance, central government (The Foreign Office and The War Office) devised a dispersal policy with regard to the PRC personnel. An integral element of the policy was to control the number of personnel in any one region of the United Kingdom. Subsequently the UK was nominally divided into five Home Command areas comprising Scottish Command, Northern Command, Eastern Command, Western Command and Southern Command. It was then possible to transfer an appropriate number of PRC personnel to the now vacant military camps in each Home Command. As shown in the graphic opposite, PRC matters in Tweedsmuir Camp were managed by Eastern Command.

The policy framework established that all PRC affairs were to be administrated centrally by the Aftermath Liaison Section, PRC/PLF Affairs from offices in Egerton Gardens, South Kensington in London (PLF is an acronym for Polish Land Forces). Moreover, since, as a military corps, the PRC was under WO orders it was for WO officials to rule how best to execute the policy and, above all, help PRC personnel overcome the language barrier. Hence the PRC Inspectorate General, headed by General Kopanski, was counselled by WO staff who officiated from Ashley Gardens in Westminster, London. Witley Camp, a long established military site at the time and a little over 6 kilometres east of Tweedsmuir, acted as the PRC Pay and Record Office until the corps was officially disbanded on 30 September 1949.

In conversation with Major (Retired) Franciszek Szuta, a WWII veteran, we discovered that he was one of many Polish administrators responsible for 'signing off' PRC personnel upon their demobilisation. Working alongside British Army staff and under the command of a British officer, he, like all Witley Camp administrators, was billeted there until the last few Polish soldiers became "civilianised" as documents of the era describe them. As civilians, ex-PRC personnel were obliged to abide by NAB rules that applied to all camps, hostels and establishments in which accommodation was provided for them. The same obligation applied to PRC dependants. A person who contravened or failed to comply with the rules was

"liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty five pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both fine and such imprisonment."

{Chapter 19. Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
However, since the WO announced to keep Tweedsmuir Camp open for army personnel, the NAB could enforce neither the rules nor the penalties for their contravention in the camp simply because Tweedsmuir was a WO responsibility. This stalemate between the military authorities and civilian authorities started a chain of events (best described as administrative 'ping-pong'), which lasted for more than ten years.