Closure of Tweedsmuir Camp (Page 2 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.

Tweedsmuir Camp - Whose Responsibility?

On 6 October 1947 Mr JE Protheroe, Ministry of Works (MoW), wrote to Mr GA Pepper, NAB, advising that camps Algonquin, Jasper, Laurentide, Ontario and Tweedsmuir had been taken over by the MoW with respect to maintenace and engineering services. Although he understood that the NAB were "not in a position to indicate adaptations which would be required prior to [...] the Board accepting responsibility for these camps", Protheroe requested to know when the NAB could approve proceedings. In his response to Protheroe, dated 8 October 1947, Pepper wrote,

"This is the first intimation that I have received regarding Algonquin and Laurentide camps which your Department has taken over for maintenance services in accordance with the agreement centrally. As far as I am aware, the camps have not been allocated for the reception of family units and the Assistance Board will not therefore be interested in them.

[...]

I understand that there is a likelyhood that Jasper and Tweedsmuir camps will be taken over by the National Service Hostels Corporation, but I will write to you further to arrange site meetings if there is any possibility of the camps falling to be administered by the Board."

(The National Service Hostels Corporation {NSHC} was created in May 1941 when the MoL and NS pressed forward the idea of providing "hostels for workers away from home." To help run such hostels the corporation received a grant from the Ministry of Labour and National Service.)

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Despite using a civilised tone of phrase, Pepper made clear the Board's position by distancing it from the notion of Tweedsmuir being taken over by the NAB. To underline the matter, in the same month of the same year, October 1947, an administrator (name and office unknown) from the NAB wrote to the War Office contending that the Board wanted "nothing to do" with Tweedsmuir because the WO intended to take it upon itself to "civilianise" the camp.

In 1948 two letters from the WO to the NAB cemented the Board's attitude towards Tweedsmuir Camp. The first, dated 22 January and addressed to a Mr Scanlan, brought out into the open an internal WO memorendum (BM/F1/1335 of 11 August 1947), stating that Tweedsmuir was not housing any civilian Polish people and that "no such cases had been reported to the War Office 'F1' Section," which was responsible for keeping records of civilians accommodated in War Office camps. In the second letter, dated 3 February, Colonel Labouchere OBE, Deputy Administrator, Polish Forces, War Office affirmed that as soon as the WO made a decision about what they proposed to do with Tweedsmuir Camp they would let the NAB know. For the moment then, as far as the NAB were concerned, the camp was housing army personnel for which the Board had no responsibility.

By the end of 1947 the NAB established a national procedure (RO 5A/47) for collecting maintenance fees from, and issuing "pocket money" (or an allowance for day-to-day spending) to, Polish civilians living in UK military camps. Having its roots in the Polish Resttlement Act, RO 5A/47 was an administrative policy which empowered the Board's Regional Officers to concern themselves with such financial matters. Notwithstanding the Assistance Board's precept that Tweedsmuir was a WO camp, by some quirky administrative omission the southern division's Regional Officer (RO) found himself assessing, for the whole of 1948, financial arrangements for the occupants of Tweedsmuir Camp.

At about this time, the "slowness of the run-down of the PRC" had displeased both the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Labour. On 17 January 1949 they summoned Major-General McLeod (Head of the central advisory staff to the PRC) to a meeting "with the view to deciding what steps could be taken to accelerate the run-down." Four days later, in true tradition of an administrator, McLeod highlighted the matter in a letter to Administration Polish Forces at the War Office, outlining ways in which the problem was to be resloved.

Meanwhile an internal NAB memorandum, dated 8 February 1949, from one Mr WJ Hartland to a Mr W Walton explained that Tweedsmuir was being used by family groups, comprising 166 people (72 males and 94 females). Hartland's memo disclosed that the family heads in the camp were "employed either by the WD or by outside (civilian) firms" and that the RO was dealing with

"all of these cases under RO 5A/47 procedure. This procedure,
wrote Hartland,
seemed to fit the latter type of case but I asked Mr Bourn (London RO) why we were concerned with the collection of maintenance charges from WD employees. The reason given was that the WD only had authority to deduct 25 shillings (£1.25 sterling) in respect of maintenance charges from the wages of their employees. In the case of married employees it was therefore necessary for the requisite charges to be assessed under our normal procedure. We are not charged centrally by the WD for the single men [...] (unless they are employed by bodies other than the WD) but we are charged for the majority of married civilians and their families irrespective of whether or not they are employed by the WD. The only exception to this rule is that if a man and his wife (without children) are both employed by the WD they are housed together in the single person's camp (Jasper) and are regarded for maintenance purposes as two single individuals (ie the cost of their maintenance is deducted from their individual wages).

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Hartland finished his memo by stating that "the foregoing information" was noted on three files one of which was dated as early as 25 October 1948.

Having consulted his documents and after discussions with his staff, Walton wrote a courteous but resolute letter to Labouchere on 4 March 1949.

"On 3 February 1948, you wrote us a letter telling us you would let us know when a decision had been taken about Tweedsmuir Camp, but as yet nothing has been heard.

I find that our Regional Officer is regarding this camp as one in which he should make assessments both for the collection of maintenance charges and the payment of pocket money in respect of the 166 (Polish people), although so long ago in October 1947, we contended that, as it was your intention to civilianise Tweedsmuir, we should have no responsibility for it in any way.

I believe a similar position arises at Algonquin Camp.

In view of your letter of 3 February 1948, I should be glad if you would let me know what is the position on these two camps as we feel that our Regional Officer has been accepting a responsibility which should not have continued for so long."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Four days later, on 8 March 1949, Lebouchere responded by writing,
"I must apologise for our failure to let you know the decision about Tweedsmuir Camp. The failure to do so was probably due to an assumption by us that you became aware of the position when it was decided that neither your Board nor the NSHC would take over responsibility for the camp for the reason that some of the occupants were the families of serving PRC.

The position is that the occupants are still of the same category as previously, being families of civilianised (Polish people) and of serving PRC, all working at the Pay and Record Office at Witley. The staff has been partially civilianised, being paid and administered by the War Office.

It would therefore appear that your Regional Officer has the same responsibilities as hitherto in making assessment for maintenance charges and pocket money. The WD staff continue to collect the charges, as agents for your Board, based on the assessments made. The responsibilities of your Regional Officer in this connection should now be small, as there are few changes to the occupants in Tweedsmuir Camp, or their status.

The situation at Algonquin Camp is the same, but only to a very small extent. There are only a few civilianised Polish families there and they are transferred to Tweedsmuir as soon as accomodation is ava ilable for them."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

At the bottom of Labouchere's letter Walton had written a hurried internal note to one of his subordinate administrators that revealed his displeasure with the WO stance.
"Mr Jones,

It seems the WO take the responsibility for some civilian duties but for others they do not. It seems unsatisfactory. [...] These camps in the main are the homes of members of WO staff, in effect a War Office hostel for which the WO should be responsible. Will you ask someone from Region to come up and discuss the position with you. The danger, as I see it, if we took this stand, is that it could be difficult to dispose of the civilians who are also in the camp. However, please explore how we can get rid of the habitants of both camps."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

From his hand-written note, it is clear that Walton recognised the Board's responsibility for the civilians in Tweedsmuir but concerned that, as an NAB representative, his persistance in having nothing to do with the camp was propelling the Board towards an administrative abyss. But then the WO announcement in 1947 to keep Tweedsmuir open for its employees at the Pay and Record Office Witley left him with few, if any, other options.

Jones went to work immediately, discussing the matter further with Bourn. In a hand-written note, filed on 17 March 1949, he explained that Bourn made two points additional to those Jones had already made on 8 February.

  1. All civilians had been moved out of Algonquin and the RO had no further responsibility for this camp. (Those moved out of Algonquin were housed in Tweedsmuir Camp.)

  2. Bourn "examined the cases for Tweedsmuir" that were "being dealt with under RO 5A/47 procedure", informing that 67 of them were "in respect of" civilians "employed by the WD" and 17 were "in respect of" civilians "employed by other employers."
Bourn added that "of all the 17 persons, 9 (were) sons or daughters of" parents "employed by the WD", pocket money was "being paid to 7 civilians" and that "a further two cases were being examined" on the day the note was filed.

Having updated and recorded on paper the situation as it existed in Tweedsmuir, Jones made a study of the correspondence on file. When he discovered that it was Scanlan who back on 22 January 1948 filed a letter from one Mr Haines (WO) in which was stated that there were no civilians housed in Tweedsmuir, Jones wrote to him.

"Mr Scanlan

Please see correspondence herein starting with the extract from the notes of the divisional meeting held on 3 February 1949. We are trying to shed Tweedsmuir but anticipate some difficulty in view of the fact that the camp houses some civilians in work for employers other than the WD.

In PL96/2 (annexed) please see Mr Haines' letter of the 22/1/48. In the last paragraph of his letter he states that there have been no cases of civilians accompanied by their families and further that if such cases did arise, they should be reported to the WO ('F1' Section). It appears from Mr Hartland's minute of 8 February (1949) that there are such cases in Tweedsmuir and for the reason that the WO cannot deduct more than, say, for maintenance from the wages of their civilian staff at this camp, the RO assesses all the family cases under RO A5/47 procedure. It is stated that the Board is charged for these civilian families - is this correct please?

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

(NB: Neither the notes of the divisional meeting nor the PL96/2 file exist any longer.)

Scanlan treated the matter with urgency. On 22 March 1949 he wrote to Haines, explaining the situation as it existed up to that date. He quoted Haines' letter of 22 January 1948, reminding him of his assertion that there were no civilians living in Tweedsmuir. Scanlan then proceeded to highlight cases which involved the RO dealing with nearly 100 civilians, "most of whom (were) either employed by the WD or (were) the sons or daughters of (Polish people) employed by the WD." Continuing his letter, Scanlan wrote,

"Presumably, therefore, these cases have been reported to 'F1' under the terms of the War Office memorandum."

We are anxious to determine the Board's liability for these civilians whose pay is chargeable to normal Army votes and who are accompanied by their families in a War Office camp. Can you please let me know whether the Board are in fact charged for the maintenance of these civilians and their families in Tweedsmuir Camp in the bulk claim for maintenance rendered by the War Office."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Haines took nearly 3 months to reply to Scanlan's query, presumbaly because of his endeavour to ascertain the exact facts and how best to respond. On 17 June 1949, he declared that the NAB paid the War Office 23 shillings (£1.15 sterling) per week for each of the men and 21 shillings (£1.05 sterling) per week for the women and children, and the Board received back "a sum not exceeding" 25 shillings per week for each man, 21 shillings per week for each woman and 7shillings and 6 pence (37.5p sterling) per week for each child. In a note to Jones, dated 18 June 1949, Scanlan wrote,
"Probably the Board lose slightly in view of the large number of children. Has Polish Division any comments on Haines' letter, please?"

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
(The financial loss to the NAB amounted to 67.5p {sterling} per week, per child.)

Although there is no existing record of Polish Division's response to Haines' letter, it is clear from the available evidence that the NAB were now trying to "bring matters to a head with the War Office." NAB administrators were seeking "to clear the position at Tweedsmuir before issuing a circular to resettlement corps personnel telling them that RO 5A/47 procedure" would close on 30 September 1949; the date by which the PRC would finally be demobilised. In theory, the disbandment of the PRC should have spelled out the closure of Tweedsmuir Camp by 1 October but, as will be discussed later, this proved more difficult than at first anticipated.

In his letter of 17 June 1949, Haines also suggested that the Board and the WO ought to agree to "regularise the (financial) arrangements at Tweedsmuir Camp" and intimated that "matters (collection of mantenance charges and issue of pocket money) should be left as they are since, in view of the impending disbandment of the Polish Resettlement Corps, it did not seem advisable to alter the system at that late date." On 6 July 1949 the NAB agreed to Haines' proposals.

Despite their understanding that the WO were negotiating with HRDC for them to take over Tweedsmuir as a housing estate, Walton, Jones and Scanlan, on behalf of the NAB, were keen to draw up a plan that would assist the Board in relinquishing responsibility for Tweedsmuir. They decided in the first instance to write to the WO, explaining that the "agency arrangements", which existed between the WO and the NAB, should cease as from 1 October 1949 (one day after the disbandment of the PRC). They also agreed that if the WO were successful in their negotiations with HRDC, the NAB "could transfer [...] some civilians" to hostels but only "if they wished to come." But the most important detail they agreed on was not to make any reference in their letter to the removal of the camp's inhabitants. Instead Walton, Jones and Scanlan decided to "let them (the War Office) raise the question of disposal of civilians."

So, on 17 August 1949 Scanlan again wrote to Haines. In the second paragraph of his letter he said,

"We [...] understand [...] that Tweedsmuir is the only military camp likely to be housing civilian (Polish people) after 30 September 1949 (when we anticipated War Office agency functions for the Board would cease). In order that we may wind up this section of the work, we would be glad if the War Office could make their own arrangements for housing their own civilian staff and their dependants, if necessary, from 1 Ocotober 1949. This would mean that the War Office would have no further claim on the Board for the maintenance of civilian (Polish people) in any Department camps after 30 September 1949. We hope you will be able to agree that after 30 September 1949, War Office agency arrangements on behalf of the Board should cease."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
On the afternoon of 7 September 1949 Haines telephoned Scanlan, saying that the WO was prepared to agree to Scanlan's suggestion and proposed to charge Tweedsmuir personnel the Board's rate of charges with effect from Saturday, 17 September. This cleared the way for WO 'agency' functions with the NAB to terminate completely after 30 September 1949. When Walton heard the news, he wrote in a memo, "this is a very satisfactory conclusion." Two days later, on 9 September, Haines confirmed the arrangement in writing.

Original Table: The National Archives (PRO) / Reference: AST 18/16

His letter included the proposed charges as shown in the table to the right. Below the table Haines added,

"a widow with children under 16 years of age would be charged as at (d), and a widow without any children under 16 years of age will be charged as at (b)."

(Since there is no record of the NAB agreeing these figures, and because the totals in Haines' letter are higher than those issued by the Board, one can only assume that the charges had been raised.)

Having settled the financial situation at Tweedsmuir, on 21 September Haines wrote a subsequent letter to Jones in which he pointed out that,

"the War Department (were) continuing to keep Tweedsmuir Camp open to accommodate Polish personnel who (were) employed at the PRC Pay and Record Office at Witley, together with the families of such personnel."
He also made clear that the WD,
"would prefer, therefore, that all personnel who become unemployed (discharged from the PRC) should be moved to other accommodation as early as possible and (that the WO were) looking into the question of removal, not only of those at present unemployed but also of those who will become unemployed as the staff as Witley runs down."
Haines finished his letter by writing,
"However, in the meantime we agreed that these personnel should remain at Tweedsmuir, and that your office at Guildford would provide individuals with sufficient funds to enable them to meet the War Office charges for their maintenance. We also agreed that the War Department would not make any issues of pocket money after 30 September 1949, and instructions to this effect will shortly be issued.

I am copying this letter to Scanlan."

In a brief note to Mr Hartland, Jones wrote the following at the bottom of Haines' letter.
"This confirms conversation I had with Mr Haines. The WO will press the Ministry of Labour to find work and accommodation for their future 'discharges' and also the ex-PRC cases."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
Sixteen days after Haines sent his letter to Jones, Lieutenant Colonel Harborne OBE at the Aftermath Liaison Section, PRC/PLF Affairs, completed a lengthy, somewhat churlish letter to Walton at the NAB. Having summerised the situation at Tweedsmuir, Harborne continued by explaining that WO efforts to both place the heads of families in alternative employment and to have the camp taken over by the local authority had proved unsuccessful. He also pointed out that the WO was seeking an early closing date for Tweedsmuir Camp and requested assistance from the NAB to "solve the problem." (Click the image to the right for an enlarged version of Harborne's letter.)

The NAB, however, would not be moved on their position regarding Tweedsmuir Camp. On the afternoon of 17 October 1949, Mr Ottley (NAB) responded to Harborne by writing,

"We discussed your letter of the 7 October about the people in Tweedsmuir and perhaps you would like to have confirmation of what I then said.

The Board have always declined to accept responsibility for the residents in this camp or hostel, and the War Office have been aware of this as it was a camp which they agreed to run for their employees, ie civilianised employees for their Record Office.

Some months ago when the question of redundancy arose we were approached by the Ministry of Labour to take the redundant persons into our hostels. We resisted this because these persons were in no different position from any other (Polish person) in any part of the country. In such cases, we considered the normal machinery of the Ministry of Labour should operate, and, if necessary, the benefits of the various social services applied for. We see no reason why we should depart from the decision then made."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

The WO responded in no uncertain manner. In what was arguably the most influential communique that determined Tweedsmuir Camp's future, on 14 November 1949 the Officer Commanding (no name available) Laurentide Camp, Witley, informed the Board's Regional Controller in London that the WO had issued instructions to close Tweedsmuir by 31 December 1949. The letter, which eventually stimulated interested parties into action, was brief and to the point.
"Dear Sir,

Subject: Tweedsmuir Polish Families Camp,
THURSLEY

In connection with various enquiries about this camp, will you please note that instructions have now been received from the War Office that I am to close the camp by 31 Dec 49.

Accordingly, all residents are being served with notices to vacate their quarters in the camp by 31 Dec 49.

From 1 Dec 49 no WD employees will be resident in the camp except the actual staff of the camp."

Your faithfully,

(Signed) (?)

Major for Colonel

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

The NAB Regional Controller in London copied the communique to a Mr Campbell (position and office unknown) who penned a memorundum, which anticipated possible applications from Tweedsmuir's residents for alternative accommodation in other hostels administered by the Board. Campbell wrote,
"The attached copy of a letter received from the Officer Commanding Laurentide Camp, Witley, has been received at this office via the Regional Controller, London (Outer). This copy is forwarded to Headquarters for information. The policy outlined by Mr Ottley in his recent letter to Lt. Col. Harborne has been noted at this office and appropriate action will be taken in connection with applications which may be received from residents at Tweedsmuir for admission to Board's Hostels."

(Signed)

18 November 1949

However, when Jones (NAB) read Campbell's memorandum he immediately wrote a note to Ottley, stating,
"Please see Mr Campbell's minutes of the 18 Nov and enclosure.

We are resisting individual applications for admission to hostels in the light of your letter to Col. Harborne (17/10/49).

I think we should let the next move come from the WO."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

"I agree - await developments", replied Ottley.

The notice to quit their quarters was an enormous psychological blow to, and a pivotal moment for, the Polish families living in Tweedsmuir. Individuals reached out to others like never before, drawing strength to act as one communal group.

One evening, early in November 1949, the family heads met in Tweedsmuir's Community Centre to discuss an intelligent strategy for opposing the notice. No one argued for remaining in the camp long-term or considered the camp as an ideal. Instead, after ten years of hardship and having shuffled from country to country only to be deprived of a victorious return to Poland as soldiers, they craved time; time to reflect and to rebuild their lives. To this end the community looked to the PCA, Witley who, on the same day that Campbell signed his memorandum, wrote a two page letter, in broken English, outlining the reasons why Tweedsmuir should not be closed immediately. (Click the image to the right for an enlarged version of the Association's letter.)

When Ottley read the letter from the PCA, he wrote to Mr Stewart at the MoL.

"The only solution to this problem would appear to be the setting up of a Housing Estate and in this connection I should like to refer to Walton's letter to you of the 31 May 1949, enclosing a copy of a letter from the Town Clerk, Godalming, in which he asked whether it would be possible for camps in the Witley group to be used as temporary housing accomodation. Bailey (MoL) replied on the 19 June 1949, stating that the employment opportunities in the area did not warrant the setting up of Housing Estates.

I have some doubts whether this reason still holds good and I wonder whether you would look at the matter again.

Without wishing to appear unhelpful, I must confirm to you what I have already told Harborne, and that is that we (NAB) do not regard the housing of these people as our job.

The War Office wish to close Tweedsmuir Camp by the 31 December 1949, so the problem is becoming one of urgency."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Since Stewart's response no longer exists, it is difficult to ascertain exactly how the situation as outlined in Ottley's letter was resolved. What is clear, however, is that by mid 1950 Tweedsmuir was taken over by HRDC. The documents available in the National Archives, Kew, provide an insight into the bureaucratic mechanism that permitted the council to become involved in a site that the NAB saw as a military camp. By this time the Board's "main line of attack" had
"been to persuade local housing authorities to accept Polish families [...] as candidates for council houses and to persuade eligible families to apply for a place on the waiting lists."

{Polish Resettlement / Post-war papers dealing with the provision of accommodation, etc, under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 - The National Archives (PRO)}
It was within this context that HRDC was prevailed upon to both act as a reconciliatory body and to change Tweedsmuir's designation from a military camp to a temporary, civilian housing estate. One of the conditions that each family head had to satisfy before registering with HRDC as a potential council tenant was to show that he "worked in the local area." On 25 May 1950 the MoL and NS appointed Mrs Mackay as Welfare Officer with the responsibility of looking after the well-being of those individuals who continued to call Tweedsmuir Camp 'home'. After more than two years of toe-to-toe argument and counter argument the question of just who was going to accept responsibility for Tweedsmuir Camp seemed to have been settled.