Tweedsmuir Camp as Accommodation for Polish Families and Dependents (1948 to early 1960)

Adapted from Chapter 5 of a book called The Polish Community in Tweedsmuir Camp, Surrey after WWII, Zen and Wies Rogalski, 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.

Families and Dependents

Six days before Churchill made his pledge to the House of Commons on 27 February 1945, he had had an “emotionally charged meeting with General Anders,” wrote Keith Sword in 1989. “Churchill was clearly influenced by his encounter with Anders,” continued Sword, when he made, what Sword considered to be the sudden pronouncement. Churchill spoke eloquently of “the Polish troops … who had fought under British command.” He had hoped “that it may be possible to offer (them) the citizenship and freedom of the British Empire …” His emotions were fully charged when he spoke the last few words on the matter, saying that “ … we should think it an honour to have such faithful and valiant warriors dwelling among us as if they were our own flesh and blood.” It was a statement that had barely been discussed by the War Cabinet, and certainly not with leaders of the Dominion countries. Yet Australia and Canada, for example, were urged to accept many thousands of men from the Polish Armed Force after the war.

The pledge made no mention of whether the soldiers’ families and relatives should be included. Leaving out those who were in Russian and German work camps, there were 396,147 Polish refugees accommodated in camps found in 30 other countries that stretched from Sweden to Australia and Mexico to India. The problem facing the new Labour administration between 1946 and 1948 was which of the civilians should form part of the PRC process and on what grounds were they to be included. To begin with, the title “refugee”, and subsequently “displaced person” continued to be used in correspondence and memoranda between British government departments. These terms referred to specific groups of civilians as defined by the military administrators in Germany after WWII. The Polish families who settled in Britain after the war were not displaced people as is often thought, but refugees. Churchill's pledge had to be clarified for government departments. Therefore a more precise definition was required to identify just who exactly Whitehall officials were dealing with. Hence a distinction was made between persons who could be regarded as PRC “family” members, and PRC “dependants.” Of course Polish soldiers could not be classified as 'refugees' until they were demobilised.

A family member was the wife, child or children of a PRC enlistee. Other relatives such as uncles, aunts, cousins, mothers and fathers were described as dependants. Therefore, while men in the PRC lived in “Families Camps” with their wives and children, other relatives lived in “Dependants Camps.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the ATS/PRS (see Background to the Process of Civilianisation) included married women with children. Had there been then by definition they, their husbands and their children, would have been accommodated in Dependants Camps and not Families Camps.

It may be of interest to know that as well as “families” and “dependants”, the Home Office also differentiated between other groups of Polish individuals for whom camps were prepared. For instance, Service Camps/PRC were prepared for single men; Service Camps/ATS(PRS) for single women; Recalcitrant Camps for Polish Airforce, Army and Navy personnel (men) who persistently refused to enlist into the PRC, and Disabled Camps for personnel (men) who had been wounded during the war and whose welfare depended on others.

There is no evidence of Polish orphans at Tweedsmuir even though the war had left many in the care of the Red Cross in countries often referred to as “safe havens” such as Uganda, India, Denmark and Sweden. In the main, the orphans were evacuated to Canada and New Zealand from the country that hosted their stay during the war. Some of them, however, remained in the care of their host country after the war.

During the immediate post war period, Tweedsmuir Camp became a Service Camp for PRC personnel, but was later reclassified as a Families Camp. As such only men (PRC or those demobilised from the PRC) with wives and children were to be accommodated there. However, owing to an administrative oversight, a few grandparents, and in some cases more distant relatives also settled in Tweedsmuir. It is therefore impossible to describe a typical family at Tweedsmuir Camp.

A number of Polish servicemen met Italian women when stationed in Italy after the war. Although these Italian/Polish families arrived in the United Kingdom there is no evidence that any of them settled in Tweedsmuir Camp.