Memories of the town’s Polish community

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MORPETH Antiquarian Society’s November talk was entitled The Common Camp — Morpeth’s Polish Village.

Krystyna Wojcicka gave a packed St James’s Centre an insight into events leading up to the evacuation of Poland and life on Morpeth Common in the late 1940s and early 50s.

After the invasion of Poland in 1939, over one-and-a-half million Poles were deported to labour camps in Russia and only a small percentage survived.

When Germany turned against Russia in 1941, Russia joined the Allies and released the survivors of the labour camps to form an army headed by General Anders, who had previously been imprisoned in Lubyanka Gaol, Moscow.

Krystyna’s father became a paratrooper, fighting at Arnham.

After the war ended, many national borders were changed. In 1946, Poland lost its eastern territory to Russia.

Most of the wartime allies accepted responsibility for Polish refugees and Britain received 120,000 Polish people.

The UK was desperately short of housing after years of war and bombing, so many people lived in ex-armed service camps.

It was to Morpeth Common Camp that Krystyna’s parents came, along with 300 other Poles, mostly people in their 20s and 30s, in what was to be permanent exile.

British families living in part of the camp made their new neighbours welcome.

There was some union opposition to Polish workers, but a sense of community was strong in Morpeth and the camp.

Huts were soon made into homes as the new settlers re-established their cultural traditions.

Children attended local schools during the week and a Polish school on Saturdays.

The Catholic Church played a large part in helping people settle in their new country while keeping their cultural identity.

As with many villages at that time, delivery vans came to the camp with provisions.

Many members of the audience recalled visits to the camp.

The concerts and dances were very popular.

Gradually houses were built, people of the camp found work and moved away, so the camp was demolished in 1964.

Contact with a wider Polish community centred in Newcastle is not as strong as it once was, but now young people are taking an interest and pride in their roots.

The next meeting of the Antiquarian Society will be on January 27, in St James’s Community Centre at 7.15pm.

All are welcome as members recall life in Morpeth during the late 1940s.