the defeat of the Polish army by the joint forces of Hitler’s
Germany and Stalin’s USSR in September 1939, an order went out for Polish soldiers to make their way, as best they
could, to France where a Polish Government in Exile was formed
under the premiership of gen. Sikorski and a Polish army was
being assembled to continue fighting alongside Poland’s allies –
Britain and France. The army that formed in France participated
in the abortive Narvik campaign and, following the defeat of
France in 1940, evacuated to Britain. Those that didn’t make it
across Italy to France headed for Syria where they were formed
into the Carpathian Rifle Brigade which later fought at Tobruk.
In the meantime Stalin was consolidating his hold on the part of
Poland that the Soviet Union had annexed under the Ribbentrop –
Molotov pact by deporting to Siberia anyone thought likely to resist the
annexation . By the time Hitler attacked the Soviet
Union on 22nd
June 1941 close to a million Poles had been deported.
Germany’s attack on the Soviets brought them into the Allied
camp together with Britain and Poland, consequently, Stalin
agreed to a Polish army being formed in the USSR. A so
called “amnesty” for all Poles in Prisoner of War Camps, NKVD
Prisons and in Soviet Exile was declared and all those who heard
of the “amnesty”, and were able to undertake the journey, set out
for the recruitment centres. In 1942 the army and its
dependents left the Soviet Union for Persia (Iran) to be
re-equipped and made ready for battle. The Polish Armed
Forces in Exile thus became the third largest fighting force in
the West after Britain and America. Their Battle Honours
include Narvik, the Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic,
Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Normandy and Arnhem.
The political settlement between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill
meant that when the war ended the Soviets annexed Eastern Poland
and incorporated it into the Soviet Union while the rest of
Poland became a puppet state with a communist government imposed
by Russia. The vast majority of Poles rejected this
settlement and chose to remain in The West where they could
continue the political struggle for an independent Poland while
maintaining their language, culture, and traditions for an
eventual return to their homeland.
Some 250,000 chose to remain in Britain and were joined by
their families and dependents from wherever the fortunes
of war had left them. By far the largest number were those who, having escaped from
Siberia with the Polish Army in 1942, had spent the war in
Displaced Persons camps set up by the British in India and
West Africa. The only way such numbers could be
accommodated was by placing them in camps recently vacated
by the Americans and Canadians.
There were many such
camps in the UK most were built in the early 40s in rural
areas, often in the grounds of large country estates, as
Military Hospitals, Army Bases and Airfields. A Polish
Resettlement Corps (PRC) was raised in 1946 as a corps of
the British Army into which Poles were enlisted for the
period of their demobilization up to 1948.
The camps in the UK were
given up by the MOD for housing Polish Families and they
were administered by a number of organisations; National
Assistance Board, Local Authorities and the National Service Hostels
Corporation being the principal ones.
Some were hostels
for single working men and a handful were Polish boarding
schools run by the Committee for the Education of Poles. There
were also a number of Polish Hospitals, the best known was Hospital no.3 in
Penley North Wales.
As people were finding their
feet, many moved out of the camps in search of better
work and accommodation. A large number, with help from the
authorities, emigrated to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada
and Argentina. The camps were slowly closing and families
were moved from camp to camp so that by the mid 1950-s the 200 odd camps had dwindled to around 50 and
by the mid 1960-s there were just a handful left.
Northwick Park camp in Gloucestershire closed in 1970 when the
last family was moved to Stover Park camp which became a
hospice and home for the elderly.
I lived in a DP camp for 15
years and you can follow my experience by clicking on the
Life in a typical Polish DP Camp I am particularly
interested in camps that were home to
Polish families and you can see
the information that I have been able to gather on
List and information of other CAMPS
I would be most grateful for any information, personal stories
and photographs of these camps. It would be sad if we allowed
the history of our parents' generation go unrecorded.
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