Recollections of the Melton Mowbray Camp
It has all started 50 years ago
At the end of the war a serious question arose, what to do with the Polish forces, which were still under arms as part of the Allied forces.
At first the British Government tried to persuade the Polish Government in London that the best solution would be to demobilise everybody serving in the west and then return to Poland. Since great majority of those serving in Polish units in the west were from the part of Poland that was no longer in Poland, Thanks Yalta agreement and have sampled delights of Siberia for two years, there wasn’t much chance of many returning voluntarily to try again. In the end British Government agreed that only those willing will go back and the rest will be demobilised here and allowed to stay.
Besides the forces that came out of the Soviet Union in 1942 into Persia and Middle East there were thousands of women and children that managed to escape as well. The forces stayed in the Middle East, preparing to go to the front, but women and children were evacuated to India, Rhodesia and Uganda with some staying in Palestine and Lebanon. The agreement has also provided a right for the relations to come to UK to be reunited here.
Furnishing the camp
Since British Army was being demobilised, there was quite a number of army camps vacant, which were allocated to Polish army from Italy and Germany. How it came about that the RAF station at Melton Mowbray was picked for one of Polish Resettlement Corps camps I could not tell you. This was to be the only Polish Resettlement Corps camp for Polish Air Force personnel and their relations. In summer of 1946 I was posted from RAF station Denholme Lodge to RAF station Melton Mowbray. On arrival we were told that the station has to be prepared for receiving civilian relations of Polish Air Force personnel from various locations. The only sites that were furnished were SHQ site, roughly where Queensway is today, WAAF’s site with concrete barracks on the opposite side of the road, which still stand today, our sergeants mess on Dalby Road part of which is Kirby Club today, airmen’s dining hall on the opposite side, where school is today and officers quarters and mess on Site 3 nearest the airfield.
My first assignment was to furnish Site 1 on Dalby Road, roughly where Valley Road is today. At that time Nissen huts were in their original state i.e. one room with cast iron stove in the middle, to be furnished with up to ten beds with mattresses, pillows, blankets etc. and also with some wardrobes and cupboards. All ex-RAF stuff. In the corner of the site was one large Nissen hut with some bathtubs, showers and hot and cold water taps. Toilets were brick build outbuildings located on the site. At the entrance to the site was picket post which we adapted as our site office. At the same time Site 2 was being furnished. Civilians started arriving in Autumn 1946 and Site 1 was the first to be rapidly filled in.
Then I was moved to Site 2 on Sandy Lane, roughly opposite College Avenue. The facilities were the same as on Site 1. From that site I even went to London with FL/LT Semmerling and two WAAFs to meet a bigger transport coming from Germany for which a special train was laid on from London to Melton Mowbray.
The uniformed staff on the site was F/O.W/O, Sgt, three airmen and two WAAFs. May be some of you will recall that 1946-47 winter was exceptionally cold for very long period, which caused a lot of problems. In the first place the toilets being unheated were frozen solid. There was shortage of coal and coke due to delivery problems in arctic conditions so all we allocate per Nissen hut per day was 1 bucket full of coke. Now you can imagine how long fire lasted in half filled stove. Of course Polish people, being very resourceful, soon found out that they could buy electric boiling rings and keep them burning to keep the frost out…. Unfortunately, that overloaded the power lines of the station so much that we were ordered to confiscate such equipment, if we found it. I remember that there were children and infants living in those conditions. I remember the hedge in front of the sergeant’s mess was hardly visible from under the snow.
I think all the civilians came under the assistance board, till they found employment. The only transport available was your own pair of legs. I think the Polish community in Melton in 1947 has been around 1500 souls. In 1947 I was posted to RAF station North Luffenham and then few other places to come back to Melton in Dec 1948. Out of uniform. Uniformed personnel were all gone.
Camp was run by assistance board’s warden. While I was away, Nissen huts were modified, partitions put in to make one room family accommodation with cast iron cooking stove. Later on we even had cold running water and the sink installed. Gradually people started moving out to neighbouring bigger towns in search of work and then came the emigration to Canada, USA, and Australia. In mid fifties rumours started circulating that the camp will be liquidated so we must look for alternative accommodation. When you consider that all had arrived in this country with only clothing on their backs and the only work they could get at the start was manual labour, how did they manage to save enough, in at the most 10 years for a deposit on a house? And that’s what came next – house buying. Those that in the end could not do it, were given council accommodation. Myself I moved out at the end of 1958. When exactly was the camp closed I cannot remember but it must have been in the early sixties if not earlier. Towards the end of the assistance board running of the camp our chapel was in the former sergeant’s mess, today’s Kirby Lane Club.
The Polish Church
In the early sixties the late Father Kotowski proposed building our own church. I think the plot in Sandy Lane was bought from the council. Plans were made and planning permission granted. Foundations were dug and concreted by community members. The building itself was done by a building company. Church was consecrated in 1963. We were lucky there was a vacant plot by the side of the church. I think also owned by the council, which we bought and built a Polish club in 1968. This we did from scratch ourselves. Today Polish community in Melton numbers about 350-400. I was asked to do this because I was here before it all started and after 50 years I am supposed to remember it all.
Thank you for your attention.
Wed, 12 April 2006