Tweedsmuir Military Camp Project travelling exhibition

The following text is taken from the Tweedsmuir Military Camp Project travelling exhibition, courtesy of Wies and Zen Rogalski.

Tweedsmuir – Canadian beginnings

Completed in November 1941, Tweedsmuir Military Camp was originally built for the growing number of Canadian troops in the county. The camp was named after Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, 15th Governor General of Canada (1935 – 1940), better known as John Buchan, author of The Thirty-nine Steps. The Camp was presided over by a detachment from the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment), and between 1945 and 1947 it became a demobilising depot for Canadian Repatriation Units. Wives of the Canadian troops stationed at Tweedsmuir were accommodated in cottages at Thursley village.

Polish Settlement in Surrey as a result of World War Two

At the end of the Second World War approximately 180,000 members of the Polish Allied Forces fighting on the Western Front refused to accept the communist takeover of Poland. Having been under British operational command during the war, they were given permission to settle in Britain. Approximately 2000 settled in Surrey. Most of the men who lived at Tweedsmuir had been soldiers of the Second Polish Corps.

The Polish Forces in Britain were enlisted into the PRC, a British holding unit, where they learnt skills to enable them to settle. Female members of the forces were enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Once suitable employment was found members of the PRC were discharged. Employment for them was found in agriculture, engineering and in the building trade.

Pending their integration they were temporarily housed is disused military bases. Tweedsmuir Camp, formerly a Canadian base which stood near Thursley village, was home to 80 Polish families until 1958. Tweedsmuir was a medium sized camp covering approximately 50 acres. It was a ‘hutted camp’ comprising some 50 Yukon Barracks and five Nissan huts. It stood one third of a mile to the west of Thursley village. Tweedsmuir was designated a ‘families transit’ camp until 1958.

Family life

Polish women working at Secrett's Farm, Milford.<br/>SHC ref 9196/3/3

Polish women working at Secrett’s Farm, Milford.
SHC ref 9196/3/3

Having experienced the catastrophe of deportation, forced labour, family break-up and war, Polish individuals arrived in this country traumatised. This was quickly overtaken by an enthusiasm for hard work and renewal. The overriding objective was to return to some kind of normality and so they found work and set up families. At Tweedsmuir, marriages usually took place at St Edmund’s Roman Catholic Church in Godalming. Residents yearned for the security and comfort of home life and Polish culture, common wartime experience and the Catholic faith bound the community together. Many women from Tweedsmuir were employed as land girls by Secrett’s Farm at Milford, whilst men took part in the post-war regeneration of Surrey. Children of Polish ex-servicemen and women born in Britain attended Tweedsmuir Kindergarten. With the birth of children came an immunisation programme administered in the Medical Inspection Room at Tweedsmuir. The doctors were Polish, typically surgeons, who had served with the Polish Forces. As the children grew older a Saturday morning Polish School was established on a professional footing and children received end of year progress reports. The children were also given an education in local primary schools such as Tilford Primary School (now All Saints C of E Aided Infants School).Children at Tweedsmuir Camp often dressed in Polish national costume for religious and cultural celebrations.

Wies and Zen Rogalski recall domestic life at the camp:

“There was no running water, no power to run a cooker, no sink, and no gas. One corner of the room was separated by a stud wall and acted as a larder.”

“From 1948 to 1953, our mother cooked all our meals on a pressurised ‘Primus’ stove. In 1953 however, we acquired a coal fired, kitchen range which, not only provided heating in the kitchen/dining room, but a more convenient means of cooking.”

“Meals were prepared from vegetables grown in our own, small garden. For ingredients that could not be grown we depended upon the local grocer and hardware merchant, Mr Karn, who delivered to the camp on a regular basis from his store in Thursley. He brought fresh bread, butter, cheese and other such products in his dark green ‘Ford’ van. For special treats like cakes and biscuits, we also remember the arrival of a baker’s van.”

“Our parents kept chickens and geese which not only provided us with fresh meat and eggs, but with down for our pillows and quilts which mum made. Many an afternoon was spent with our mother, whilst she wrestled with a live goose on her lap, pulling the down feathers from the protesting bird’s breast; clearly a dangerous business. Picking wild mushrooms was also a favourite activity. We would spend a whole day tramping through the woods around Tweedsmuir in search of edible varieties, which were later dried on string suspended in the kitchen/dining room like washing on a line. Once dried, they were used to season soups and other dishes.”

Post-war reconciliation attempts

After the war attempts were made to re-establish contact with family members who had remained in Poland or found themselves in refugee camps in Europe, Africa and India. Organisations such as the Red Cross and the UNRAA played key roles in this endeavour. One Polish soldier wrote:

“When I was returning to Wilno I fell into the hands of ‘Our friends from the East’. They sent me to Uchta, near river Pieczory. There I worked until summer, right until General Sikorski’s negotiations obtained Amnesty for us all. I arrived safely in Scotland on 30th May. At last at the end of July 1944 we landed in Normandy to take part in the famous Normandy Invasion. Now with the British we occupied German Land and supervised their people. During action we had very heavy losses. There are some people who are not happy because our existence is a living protest against what is happening. The Allies are trying to diminish our success and achievement and are playing down everything we have helped them with. We all long to return to Poland but not as it is at the moment, and that is why we wait. It has been six years since I have been away from you and my beloved Poland My wife was struggling on her own and my daughter does not know her father. I wish I had even one moment to see them” (Courtesy of Jadwiga Palmer).

Where are they now?

Many members from the community still live in the Surrey area. Having left the ‘camp system’ they moved to villages such as Thursley, Milford and Elstead where they found permanent homes. Others moved further a-field to London, Guildford and Slough, where opportunities were plentiful. They integrated into British society successfully, although they never forgot their Polish roots.

Tweedsmuir Camp was finally demolished in the early 1960s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *