In Volume 2 of ‘The Journey’, I describe the voyage from Palestine to England with my mother Anastazia.
In January 1948 our boat, the SS Samaria, set sail from Port Said in Egypt and two weeks later we docked in Liverpool, having crossed The Mediterranean and negotiated the turbulent waters around the Bay of Biscay.
My first impression on ‘walking the plank’ down to the quay, was of a disquieting dark and misty place after sunny Palestine, and of big and mysterious buildings. In the biting cold – another shock to my sun-warmed 4-year-old body – I held onto my mother’s hand, baffled by the painful sensations in my freezing feet and the ache in my chattering teeth.
The waiting coaches transported the newly-arrived Polish mothers with their children to the various disused army camps around England. My mother and I were sent to Northumberland, the Hertford Bridge Camp. I remember the telegraph posts flying by in the night during our seemingly interminable journey, and the snow-covered fields – a sight totally alien to me in my previous life.
The snow was a great discovery for us small children, and irresistible, despite the price we paid for snowball fights or building snowmen. In the barracks the iron stoves emanated just enough warmth to save the atmosphere from freezing, but thawing out our hands and feet took a painfully long time.
Springtime was another surprise: the thawing snow filled the nearby stream and made it sound like a raging river. It frightened me. But then the grass sprang up. I had never seen before a green field thick with soft, waving grass. It looked like a green sea. I’d throw myself on it (reassured by the ground underneath) and pretended to swim.
Another beautiful, enchanting discovery was the bluebell wood. Having walked through the carpet of blue flowers with my mother, I never worried for Hansel and Gretel again, believing the bluebell trail showed them the way out of the woods.
In September 1948, my mother and I together with a large group of people were transported from Hertford Bridge, near Morpeth in Northumberland to Husbands Bosworth Camp situated between Northampton and Leicester.
This military camp with an airfield had been used by the Airforce during the war. The Nissen huts made of corrugated iron were predominantly used for living quarters and the long brick buildings for administration or community purposes. There were four sites, and the number of Poles occupying them could have been close to 800, at the beginning. Gradually, as people found work in the nearby towns of Market Harborough, Rugby, Northampton and Leicester, they moved to rented accommodation to be close to their work. Many emigrated to Canada, U.S.A. and New Zealand, especially as it was becoming clear that Stalin had no intention of loosening his grip on Poland.
Initially, because of the number of people, four families were allocated to each hut, with just a hung-blanket partition between the families. As a small child I was unaware of the discomfort, but for the grown-ups this must have been a nightmare. Yet no worse than crowding on the cattle trains on the journey to Russia. As time went on, families could spread out to two per hut, then, when the numbers significantly decreased, each family could enjoy having their very own hut. I lived in ours for nine years, till 1957.