Many people in Central and Eastern Europe were displaced from their homes during and after World War II. According to some estimates, around 1.2 million Polish people were displaced, many taken at gunpoint from their homes and transported to camps in Germany or Siberia, many thousands ending up in transit camps in India and Africa. Some eventually came to England by boat: through ports such as Tilbury or Liverpool, and were taken to transit camps such as at Daglingworth and from there onto other camps including the one at Fairford.
The camp on land owned by the Ernest Cook Trust, was formerly the American Army’s 32nd Field Hospital. Initially, several families sometimes found themselves in one room, with blankets hung up to give each family a little privacy. They were relieved to later have half a barrack block per family, and in the case of larger families, a whole one.
There was very basic utility furniture and usually a solid-fuel burner which warmed the barracks and on which one-pot cooking could be carried out. Some people also acquired primus stoves for cooking. There were no washing or toilet facilities in the family barracks, only communal ones.
People made the barracks as homely as they could. Without much money to spare, but with a little ingenuity and handiwork, they embroidered and crocheted tablecloths, cushions and net curtains and gradually turned the corrugated iron barracks into more cosy homes. Most of the residents in this camp later moved to Swindon where housing and work was to be found.
By the grotto site at Northwick Camp near Blockley there is a monument to celebrate this and all the former Polish Camps in Gloucestershire. Many of the barracks still exist at Northwick Camp, though the area is now used for light industry.
Alicja Swiatek Christofides, 2009.
All photographs copyright Alicja Swiatek Christofides
If you are interested in finding out about life in other camps, there is a growing number of Internet websites that you can visit. One particular site includes Fairford Camp as well as details of ships and passenger lists. www.northwickparkpolishdpcamp.co.uk
‘Fairford Polish Hostel 1947-59: the collected photographs & reminiscences of the former residents of the Polish Hostel in Fairford’ is out of print but available to be consulted in the FHS Archive Room
‘Polish Resettlement Camps in England and Wales’: Written by Zosia Biegus, 2013 available from www.amazon.co.uk and also to be consulted in the FHS Archive Room