Blackshaw Moor Camp Staffordshire

 
 

Blackshaw Moor Polish Camp was home to Polish soldiers and their families from 1946 to 1964. Today the site where the camp once stood is a Caravan and Motorhome Club site.

 

The Caravan Club has very kindly funded the erection of a granite plaque commemorating the Polish people who were unable to return to their homes in Poland and for whom this place became a temporary home after the war.

 

 

The Commemorative Plaque was unveiled on the 15th of September 2015 on the former site of Camp 1

 

 

A 30 page booklet with information and over 40 photos has been published for the occasion.

 

Available from Blackshaw Moor Caravan and Motorhome club site

Picture Book in Leek

 
 
 
The Staffordshire Peak District is made up from gently rolling hills and heather covered moors to the spectacular rocky outcrops of  the Roaches and Hen Cloud,  a walkers paradise. Yet few, admiring the views are aware of the World War two legacy of this area. In 1943 at Blackshaw Moor four army  camp  were  constructed on the East side of the Leek to Buxton road for the 565th US anti-aircraft unit. The camps were also used as transit camps for US troops arriving in the UK in preparation for D-day.
 
 

 
 

Part of article from Leek Post and Times 1946 

 
With the end of the war the American army returned home and in1946 the MOD  handed the camps over to Polish troops  returning from Italy and other battlefields of  Europe. Men and women who served in the Allied Armed Forces under British command who, because of the political situation, could not return to their homeland were enlisted into the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) which was raised as a corps of the British Army for the period of their resettlement and demobilisation.
 

 
 

A group of Polish soldiers, Jan Jurkiewicz second from right. Can you name any one else.

Photo of solders in Blackshaw Moor camp, sent in by Mark Jurkiewicz

 
Blackshaw Moor was one of a number of base camps with a demobilisation administration centre, here men were issued their discharge papers and many moved on to other parts of the UK in search of work, this explains the vast turnover of men from 1946 to 1949. The MOD took charge of the camps until the soldiers were demobilised. Once demobilised single men became the responsibility of the N.S.H.C. (National Service Hostels Corporation) which ran worker's hostels throughout the country.  Families became the responsibility of the NAB (National Assistance Board).  This division of responsibility led to serious problems in providing and maintaining decent living conditions for the residents.
 

The Dinning room

Inside the dinning room on the right is Józef Szczepan.

If you can name the other two people please get in touch.

Wojciech Iciek with the first children, Stanisław and Jan Kapusta, that arrived with their parents in 1947

 
 

The winter of 1947 was exceptionally cold with a lot of snow.  The men, having arrived from sunny Italy just a few months before, now found themselves on the bleak moors cut off from the rest of the world by several feet of snow.

 

Blackshaw Moor 1947 photo sent in by Mark Jurkiewicz

Blackshaw Moor 1947

 

The Map shows the layout of the four camps, after demobilisation camp 4 was vacated to make way for the MOD army training camp, the remaining camps were used as accommodation for the soldiers and their families who were now arriving from camps in Africa and Europe.
 
There were approximately 70 huts of various sizes on each site. The huts were divided with studded walls giving each family separate accommodation amounting to one medium sized room, in which the family lived and slept.  The families were provided with bedding, furniture and other equipment, just bare necessities, by the  Military.  A weekly rent of 10 shillings for a husband, 6 sh. for a wife and 3 sh. for each child was paid by the residents.  These payments covered rental of furniture, equipment, light and fuel. 
 
The only heating in the huts  was a coke burning pot bellied stove, totally useless for any serious cooking. Each site had a number of communal  ablution blocks with showers and toilets, where hot water was available once a week.  Water for drinking and  cooking had to be carried in buckets from outside stand pipes.
 
Living in these conditions, especially with young children was extremely difficult. The army had no experience of running civilian camps so the National Assistance Board, which was responsible for other  Polish resettlement camps  in the UK, approached the NSHC to  take over the running of the Blackshaw Moor camps on their behalf but they declined because of the poor state of the huts.  In fact, there was confusion as to who was responsible for what: The MOD looked after the men in uniform until their demobilisation; the NSHC after the single civilian workers employed in local industry.
 
No one took responsibility for the families.  This meant that the huts in which the families were living, which were already in a poor state, deteriorated quite badly. A report following an inspection by an MOD officer from 24 September 1948 reads "In most of the huts I inspected, the Polish women were making heroic attempts to establish homes....." it continues "Unless action is taken this portion of the camp will lapse into slum conditions."
 
 
Things came to a head in 1948 when the PRC was wound up and the MOD and NSHC vacated the camps, leaving  Polish families to fend for themselves, with  little or no English language skills and no knowledge of whom to approach for help. Luckily there were a number of  English wives of Polish ex-soldiers living in the same appalling conditions.
 
They appealed to the Local Authority which reluctantly accepted responsibility for Camps 1 and 2. The Ministry of Works  set to work on improving the huts and installing coal fired cooking ranges. By 1950 things were looking up for the families Men found work in local heavy industries like Buxton Quarries and North Staffordshire coal fields, the women in textile mills in Leek and the pottery industry in Stoke on Trent. 
 

 Some of the Polish and English men who worked in Buxton Quarries

Polish and English workers

 
Many of the Polish soldiers that came to the camp in 1946/7  tried hard to enhance the drab looking camp with their artistic skills. Jan Jurkiewicz was one of them, he worked at ICI Buxton for a while and in his spare time did a lot of ornamental work, seen below. He came from the Głębokie area, which is now in Belarus. He was a reservist, and in the 1939 campaign, he served in the K.O.P., the border protection force much hated by the Soviets, and although only an NCO, very nearly suffered the fate of many officers at the hands of the NKVD. He married Joan Mackay and had a son Mark who sent in a number of  photos from Blackshaw Moor camp.
 
Jan Jurkiewicz did a lot of ornamental work  (right)

Joan Mackay who married Jan

Jan Jurkiewicz on the left.

 

From soldiers to civilians 1948 Blackshaw Moor Camp football team.

 

The camp's football team - 1948

In training on the camps pitch, with referee Mr. W. Dziurdzik

 
Sport flourished in the camps and the Association of Polish Sports Clubs, formed in 1949/50, served to link isolated Polish communities.  Most camps could field teams in table tennis, volley ball and football.  In Blackshaw Moor a large field situated  between Camps One and Two was used to hone football skills.
 

The most prestigious event was the Gen. Anders Cup competition in football.

 
Each year the finalists and their supporters would converge on Cannock where the final was held.
 

In 1952 the Blackshaw Moor camp’s team “Biały Orzeł”  (White Eagle) won the cup 3:2 against “Syrena” (Mermaid) West Bromwich.

 
 

Winning team "Biały Orzel" ( White Eagles )1952

 

 Life in the camp

 
Most Poles are devout Roman Catholics and it is their faith that helped them to survive the war, exile and years in the wilderness. They came to the camps as total strangers from every part of Poland and from all walks of life. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, university lectures and aristocrats mixed with farmers, factory workers and simple country folk.  This diverse mix of people had to build a new way of life and forge a coherent community in a new country.
 
Every camp became a Little Poland in the middle of the English countryside, clinging to their traditions, culture, language and history. In most camps there was also a Polish priest looking after the spiritual needs of the community.With the help of  their priests new bonds and communities were created.
 

Fr. Pawel Sargiewicz with and angelic Zbyszek Hryciuk 1954

Fr. Paweł Sargiewicz

 
Fr. Paweł Sargiewicz like many priests during WW2  was imprisoned by the soviets and later deported to Siberia. In 1942, after Russia found itself part of the anti Hitler alliance, he joined General Anders' 2 corps and became army Chaplin to the troops. He took part in the Italian campaign and was at Monte Cassino, his war effort was recognised both by the church and the army awarding him honours and medals. He came to Blackshaw Moor camp in 1946 with the Polish 2 corps from Italy and here he stayed taking on the role of Polish Parish Priest for the families living in the camp and surrounding area reaching as far as Stoke on Trent. He was much loved by his parishioners, having gone through the same hell as they, he understood their fears and anxieties.  Fr Sargiewicz died on 1/9/1967 in a car accident and is buried in the family grave with his parents in Białystok  Poland.
 
One of the corrugated Nissen huts was transformed into a light and airy chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Częstochowa, were Sunday Masses, evening services, christenings, and funerals took place. There was always a big celebration when the camp's children took their First Communion. 
 

Krysia Hermit outside the Nissen hut chapel with bell tower

Inside the Chapel

 

First Holy Communion 1954

 

Janusz Dziurdzik, Ryszard Widelski, Stanisław Kapusta, Tadeusz Łazowski, Maria Żurek, Anna Stępek, Barbara Hryciuk, Unknown, Krystyna Kapusta, Ryszard Milaszkiewicz, Zbigniew Hryciuk, Henryk Minorczyk, Unknown

 

The nissen hut in the background was the camps' chapel

 

First Communion inside the chapel 1950s

Inside the new Chapel

 

CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION

 

Every year on the Sunday following Corpus Christi, which falls on a Thursday. From early morning there was a buzz in the camp as  people set about building the four altars in different parts of the camp and decorating them with holy pictures and flowers in readiness for the procession. Although the Corpus Christi celebration is exclusively a religious occasion it is always well attended by young and old

 
It is an exciting day for the younger members of the community, little girls all dressed  up in white scattering  flower petals along the path of the procession  and the older girls dressed  in traditional Polish costumes carrying banners
 

Photos from various years.

 

1950s

1953

 
 

1955

 

1963 Fr. P Sargiewicz after the procession

Outside the chapel getting ready for Corpus Christy Procession in 1963 are Teresa Krzywicka, Danuta Hryciuk, and Krystyna Hermit,

 

 Christenings, funerals and other religious celebrations took place in the camp's Chapel, marriages which took place in Leek Catholic church,

 

1952  Christening of twins Danuta and Genowefa Kapusta with godparents   Mr. Żurek, Mrs. Dziurdzik, Mr. Dziurdzik and Mrs. Kwartnik

Funeral cortege of Aleksander Trusz June 1961

 

 Visitations to the camp by Ks. Infułat B.Michalski

 

In the 50s Ks. Infułat B. Michalski from the Polish Catholic Mission in London visited most of the Polish Displaced Persons Camps in the UK. In 1956  people in Blackshaw Moor camp welcomed their spiritual leader, there was a concelebrated  Mass attended by many Polish and English priests from the area with a welcoming  procession around the camp,

 
 
 

Procession passing the "Welcome gate" you can just see Kś. Michalski's mitre  above the welcoming crowd.

 
As late as the mid 1950s, most Poles believed that their stay in England was just another stop on their way back to their homes in Poland; that soon there would be war against the evil Soviet Empire and they would return to Poland as a liberating army.  In this context they saw their main duty as bringing up their children in the Polish spirit.
 
To ensure that the children  did not forget their mother tongue a Saturday Polish School was set up in the camp where they learned Polish history, culture and traditions as well as reading and writing in Polish.  Great emphasis was placed on  involving children in all national cultural activities through taking part in national day celebrations, singing and dancing.  Most children had some kind of Polish  national costume, usually made for them by their mothers, which was worn on national days, at processions, dance performances and at every opportunity at local village fętes.
 

1953 Fr P. Sargiewicz with parents and children

Children from the camp in a parade walking through the streets of Leek

 

Zbyszek Hryciuk and his three sisters. Halina, Danusia and Basia in their national costume.

Mrs. Krawczyk with Barbara, Danuta and Halina Hryciuk, Barbara Smuniewska, Stasia Świeca and Little Karol Szmuniewski

 

Basia Hryciuk and Barbara Szmuniewska

Wojtek and Ryszard Milaszkiewicz

Władysława  Minorczyk and ?

 
For the very young ones there was an infant school in the camp. Older children attended local English schools in Leek some three miles from the camp. Children unlike their parents, picked up the English language very quickly and in time integrated into the English way of life, something that adults, particularly the elderly who arrived in the UK aged 60+ never managed.
 
Thank you to Zbyszek Hryciuk for the information and some of the photos.
 

Continue NEXT PAGE Zbyszek Hryciuk memories and photos.

 

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