DIDDINGTON SCHOOL

 

Before the Committee for the Education Poles in Great Britain was formed, there were no schools of the Secondary Modern type for Poles. During the summer term of 1949 two such schools were opened. One for girls in the vast  ex-American army camp at Stowell Park in Gloucestershire, which already had a girl's Grammar School, the other for both boys and girls at Diddington Park not far from St Neots in  Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire),

 

 Their main purpose was to accommodate some of the children of secondary

school age who had arrived from the Middle East, Africa and India and who could not be placed in the Committee's grammar and technical schools.

 

Stowell Park and Diddington Secondary Modern schools, perhaps more than any other Polish schools, were called upon to face the problems of pupils whose education had been disrupted by war and frequent relocation to various D.P. camps.

 

Coming without any real sense of security and without any knowledge of the English language, these young victims of war and post-war upheavals were transformed into members of healthy, hard-working communities, thanks to the conditions of an ordered, disciplined school life and to the sympathetic attitude of their teachers.

 

Both Diddington and Stowell Park camps were built on land that was requisitioned  by the war office at the start of the Second World War on large country estates and served as American hospitals treating wounded solders coming in from European battle fields. Diddington camp known as No. 49 American Army Station Hospital, was built on the estate of Diddington Park that belonged to the Thornhill family.

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When the Americans left in 1945 the same hospital was renamed to Polish Hospital no 6 and used by the Polish army to treat not only Polish soldiers injured in battle but also Polish civilians who came as displaced persons from the Middle East, Africa and India. A large maternity unit was also established in the camp with over 1073 recorded births.

 

In 1949  part of  the camp comprising a collection of corrugated metal nissen huts was  taken over by the Committee for the Education of Poles and turned into a co-educational Polish Secondary Modern Boarding school, named "Frederic Chopin", with a roll of more than 300 pupils. The school had a preponderance of boys, which naturally influenced its character but never the less all pupils left the school with skills that enabled them to get on in life

 

Janina Bartoszewicz was one of the many girls that attended the school and these are her memories.

 

I was only three years old when, on the 10th of February 1940, our  family of 6 my mother Aleksandra, father, Kazimierz, brothers Edward and Mieczysław and sister Celina were deported to  Irkuck,  way past the Ural Mountains. As soon as the amnesty was announced my  father and the older brother joined General Anders' army, and went on to fight in the war and I with my mother, brother Mieczysław age 8 and sister Celina age 11 as civilians were sent to Massindi, one of many Polish displaced persons camps in East Africa.

 

After the war in 1946 father was given indeterminate leave from the army to join the us in Massindi. and in 1948 we all sailed on the Winchester Castle to England arriving in Southampton on the 15th of August. Our first destination was Daglingworth, a Polish transit camp in rural Gloucestershire not far from Cirencester. From there we were sent to Wheaton Aston camp in Staffordshire. As I was now of  secondary school age I was sent to the newly formed Polish co-educational boarding school in Diddington.  While  in Diddington, my father was demobilised  from the army and our family moved to Seighford camp also in Staffordshire.

 

 Diddington Christmas Card:

 Janina Bartoszewicz (on the left) and Wanda (cannot remember her last name.)

 

Life in Diddington School  was pleasant enough and I had many friends, however, school life was  full of discipline, managed by School Headmaster who had a big walking stick and rumours were that he would use it on anyone breaking the school rules.

 

A group of girls posing for a snowball fight.

A group of girls in their winter uniform. 1:?, 2:Me (Janina (Lola), 3: Jadwiga (Dziunia) Wisniewska 4: Marysia Bujak (she is now a nun), 5:  Tadzia Brojak, 6:  Krystyna Orzeł

 

Our classrooms and dormitories where all located in the long corrugated metal nissen huts (beczki) which were not ideal for use either as classrooms or dormitories specially in the winter, when the only heating was a coke burning cast iron stove in the middle of the hut.  The huts also looked quite drab from the outside. Once inside, both the classrooms and  dormitories were more cheerful. A number of girls were allocated to each dormitory.  We were paired in twos, there was a night table between each pair of beds, to be shared with the partner, and we each had a small metal wardrobe to the other side of the bed. Each 'beczka' had a house mother making sure that we turned the lights off on time and  kept our beds and the small personal areas tidy. Once a week we took turns in keeping our premises clean and shiny.  There were common shower blocks and I remember we shampooed each other's hair.

 

We had a uniform which we wore daily, it was a simple navy pinafore dress with a white shirt, and for special occasions we had a  pleated skirt with jacket, our hair had to be neatly braided, no fancy hairdos were allowed.

 

From left at the back: Tadzia Brojak, Janina Bartoszewicz (Zakrzewska), Teresa Orzel, Danuta Tokarska, Wanda Abranska. Celina Lacka, unknown , Agata Litwin, front from left: unknown name, Zosia Kowalska, Hania Lichwa.

From the left: Krysia Dudzik (Orzeł), Marysia Szmigiel, Janka Bartoszewicz (Zakrzewska), Anna Lichwa (Lendzion)

 Walking group of 3: Janka Bartoszewicz, unknown student, Hania Lichwa in dress uniforms.

 

Although all facilities like the dinning room, sports hall, and library were shared with the boys,  Our classes were segregated, the only time we were together was at meal times in he canteen, but girls at one end and the boys the other. When walking as a class to places like the cafeteria, another classroom or sometimes to the cinema, which was a very special treat, we always walked in pairs one after another. Going to church on Sundays was a must and we took part in all religious ceremonies like Corpus Christi Processions.

 

Craft Show: Exhibition of student created crafts, taught by Mrs. Tutaj (on far right in the picture)

 Outdoor performance audience: Administration and teaching staff seated, students standing.

 

We studied Polish language and literature, Maths, Polish history and Polish geography.  There were also classes in cooking, crafts and physical education. Very little was taught about the history of other countries and although there were English language classes there was no immersion in the language.  When I left Diddington in 1952 I had to acquire fluency in English, by associating with English students in Stafford.  Diddington gave me a basic knowledge of Polish culture, discipline, appreciation of camaraderie and left me with many happy memories that are lasting a lifetime.

 

Corpus Christi procession  Students helping flower girls

 Male students creating the illusion of holding a group of girls.

 

In 1953 I enrolled at the Stafford County Technical College for secretarial skills.  My first job was as a secretary to the Chief Accountant at Universal Grinding Wheel Co., in Stafford.   In 1957 I emigrated to Canada, Cambridge, Ontario, where I met Staszek Zakrzewski. We married in 1958 at the Sacred Heart Church Kitchener.  We have two wonderful sons and 3 grandchildren

 
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