Amersham Polish Club

Raans Road
Amersham
Bucks HP6 6LX

Telephone: 01494 727173

Club email address:


Manager -- Ralph Gowling

For hall inquiries and bookings, please call Ralph Gowling 07708 411567



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The SPK and Amersham: Club History

When the end of World War II was declared, there was much jubilation in the Allied countries. In June 1945 a Victory Parade was held in London, in which the Americans, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, French, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, Greeks, Chinese, Czechs and numerous other countries took part.

Conspicuous by their absence were the Poles. They had been barred from taking part by the British authorities for fear of upsetting Joseph Stalin. The same Poles in whose name Britain had declared war on Germany in 1939, the same Poles whose famous 303 "Kosciuszko" Squadron along with 17,000 other Polish airmen fought alongside the British and made a significant contribution in the "Battle Of Britain" in 1940.

Queen Elizabeth II would state some 56 years later: "If Poland had not stood with us in those days ... the candle of freedom might have been snuffed out."

The same Poles who had fought at Tobruk, captured Monte Casino, helped crack the Enigma code, were stationed by their thousands on British soil, with no homeland to return to other than a communist puppet state, a state to which the majority refused to return. The few who did because of family ties did not generally fare well. The Soviet-dominated totalitarian state imprisoned and executed members of the Home Army and looked with grave suspicion on those returning from the West.

The commander of the Polish Armed Forces in 1945, upon his release from German captivity into which he had entered at the end of the bloody Warsaw Uprising, was General Bor-Komorowski. He along with General Anders, who led thousands of Polish POWs out of Russia and went on to form the Polish 2nd Corps, which successfully captured the virtually impregnable German fortifications at the battle of Monte Casino, were both deprived of their Polish nationality by the communist authorities, and subjected to incessant vilification.

Over 120, 000 Poles elected to stay in Britain after the war and continue their struggle for freedom. Initially members of the Polish Armed Forces were housed in resettlement camps all over the country. One such was located at Hodgemoor just off the A355 between Amersham and Beaconsfield. It was first opened in 1947 with Polish families predominantly from the Carpathian Division of the Polish 2nd Corps which had come out of Russia under the leadership of General Anders and had come through the Middle East to fight successfully in the Battle of Monte Casino.

Very quickly a thriving Polish community of 156 families was established there with their own shop, post office, village hall, school, bar and catholic church. A veritable Polish village located in the heart of the British country side. The camp, situated on a hill, was divided into the top camp and the bottom camp, connected by Bottrells Lane and divided by the centrally located church, village hall, bar, shop, schoolhouse and library located in four long Nissan huts.

Whilst the language within the camp was Polish, many of the residents soon picked up the English language and adapted to the ways of their adopted country. They found work in nearby High Wycombe and the factories of Slough with the Mars Company in Slough being a favoured employer, which ran a coach service collecting workers from Amersham. The children were sent to local schools, predominantly to Chalfont St Giles infants and primary school. As there was no transport between the camp and the schools, the children were ferried to and from school by car owners who worked on night shifts in the factories. The more affluent were able to send their offspring to the Polish boarding school at Henley.

Despite its temporary prefab nature, the housing was comfortable and served by all the necessary amenities and remained in service till 1962. In the interim as the housing situation eased, the population gradually moved out into the surrounding area settling in Amersham, High Wycombe and Slough. Many of the camp's younger members married, either other camp residents or English partners that they met at work or in the adjoining English communities. All that now remains of the Hodgemoor Polish Camp is a plaque, in what is now a very popular Trust Woodland Park.

SPK

The Association of Polish Combatants (SPK) in Britain was formed on the 17th December 1946 in London and was based at 18 Queens Gate Terrace in Gloucester Road. Its manifesto entailed the continuation of the fight for Poland's freedom and the recognition of its Christian culture and civilization, the recognition of Poland's rights for justice and law in the international community, to maintain the traditions of the Polish soldier, to ensure that friendly relations were maintained with the host nation, to bring assistance and aid to their fellow countrymen, and the recognition of a free and creative attitude in cultural and political matters.

It set up a section that sent aid to beleaguered families in the homeland in the form of parcels. Regional circles sprung up all over the country under the guidance of the governing body in London. The number of members in Circle no 115 initially numbered around 30, but by 1953 had dwindled to around a dozen.

The reactivated circle came into being in Amersham in 1974 under the leadership of Tadeusz Makowski, following an AGM held on 24th March 1974, at which Mr Makowski was formally elected as the chairman. At the time there were an estimated 300 Polish and Anglo-Polish families situated within a ten mile radius of Amersham. The membership of the circle numbered between 50 and 80 from that time on. Apart from Tadeusz Makowski, others responsible for the success of the reactivated circle included Zofia Gasiorowska, Henryk Dlugosz, Jerzy Busiakiewicz and Danuta Lentowicz.

SPK Soldier's Day From the outset the organisation was very active in the social life of the Polish community, celebrating Polish Feast Days, such as the National Independence Day (3rd May), Soldier's Day (11th August), arranging "Dozynki" (The Harvest Ball), setting up lectures and arranging concerts by Polish artists. During the '80s meetings were arranged in support of "Solidarity". The circle set up a Saturday Polish School and also looked after the Polish Scouts and Cubs. It also encouraged sporting activities and amateur theatricals. The circle maintained close links with the local British community in terms of the Local Authorities and the British Legion. On the 11th September 1977 at the Soldiers' Day celebrations the circle's standard was unveiled and blessed by the local Polish Parish priest.

For nearly the first ten years of its existence the SPK circle did not posses its own premises. Meetings were held in a local English school or in private houses. But even then plans were afoot to raise their own building, which were eventually realised when the Local Authorities provided a site at a realistic cost to construct such a building. A number of the members started physical construction and after initial problems, thanks to the support of the governing SPK body in London and loans from other circles, the SPK Club in Raans Road was handed over to the Polish community on 21st July 1982. The official opening took place on the 27th August 1982. Under the continued leadership of Tadeusz ("Ted") Makowski the club committee displayed an exemplary co-operation between the local Polish and English communities.

SPK Unveiling Memorial 1988 On the 11th November 1988, on the left hand side of the club's frontage, a memorial was unveiled to "The memory and honour of the Polish Soldier, who in the First and Second World Wars faithfully served in the cause of a free and independent Poland, on the 70th anniversary of its reclamation". Some time later an additional plaque was added along with an urn containing earth from Katyn, where over 20,000 Polish PoW officers, including 14 generals were murdered on Stalin's orders of March 1940. Each year wreaths and flowers are placed at the memorial on National Feast days.

Tadeusz Makowski ran the SPK and Club committee for some 30 years. For the last few years the Club Committee has been chaired by Richard "Rysiek" Tramp who was raised in Amersham, one of the many second generation Poles still living in the area. The SPK committee has been chaired by Ali Szwagrzak who also runs the Polish Scouts, and more recently by Adam Komorowski, who visiting the club with friends some years ago spotted a photo of his father General Bor-Komorowski on the wall, and was subsequently persuaded to join the SPK committee.

The club's continued existence is mainly thanks to the large contingent of British members without whose support, the club would have suffered the same fate as that of many other SPK clubs around the country and closed down. Thankfully this is not the case with Amersham, which has been making a healthy profit for several years under the astute stewardship of manager Ian Hamilton, ably supported by the legendary barmaid Basia Lentowicz. This has enabled the SPK to support the Polish Saturday School and the Scouts, assist the local Polish Parish and organise various events at the club.



The Hodgemoor Camp Story

Among the nationalities which made up the Allied forces during World War Two, there were many divisions of soldiers and several squadrons of airmen from Poland.

Plaque in Hodgemoor Polish Camp. Photo by Timo Newton-Syms After the country had fallen to double invasions, firstly by Hitler's Nazi Germany from the West followed by Stalin's Soviet Red Army from the East, many of those Polish fighters who survived and managed to escape fled to the West. Here they carried on the fight alongside the Allies, taking part in major battles. Their successes have been documented.

However, the fall of Hitler did not bring freedom for Poland because the devastated country was left under Soviet occupation, along with many other Eastern Europe states.

At the War's end, the Poles who had fought with the Western Allies were given the option of staying on this side of the Iron Curtain. Most of them chose to settle in the USA, Britain and France rather than return to a Soviet-dominated Communist totalitarian state.

Although they are often described as refugees, many Poles rightly take umbrage at this term. The Oxford Dictionary defines a refugee as "a person taking refuge from persecution or from war". The Poles who settled in the West had not come here to seek refuge from the Nazis, but to continue the fight.

More than 120,000 Poles put their roots down in Britain, although unlike most other foreign minorities who have come to this country they tended to spread themselves around. They settled in not only the large towns and cities, but also small towns such as Amersham.

The reason why Amersham has a sizeable Polish community is that after the War, many servicemen and their families were housed in nearby camps which had been staffed by military personnel during the conflict.

The largest of these camps was at Hodgemoor, which is just off the A355 Amersham to Beaconsfield Road. It consisted of pre-fabricated buildings and Nissan huts which housed 156 families.

The first families moved into Hodgemoor in 1947 and within a few years there was a thriving Polish community which had its own shop, post office, bar, village hall, school room and most important of all a Catholic Church.

It was literally a tiny piece of Poland within the English countryside, a true Polish village.

Although most of its residents communicated among themselves in Polish, they adapted to the English language and way of life very quickly, through work and school. Adults worked mainly in the factories of large nearby towns such as Slough and High Wycombe, while the children attended local English schools. Most of them went to Chalfont St. Giles Infants and Primary School.

As there was no public transport between the villages, it is interesting to note that these children were driven to and from school mainly by Hodgemoor's car owners who worked on night shifts. There were no school buses provided by local authorities in those days.

Those families who could afford it sent their children to private Polish boarding schools such as the one at Henley, where the curriculum included both English as well as Polish studies.

Hodgemoor Wood. Photo by Timo Newton-Syms The camp was divided into two and being situated on a hill, the separate districts were not surprisingly referred to as the top camp and bottom camp. They were separated by fields and connected by a road, Bottrells Lane, which is still there today as the link road between the A355 and Chalfont St. Giles.

In between the two camps was an area in which four long Nissan huts housed the Church, village hall, bar, shop, schoolhouse and library.

Despite their rather temporary pre-fabricated appearance, the homes were comfortable and well equipped with all the basic amenities of the period. They all had running water, electricity and gas, and a fair percentage of families owned televisions and cars.

The most important events which took place in Hodgemoor were the religious festivals, particularly at Easter when the residents marched along Bottrells Lane in procession to the Church.

Once a week, the camp even had a cinema, when a visiting projectionist showed not only Polish films but also Hollywood favourites such as "Tarzan".

As the post-war housing crisis eased, the Hodgemoor families gradually moved out. Those that bought houses moved mainly to Slough or High Wycombe where they could be closer to their work.

The camp was finally closed in 1962. Today, all that remains of Hodgemoor Polish Camp is a plaque within what is now a very popular National Trust Woodland Park. It is well worth a visit for its magnificent walking trails.


Article courtesy of Kathy Chojnacki



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