Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. In 1952, Polish scouts from the ‘Szczecin’ region (a scout group based in south west England) first camped in the fields of the Wye Valley. Just 3 years later, a camp for 11 cubs and brownies took place at Prospect Cottage, near St Briavels.
The following year, a larger building was needed to accommodate the cubs and brownies and a local farmer let them use a building called Woodside House – now the Polish Scout House. American forces who were in the process of dismantling their facilities in Wye valley and returning home, kindly offered to transport camping equipment, beds and other materials to the new site to enable it to be used.
In 1961 the site and buildings were put up for sale by the owner. The UK Polish Scouting Association did not have the necessary funds to buy the facility. Fortunately, a number of people who recognised the huge potential this site offered
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Catholicism was a major source of strength to my parents’ generation, and was seen as so important that the Poles in exile had their own network of priests and parishes in Britain. Much of the Polish community’s life in Loughborough centred around the local Catholic church and Polish Social Club.
Religion was an expression of nationality, and the practice of Catholicism helped everyone to retain some sense of identity and culture.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Organising and supporting Polish Saturday morning schools was considered by the local Polish community as one of their most important tasks, i.e. a duty towards their children.
An integral part of keeping the flame of Polish freedom alive in exile was a struggle to maintain Polishness in the new generation. Thus, a morning school was held on Saturdays for British-born children of Polish families to teach them Polish history, geography, religion and the Polish language.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s.
The Polish Social Club located at True Lovers Walk, Loughborough, was founded in 1966. It became the centre of social and cultural life for the Polish community in exile in Loughborough and nearby villages. It served to provide a home for Poles to meet and build friendships, as a place where Polish culture and history was kept alive and where Polish identity and independence were maintained.
My family – mother, stepfather, a younger brother and sister, two stepbrothers, and a brother from my mother’s marriage to my stepfather. Mother married twice. Her first husband (my father) suffered severe injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1964, and died a few weeks before my 10th birthday. Life suddenly became challenging, not least because my mother spoke only broken English. For the next 8 years, I was the translator for our family and helped to deal with all official correspondence.
Background – how my parents ended up living in England. Following the partitioning of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, my mother and her family were deported to the East. Thus began an extraordinary ordeal that took them, and many thousands like them, on a journey stretching from Siberia to Pakistan, and beyond. Their male relatives endured a parallel journey; arrested, exiled, and held as prisoners of war. Countless numbers were summarily executed by the Red Army.
Each year around Whitsun (the eighth Sunday after Easter), pilgrimages were organised from most Polish communities throughout the UK to two Polish boarding schools, one at Pitsford Hall for Girls, Northamptonshire, and the other at Fawley Court for Boys, near Henley on Thames. These annual gatherings had not only a religious significance, but were also important socially.