The camp was already set up on the Leconfield Estate before it was used for Polish refugees, because during the Second World war, it was constructed and used by British, Canadian and American troops, as a staging post, and was made vacant by 1947.
Petworth Camp Number 3 was located on the Northern Banks of the Lower Pond, within the parkland, it contained Nissen huts for perhaps 60 families. There was a chapel and a Priest's house, NAAFI shop, one school classroom, and a large community hall. There was one main gate and the road ran round the camp in a large circle round the perimeter. A second gate had been closed off but one could see where it had been, as the rebuilt wall was quite new.
I lived with my parents, and younger brother, in Hut 67, a nissen hut approx 6 metres wide by 12 metres long, split into two bedrooms and one large living area. The corrugated metal roof (and sides) was covered in black pitch for waterproofing, there was no insulation at all, and when it rained it was very noisy indeed. At one end of the living area, was a kitchen sink with just a cold water tap. A small porch constructed at the front protected us from the worst of the elements. There were two small windows at the front and back walls, which were brick built, and one large dormer type window cut into the side of the curved hut.
A short walk from each family hut, was a WC block with individual lockable toilet cubicles and cold showers. Most children tried everything to avoid showering, and the fortunate amongst us were able to bathe in hot water, heated in the hut, and poured into a small tin bath.
My family circumstances forced us to leave the camp once we were able to find improved accommodation, and this was before the final disbanding of this community in 1956. Most of the remaining families were housed in council houses within the local villages of Plaistow, Kirdford, Northchapel, and Bury, all around the Petworth area, where they were in groups of two or three, integrated into the local village life. On reflection, I think that this was very forward thinking in 1956. I am pleased to say that a few of us (kids) still keep in touch and meet from time to time.
As most of the population on the camp were Catholic, their church played a large role in the social life of the community. I recall that on the feast of Corpus Christi, the people would build (and adorn with flowers and foliage) about four field altars and the congregation would process singing and reciting prayers, from the chapel to the first altar, and then, each alter in turn, with flower petals being strewn on the ground, by the children who had just received their first Holy Communion.
The camp layout.
The camp's perimeter was a six foot high herras fence, constructed to keep out the park's deer and allow our produce to be grown undisturbed. We were able to grow our own potatoes, cabbages, peas, broad beans, beetroot, carrots, cucumbers, radishes and many herbs, and we kept large numbers of Chickens, Rabbits and Pigeons for the table. This self-sufficiency was quite necessary, as the population of Britain was still on Ration books, and each family was limited as to how much food they were allowed to purchase. Most families would also preserve cabbage and cucumbers in a large wooden beer barrel, where two such barrels would keep the produce well into the winter months. A bakers van would visit regularly, selling fresh bread and cakes, but most households would bake regularly anyway.
Christmas was also very exciting for a small child. We would always have a large Christmas tree, adorned with home baked biscuits, crepe paper twists and small red candles, with a home built Polish version of the crib beneath. On the feast of St Nicholas, which was celebrated on the sixth of December, all the families would gather in the community hall and eagerly await the arrival of our Father Christmas (Saint Nicholas), who would enter the hall in procession, dressed in attire similar to that of a bishop, wearing a mitre and carrying a crosier. He would have many attendants who were dressed as angels and elves. He made his way up onto the stage, where he sat down on a large throne, to preside over the ceremony of present giving. In front of him was a huge pile of wrapped gifts destined for every child present.
As your name was read out by the attending angel, you had to leave your seat, walk up the centre aisle and up onto the stage and towards this strange seated man. He handed you your present and asked if you had been good, and before you could answer, he presented you with a birch twig, which he neatly tucked under the ribbon of your present, saying ' This is for your parents when you are naughty' You then applied a firm grip onto you present and ran off the stage, in fear, back to the seat and to the safety of your family. I could not say if the twig was ever used, but I have been good ever since.
Before I was old enough to go to school, life was sheer bliss, where many adventures were to be had not only in the confines of the camp but beyond the perimeter fencing, where a small boy could squeeze through and explore the parkland and the folly on the hill, which was unoccupied, but offered plums from the garden and spooky castle type adventures. I went to the local primary school in Petworth, not speaking a word of English, but children learn quickly when they want to fit in. At school, I recall the huge celebrations we had in the town for the Coronation of our Queen Elizabeth the second, with processions and a fete in the park. All the schoolchildren asked to don fancy Elizabethan dress, and each were presented with a commemorative mug to mark this occasion.
Summary to Ziggi's story.
If you walk round Petworth Park today, you will find no sign of this occupation, for all the huts, concrete bases and roadways have been removed and returned to nature as originally found. I can still pinpoint the tree which held our home made swing, and make regular visits when I am feeling nostalgic.
There is a small section of the local cemetery at Hampers Green, that will forever be Poland.
Here are four more photos sent by Ziggi. I have added text where I can. Ziggi, can you give me some names I may have missed or got wrong please?
From left to right. Mrs Krawczuk her son Tadeusz Stefanski, Chris Krawczyk, Mrs Krawczuk, Ziggi Krawczyk and Mrs Krawczuks daughter Lidia Stefanska
Chris and Ziggi Krawczyk
Waiting for names from Ziggi.
Statue of Jesus in the Polish Chapel Seeing this photo is weird, as I can now remember it from when I served at the altar. Ryszard Starzec.
Here are just some of the families that I remember, who lived on the camp.
Mr and Mrs Krawczuk with their children,Lila,Tadek and Krystyna.
Mr and Mrs Starzec with their children, Stasha, Krystyna, Ryszard and Tadeusz.
Mr and Mrs Dulas with their daughters Zosia and Marysia.
Mr and Mrs Krawczyk and their sons Zygmunt and Krzistof.
Mr and Mrs Stempien with their children George, Joseph and . . . . .
Mr and Mrs Pisarek with their children, George, Maria and . . . .
Mr and Mrs Kusy with their children . . . . . .
Mrs Bandrowska with her daughter Krystina and her mother.
Mr Czeslaw Ogrodnik and their sons Olek and Edward
Mr Franczisek Cisek. The schoolteacher.
Mr and Mrs Zajac
Mr and Mrs Saganowski.
Mr and Mrs Turek.
Mr and Mrs Wisniewski
Mr and Mrs Sczotka with their daughters Elizabeth and Krystina
Mr and Mrs Krol with their children Anna and Henrick
Mr Swienton with children Andzej, Micheal and Joe.
Mrs Kopiec and her grownup son Mr. Jozef Kopiec.
Mr and Mrs Czarnopolski and their Son Janek and daughter Janka
Mr and Mrs Wasielenko and their children
Mr and Mrs Konarski
Mr and Mrs Hubert
Mr and Mrs Rutkowska
Ziggi Janiec. (formally Zygmunt Krawczyk.)