Polish Refugees in New Zealand 1944-1951

Ex-Servicemen Rejoin Families

Ex-Servicemen Rejoin Families. Source: Polish Children Reunion Committee 2004

Ex-Servicemen Rejoin Families. Source: Polish Children Reunion Committee 2004

Alina Suchanski: In the middle of 1946 many soldiers returned from Italy where they had fought the Germans at Monte Cassino. Amongst the returning New Zealanders there was a small contingent of Polish soldiers who came to New Zealand to join their children or to be reunited with their wives who worked at the camp. They arrived in big army trucks – ten-wheelers, as they were commonly referred to. All the children gathered at the gate to welcome them. While the men spilled out of the truck seven hundred children’s necks craned up in the hope that perhaps their father might be amongst the new arrivals. Tony was in the crowd, also stretching his neck, searching for his father. It had been seven years since he last saw him. (p178)

… The men kept jumping out of the truck, two or three at a time – some with suitcases, some with rucksacks, some still wearing their Polish army uniforms, others in civilian clothing. (p179)

… He heard shrieks of joy as the men found their children and wives. He saw them flying towards each other like birds, then wrapping their arms around their loved ones in a fond embrace. The camp buzzed with joyful greet­ings, hugs, tears and stories. Tony wished he could be part of the joyous razzmatazz, but like most of the children he left the scene disappointed.

There was a meeting organised at the camp hall to officially welcome the visitors and everyone was invited. Tea, coffee and biscuits were served.  The camp commander, Mr. Zalewski, gave a welcoming speech. Some of the lucky children who were reunited with their fathers sat in their lap, embraced tightly by their dads. Others were holding their father’s hand. Their faces beamed with happiness.

After quietly absorbing the happy scenes for a while Tony left the hall, making a solemn resolution to look for his family through the Red Cross. (p179-180)

… The newly arrived Polish soldiers needed some means of support. At first they were employed felling trees in the forest near Pahiatua. For many it was ironic that after years of felling trees in Siberian gulags this was the only job they could get. Each gloomy winter morning the ten-wheelers took them to work, driving carefully on a black-ice-covered road. After a few weeks this source of work dried up and the soldiers were sent out to different places around New Zealand where there were jobs for them.

Some stayed at the camp, engaged as teachers and guardians, introducing a new military discipline amongst the ranks of their sometimes unruly charges. This was to prepare them for real life outside the camp, they said. (p180)

Alone; p178, 179, 179-180