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MARSWORTH POLISH HOSTEL 1948-1961
Marsworth was one of some 60 resettlement hostels established to house Polish ‘displaced persons’, following the 1947
Polish Resettlement Act. It was recognised that the Polish people who had been forced from their own country – servicemen and their families – had made a major contribution to the Allied war effort.
There was also an urgent need in Britain for workers to help
re-build the country after the effects of war.
To house some 250,000 people was no mean undertaking. Many were those who, having escaped from Siberia with the Polish Army in 1942, had spent the war in Displaced Persons camps set up by the British in India and West Africa. Fortunately a convenient solution was at hand: military camps which had been occupied by American and Canadian servicemen during the course of the war. There were many such camps in the UK and these were given up by the MOD for housing Polish families and they were administered by a number of organisations: the National Assistance Board, local authorities and the National Service Hostels Corporation being the principle ones.
The camps consisted of a large number of huts – both Nissen and more traditional rectangular huts, with basic plumbing and electricity. These were – upgraded to make them suitable for families to live in.
Most huts came to accommodate two to three families, but none complained of overcrowding. Basic partitions separated the families, but within their areas partitions were made of curtains or blankets. Heating was by means of a coal-fired cast iron stove, but the huts were essentially very cold in winter and very hot in summer.
At first catering was on a communal basis, with three meals a day supplied by the National Assistance
Board, however in time cooking stoves were installed in the huts and the families were able to cater for themselves.
See Life in Marsworth Hostel for how daily life was lived at the Hostel]
Getting work was an early and urgent priority. Local firms quickly recognised that the hostel was a great source of either skilled labour or of able-bodied people who were keen to learn trades. Sometimes transport was laid on, but many of the individuals had to get to work on foot, by bicycle, train or bus. [See ‘Life at Marsworth Hostel’ for more information on where they went to work]
From very early on the population of the hostel diminished as families, having become reunited, were able to consider their futures and many decided to leave for America or Canada. While there was obviously considerable enjoyment in the close community of the Hostel, the desire to have their own homes was great. So as and when they were able to buy or rent a house, many families moved out. This was often to the areas where they worked, which led to a considerable number becoming settled in the Luton / Dunstable / Pitstone areas near Marsworth.
Schooling was another important priority, and some 112 younger children attended the local Marsworth School, some staying for several years. Others went to a convent in Tring or boarded at catholic schools elsewhere in the country. [See section on Schooldays]
Leisure - Once the initial trauma of settling in and coming to terms with a new country and new
language, residents of the Hostel quickly found opportunities to enjoy themselves in their leisure time. Sharing activities together was a high priority, with opportunities for the younger people to
find companionship. They also had the benefit of living in a pleasant rural area, with nearby canals and reservoirs. A large playing field offered opportunities for sports, especially football.
[See ‘On the Lighter Side …’ to see examples of how those at the Hostel were able to relax.]
a very important part of life at the Hostel. Most of the residents were Roman Catholics to whom their religion was a huge comfort and a means of reinforcing their Polish identity. One of the Nissen
huts was converted into a chapel; a priest was appointed and regular masses were held. The annual procession of Corpus Christi was a major event, while First Holy Communion was a significant part of
the lives of children.
[See ‘Keeping Polish Traditions Alive’.]