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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Happy days

page 130

Happy days

The Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua was my home for five years. I loved my surroundings, had a lot of friends who always followed me around, and we had our own concerts and Polish dancing.

I loved going mushroom picking in the hills with the other children and Father Broel-Plater. Once a week we saw a film and on one occasion it was Road to Singapore, in which I loved Dorothy Lamour's dancing. I remember imagining that I was Dorothy and started copying her dancing, and my friends joined in with me and we relived the film. My teachers Mrs Michalik and Mrs Powierza also left me lots of good memories. Most of all I loved Mrs Sawicka who was a nurse in the camp hospital. Sometimes she would ask me to her hut where she gave me sweets that she had made herself.

One day, a Maori concert party came to the camp to perform for us. Everything was wonderful until they started the haka war dance. I ran screaming for the door and all my friends followed me. When we got to our dormitory, we jumped into bed, hid under the blankets and stayed there until morning. Today, I enjoy the haka and laugh at myself for being so scared.

I also remember Mrs Pietrasińska preparing us for our first Holy Communion and later for confirmation. Soon after, we had English lessons once a week. Then came a day when we were told we were leaving for Wellington. With a sad farewell to everyone, we left the camp. Goodbye Pahiatua. I will always remember you and the wonderful friends I made there with the fondest of memories.

I was sent to a convent school in Wellington and lived in the Polish Girls' Hostel in Lyall Bay, which was run by four Polish nuns and an Irish nun who had taught French in Poland before World War II. She had also got caught up in the war and shared our lot in New Zealand.

Life was now good and I was becoming more independent. I began to learn the piano and was getting high praises from my teacher Miss Peters. After leaving school, I went to the Hollywood School of Dressmaking and obtained a diploma. The nuns were returning to Poland and the convent was wound up. Though we were old enough now to look after ourselves, there were many tearful goodbyes. I then occupied a three-room flat with my friends Jadwiga and Leokadia where we had a lot of fun.

Most of my friends married Polish boys whom they had known in the page 131Pahiatua camp and the remainder married New Zealanders. We kept in touch with one another by going to the Polish House in Newtown. There we had dancing, singing and Polish concerts, which many New Zealanders also attended. The annual Polish picnics were always most enjoyable. Just being together made us happy. Life was wonderful now – jobs were plentiful in those days. In whatever field we were working, we earned the reputation of being conscientious and dedicated workers, contributing to the growth and development of our adopted country.

Working with New Zealand people, I made many friends. Soon my friend left to marry her immigrant Austrian fiancé and I moved into a flat for £2 per week, with only one suitcase and a travelling bag – that is all I had. Five months later, I met a young man called Ludwik Kowalewski, a Polish refugee from the German forced-labour camps. We started courting and fell madly in love. Eighteen months later, in 1955, we were married in the Hill Street Basilica in Wellington. We raised four sons and a daughter.

In 1966, my brother, separated from me during World War II, came to visit from South Africa. He finally found me after all those years. We hadn't seen each other for 26 years, so imagine the reunion – there were lots of tears. We talked until the early hours, capturing every precious moment together. It was hard to say goodbye again, but we now had our separate lives. I had my family in New Zealand, while he had his in South Africa. From then on, we have corresponded with each other and kept in touch.

Our children grew up with a good education and settled into well-paid jobs. I have eight grandchildren and am very proud of my family – they are not only good citizens but also loving and caring people. At my 60th birthday surprise dinner put on by them, I felt like a princess going to the ball. I have been blessed with a husband and children who have brought so much joy to my life.

My love for Poland has never left me. It is part of my upbringing and was reinforced by the loss of my childhood home.