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

Back to school – 60 years ago

Back to school – 60 years ago

Sigh! Today we leave our beloved Polish Children's Camp, friends and "Polishness", and return to Catholic boarding schools in the South Island. A sad time, but exciting too. First, army lorries take us to Pahiatua Railway Station. Then by train to Wellington, very slowly, pulled by two engines over the Rimutaka hills. Slowly enough for us to be able to walk beside the train when the guard is not looking. A few hours' wait in Wellington for the ferry to Lyttelton – will it be the Rangatira or Hinemoa this time?

Some Polish people already working in Wellington and some curious New Zealanders gather on the quay in Queens Wharf to wave us farewell. We all talk Polish and New Zealanders stare, wondering what it is all about. We hurriedly and unselfconsciously hug and kiss those staying behind, girls and boys, before going on board. As the ferry starts to move away from the dock, we begin to sing a Polish farewell song, then much more softly our evening hymn Wszystkie Nasze Dzienne Sprawy (Receive Graciously, O Lord, All Our Days' Affairs). Every child sings – we feel sad and tired.

A night on the ferry, sleeping on bunks. We are woken up at 5am with a cup of tea which is so strong and black that it was enough to withstand the rolling of the ship! Next day we disembark at Lyttelton, the port of Christchurch, page 179then travel a short distance by train through a smoky tunnel to Christchurch, have breakfast at the station where another farewell takes place as some of the boys and girls are picked up and taken to boarding schools or private homes in Christchurch, while the rest of us board the train again and off to Timaru.

At the station in Timaru we say goodbye to the girls going to Sacred Heart College. Then on to Oamaru for another group of girls to attend Teschemakers College and the boys to St Kevin's College – my brother Stanislaw with my suitcase (we both have the same first initial). The small remaining band of girls travels on to Dunedin to St Dominic's and St Philomena's, and we finally arrive at our destination at 4pm, two days after leaving the camp. I put my brother's suitcase back on the train and hope that mine arrives the following day.

We are back at school where I like learning, discovering new ideas and understanding new concepts. This gives me great pleasure, but I miss the camp where I feel at home.