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

Getting by

page 80

Getting by

My dearest memories of the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua were, and still are, the songs – the beautiful morning and evening hymns at the grotto, and Sunday Mass in the camp's hall. I especially loved the musical films, which I later tried to enact and sing for the girls in the dormitory. It was so much fun that it was worth the punishment we received for breaking the curfew rules. It all brought us closer together as a family.

I took part in all the concerts held in the hall and I still remember the poem I recited. We performed the Irish jig and Scottish whirl in front of Prime Minister Peter Fraser and the important guests. Best of all I liked the Polish krakowiak dance. The camp was my home and I was sad to leave when I was sent to St Mary's Convent School in Christchurch. I later boarded at Villa Maria College for a year.

When we were unable to travel home to the camp for our school holidays, my New Zealand friend Joan invited me to stay at her home. From that time, I boarded with them and attended the Convent School in Lyttelton. At 18 I started work, first as a junior office girl and later as an operator of a Burroughs bookkeeping machine. One day my machine broke down and this handsome mechanic came to repair it – my future husband George. A week later I met him at a dance and some time later we were married at the lovely Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch.

I had married a fine, hardworking and fun-loving man, only he was the poorest Kiwi I could have found, so we worked very hard to pay for our wedding, the deposit on our house and raising our children. Three years later, he was transferred to Timaru where we stayed for 16 years, but returned to Christchurch after he was made redundant from that job.

Despite all the ups and downs, I have not forgotten my faith. I thank God for His goodness. With my late husband, I belonged to an operatic group and a church choir. I now belong to a small group of singers who entertain rest-home patients and elderly citizens. I also attend our small Polish gatherings in Christchurch where I can refresh my Polish language and identity, and eat all that lovely Polish food that I never learned to cook.

My only regret is that I no longer have my Polish family to share my ups and downs with, as my sister Irena was left behind in Iran and my brothers had returned to help rebuild Poland after the war.