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

Pahiatua remembers — Polish Children's 50th Anniversary, 1994

Pahiatua remembers
Polish Children's 50th Anniversary, 1994

Labour Weekend in October 1994 was not only a memorable weekend for the Polish children of 1944, but also for the Pahiatua Committee which was able to assist in the preparations. It was a moving occasion.

More than 1,100 people came by buses and cars to celebrate 50 years since the arrival in New Zealand of 733 Polish children and their 102 caregivers on the USS General Randall. What a wonderful day – tears and hugs for those who hadn't seen one another since their days in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua, and many having travelled long distances to be present at the reunion.

Months of preparation for the reunion came to fruition and it was enjoyed by everyone. The arrival of Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard, Prime Minister Jim Bolger and other dignitaries set the tone for the day at the Pahiatua Sports Stadium. The opening ceremony began with a thanksgiving Mass led by the Papal Nuncio, and assisted by bishops and priests. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! These words still ring in my ears as the chairman ofthe Pahiatua Community Board Peter Tourell addressed the packed stadium. It was a wonderful invitation for those returning to their first "home" in New Zealand.

Dame Tizard spoke in a similar vein and unveiled a model of the former Polish Children's Camp. This model was then presented to the Pahiatua and page 296District's Museum Society, where it now takes pride of place along with a pictorial history of the Polish children's journey from Poland to Pahiatua.

The packed stadium was treated to Polish dancing, so rhythmic and colourful with all participants dressed in their national costumes. After lunch, those present spent time reminiscing, visiting the Polish memorial or taking a walk across the green pastures which were once the site of their camp. The day in Pahiatua concluded with fond farewells, along with many revived memories of 50 years ago.