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

The phantom boys

page 298

The phantom boys

I was then 10 years old and living on Masterton Road, about halfway between the camp and Pahiatua. I can remember the army trucks going past our gate with the Polish children and accompanying adults, who had that day arrived in the country, huddled in the back. The boys wore jackets and short pants, some with caps and close-cut haircuts. The girls were in their overcoats and hats, as were most of the adults.

After the children settled down in their new environment, they were taken to town accompanied by an adult. They walked in twos, singing their Polish songs and greeted us with "hello" in their language. I have since forgotten the word, but we picked it up at the time.

My dad had a poultry farm. When the boys were allowed more freedom, they came over in groups of six or seven and followed dad when he fed the poultry. At that time, the soldiers stationed in the camp would come to buy fresh eggs to take home when they had leave. Eggs were still rationed then. One particular soldier who came for eggs was in charge of the garden at the camp and the teams of boys who tended them. He was telling my mum about his "phantom (nowhere to be seen) gardeners", when half a dozen appeared with my dad. They were the "phantom boys" and they got quite a shock when they saw who was talking to my mum.

The Pahiatua locals welcome the Polish children as the trucks pass through town from the railway station to the Polish Children's Camp, 1 November 1944

The Pahiatua locals welcome the Polish children as the trucks pass through town from the railway station to the Polish Children's Camp, 1 November 1944

page 299

I still have my mother's address book. Listed there are Mrs Perkowska, Richard Patulski, Kazimierz Krawczyk and boys whom she knew only by their first names – Joseph, Antoni, Laurence, Richard. I also have a white handkerchief crocheted round the edge and my initial "B" embroidered in one corner. This was done by one of the Polish ladies whose name I can no longer recall.

Meeting of two Polish waves

My family is descended from Polish immigrants who arrived in New Zealand in the late 19th Century. Every Sunday afternoon, my mum and dad (George and Rose Treder), Barbara, John and I (the youngest children), and our babcia (granny Treder) would visit the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua. Dad and babcia enjoyed speaking to the people in the camp in Polish, while mum would sit and listen to their English reading. She would often take flowers from her garden to give to the Polish ladies.

The children from the camp were often invited to the Treder farm in Konini. These were happy times in a big family atmosphere. The children would enjoy riding bikes, and my brother George would take both adults and children around the farm on the old Model T truck. What fun.

At the age of eight, I proudly wore the Polish national costume to a fancy dress at Mangamaire School. It had a brown velvet vest with a beautiful sequined butterfly on the back. My sister Barbara looked so Polish that one day she was reprimanded by a Polish adult who thought that she was one of her charges. My brother Bernard and his cousin Pat Connor spent many hours learning Polish so that they could communicate with the girls when they biked to the camp to visit them.

When some of the children returned to their homeland, the Treder family kept contact with many letters and food parcels. Others who stayed in New Zealand have also kept in touch. My husband Paul and I, and some of our children, have visited Poland and feel privileged to have put our feet on Polish soil.