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

Polish children at Mangatainoka School

Polish children at Mangatainoka School

Approximately 15 children arrived at Mangatainoka School in 1949, only to stay two terms. As they had been taught English at the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua, some were better than others, but you could still have a good conversation with them by using signs and a little patience.

They joined in playing bullrush at playtimes and then rugby, as they had been coached at the camp by their teachers Frank Muller and Andy Nola. At the school seven-aside tournament at Rugby Park, our team had five of the Polish boys playing for us who were a wee bit older and larger than us. They were also good runners and knew where the try line was.

Two of the Polish boys I became friendly with told me how their parents and sister had been shot in a cow bail. The boys were thrown into a cattle truck and railed through days and nights of ice-cold conditions to forcedlabour camps in the USSR. For me, it was difficult to take in.

They learnt very quickly on the sporting ground and their English improved vastly. The army truck would drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. I spoke with some of them at our last Mangatainoka School Jubilee. Some of them had passed on but they had all done very well for themselves.

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