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

A great impression on my life

A great impression on my life

Even though my recollections may not mean much in the overall scale of the Polish children's experiences, they nevertheless made a great impression on my life.

During the 1940s, I lived in New Plymouth with my mother and elder brother. Like most young lads of the time, I was involved in the Scouting movement and it was through this association that I met the Polish children refugees, well 40 of them. Somebody from the Government and Scouts came up with the idea of bringing a group of Polish Scouts from Pahiatua to New Plymouth for a holiday. These boys were billeted among the local families for, what I always hoped would be, a relaxed and happy time.

My mother, an intelligent and compassionate person, ensured that my brother and I understood what the boys had been through and where they had come from. The lad who stayed with us was Stefan Wiśniewski, who was a splendid boy, and as I remember was the saddest person I had ever met. He had a reason of course. A friend down the street billeted a lad who made an impression with the people who met him for his politeness and good humour. This lad was Wiesław Piotrkowski.

Some years ago, I read a newspaper article written by Stefan of his life and experiences. I was delighted to know that he had settled here and made a life for himself after such a tragic beginning. The Polish lads had Mrs Kozera with them as their mentor. She was a charming and charismatic person who had the misfortune to be knocked down by a car, breaking her leg. On a visit to the hospital, the boys sang the Polish national anthem to her. It was the first time I had heard it. That tune still brings tears to my eyes.

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