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

page 307

Memorandum for:

The Permanent Head

Prime Minister's Department

Parliament Buildings


Report of special committee appointed to investigate staff establishments at Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua

We visited the camp on 9 and 10 April 1947, and have to report as follows. The Polish Children's Camp is staffed from three sources – Polish staff, the New Zealand army and the Public Works Department, as shown in the following report which sets out the present strength of the staff and the various duties in which they are engaged. A separate report on each of the three establishments follows.

Polish staff

The last approved establishment for Polish personnel was 11 September 1946. Since then, the number of children has decreased and so has the number of Polish staff.


The present occupant of the position is not medically fit to carry out his duties and will most probably transfer to a social security benefit within the very near future. There is no possibility of filling the position from Polish personnel and it should therefore be cancelled.

Poultry man

We have reported hereunder on the economy of the poultry run. Unless the number of fowls is increased sufficiently to provide a fulltime job for the poultry man, we consider he should be paid the minimum hourly rate under the Minimum Wage Act and employed only half time.

Hygiene nurse

From our discussion with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service charge sister at the camp hospital, we are confident that with the reduction in the number of children, the position of hygiene nurse is not a fulltime job. The number of hospital nursing aides is shortly to be reduced by one, and we consider that the position of hygiene nurse should be eliminated and the present occupant employed in the hospital. She would automatically take some of her work page 308with her, such as the organisation of medical parades and the maintenance of personal medical records, but the work of personal hygiene supervision should be assumed by the dormitory supervisors and house mistress.

While the total number of Polish staff employed in the camp appears to be high for the number of Poles living in the camp (ie, 384 children and 108 adults, including staff), it must be remembered that with the exception of bed linen which is washed by outside contractors, a complete domestic service is provided. Furthermore, the work involved for such a large number of children is much heavier than it would be for a corresponding number of adults, and when each separate service is examined, an entirely different picture of personnel strength is presented.


Owing to the language difficulty, the Polish staff engaged in administrative duties is the minimum possible.

Equipment and stores

The Polish storeman carries out the duties of barrack warden, and apart from his normal duties is responsible to the army quartermaster for furniture and equipment charged out on location to the Polish sleeping quarters, mess rooms, kitchens, etc.

Camp maintenance and cleaning

The only Pole employed under this heading as "handyman" is commented upon above.


The hospital is a 40-bed institution and it will be obvious to all that, apart from the hygiene nurse mentioned above, the strength of the Polish staff is insufficient, particularly when it is remembered that at least 80% of the patients are children requiring a good deal of nursing.


Based on New Zealand standards, a total staff of 13 to operate two kitchens feeding 49 people is not excessive.


As the teaching staff is subject to regular reviews by the Education Department, no investigations were made under this heading.

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It was not possible to obtain any output figures for the laundry but after learning that the six laundresses, with very poor facilities at their disposal, performed the washing and ironing of personal garments for 384 children, the committee was satisfied that this section was not overstaffed.

Apart from the usual tubs and coppers, the only equipment available in the laundry is two household electric washing machines. These are inadequate and if the camp is to continue for any length of time, serious consideration should be given to the supply of a commercial-sized washing machine or machines to the camp. The provision of this equipment will either make a reduction in staff possible or enable the existing staff to handle, in addition, the washing of the bed linen which at present is done in Palmerston North.

Sewing room

It will be noted that of a staff of 14 seamstresses, 10 are learners, and from the future employment aspect this is most desirable. The work carried out in this section covers the manufacture of garments not only for children in the camp but also for those attending New Zealand schools.

Secondhand clothing, ex-army, navy, air force and other sources is unpicked and remade into children's clothing in addition to clothes being made from new materials. In addition to manufacture, repairs are carried out and the following figures are a typical month's output from the sewing room:

Boys 89 pieces
Girls 107 pieces
Clothing store 108 pieces
Boys 35 pairs trousers
85 shirts
22 suits pyjamas
1 pyjama jacket
Girls 1 dressing gown
2suits pyjamas
3 skirts
1 blouse
6 dresses
Girls 66 pieces
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A good deal of buttonholing is necessary and it is suggested that a buttonhole machine be provided. The National Employment Service has declared such a machine surplus to the War Assets Realisation Board and enquiries could be made as to the possibility of acquiring it. The committee was also satisfied that the sewing room was not overstaffed.

Dormitory supervision

Each of the 11 dormitories is supervised by a dormitory supervisor (female). The supervisor's duties consist of looking after the children during their out-of-school hours, watching their personal cleanliness and of kindred duties. The dormitory supervisors are under the control of the housemaster (boys) and housemistress (girls). These two officers are like father and mother respectively to the boys and girls. The committee was unable to find any reason for recommending the reduction of staff under this heading and the proportion of one supervisor to 35 children is certainly not unreasonable.

Boot shop

The five learners employed in the boot shop are boys in their early teens and they are learning a trade, which will enable them to take their place later in any community. After examining the work done, the committee was of the opinion that this was probably the most economical activity in the camp. The instructor spoke very highly of the boys and their interest in the work. In addition to the ordinary repair work involving approximately 90 pairs of footwear per week, boots and shoes with irreparable soles but good uppers are completely resoled to the smaller size and reissued. These boys also assist in the clothing store and in unloading of coal several hours per week.

Other camp services

The position of poultry man is dealt with in another part of this report. There can also be no question that one hairdresser would be insufficient for a community of this size and the committee was satisfied that two hairdressers were essential.

New Zealand army establishment

Army staff on the above camp strength totalled 23 on 10 April 1947. Included in this is one canteen worker and the matron of the hospital. The total of 23 represents a very large reduction from the establishment which became effective on 1 October 1946 and has almost reached a minimum below which the army functions in the camp could not be efficiently carried out.

As there are now approximately 300 fewer Polish children and staff in the page 311camp and that certain work once performed by the army is now carried out by Polish personnel on full or part-time, it would appear possible to assess the duties of the army staff as requiring full or part-time service.

If the reduced establishment which has been proposed by the commandant of the camp should replace the present one, it would appear that not enough consideration has been given to the evident fact that not all the camp duties require fulltime services. The proposed establishment totals 33, which is 10 more than the existing strength.

Fulltime service appears to be necessary in the following army posts:
Camp commandant 1
Adjutant and quartermaster 1
Quartermaster sergeant 1
Orderly room clerk 1
Quartermaster clerk 1
Ration clerk 1
Cook 1
Mess and kitchen 1
Fire master 1
Boot-repair instructor 1
Drivers 2
Driver mechanic 1
Hospital matron 1
Canteen worker 1
Total 15

The other members of the staff perform duties which take a few hours per day on most days.

Until recently, the Army Supply Corp (ASC) had a supply depot in the camp which was responsible for accounting for supplies. The ASC has now handed over to the camp the supply depot minus the accounting, which is done at ASC headquarters. As the accounting represents the greater part of the work, it could be expected that a reduction would have been made in the proposed establishment, but this is not the case as the same number of staff have been asked for.

One of the steam plants in the camp is being converted to oil burning and when this is completed, a reduction of 75% in the coal consumption will be effected. This will have a direct influence on the number of trucks in the camp and on the number of drivers. There appears to be at present one car and one van (commercial type) too many in the camp. After the conversion of the boiler to oil burning takes place, one dump truck should be withdrawn.

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Having due regard to the amount of full and part-time duties and amount of work now done by Polish personnel, we consider that an army staff of 22 is essential for the efficient administration of this camp without lowering the present standard of service.

Public Works Department employees

It will be observed from sections of this report dealing with Polish and army personnel respectively, that apart from a Polish handyman whose physical capacity is such that his services are practically of no use, no member of either group is engaged in general maintenance of the camp. This portion of the essential services of the camp is left to Public Works Department employees under the control of an overseer.

In addition to the work required at the camp, the Public Works Department section is responsible for repairing and maintaining government buildings in the Pahiatua district and the military camp in Moki Moki.

For the following reasons, the committee is satisfied that the Public Works Department maintenance personnel is not overstaffed:
  • 1. In a camp of this size, a considerable amount of repair work and minor alternations are continuously required. Furthermore, the Public Works Department overseer states that he has received specific instructions to maintain the camp in a high stage of repair so that in the event of the Poles vacating, it can be immediately handed over to somebody else as a going concern. As only a limited number of each type of tradesmen are employed, there can be no doubt that they are fully occupied
  • 2. Apart from the actual work in the camp, government work required in other parts of the district involving travelling time would eliminate any possibility of slack periods for Public Works Department staff
  • 3. The type of structure erected at the camp, because of its temporary nature, involves more repair work than is required for a permanent building

In addition to all the maintenance work, the Public Works Department section is responsible for the operation of two steam boilers. A 24-hour service is provided. In this connection, the poor class of coal supplied and power cuts add to the task. On a 40-hour-week basis for a 24-hour service, four boiler attendants are necessary.

General comments

There are 170 laying hens and they are producing at present 91-dozen eggs a month. In view of the uneconomic rate of production and, in our opinion, the unsatisfactory method of feeding the poultry, we recommend that the page 313Department of Agriculture be requested to report on this activity with a view to either dispensing with the poultry or alternatively increasing the hens sufficiently in number to provide a full egg supply in the camp. If the second alternative is practicable, it would, in the view of the egg shortage throughout the Dominion, be most desirable.


The swill from the kitchen is at present sold to a nearby farmer and this immediately raised the query in our minds as to whether the camp could not maintain a pig run of its own and divert the kitchen swill to it. We would also recommend in this case that a report from the Department of Agriculture be obtained. It is understood, however, that this question was investigated some time ago but was rejected because it would not be possible to locate the pig run sufficiently far enough away from the camp itself to avoid the smell.

Future staffing

We would make the following observations in regard to future staffing:
  • 1. As some of the essential Polish female workers expect their husbands to arrive in New Zealand in the near future and will leave the camp when their husbands take outside employment, a serious difficulty will arise in manning essential services.
  • 2. As the services of interim army personnel are due to cease on 31 March 1948, the camp authorities will be faced with the problem of replacing them and it is understood that the possibility of fresh personnel being supplied from army sources is practically nil. This raises the question of whether the administration of the camp should not be transferred from army to a civil department which is conversant with the accommodation and control of children.
KM Muirson

(Army Department)

AM Lorne

(Labour Department)

HCJ Thompson

(National Employment Services)