“His Majesty’s government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops who have served them so valiantly and for all those who have fought under our command....”Winston Churchill at the Crimea Conference 27, February 1945
These words were put into action by the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947. Over 200 camps were set up across Great Britain to provide refuge for hundreds of displaced Polish war veterans and their dependants, who would have faced imprisonment or execution if had returned to their homeland. There is only one left and it is run by the British Ministry of Defence to this day.
Ilford Park, also known as Stover Camp and just 2 miles from Newton Abbot town centre, was set up in 1948. The same year the first camp baby was born. A girl called Krystyna. It became a vibrant settlement, a kind of a small town, with its own church, hairdresser, communal kitchen and dining area, cinema, nursery, library, hospital and shop. In the heart of Devon, people of different social backgrounds and from different parts of Poland built an integrated community. Soldiers who fought in and survived the greatest battles of World War II had lost and dearly missed their homeland. Unable to return they created new homes and with time assimilated. The locals started calling it “Little Poland” and it is known by this name today, despite the fact that the 16-hectare camp does not exist anymore. By the end of 1992 all the inhabitants had been moved to the newly built Ilford Park Polish Home on the same site.
Ilford Park is a place unlike any other with 83 unique residents each and their rooms. Each person and each story are simply breath-taking and unforgettable, taking the listener back to the times of war. Heroes from the Battle of Britain, Warsaw Uprising, Monte Cassino and other battles as well as survivors of Siberian gulags moved in and made it home, a Polish home. When entering the building it feels like crossing the border into Poland. Most of the staff is Polish, some were brought up here. The corridors are named after Polish cities. The shop, still open 3 times a week and run by Krystyna’s sister, is located on Warsaw Street as is the church where mass in Polish starts promptly at 10:30 every morning. The main kitchen is based on Gdynia Street, the therapy room is at the end of Wroclaw Street. At each street crossing a “day space” was created, 4 in total. They are the hubs of the home. The residents gather there to eat, chat, have visitors, watch TV and listen to the radio. Polish songs are sung every Wednesday, the hairdresser comes on Mondays, Bingo is on Tuesday and Thursday. There are also regular shopping and sightseeing trips to go on. Every corner and every wall is full of Polish emblems, souvenirs, paintings and poems. The only thing that is not as Polish as “Little Poland” residents would like is the food. It truly is a home away from home.