Recently, Connor Emerson and Natasha Anson, Remaking Beamish Project Officers, met with Ray Malecki who shared the story of his father’s migration from Poland to the North East of England. This story, as well as many others, is helping to shape our engagement in the new 1950s Town exhibits.
In 1946, due to the establishment of communist rule in Poland, the Polish Second Corps were allowed to enter Britain, following on from the Polish Government and Armed Forces in exile who arrived in Britain during the Second World War. In May of that year, the War Office and Air Ministry also formed the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) to “help officers and men of the Polish Forces to settle down in Civil life.” In 1947, the Polish Resettlement Act was put into law and provided a pathway to British Citizenship for over 200,000 Polish men who fought during the Second World War, as well as provisions for their wives and families.
However, it wasn’t just those who served during the Second World War that were able to migrate to the North East. Due to a shortage of labour in sectors of the economy that were essential to capitalist reconstruction, the British Government recruited refugees, mainly from displaced persons camps. Several arrangements were made in the late 1940s under the broad banner of European Volunteer Workers scheme. These included “Westward Ho!”, which aimed to place workers in agriculture, coal mining and the textiles industries.
In the North East, one of the places that migrants were housed was at Morpeth Common Camp, also known as “CRASH” due to it previously being the home base of the County Regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After the Second World War the camp became home to both members of the PRC and displaced persons who had migrated to the area as part of the European Volunteer Worker scheme, as well as their families. Although the camp was predominately occupied by Polish migrants, there were also people from other eastern European countries, including Latvia and Lithuania.
One of those who served in the 8th Army, 2nd Corps, 12th Heavy Artillery was Ray’s Father Roman Malecki. During the Second World War, Roman fought in Italy and, after the end of the war in Europe in 1945, he stayed on in Italy to help rebuild parts of the country. Roman came to Britain in 1947 and joined the PRC, after his aunties had encouraged him not to return to Poland.
Roman was released from the PRC in 1949 and began a career in the mining industry in Ashington. He lived in Ashington Miners’ Hostel, which had been set up for Bevin Boys in the mid-1940s. Roman was also friends with some of the inhabitants of Morpeth Common Camp, who he likely knew from his time in the PRC and his working life. Like many other Polish miners at this time, Roman suffered discrimination in the mines, with many perceiving that Polish workers were taking jobs from local men.
In the mining industry, local branches of the National Union of Mineworkers were able to veto the employment of Polish migrants in their area. There was also a general agreement that in the event of any redundancies in the industry, Polish workers would be the first to be dismissed. In 1950 there was even a walkout of 12,000 miners after a resolution was passed in Whitrigg Mine with British miners refusing to work with non-naturalised Poles. Naturalisation is the process by which migrants to the North East could obtain British nationality.
As part of our work for The 1950s Town, the Remaking Beamish Team is looking for stories of Polish migration to the North East after the Second World War. If you would like to tell us your or your family’s story, please get in touch, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0191 370 4052.