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Monte Cassino

Eighty years ago today, 18 May 1944, at 10.20am, the Polish flag flew over the ruins of the Benedictine monastery on top of Monte Cassino.

The ruins had loomed over the soldiers of the Second Polish Corps in Italy, led by Lieutenant-General Władysław Anders, since they entered the fray surrounding Monte Cassino—the main stronghold of the German’s Gustav Line—on 3 March.

The crack German units, considered by German headquarters as of the “highest fighting value by virtue of their morale and special training” had defended their position since 20 January. The mountain completely dominated the surrounding hills and valleys, and allowed the Germans to thwart any Allied attempt at breaking through to Rome.

The first Allied units to take on the Germans at Monte Cassino were two American corps, and one French. New Zealand divisions replaced them when they withdrew, exhausted.

A second push in mid-February by the 2nd New Zealand and 4th Indian divisions, too, proved futile, and included the Allies’ bombing the monastery on the assumption that the Germans had been using the buildings: They had not, but their ruins provided even better cover than they already had. At this stage, the British Eighth Army took over from the American Fifth.

Anders addressed his “50,000 strong” soldiers via the radio on the eve of 3 March and reminded them of what they had been through in the “prisons and concentration camps” of the USSR. “We went through wild and deserted spaces and were decimated by frost, epidemics and our enemies,” he told his men. “We now follow the ancient road of the Dombrowski legions,” he said, referring to the Polish soldiers who fought in Italy from 1795, under the Polish general whose name became part of the chorus of a military song that became the Polish national anthem in 1927.

The Poles in 1944 joined the battle from positions on the east of the mountain, but started quietly, mainly in a communications role. Polish units went to the front line in the order that their transports arrived.

That third push for Monte Cassino fizzled out, and a few days before 23 March, General Leese visited General Anders at his headquarters in Vinchiarturo and informed him that the Germans’ “continual repelling” of their attacks on Monte Cassino had placed the Allied troops elsewhere in a “difficult position.” Leese had received the order for the British Eighth to break through the Gustav and Hitler lines, and gave that task to the Second Polish Corps, which had become a component of the British Eighth on 30 January 1944.

Anders, in his book An Army in Exile: “General Leese made it clear that he understood all that was involved. The stubbornness of the German defence at Cassino and on Monastery Hill was already a byword, for although the Monastery had been bombed, and the town of Cassino was a heap of ruins, the Germans still held firm and blocked the road to Rome.

“It was therefore clear that Monte Cassino, upon which the blood of five gallant nations—Americans, British, French, New Zealand and Indians—had already been shed, must be captured in spite of the German boast that it was impregnable.”

Polish headquarters moved to Monte Cassino, and had its own view of the monastery ruins. On 7 April, with General Anders reconnoitred the area, visited and received “much useful advice” from New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg and British General Charles Keightley, and started to lay out detailed plans, which included the need to:

– Build up huge stocks of ammunition and equipment, made difficult because the only two mountain tracks that could be used were under German observation and fire for 10 kilometres. The supply route could only be used at night, without lights; supplies often had to be carried in the last stages, by soldiers under fire.

– Organise a system of control posts connected by telephone.

– Reinforce and widen the tracks and roads for “all kinds of vehicles, including tanks.”

– Work under cover of smokescreens, to employ “every possible trick of camouflage” to hide artillery positions, supplies, and traffic.  

– Hold practice sessions in fighting, mountain climbing, and for some squadrons, flame throwing.  

By 6 May, all Polish commanding officers down to battalion commanders knew every detail of the coming operation, and its place within the Allied plan of attack.

A few days before D-day for the whole front, Polish soldiers waited in their positions on the mountain. They hid “under conditions of great hardship” in primitive shelters made from corrugated iron sheets, and large boulders, and under the Germans’ constant searching fire.

Nightfall of 11 May saw the beginning of the fourth and final battle for Monte Cassino.


The preparations were intense, but the battle conditions were far worse: The night and the smoke prevented the soldiers from seeing more than a few steps ahead; soldiers who had to frequently dive for cover lost contact with one another; the German projectiles came from all directions, including caves where they had stored their own supplies; the terrain prevented the artillery from helping the infantry.

As one officer died, his place was taken by the next in seniority. By 13 May, the Poles had withdrawn. Anders concluded that his men would be unable to “silence the enemy batteries” in positions on either side of the mountain slopes.

On 16 May, General Leese ordered that the British and the Poles co-ordinate to prevent the latter from fighting an “isolated battle.”

The second attack from the Poles was to start the next day, with “fresh battalions” but within the generally unchanged plan. Every Polish soldier available, was used.

Anders estimated that: “The enemy must be quite as exhausted as we were, or even more so, and that in the next day’s fighting… our attack, even if less powerful than our first effort, would achieve a definite success.”

He was proved right: on the morning of 18 May 1944, when the 3rd Carpathian Division renewed their attacks on the monastery, they discovered that the Germans had withdrawn most of its men.

Monte Cassino had been won by the Poles, who could not have been expecting such a quick victory, because the only Polish flag on hand was that of a patrol of the 12th Polish lancers, which flew until an official Polish flag was found.

An hour later, General Leese congratulated General Anders, who ordered the Union flag be hoisted next to the Polish one.

Anders’ description of the aftermath:

“The battlefield presented a dreary sight. There were enormous dumps of unused ammunition and here and there heaps of land mines. Corpses of Polish and German soldiers, sometimes entangled in a deathly embrace, lay everywhere, and the air was full of the stench of rotting bodies. There were overturned tanks with broken caterpillars and others standing as if ready for an attack, with their guns still pointing towards the monastery. The slopes of the hills, particularly where the fire had been less intense, were covered with poppies in incredible number, their red flowers weirdly appropriate to the scene. All that was left of the oak grove of the so-called Valley of Death were splintered tree stumps. Crater after crater pitted the sides of the hills, and scattered over them were fragments of uniforms and tin helmets, Tommy guns, Spandaus, Schmeissers and hand-grenades.

“Of the monastery itself there remained only an enormous heap of ruins and rubble, with here and there some broken columns. Only the western wall, over which the two flags flew, was still standing. A cracked church bell lay on the ground next to an unexploded shell of the heaviest calibre, and on shattered walls and ceilings fragments of paintings and frescoes could be seen. Priceless works of art, sculpture and books lay in the dust and broken plaster.”

The red poppies that kept blooming among the blood of the dead deeply affected the survivors. A few hours before the Poles captured Monte Cassino, one of the soldiers, poet and singer Feliks Konarski wrote the song Czerwone Maki na Monte Cassino (Red Poppies on Monte Cassino) about those poppies, and that blood.  Another soldier, composer and conductor Alfred Schütz, wrote the melody.

On 18 May, 80 years ago, at the base of the mountain, the men of the Second Polish Army Corps cried as they sang the first two stanzas of Konarski’s song, its words apparently painted on a huge cardboard banner for the soldiers to follow.

My paternal grandfather survived Monte Cassino. Aged 47, he was in one of the supply units. I bought General Anders’ book in the hope of finding out more about what he had gone through, and I was grateful a few years later for the opportunity to interview Monte Cassino veterans, the late Władysław Błażków, Władysław Piotrkowski, Bronisław Bojanowski, and Adam Piotrzkiewicz, who talked about what it was like on the Italian battlefields.

The Polish Monte Cassino battles did not stop on 18 May 1944. The neighbouring hill, known as 575, was only “cleared of the enemy” the next day. Polish units then advanced to the Hitler line, on Piedimonte, and finally cleared the road to Rome on 25 May 1944.   

The II Polish Army Corps’ casualty count after the Monte Cassino and Piedimonte battles:

Killed: 72 officers and 788 other ranks
Wounded: 204 officers and 2,618 other ranks
Missing: 5 officers and 97 other ranks
Total killed or missing in action: 962
Total wounded: 2,822.

—Basia Scrivens

18 May 2024


Photographs courtesy the late Władysław Błażków, who loaned me his 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division photograph album. The last is General Bolesław Duch saluting the battle’s dead.

Lieutenant-General Anders’ book, An Army in Exile; The Story of the Second Polish Corps, was originally published in 1949 and reprinted by The Battery Press, Tennessee, USA, in 2004, ISBN: 0-809839-043-5.

For more details on the 1944 military timeline, go to  

See Władysław Błażków’s story at

See Władysław Piotrkowski’s story at  

See Bronisław Bojanowski’s story at

See Adam Piotrzkiewicz’s story at

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Happy Bursday, Mum

My mother would have been 90 today.

Kazimiera Nieścior never did get her tongue around the English “th” so it was always “bursday” or “Tursday.” And good “mornink” or good “moaning.”

A guest at St Ann’s hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, took this photograph of my mother, left, with a friend.

My mother was charming. She told me how it worked for her when she got her first job in England, as a waitress at St Ann’s hotel in Newquay. She was 14. She could hardly speak a word of English, and said she managed by smiling and using the few words she knew.

After eight years in limbo, she could finally smile.

I would have liked to say that she “left school” but she didn’t have the privilege of what could have been called schooling. She was six years and three days old on a freezing early morning in 1940 when Soviet soldiers banged on the door of their little house in Smigłowo, a settlement of 50 houses—25 on each side of one road—just north of Zaleszczyki near Poland’s then southern border with Romania.

I would never have found out where the family went had it not been for a serendipitous letter that I wrote to the KARTA Foundation in 2010. It was one of those leads one tries without much hope. I was wondering why my father’s family was listed as being in an NKVD forced-labour facility yet my mother’s not.

It turned out that the NKVD (Stalin’s Secret Police), responsible for the forced labour facilities scattered throughout the USSR to which they sent around 900,000 Polish civilians in 1940 and 1941, either did not publish the lists of people sent to geographical Siberia, or those lists were lost. But the woman from KARTA said that my maternal grandfather, son of Józef (yes) born 1908 (yes) was deported with his children (there seems to be no mention of his wife, who was with them) to Taishet near Irkutsk.

Taishet is near Lake Baikal. I discovered that before and after the Polish families were there, it was classified as a GULag.

In Poland, children start school aged seven. In Taishet, who knows what schooling she received? She was eight when Stalin granted ‘amnesty’ to Poles in similar facilities throughout the USSR, and she, her parents, her brothers, and younger sister managed to get to Uzbekistan, where her father enlisted into the Polish army.

I still struggle to figure out how authorities worked out what would happen to the wives and children left behind. I know from reading Wladyslaw Anders’ book An Army in Exile, that Stalin kept provisions to civilians scarce, and I know from speaking with people that Uzbekistan was then a place with no food, no water, no shelter, and no jobs. My mother and her siblings became ill, and her little sister died.

My grandmother took my eight-year-old mother and her six-year-old brother Janek to an orphanage, and gave my mother the instruction to “look after” her brother. Until they were reunited two years later, my mother took looking after her brother seriously. It was made tougher in the orphanage in Tengeru, which divided the boys and girls. One day, my mother found Janek in the mortuary, supposedly dead from malaria. She shook him and he stirred from his unconsciousness.

She was 10, and I doubt whether there was anyone to check her reading. Although the authorities tried, they struggled to school the children of the more than 20,000 Polish refugees in the 22 refugee camps along eastern and southern Africa. In Tengeru, there were at least 2,000 school-aged children.

Lucjan Krokilowski, in his book Stolen Childhood: “The large concentration of school-age children in the African Polish camps required a proportionately large team of professional teachers and educators… but they were not available: younger male teachers were at the front [in 1942–1944], and there were few qualified females.”

In 1944, mother and Janek were reunited with their mother and older brother in a Polish refugee camp in Rusape, in then southern Rhodesia. Soon after, my mother heard that her father had been killed in northern France.

My mother was a tomboy, not surprising for someone who had lived most of her childhood outside. From what I could gather, Rusape was a paradise for the children. Fr Krolikowski on the attractions of living in the African bush: “… nor did the casual construction of the [school] buildings adequately separate the students from the ever fascinating surroundings outside.”  

My mother was a disorganised housewife but a meticulous bookkeeper of the engineering business my father started in South Africa. I once said I’d give her the four cents she had been hunting for in the books, but she said no, that was not the point: she had to find her mistake. Her spelling may have been inventive but her accounts were always perfect—to the last cent.

My smell of childhood is burnt potatoes. My mother had no affinity with the kitchen. Her idea of making dinner would start with putting on some potatoes, then going into the garden. It frustrated my father, and taught us to cook for our own needs. Later, I understood why: she had never had a ‘normal’ home life. On the little Smigłowo farm, her mother helped her father plant up the new land whenever she could; in Taishet, the NKVD ruled, and they were lucky to get bread in their hands, never mind sitting around a table to eat; in the Polish orphanages, food arrived, as it did in the Tengeru and Rusape refugee camps, and at St Ann’s.

Mum and her Singer, in England.

My mother loved gardening. She was never afraid of bees—or the dark—but had a fear of even the smallest frog. She sewed like an angel. The refugee camps may not have taught children how to cook, and may not have had qualified academic teachers, but the women taught the girls Polish handcrafts.  

I remember my mother taking a dressmaking course. She made all our clothes, including coats, and our wedding dresses. She impressed me by the way she could take a piece of fabric, cut it out without a pattern, and hand it to me to sew an outfit for my Sindy doll. Sindy had a coat from the same fabric as mine. My mother taught me how to embroider and crochet, and follow patterns by just looking at the photographs.

For someone without a formal education, she didn’t do too badly.

Happy bursday mum. I miss you.


7 February 2024


Łucjan Krókilowski, OFM Conv., Stolen Childhood, A Saga of Polish War Children, pages 97 & 99, 2001, Authors Choice Press, USA. Translated by Kazimierz J Rozniatkowski in 2001. The original, Skradzione Dziecinstwo, was published in 1983.

To read more about the background to the forced-labour facilities in the USSR, and the Poles’ escape, see:

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Danka and Ula

Sisters-in-law Danuta née Zioło Gawronek and Urszula née Gawronek Poczwa died within two weeks of each other, on Christmas Day last year, and 5 January 2024. They were connected by Pani Ula’s younger brother, Zdzisław, Pani Danka’s late ex-husband.


The Zioło siblings with friends at one of the Polish dances in Wellington. From left, Tadeusz Zioło, Jasia Krejcisz (née Brejnakowska), Lodzia Kołodzińska, Fredek Sapinski, Alina Zioło, Ola Sajewicz (later Wołk), Marek Kazimierzak and Danuta in front.
Urszula and Ginter Poczwa with their children, from left, Zygmunt, Olenka, Barbara and Henryk, in their Petone garden circa 1957.


In every conversation I have that leads to a story on this website, I am aware that there are hundreds—thousands—of similar stories that do not get told, so each one is special. When someone dies, I struggle to go back to the original story to change the present into the past, so I hope that acknowledging them here will buy me some time.

Pani Ula was born in 1926, Pani Danka in 1934. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Red Army rolled into eastern Poland, where both families had farms, Pani Ula’s near then-Brześć nad Bugiem and Pani Danka’s about 300 kilometres farther south near then-Tarnopol. Soviet soldiers woke both families in the early hours of 10 February 1940—along with around 200,000 other Polish mainly rural civilians—corralled them onto cattle-wagons, and took them to forced-labour facilities in the then-USSR.

Pani Ula’s family was imprisoned in one of the most northern of the Russian facilities in arctic Archangielsk; Pani Danka’s train travelled east, over the Urals and into Siberia.

Survival became an uneasy balance: when the train stopped, Pani Danka’s mother used to get off to beg for food—the soldiers had told them to pack the minimal for a ‘holiday.’ She continued to beg in the Soviet soldiers’ dining room at the forced-labour facility, and was occasionally thrown some bread. It did not prevent her baby, born months after they arrived, from dying of starvation.    

Hunger, too, dominated Pani Ula’s existence. At 13, she was still too young to join the labour gangs, but became a shrewd beggar. In winter, she crossed the Dwina river and charmed the long-term Russian prisoners on the other side into giving her food to take back.

Nothing ever seemed to faze Pani Ula, despite the sorrows she had that began when her beloved mother died in an accident when she was eight: Pani Ula’s description: “She went from being a schoolgirl with rich parents to doing everything on the farm, and had three of us. … she was very practical, never scared to do anything. Probably, I’m a lot like her—good or bad, I just go forward.”

Poles in Wellington still remember the Kowhai delicatessen that Pani Ula ran from 1964 to 1979 in Main Road, Upper Hutt. She was unimpressed that in 1964, New Zealand law did not allow her to sign her own business papers, but did not let it stop her. She was determined to pay for her children’s education, and did so.

Pani Ula in her element behind the counter at Kowhai Delicatessen, Main Road, Upper Hutt.

Both women had strong and special relationships with their siblings. Pani Ula’s with her older “gentle” sister, Celina, and her brother, six years her junior. Their bond was forged through living with a less than loving stepmother before WW2 upturned their lives further.

Celina and Urszula Gawronek in Egypt.

Pani Ula and Celina, who were taken in by the Polish army’s military cadet school in Egypt, and their father, Michał, who served with the II Polish Army Corps in Italy, settled in New Zealand through Zdzisław, who arrived in 1944 with 837 other Polish refugees.

Pani Danka’s saviour was her elder brother, Tadeusz Zioło, who cared for her and their younger sister, Alina, after their parents both died soon after escaping the USSR with the Polish army in 1942.

I have just re-read the story I wrote about the Zoiło siblings, sub-headed Surviving Paradise, and again noted the number of times that things could have gone so badly differently for the trio. There was the time the train in the USSR left without their mother. There was the time when their father decided to enrol Ted into the Polish army’s military cadet school, but the contingent left without him. There was the time the hospital in Pahlevi ‘lost’ the ill sisters.

The caption to this photograph in Tadeusz’s collection reads: “These orphans arrived in Isfahan from Teheran, and are being quarantined in Home no. 20. Some I know, because, like me, in 1944 they were sent… [last words missing]” Tadeusz is in the front on the right. The girl in the bonnet is between Alina on the left and Danuta on the right.

In my introduction to the Zioło story, I mentioned that interviewing Tadeusz, Danka, and Alina together was both a joy and a challenge trying to keep up with the sibling chatter, but that there was no doubt of their shared love for one another, their camaraderie, and their absolute pleasure in one another’s company.

Pani Ula’s brother, Zdzisław Poczwa, died in 2001, and her sister, Celina Polaczuk, in 2009.  Tadeusz Zioło died on 1 January 2020.

—Basia Scrivens

30 January 2024


To read more about Pani Ula’s journey to New Zealand, go to:

To read more about Tadeusz, Danuta and Alina Zioło, go to  

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Poles Down South

Curiosity drives any family genealogist, and Paul Klemick is a curious man. He was also a curious child.

“I was very young, not even a teenager, when I asked my father where our name came from. ‘What do you want to know that for?’ he said, ‘That lot were all brought and sold as slaves.’

“He always called them ‘that lot.’ When I joined the Polish society some years later, he was still the same: ‘What did that lot ever do for society?’”

Rather than put off his second son, his father’s dismissal of his Polish roots further ignited Paul’s imagination.

“Who were these people? Why were my family like they were? Why did my father call my great-grandfather Phil the Flogger?”

Author Paul Klemick introducing his book Poles Down South at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin on 18 November 2023.

Paul found out that his great-great-grandfather, Franz, arrived in Lyttelton harbour in October 1874, among the Poles aboard the Gutenberg. He was 18, and had travelled with his parents, Maciej Klimek and Anna née Smolińska, and his younger brothers Theodore (Felix) and Martin.

Paul’s great-great-grandmother, 17-year-old Franciszka Chełkowska, arrived in Port Chalmers nearly three months earlier. She was 17, and had travelled on the Reichstag with her married sister Veronica Anis and the Anis family. They settled in Waihola, as did Franciszka after she married Franz Klimek in 1882. Paul’s great-grandfather changed the family name to Klemick when he married Ellen Walsh in 1908.

Paul Klemick’s great-great grandparents, who became known as Frank and Fanny, with their daughter Annie, and Paul’s great-grandfather, their son Felix. The photograph was taken shortly before Fanny died in 1886.

Dunedin born and raised Paul started gathering and recording information. By the early 1990s, he was corresponding with Taranaki-based Ray Watembach of the Polish Genealogical Society, who had worked with academic Jerzy (George) Pobóg-Jaworowski on his book History of Polish Settlers in New Zealand.

In 1998, Paul answered an advertisement in Dunedin’s weekly publication, The Star, that invited people in the area to join the Polish Heritage of Otago and Southland. He went to the new society’s inaugural meeting, and met Patricia Clark, who had answered the same advertisement. Patricia recognised Paul—for years at Mass at St Paul’s in Corstorphine, she had sat in the pew behind the Klemick’s, and had seen Paul grow up. They found out that they were third cousins, once removed. They met other Poles.

POHOS planned its first exhibition of Poles in Otago, and gave Paul and Patricia the task of gathering material.

“There was no material then. Patricia and I visited and filmed people, and created an exhibition of what we found. By then, I had got to know other Polish people in Dunedin, and found people missing from George’s book.  

“Before POHOS, I always thought it would be good to do something for the Polish people. They were a forgotten people, ignored, treated as if they were nobodies. I wanted to promote them in the community. Now they are culturally a part of the community, always counted in when there are cultural events.”

Paul’s grandfather believed the family was German, but Paul knew instinctively that they were not.

“I had a recurring dream as a little boy: I was in Europe, hiding from soldiers in barns, forests, all sorts of places, and always—just before someone saw me—I’d wake. I still remember those dreams.”

In 1994, Ray wrote to Paul: “Your letter is not straightforward, but full of enquiries…” and explained how the Germans, during their partitioning of north-western Poland between 1779 and 1918, germanised Polish names. Ray sent Paul books, church records, and Paul began to build a picture of not only his extended family, but also the families of other descendants of early Polish settlers in the Otago region.  

Ray Watembach and Paul Klemick at the book launch… still chatting.

“I spent so much time at the New Zealand Archives in Dunedin, I hadn’t been back for years, but when I popped in the other day, the lady there recognised me.”

Ray at first thought Paul’s family was Kaszubian, but that, too, did not sit well with him.

“At the first POHOS dinner in 1998 with the board members and descendants, I turned the menu over. On the back, were the cultural regions of Poland, and as soon as I saw Kociewie, I knew that was where we came from.”

Paul found his roots, and went three times to Poland to investigate them further.

Since the launch of his book, Poles Down South, in Dunedin this month, other descendants have asked why it took him so long to put together.

“I say to them, yes, it has taken all those years to put together, but it was tough to get my head around all the complex stories. We are all related in some way.”

I counted at least 116 Polish names in just one of the book’s appendices. As a fellow researcher, I appreciate the twists and turns that Paul would have faced in unravelling the information behind all those names, and the unexpected paths that he had to resolve as he followed threads and made sense of the stories attached to those names. This is an informative tome, filled with narrative, and backed by scores of pages of information that invites any family genealogist to pick up and follow.

From me, Paul, well done! I am proud of you and your tenacity. I continue to respect your staunch work-ethic, your dogged research, your patient kindness, and most of all, your unstinting curiosity.

—Barbara Scrivens

30 November 2023


Anna Gruczyńska took the photographs at the book launch. The family photograph is from the Klimeck family collection. The book’s cover illustration comes from the Toitū Otago Settler’s Museum collection and is named Waihola railway workers.


To purchase a copy of Poles Down South by Paul Klemick, please contact POHOS through

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Tell us a bit about yourselves, said the president of our Polish association after she had gathered her fellow committee members to the front of the hall.

The occasion was our commemoration in Auckland of 79 years since the Pahiatua children arrived in New Zealand.

I heard committee members to my right say they were descended from this or that Pahiatua family. Easy. This was a Pahiatua audience in a hall with a display of 12 pull-up panels showing Pahiatua history. Next to me, I heard my friend Anna say that her family had arrived here differently, through Africa, and I went along with that, because several members of my family had been through Africa too. I fumbled, said it was complicated, and froze. The four committee members who spoke after me were born in Poland, and had arrived here between two and five years ago.

It made me think. Anna and I happened to be stuck between Pahiatua and Poland, neither of which are identities that need explanation in New Zealand. If someone says, “I’m descended from such-and-such Pahiatua family,” Poles in Auckland know that they arrived in Wellington in 1944. If someone living here says, “I was born in Poland,” again, no explanation necessary.

But for those of us, like Anna and me, who came the long way around—not born in Poland, but of Polish parents and grandparents who went through the same trauma as the Pahiatua children, and who ended up in Polish refugee camps in Africa rather than in New Zealand, a 30-second explanation is inadequate.

Is it appropriate to tell a Pahiatua audience that the Pahiatua children were lucky, compared to those Poles stuck in east and south-east Africa years after WW2 ended? Soon after it became clear that Poland’s efforts in the war were in vain, and the country ‘given’ to Stalin in 1945 by her supposed allies, Great Britain and the USA, the New Zealand government invited the 733 children and their 105 caregivers to stay—if they wished.

This was a good year earlier than the Polish soldiers languishing in Italy after their heroics in battles such as the fourth, finally victorious one at Monte Cassino in May 1944. British MPs badgered the Polish soldiers to return ‘home’ to help ‘rebuild’ Poland. Most of the soldiers of Władysław Anders’ Second Polish Corps refused: the British MPs seemed to have no notion of the fact that the Polish soldiers had no homes to return to, because they were in the very part of Poland that had been gifted to the USSR. Besides not wanting to return to a communist-controlled country, they were also aware that the reason Soviet soldiers forced them and their families—at gunpoint—to leave those homes in 1940 and 1941, was because their names were on the Soviet Secret Police’s list of “anti-Soviet elements.” They had heard stories of Polish soldiers returning to post-war Poland, and disappearing.

Babcia Nieścior and my uncles Janusz and Rysiek at the Polish civilian refugee camp in Teheran in 1942.

While Pahiatua children, growing into adulthood, slipped into New Zealand society, those like my mother and uncles in Africa waited. The British government finally created the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947, and soldiers in Italy moved into disused army and air force barracks all over the UK. Slowly, their families were allowed to join them, and eventually also the widows of soldiers and their children. In 1947, the first ships with Polish refugees arrived in the UK from the Middle East and India. From 1948 to 1951, the African refugee camps emptied.

On 1 November 1944, groups of New Zealanders went down to the railway tracks between Wellington and Pahiatua to wave to the two trains carrying the Polish refugees to their new home in Pahiatua. They stopped for two hours in Palmerston North as residents there showered them with gifts.

The Poles who arrived in the UK received no such welcome. Rather, they were cold-shouldered. Veteran Adam Piotrzkiewicz, for example, told me how the residents of Cirencester made such a fuss about the Polish soldiers that they had to move. Still, as around 250,000 Polish refugees moved into scores of Polish resettlement camps in England, Scotland, and Wales, they developed strong Polish communities inevitably nick-named “Little Poland” by the locals. Outside of the camps, much like in New Zealand, other Polish communities flourished. Ours in Dunstable-Luton had a Polish Saturday school.

By the time I was born, my parents, paternal babcia, and uncles had moved on from the Stover Polish Refugee Camp in Devon, but my maternal babcia still lived there. Memories of spending every summer holiday there, with her and her second husband, always make me smile. They were lucky enough to be on the edge of the camp, and dziedek made a gate for access to the forest beyond.

We picked forest chanterelles. We played in the wild garden. We made money by finding lost balls in the golf course next door. When my father was there—he dropped us off the first week of the holidays and returned for us the last—we went to beaches and always, a trip to Hay Tor, where, after braving the rock, we gathered blueberries from bushes scattered among sheep droppings.  

I know that my Polish childhood on the other side of the world was very different from the childhoods of those in our Auckland hall yesterday. Until we emigrated to South Africa, I had the best of both Polish worlds. I am grateful for that grounding, and I know that if I had to speak in a Polish hall anywhere in England, I would not need to explain much about my background.

—Barbara Scrivens

October 30, 2023

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To read about Adam Piotrzkiewicz’s story, go to  

Strong Shoulders

Anyone wanting to find Florinda Lambert in the 1980s would have had a good chance of success on any Friday afternoon if they went to the New Plymouth library’s newspaper collections.

For years, the retired schoolteacher and farmer’s wife donated that time to scour newspapers, publications, and historical records for items she thought might be of interest to the Polish community in Taranaki, and Inglewood in particular.

In those days, her son Ron, another dedicated historical researcher, was a director at the New Plymouth Museum that shared cramped accommodation with the local library before the concept emerged of creating a joint library and museum, now Puke Ariki, which Ron helped establish.

President of the Polish Genealogical Society, Ray Watembach: “The library-museum was a comfortable place for her to visit her son and stop for a cup of coffee as she looked for Polish stories. She enjoyed a kind of diplomatic immunity as she took books from one place to another.

“She was one of those genuine people who knew she had a story to tell. She thought there was a lot of history that people didn’t know, which she thought they should know. She was one of the few who made a real attempt to read Polish records.

“At that time there was a lot of interest in the early pioneers of Taranaki who chopped down bush to clear land for their farms. She knew that others of her generation had the same background.”

The year 1976 was a big one for Taranaki Poles, many of whom became interested in their heritage during the 100th anniversary celebrations of the first Polish settlers in the area off the ship, the Fritz Reuter. The original guest list expanded to nearly 2,000 when Poles who arrived in New Zealand as child refugees in November 1944 found out, and wanted to meet the families of those who had hosted them during school holidays.

That series of functions piqued the interest in Polish genealogy of several descendants of Taranaki Poles, Florinda among them.

In an article All About Me, she wrote that her maiden name had been shortened from Voitrekovsky to Voitre, and wrote that Voitrekovsky was almost the correct phonetic pronunciation of the correct Polish original, Wojciechowski.

Florinda was the granddaughter of one of the first Polish settlers in Taranaki. Her grandfather, Feliks Wojciechowski, arrived in New Zealand from Prussian-partitioned Poland as a single man in 1875. He married Irish woman Margaret Reidy, and eventually settled in Hawera.

Before the internet, research involved painstaking reading, and that is exactly what Florinda did. She read, found, and transcribed thousands of records relating to the social history of Inglewood and the surrounding district. Her accumulated 11 volumes took her nearly 20 years to gather. They are published under the title All about Inglewood, available at the Puke Ariki’s research centre, and gave me my first indication of the breadth and depth of Polish influences in the area.

Some of the first stories she found dealt with the ‘acquisition’ from Māori of “large blocks of land” in 1873 and 1874, the sale of the first Moa blocks in 1875, and Inglewood’s “Christening” on 22 January 1875. Shorter transcriptions of early stories—some a few lines—mention “improvements” to the centre of Inglewood by clearing a “large open space in the centre of it” (19 July 1879), a Mr Vickers of Inglewood losing 100 ewes and lambs through poisonous toadstools (5 November 1887), and dairy factory payouts that included £5,288 for Moa farmers (25 May 1928).

Florinda was born in 1920, and grew up with two younger sisters on her parents’ farm on the Lower Norfolk Road southeast of Inglewood. One of her first memories was riding into Inglewood with her mother, also Florinda, in a “smart little horse and gig.” She was old enough during the 1930s Depression to remember her parents “fashioning furniture, such as crude chairs and footstools, out of cheese crates and butter and benzine boxes.”

After her schooling in Norfolk and Stratford, and qualifying from Auckland Teacher’s Training College, Florinda married Andrew Lambert in 1942 and brought up three sons on their returned serviceman’s farm on Bedford Road southwest of Inglewood.

The Lamberts ‘retired’ in 1979, but Andrew kept 60 acres in Bedford Road, and busied himself with the North Taranaki Acclimatisation Society, and Florinda was just as occupied. She may have slowly relinquished roles at various organisations, but kept up those closest to her: she loved music, played violin and was in the St Andrew’s Church choir in Inglewood before spending more than 30 years as its organist, and she loved croquet: While she was researching at the Taranaki Museum, she was still holding down the role of greenkeeper at Inglewood Croquet Club.

She was a founding member of the Polish Genealogical Society in 1988, and made it her mission to ensure that the new Fritz Reuter Place fountain was built and running—the committee that organised the memorial site in the middle of Inglewood disbanded, but Florinda was on hand to replace the plaque and flowers that was later stolen, and to deal with the detergent that someone decided to put into the fountain.

In 1997, Florinda Louise Lambert received a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to her community.

She died in March 2007, but she lives on in her work and her vision. I did not know her, but once I started investigating Poles in New Zealand, it was inevitable that she would make herself known to a new researcher.

No one person can ever reinvent a wheel and see it to its journey’s end, because the journey does not end. Researchers can only progress by being able to lean on the shoulders of what others have done before us, and I consider primary research such as that carried out by Florinda Lambert a priceless gift.    

—Barbara Scrivens

September 2023

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Find Florinda Lambert’s Voitrekovsky family story on our Early Settlers page, or click on

Florinda’s niece, Faye née Major Dravitzki, was another in the family who has been recognised for her volunteering work in New Plymouth. For her story, click on

The photograph of Florinda comes from Polish Genealogical Society newsletter no. 30, and the early photograph of Inglewood and Florinda in the croquet dress, from All About Inglewood.

Silent Support

When I first heard of the Polish Army League, the first image I had was of men in khaki milling around a musty office with dull windows and overcrowded desks. It had to be somewhere in England, where the Polish government-in-exile resided after the fall of France to Germany in 1940. I was so wrong.

A group of women in Palmerston North with no connection to Poland at the time, established the Polish Army League in December 1941; its only function—to ease the loneliness of Polish soldiers then in the Middle East.

The men were among those who had escaped Poland with the Polish army in the early stages of WW2, and had lost contact with their families left behind in a Poland under the grip of German and Russian occupation. However much they may have yearned to, any communication between them and family still in Poland would have placed the latter in extreme danger.   

Like many others in New Zealand, when the war started, Ann Jacques joined so-called patriotic drives to collect, make, and pack items to send to New Zealand servicemen abroad. The Red Cross concentrated on sending weekly food parcels to the 8,469 New Zealand prisoners-of-war, and gave towns the space to support their own residents serving overseas, which they did with generosity.

In Palmerston North, the United Guild’s members were soon running an effective production line of parcels for soldiers. They solved their own problems: The country lacked wool for knitting; they invited spinning experts to show them how to spin. Ann Jacques was the United Guild’s honorary secretary and in October 1941, became patron of the Rosemary Club, formed for the wives and relatives of soldiers. She used the local newspapers to great effect, advertising events and meetings, writing letters to the editors, and making editorial contributions.

Ann wasted no time once she learnt that Polish soldiers fighting alongside New Zealanders in the Middle East did not receive as much as a message from home, far less the letters and “comfort packages” so familiar to their New Zealand counterparts. She could not accept that on mail days, the mailroom the New Zealanders and Poles shared became a stark reminder of the discrepancy.

On 14 December 1941, she gathered the core of the women who became the heart of the Polish Army League. They worked in the United Guild’s workrooms in the PDC department store in central New Plymouth, where passers-by could not fail to see their advertisements in one of the window displays.

With some of the first parcels addressed to the Polish forces in the Middle East, packed by the women of the Polish Army League, from left: Mesdames Stewart, Bale (chair), Fraser (treasurer) and Jacques (organising secretary). The notice among the parcels says: “Polish Army League – Letters Gifts or Donations may be left here for the Polish Soldiers who are fighting with the N.Z. Forces in the Middle East.” During the next several years, the women of the PAL epitomised the slogan on the right: “KEEP AT IT.”

All sorts of groups and clubs donated items that the women of the PAL packed into parcels. In September 1942, a Mr Hickin contributed 60 tobacco tins that he had painted, for use as “permanent soap boxes.” By then the women were well-able to transform the bales of wool donated by farmers into yarn.  

New Zealand members of the Polish Army League took the time to write letters to Polish soldiers desperate for contact with the “outside world.” The PAL organised Polish members to translate. Members baked, sewed, knitted, and collected. Any monies donated went into buying goods, and the PAL executive paid for all postage sent from Palmerston North.

By the end of the war, the PAL had become a nation-wide hub of around 8,000 members who ‘adopted’ the lonely Polish soldiers. Ann Jacques and her team gained the gratitude and appreciation of the Polish soldiers—to such an extent that in 1946, soldiers of the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division sent their own artworks to the Polish Army League, which led to a country-wide exhibition.

After the war, Ann and the PAL continued to raise funds and encouraged members to send food parcels to needy families in communist-controlled post-war Poland.

This week, writer and cinematographer Warren Elliott, who introduced me to Ann Jacques and the Polish Army League, reminded me that we don’t make enough of a fuss about the silent support that those soldiers received from ‘ordinary’ people who read about Ann’s campaign and did something about it. During his research on his wider documentary project surrounding the Polish Army League, he discovered a humanity on both sides of the language barrier.

I started to write for this website because I wanted to give a platform to Polish stories. I had grown up hearing a distorted history of Poland’s effort in WW2, and was spurred into action by Churchill’s statement: “History shall be kind to me because I intend to write it.”

Delving into the stories of Polish service men and women in the Polish army, navy, and air force has been a satisfying task, and our War Immigrants pages abound with stories where Polish soldiers played pivotal roles in several crucial battles during WW2.

But Warren is right: Too often we don’t acknowledge enough some of the quiet angels who work behind the scenes, like Ann Jacques, who never took on a role as chair, but who gave a special meaning to the description “organising secretary.”

—Barbara Scrivens

July 2023


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Find the Ann Jacques/ Polish Army League story on our War Immigrants page, or click on:

The photograph was taken by Elmar studios, 459 Main Street, Palmerston North, in May 1942, and digitised by Manawatū Heritage, Palmerston North Libraries.

Refugee Status 

Today, 75 years ago, the Carnarvon Castle docked at Southampton carrying 1,173 Polish refugees. Aboard were both my widowed grandmothers, my mother, and four uncles.

The 1,173 had embarked in Durban and Mombasa, and had been among more than 21,000 mainly women and children who had spent more than five years in Polish refugee camps in southern and eastern Africa. They had escaped the forced-labour facilities of the USSR in 1942 with their husbands, uncles, and siblings who had enlisted in a Polish army formed there. While their menfolk fought in European conflicts, the Allied military authorities sent them to Africa.  

I know the date—28 June 1948—but would not have remembered the anniversary had I not received an email from the National Archives in London last Friday telling me that it was Windrush Day, marking 75 years since the arrival to the UK of the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean. I waited for news of a Carnarvon Day, but it did not materialise.

I found the Carnarvon Castle passenger list in 2010 thanks to a website about the 265 Polish Resettlement Camps established in Britain from 1946 in former British, American, and Canadian army and air force barracks. The website had a list of ships carrying Polish refugees. My mother, Kazimiera Surowiec, had told me they arrived from Africa in 1948. I went through each ship’s passenger list until I found my Surowiec and Nieścior family members, coincidentally, on the same ship.

I wondered whether my grandmothers had met on the ship, or whether my uncles had played with one another. The latter scenario was more probable, because boys play, and my uncles were then aged 11, 12, 13, and 15, but it was more likely that groups that had been together for the past five years, remained together on the ship.

The Windrush also carried Polish refugees—66 who had been living in a Polish refugee camp in Mexico, and who joined the ship in Tampico—but besides the Windrush Poles, the make-up of the passengers on the two ships was very different. The Carnarvon Castle carried 470 children and teenagers, while most of the 1,027 Windrush passengers were former service personnel who embarked in Trinidad, Kingston, Havana, and Bermuda. Of the 84 men aboard the Carnarvon Castle only two had military backgrounds: a 66-year-old Colonel Feliks Dziewicki, who boarded in Durban with his wife, and a 53-year-old Feliks Burlinski, who gave his occupation as “military” and apparently travelled alone from Mombasa.

Stefania Nieścior, with two of her five children, Janusz, left, and Rysiek, right, at the tented camp for Polish refugees in Tashkent, Iran.

On the Carnarvon Castle, single mothers headed 238 of the families aboard—71 percent. Single fathers headed just seven families. The ages of the 53 fathers who arrived with their wives and children ranged from 48 to 73. The dearth of men, and their ages, reflected the fact that during their escape from the USSR, any Polish man who could, joined the Polish army.

The Carnarvon Castle passenger list shows 24 sets of parentless siblings: 14 of those brothers and sisters had just one sibling, eight had two, and two groups shared three siblings. Six families were three-generational, and the note that 72-year-old Maria Stano “did not sail” next to the date 4 June 1948, suggests that this was when passengers embarked at Mombasa.  

My mother, and my uncle Stanisław Surowiec were the last two people recorded as embarking in Durban. It is unclear why they were listed after the Z-surnames, and separated from their mother and younger brother, but the same thing happened with three others in Mombasa. The Durban passengers were the first listed, so I assume that the mail ship sailed from the UK around the Cape of Good Hope, up the African east coast, and through the Suez Canal.  

In 2010, I counted 374 women older than 35, and made a note that I did so because babcia Surowiec was then 40, and babcia Stefania Nieścior, 43. There were 243 girls and young women younger than 20. The fewer teenaged boys and young men would have been thanks to the Polish army taking on the care and education of teenaged mainly boys in the Middle East from 1942. My father, aged 20 in 1948, had joined the so-called junaki, and had arrived with them in Britain the year before.

Of the 84 men, five were aged 48 and 49; 35 were in their 50s; 33 were in their 60s; 10 were in their 70s, and the oldest was 82-year-old farmer Michał Naronowicz, who travelled alone. The oldest woman, Julia Wajs, was also 82, but she had a 40-year-old daughter-in-law and four grandchildren as company.

By far the most common “occupation” on the passenger list was that of student: 475. They were followed by 289 ‘housewives,’ 113 dressmakers, 65 farmers, 23 teachers, 22 nurses, and 13 ‘clerks.’

According to the National Archives, the Windrush passengers had been “invited to help rebuild Britain after World War II.” Thousands of Caribbean men and women had been recruited by the British government during the war, and the British government had been “encouraging migration to boost the workforce.”

In contrast, the British government encouraged Poles displaced during WW2 to return “home” to help rebuild their own country. The Poles who refused to return must have been an embarrassment for that British government, which had, with the USA, allowed Stalin to re-draw the eastern boundary between Poland and the USSR, and had accepted the Moscow-controlled post-war Polish puppet regime.

Some of the Polish military personnel who refused to return to post-war Poland joined their families in New Zealand, but for those who were like my family in Africa, all they could do was wait for others to decide their fates. The Poles there had lost their land in eastern Poland, so in any case, there was no “home” to return to. My mother told me how, during that sea journey from Africa to England, she and her brothers had begged their mother to return to Poland. Babcia, widowed mother of three teenagers, refused.  

Seventy-five years on, the word “refugee” is still an awkward one. A refugee is generally understood to be someone who flees, or is forced to leave their homeland for any variety of reasons—war, persecution, a natural disaster. And some of the Poles in the beginning of WW2, did escape a Poland being overrun by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. But in 1940 and 1941, Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, kidnapped the Poles in the refugee camps in Africa—and those who arrived in New Zealand in 1944—at gunpoint, removed them from their own homes, and took them to forced-labour facilities throughout the USSR.

In New Zealand the term is sometimes glossed over, and exchanged by some Polish refugees for “invited,” but I believe that diminishes the epic journeys that they made to get themselves out of the USSR by any means available, be it by rail, raft, or foot.   

I know that the four to eight percent of Poles who did escape the USSR in 1942 and 1943 were the lucky ones, but they were strong too, in many ways, and I am proud to call myself the daughter of refugees who were not invited anywhere.

—Basia Scrivens

28 June 2023


The Polish Resettlement Camps in the UK website:


For more on life in the Polish refugee camps in Africa, see the stories of the independent journeys that Joanna Adamek Kalinowska, Joe Gratkowski, and Wisia Sobierajska Watkins made to New Zealand:

Joanna Adamek Kalinowska:

Joe Gratkowski:

Wisia Sobierajska Watkins:


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Hunting Ghosts  

The trees at the entrance of the Otorohanga cemetery seemed an appropriate place to have a better look through the contents of the box that sat in the boot of my car. I needed to take a break anyway, on my drive home from Taranaki, and felt comfortable with the Polish souls resting nearby.

The A3 landscape-printed Possenniskie family story sat on top of the box of newsletters and papers that Ray Watembach, president of the Polish Genealogical Association, had given me to transcribe and use for this website.

The cover said the story spanned the years 1847–2001. 1847? That seemed a bit early for Polish families settling in New Zealand.

Ian Possenniskie wrote the story—an account of his investigations into his great-grandfather William Possenniskie’s arrival in Auckland in 1847, his marriage, his children, his emigration to Australia with five of those children, and his death in Sydney in 1882.

Ian was prompted by the exclusion of that great-grandfather in another book, which listed the first Poles to land or settle in New Zealand.

He supported his work with 54 appendices that included information of a second, unrelated Possenniskie family in Auckland, and seven A4 pages of notes from his father’s sister.  

I left the quiet of the cemetery intrigued. If Ian’s grandfather—the sixth of seven children—had not returned to New Zealand in the early 1900s, would William Possenniskie’s life in early Auckland have been erased? Ian speculated that the surname was made up, so who were the other family with exactly the same name?

Ian Possenniskie’s grandfather, William junior, with his wife, Anne née Strange-Mure.

I blessed Papers Past, the digitalisation arm of our national library, for providing free access to the newspapers of colonial New Zealand. If the Possenniskies were the only family I was researching, I could have spent many more hours poring through Papers Past, but I found out enough to be sure that this was, indeed, the earliest Polish family in New Zealand. They did not migrate as a family from partitioned Poland, as the bulk of the early Polish families did in the 1870s and 1880s, but their patriarch, William, was born in Poland, his wife probably in England, and his children definitely in Auckland.  

When I first finished the Possenniskie story, I slotted it into the Early Settlers menu under Family Stories, but it did not sit well that William Possenniskie did not stand out as probably the first Pole to make himself known in New Zealand, who decided to make this country his home. (Yes, he did move to Australia, but you will have to read the story to find out why.)

I have since added Auckland to the Early Settlers menu. Under it is only one entry: the Possenniskie family story, which for the first time, I have repeated in the Family Stories section.

—Barbara Scrivens

30 April 2023


To read more about the Possenniskie family, go to:

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Celebrating the Settler, the Refugee, the Immigrant

On the surface, I do not have much in common with Polish New Zealanders—except for the fact that both my parents were Polish.

I was not born in Poland, nor New Zealand, and when we immigrated here 24 years ago, had no expectation of meeting any Poles.

All that changed in 2008 when I started looking for my grandfathers’ graves in war cemeteries in northern France and Italy, and happened to find an internet group of Poles from all over the world—including a few from New Zealand—who were sharing information about what had happened to their families after they were forcibly removed from their homes in eastern Poland in February 1940, and taken on cattle trucks to northern Russia and Siberia.

Shortly after, I met my first New Zealand Pole, Aniela Crook. She lived just 20 minutes away from me. She said I’d be able to recognise her by the red and white flowers she would wear, and I took her a posy of September bluebells from my garden. She was two years younger than my mother and like her, was refugeed in eastern Africa after the Poles escaped the USSR in 1942. My mother, during a visit to New Zealand, met Aniela a few times, and it was lovely to hear them chatting. My mother began to share what had happened to her and her family.

I discovered Pahiatua, the town synonymous with the 838 Polish refugees that Prime Minister Peter Fraser’s government welcomed in November 1944, and allowed to stay after it became clear that post-war Poland was run by the Soviet regime.

Jerzy Pobóg-Jaworowski’s 1990 book, History of the Polish Settlers in New Zealand, showed me that Poles had been visiting New Zealand since Captain Cook’s second voyage, and introduced me to the large groups of early Polish settlers who spent up to three months getting here on sailing vessels with varying degrees of discomfort and hygiene.

In one of the last chapters of his book, Jerzy described the centennial of the Polish settlers who arrived in Taranaki in 1876. The organising committee had made provision for about 350 guests, but numbers grew, and on 1 and 2 January 1977, nearly 2,000 arrived in Inglewood for the celebrations.   

When he heard that I was working on a website for all Polish New Zealanders, one of the organisers of the Taranaki centenary, Ray Watembach, agreed to an interview. So started my education regarding the early Polish settlers in New Zealand. Ray’s research into his and other families before and since the centennial made him the perfect mentor.  

Ray’s paternal great-grandparents, Albert and Catharina Watembach, and their three children were among the first large group of Poles to arrive in Lyttelton on the ship the Friedeburg on 30 August 1872.

Little more than three months later, the Palmerston arrived in Port Chalmers with another group of Poles. Both these groups of Polish settlers—and others who arrived after them—were escaping the oppression of Prussian-partitioned north-western Poland, where the German rulers had banned their language and religion.

This year, Polish communities in Christchurch and Dunedin celebrated the 150th anniversaries of those arrivals. Guests at their several functions included the descendants of the first settlers, as well as Poles who arrived during and post WWII, and later, but the commemorations belonged to those men, women, and children of the 1870s who helped embed the Polish nation into New Zealand’s culture. Many Poles off the Friedeburg made names for themselves as market gardeners in Marshland, Christchurch. Those off the Palmerston arrived in time to get jobs building the railway infrastructure in Otago.

I have loved finding out about Poles in New Zealand. Their stories may not touch me through descent, yet they touch me through nationality. I am not connected to any early Polish settler, but I am an immigrant. I am not a refugee, but I am a child of refugees.

It has been a privilege to visit Christchurch and Dunedin on their special occasions this year and connect or reconnect with Poles—living or in cemeteries or library records. Visiting those cities, and Taranaki, this year underscored for me the vast differences in Polish communities within New Zealand. Immediate post-war Poles have tended to dominate in cities like Wellington and Auckland, and the new breed of younger, educated Poles seem to be attracted to larger cities with universities.

Some of us were born here, others of us have come from all over the world, at various times. Sometimes the fact that we are Polish becomes the basis for friendship. Now, ending 10 years’ work on this website, I am so grateful to have been able to dig way, way below the surface of Polonia in New Zealand. When the website first went live, my message on the About Us page spoke about the extraordinary people who show their calibre in challenging times. I don’t need to change a word.

I know that without our common Polish heritage, I would never have met Ray, or our mutual friend and researcher, Paul Klemick of Dunedin.

Ray and I ended our visits to Dunedin late last month with Paul taking us to the Milton-Fairfax cemetery, the sod cottage south of Waihola, and to the cottage of a Polish settler in Allanton that its new owner is restoring.

A perfect end to a researcher’s year.

Ray Watembach, left, and Paul Klemick, outside the historical sod cottage south of Waihola.
Ray Watembach with Jim Binnie, in front of the Switala family’s sod cottage that Jim is restoring in Allanton.

—Barbara Scrivens

31 December 2022


For a list of early Polish settlers to New Zealand, go to

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Photographs: Barbara Scrivens