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

Fragments of memory

page 142

Fragments of memory

There isn't very much I can remember from my years at the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua. However, there are some events that I can remember vividly, but can't remember names as I was too young.

Prime Minister Fraser's visit to the camp was a memorable occasion – I was in the group which welcomed and later danced for him. Our class also attended our English teacher's wedding in Wellington, where we gave a Polish concert at the reception. I still have photos from this event. I will never forget having to line up for our dose of cod-liver oil, where a lady would give us a spoonful of this horrible mixture to drink and another would hand us a piece of bread to take away the taste. To this day, I cannot stand the taste or smell of it. Thank you ladies for this thankless task that you performed.

I remember the building that was our dining hall. After our meal, we would return our plates to the kitchen. One day, I was returning my plate to the kitchen with my cauliflower still on it as I disliked its taste. Mrs Lewandowska met me halfway and asked where I was going. "To the kitchen," was my reply. "Why did you not eat your cauliflower?" she asked. "Because I do not like it," I said. "Go back to the table and wait for me," was her stern reply.

On her return, she had a plate full of cauliflower, sat opposite me and began eating it. "Now you eat your cauliflower like I am doing and thank God for the food you have to eat. You will not leave this table until you have eaten it all." To this day, I love cauliflower and most other foods, and I do not complain.

We used to go to the river to swim and have picnics. I remember that I was too small to swim, but one of the older boys would carry the small children on his back across the river to the other side and then bring us back. When it was my turn, I was too impatient to wait for "St Christopher" to pick me up but began wading into the water to meet him. I must have stepped into a hole and began to drown.

Thank God for the boy's strength and quick thinking, as he pulled me out of the water and handed me to my mother who was frantically waiting on the riverbank for me and wrapped me in a towel. I soon recovered from my ordeal. I wish to thank the young man who saved my life.