|As you drive out of Peldon west towards Wigborough and leave the 30mph speed limit, just past the drive to Harvey's Farm on the right is a dilapidated building half-hidden by bushes and trees behind a wooden five-bar gate. This was The Hostel.
During the Second World War the hostel had been used for Italian Prisoners of War. It was then designated a Women's Land Army hostel. The first women arrived on 2nd March 1942 and were to stay for the duration of the war.
The hostel had been 'built for prisoners of war with one big dormitory' and housed about 40 girls in
double bunks with no sheets just blankets.[from the memories of Lynette Vince Essex Land Girls by Dee Gordon]
In From When I Can Remember by Pixie Farthing, she writes her father's account of what the hostel was like.
The Hostel building had an unimposing appearance from the outside but the girls said the atmosphere inside was homely and comfortable with all modern conveniences...there was a long dormitory of cubicles that held two double
bunks apiece. Each of the four girls had their own wooden lockers for their personal possessions. Every morning they were called at six-thirty. Only twelve hand basins in the washroom and three bathrooms between forty girls
meant a real free for all. The worst was having only four toilets between the lot of them, which, on occasions led to a discreet visit to the bushes outside. There was a spacious recreation and dining room but unfortunately none of the local men visiting the girls could get a foot over the threshold. The supervisor in charge of the girls was a stickler for rules. Her office window had to be passed before being able to enter the building and she kept a diligent watch for any male admirers ... life on the farms and land entailed
driving tractors, weeding, pruning, milking cows, planting harvesting, as well as mucking out pig sties and cow sheds. They had undertaken what was regarded as exclusively male jobs and it wasn't unusual for them to work fourteen hours a day.
After the Women's Land Army left, German Prisoners of War stayed at the hostel and helped out on some of the local farms, including Games Farm, Peldon. Nationally, the last German POWs were repatriated in November 1948.
At some point in the mid-sixties after the hostel had been empty for some time, a local farmer from St Ives Farm, Michael Fausset, rented the site to keep pigs. Pat Wyncoll, who worked for him, remembers there being drawings of Spitfires inside on the hostel walls. Christine South remembers Steve Chew keeping pigs there in the seventies.
In a picture from Ralph Sadler's book Sunshine and Showers, taken in 1982 the hostel was empty, no longer being used for pigs and it has remained abandoned and empty ever since.
A recent enquiry to Mersea Museum is filling in another piece of the hostel's history. I had already heard reports that after the war it had housed Polish men who had fought on the side of the Allies and this enquiry confirmed it, what's more we finally had photographs of it in use. We also have a photograph of Peldon's football team in the early fifties with three unnamed members of our Polish community.
Chris, who made the enquiry, was able to tell us more about the hostel's post-war history than we were able to tell him!
His father, Aleksander Kronda, was born on 2 Feb 1927 in Peresadycze, Poland, now part of Belarus.
Aleksander voluntarily enlisted in the Polish Forces under British command in Italy with effect from 5th January 1945 and was posted to 22 Infantry Battalion, 2nd Polish Corps Troops Base, 8 British Army. On 11th February 1945 he was transferred to 3 Rifle Battalion, 3 Carpathian Infantry Division, 2 Polish Corps, 8 British Army.
He served in Italy from 1945 to 1946 and saw action on the River Senio, the Battle of the Lombardy Plain and liberation of Bologna between February and May 1945. This was to be the last Allied attack during the Italian campaign and ended with the German surrender in Italy on 2nd May 1945. It was at this point that active military service for the 2nd Polish Corps came to an end.
Because the Polish military had operated under British command a massive operation began to bring Polish Units to Britain. Their choice was repatriation, where under Soviet rule they faced arrest or execution for 'anti-Soviet' activity through working with the West or to be assimilated into the British population.
The Polish Resettlement Corps was set up in May 1946, overall 114,000 enrolled. It was a military unit operating under British discipline but unarmed and non-combatant. Opportunities were given for members to learn English and train in vocational work. Enlistment in the PRC was intended to last two years.
From 1946, resettlement camps opened in over 200 former barracks, military hospitals, former RAF bases and at POW camps across Britain.
With the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947, the first ever mass immigration legislation passed by the UK Parliament, over 200,000 displaced Poles were offered British citizenship.
Demobbed military were joined by their compatriots released from concentration camps, forced labour camps across occupied Europe and Displaced Persons Camps. The majority of settlements were by members of the 2nd Polish Corps.
Aleksander and his unit in Italy arrived in the UK in 1946 and for the part he played in the war he was awarded the 1939 - 1945 Star, the Italy Star and The War Medal 1939-45.
He enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps and served in the United Kingdom until finally discharged early 1948.
From Aleksander's arrival in 1946 we are not totally sure of his movements and he seems to have moved between several camps. It appears he was in Cambridge in January 1948 at the time of his discharge and his arrival at Peldon hostel is given as 21st August 1948.
It appears from notes on the back of a photograph of Aleksander and two friends wearing army great coats and berets taken at the 'seaside' in Southwold, Suffolk that they had been at a 'labour camp' at Wrentham nearby.
Other photographs reveal that he spent some time in Ilford Park, Newton Abbot in Devon where there was a big Polish Resettlement Camp.
Official stamps in his registration book also indicate he was at Fowlmere Camp, Cambridge, and Nettlebed, Oxfordshire.
His paperwork shows he was discharged from the Polish Resettlement Corps on 6th January 1948 at a camp in Trumpington, Cambridge. According to his Alien Order: Certificate of Registration he was sent to Peldon Hostel about seven months later on 21st August 1948. He was to stay in Peldon just over two years to 2nd October 1950.
Above: Aleksander's documents show his removal to Peldon Hostel and permission to work for the Agricultural Executive Committee as a farm labourer. The AEC had probably run the hostel throughout the war given the POWs and Women's Land Army were all engaged in agriculture.
It can be seen that, as an 'alien', Aleksander's movements were monitored by each local Police Force and the Employment Agency was involved in finding him work.
On another page of his registration booklet he is found work as a 'houseman' (housekeeper) at the YMCA during his stay in Peldon Hostel.
Above: our only picture of the inside of Peldon Hostel
Aleksander is back left in this group photo. Although barely visible, the hostel buildings in Peldon are in the
background. Was this the entire group living at the hostel (with a photographer)? The account of the late Ethel Miller (Peldon's 'matriarch') was that there were ten Polish men living at the hostel.
A picture, above, of eight men all playing instruments outside Peldon's hostel.
Aleksander Kronda outside Peldon Hostel, Wigborough Road
Following his time in Peldon Hostel, Aleksander moved on to Reading having been granted permission to work.
By 1949 figures show that 80% of men who passed through the PRC were no longer dependent on financial support from the government.
Aleksander met Chris's mother in the late 1950s in Newport, South Wales and raised a family of five, three of whom still live in Newport, his children are now trying to fill in the details of his life especially his time in Peldon. Chris writes
Sadly my father spoke very little about his life experiences, although one of my sisters and I visited Belarus in 2008 and met a sister of his - a real 'Who do you think you are?' moment. I am in contact with a step relative and between us we have been attempting to create a family tree.
Another Polish man, Michael Karbacz who spent time at Peldon's hostel (is he in our photographs?) married Elsie
Rotherham née Bull in 1948 in West Mersea but was to emigrate alone to the USA only three years later in 1951.
Elsie Karbacz remained in Mersea with her two sons. She worked in the Council Offices in West Mersea and went
on to write an excellent history of Mersea Island, still available at the Museum.
Frank Durbajlo is known to have lived in the area for many years. He worked at Bocking Hall farm, West Mersea,
and also at Colchester Hythe.
Of the other Polish men who stayed in the area, we don't know if they had connections with the Peldon hostel
but it is quite possible.
A Polish couple worked at Macauley's farm in Birch, the Anglicized version of their names is given as Woshstock
(could this be Wojciech?)
Stanislaw Josef Rybczyk ran a carpet factory in the Hall Barn Works, West Mersea making handwoven rugs and carpets c1954.
There are three Polish players from The Hostel in this photo of Peldon Football Club taken at Birch in the
Standing: L-R D. Coats, W. Pooke, W. Wopling, R. Purtell, Polish, W. Hedger, P. Miller, W. Fletcher
Kneeling: A. Green, R. Hall, P. Wopling, Polish, D. Baldwin, Polish
So if any readers can fill in any gaps (or spellings!) particularly about the Polish men who stayed in
Peldon's hostel - or played in our football team - I would love to hear from you!
Peldon History Project
Women's Land Army in Essex in WW2
There are more pictures below - some are at the Peldon Hostel. Some are puzzles. Where was the Whalebone ? Ilford Park ?