Exploring an abandoned Polish Displacement Camp where my grandfather was placed after ww2
Most of this site was abandoned and left derelict since 1975, 47 years ago, although some areas were still in use up until 2005 at which point it was completely abandoned, it’s now crumbling and falling apart and before long nature will reclaim it completely.
Unless of cause the bulldozers come in and knock it down, which is always a likely scenario.
These abandoned and derelict places often reach a stage where they become unsafe to explore, and even though it’s now buried beneath a canopy of trees and hidden away in an overgrown woodland there is still lots to see and explore.
It’s a fascinating site, with an equally fascinating history.
This site is 79 years old, opened in 1943.
It has had three main uses.
It began life as RAF Rivenhall, then as a polish displacement camp and finally used by Marconi radar.
We will be covering all of its history in this video, but it’s use as a Polish displacement Camp is what intrigues and interests me the most.
The reason why, is because my grandfather was here 76 years ago.
There has been death here, and it’s now eerie silence is just an echo of its past.
Welcome to RAF Rivenhall
And Kelvedon Polish Displaced Persons Camp
And finally a site used by Maconi.
Enjoy the video, lets explore.
Raf Rivenhall is a former WW2 airfield located between the villages of Silver End & Rivenhall in Essex. It was built mid war and was opened in October 1943, It was used initially by the Americans and then the English with several types of aircraft housed here including B26 bombers, P51 Mustang fighters, C47’s, Short Sterling’s and gliders they all flew from here along it’s runways which have all but vanished beneath a modern quarry a short distance walk, from where I am standing now.
The airfield was built to the Class A Heavy Bomber standard and it consisted of three runways of 6,000 ft, and the remaining two reaching a length of 4,200 ft.
The ground support station consisted of these Nissen Huts we see in front of us, they are various sizes and the site is located on the Southside of the airfield.
These support stations were initially used as squadron headquarters and orderly rooms.
The ground station also included mess facilities; chapel; hospital; mission briefing and debriefing; armoury and bombsite storage; life support; parachute rigging; supply warehouses; station and airfield security.
During its use as RAF Rivenhall the domestic accommodation sites were constructed dispersed away from the airfield most of these remain today converted and in use by local business. We will be visiting this site and area later in this video and it includes a memorial, commemorating its use by the RAF.
The base was closed in September 1946.
It was at that point, that the site was converted and used to house Polish servicemen released from Prisoner of War camps who did not want to return to their homeland.
Or could not, most of the poles and their families housed here during that period were from areas of Poland that had been annexed by the soviet union.
They had no homes, they were refugees, they had been imprisoned by the Nazi regime forced into labour in notorious Labour camps across Nazi controlled Europe.
Between 1946 and June 1956, over a ten year period this site became a home to those polish men, they’re wives and their children.
My grandfather Jan Kuta was placed here in 1946 after his incarceration in Morbach Labour camp, which was a French camp located close to the border of Germany. It is a subsidiary camp that belonged to Natzweiler-Struthof, a camp infamous for human experiments.
He experienced horrific things in that camp, including his hands being broken by German soldiers, here in England was his chance to put his past behind him and an opportunity to make a better life for himself. He had no home to go back to in Poland, his land had been annexed by the soviet union.
My grandfather remained here within this community for about four of five years, before he finally settled in Maldon, Essex where he began a new life with my English grandmother.
During those years, the site has often been known as the Kelvedon Polish Displaced Persons Camp, or the Rivenhall Polish Hostel and even the Silver End Polish camp, the site sits in the middle of all those places, and many of the polish families who were resettled here would send their children to those village schools, attend those local churches and even work in and around this area.
For the poles who lived here though, it was known as Obóz.
The camp was a self-contained world, largely cut off from the sparsely populated surrounding villages, it was tough living I’m sure.
These ex-WW2 Nissen huts became their homes for almost ten years.
The relative isolation and ‘ready-made’ camp infrastructure created for these people an illusion of a tiny Polish state, nestled within a benevolent but alien English landscape. It was a welcome and largely happy little world for people who had been through a good deal during the war. Each family had an extraordinary personal story to tell of how they survived the ordeals of war, deportation and separation from their loved ones. Between them, the Poles arriving at the camp would have travelled through or fought in an impressive array of countries in Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, the Middle East, India and Africa. Many had served alongside British armed forces. Now it was time to start a new life either in Britain or further afield in Canada, the United States, Australia or even Argentina. My own family branches, cousins, distant cousins settled in all of those countries including Belgium, France and even Israel. My grandfather however remained here in England separated from his family who had settled in Bethune, France just before WW2 broke out. They left just before their Polish home in Komarno near Lviv was taken from them.
The option of return to Poland was not countenanced by many, as those who returned experienced persecution from the Polish Communist government – and in any case most of the people living in the camp were from eastern parts of Poland which were no longer part of that country but had become the states of Ukraine, Belarus or Lithuania, all part of the Soviet Union.
The Nissen Huts, affectionately known as ‘Beczki’, ‘barrels’, were neatly grouped into four ‘sites’. Each hut was supplied with electricity and running water.
Toilets and wash houses were communal but nobody seemed to mind, for the washing of clothes and hot baths provided an excuse for catching up on camp gossip.
The community church was located near by, and it had more then one priest, the church was certainly a hub of this community and brought everyone together.
The camp had a co-op shop – the ‘kołoperatywa’ – a health centre and a nursery. Vital Polish delicatessen products were supplied on a regular basis.
On Fridays smoke and the sound of a bell ringing Heralded the arrival of a travelling fish and chip shop, fish and chips on wheels.
It’s incredible really when you look at this site today, abandoned, derelict, forgotten about.
This place was once a community and from what I have learnt, it seems to have been a good place to and well remembered and loved by the families that once lived here.
Many of the adults resident in this camp went to evening classes to learn how to speak English, but because the entire community was polish speaking it was difficult for them to learn and little incentive to do so. They had everything here to live and were very much isolated from England.
This haven was a far cry from the lives they were forced to leave behind in those areas annexed by the soviet union. The poles that were brave enough to remain in their homeland were sadly massacred, many polish families including my own were lucky survivors.
Its a piece of history, whitewashed and forgotten about.
Sadly There has been a couple of recorded deaths here, an unfortunate polish guy was killed on his motorcycle right outside the camp and an American jet crashed right beside the Nissan huts in 1959.
I wonder if it’s haunted, if the ghostly footsteps of those that called this place home still remain here.
The camp closed in 1959, and the land divided between the four farms that had originally lost their land to make this place.
Marconi’s took out a lease on the majority of it and many of the buildings here, they tested radar for a number of years, but eventually shut down in 2005, since then the place has been derelict completely.
Except for the original RAF Rivenhall domestic accommodation site which we will be heading to shortly.
What an incredible site, now abandoned, but once a hub of activity during ww2 with our RAF protecting our skies from invasion.
The sound of bombers overhead the noise of army trucks in the distance.
Then a community of polish civilians with the sound of joy and laughter, now just an echo in the past. The footsteps of children running, playing, the sound of singing coming from the nearby church and the hum drum of chatter of everyday life.
Then an industrial centre where Marconi tested out new innovations in radar, a place of work and a place to better our future.
Now it’s a crumbling, derelict, abandoned shell, a void that’s hard to imagine what was.
Nature owns this place now, and this footnote in history will one day vanish.
I’m pleased I got to see it, to walk that path my grandfather walked, to see what he saw and learn a little about his life and the lives of everyone that were once a part of this place.
Thank you for joining me,
I send my best, and until next time, stay safe, keep well and bye for now,