A home fit for heroes - Polish heroes

After World War 2 the majority of Polish troops who had fought under British Command were unable to return to a Poland then under Soviet influence and control. Many feared being taken as political prisoners.

Due to their immense contribution to the war efforts, the Poles were seen in Whitehall and the wider community as deserving of special support and assistance. Churchill singled the Poles out as ‘special’ when in a House of Commons speech he declared that: “His Majesty’s government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops who have served them so valiantly and for all those who have fought under our command. I earnestly hope that it will be possible to offer them citizenship and freedom of the British Empire, if they so desire.”

Winston Churchill Reviewing Polish Troops In England

The Polish Resettlement Act was passed in 1947. It was known affectionately as the Winston Churchill promise and made the then Assistance Board responsible for meeting the needs of qualifying Poles and their dependants. A total of 45 resettlement camps were set up across Great Britain, including Ilford Park.

Today Ilford Park is now the last remaining home run by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), who took on this responsibility from the Assistance Board, under the 1947 act.

The home first opened in 1948 at Stover Camp, the site of a hospital built for expected D-Day casualties amongst American troops. Its original purpose was to resettle members of the Polish forces into a new life in the UK but over the years it evolved into a residential care and nursing home for elderly Polish veterans.

The home has retained a strong sense of community and commitment to Polish values and traditions and is affectionately known by its residents, the local community in Devon and Polish organisations as “Little Poland”. Today, its residents are those who were unable to make the transition from a resettlement camp into the outside community and those who were initially able to integrate, but in later years found themselves unable to cope. Due to the disrepair of the original home, in 1987 ministers committed to build a new home on the original site using 9 acres of the 41 acre site.

Ilford Park today

In November 1991, Lord Henley laid the foundation stone for the new home and on 16 December 1992 he opened the home at a ceremony attended by the Polish Consul General, representatives of Polish organisations and the then Department of Social Security Permanent Secretary. The new premises provide a home for 98 residents in the 81 bed residential care wing, the 14 bed nursing home and 3 independent bungalows. Ilford Park has a national catchment area, primarily from where the original camps used to be.

At Ilford Park residents spend their retirement in an environment that takes account of their religion and culture. A minimum of 30% bilingual staff ensures that the residents have access to their own language. Mental frailty often means that residents revert to their native Polish.

The Home works in partnership with Polish organisations, including the Polish Catholic Mission, The Polish Embassy and Consulate, as well as Polish entertainment groups. Facilities including a Polish delicatessen and a Chapel built within the home. Mass is offered daily by a live-in Polish priest from the Polish Catholic Mission.

Main image: Ilford Park, MoD.

Winston Churchill reviewing Polish troops, 1943: By Anonymous photography - https://commons.wikimedia.org/...

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