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Added to website: 14 January 2015
AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY TO FIND WORK IN SALTS MILL, SALTAIRE

THE STORY OF FELIKS CZENKUSZ
1920 to 22 August 2013

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We then marched on until we reached the plain of Forliand Faenza where the front made a halt and made camp the winter position. Throughout that winter we had seen that enemy troops still held the banks on the other side of the river Segno.

On April 12 at midday, the Allies started an offensive there against the enemy troops. We were supported by American bomber planes that flew in waves over the enemy positions causing much damage and death, some Polish soldiers were also killed in these raids. In the evening, our artillery opened fire and we prepared to move across the river in the morning. That night we slept in our clothes in our vans, to be ready to go at any moment. When morning came, it was reported that the enemy had been defeated across the river and then we were able to march quickly – like the blitzkrieg – as all enemy defences were collapsing in front of us. Many of the enemy soldiers just sat by the roadside, waiting to be collected as prisoners.

]We were moving towards Bologna and one morning, when listening to the radio, our troops heard that Bologna was captured. This marked the end of the Italian Campaign for the Italian people. After the capture of Bologna the Polish troops were withdrawn, never to fight again. This marked the end of mine and my immediate colleague’s war in Europe.

We were eventually moved to Bologna and when there improvised a Polish Army Parade that had to be taken by our Corp Deputy Commander because General Anders was back in Britain. A Guest at this parade was the American General Clark. At this time Italian civilians were reading in their newspapers that the war in Italy was over.

We knew by now that we, as organised Polish Troops, would not be able to go back to Poland so the victory was tinged with sadness for us. I was young, single and glad to be alive so I was less sad than some of the men, especially those who had left their families and children in Poland without the prospect of ever seeing them again.

We were moved from place to place in Italy after this and, in all, had to stay in Italy for one more year. For those of us who had never managed to complete our education in Poland a College was established and I was able to study humanities, maths and English and Italian languages.

Whilst in Italy studying we depended on the BBC World Service for news and we heard of many debates in the British Parliament about what to do with us. Some MP’s were for us coming to Britain but others were against this. Mr. Clement Atlee was now Prime Minister and Mr. Churchill was in opposition.
Finally in 1946 we were transported to Britain in ships. My group were loaded onto the ‘Empire Pride’ and landed in Liverpool. We were moved to Norfolk and for a time we were able to continue with our studies but our spirits became low as our teachers, concerned with their own future careers elsewhere, were leaving us.

We began to realise that we needed to plan for our long term future in Britain. We were gradually demobbed and entered civilian life. At this point many of the ex Polish troops decided to return to Poland it was the end of the summer in 1947.

A friend of mine, who had had experience of working in textiles in Poland had been informed that a Mill in Bingley, West Yorkshire, (Ebor) that was owned and run by a Polish Jew – a Mr. David Pike - was seeking workers who had previously worked in textiles. This mill owner had found the names and addresses of Polish people who had worked in textiles before the war and had written to the camp to some of these men who were based there.

My friend applied for a job there and although I had no textile work experience, I decided to go with him. It was the Autumn of 1947. This mill owner, David Pike, had many orders for cloth but not enough workers. Fortunately I was also accepted for work in this mill and my life as a civilian in Britain began.

When I first came to civilian life I thought I might be discriminated against by English people but I was to find that I faced discrimination from my fellow polish people. The mill owner, Mr. Pike was in his late thirties or early forties. When I arrived at the mill with my army friend, he spoke to the manager – a Mr. Eastwood – and although I had never worked in textiles I was accepted for a job. There were plenty of jobs at the time. I think the mill was called Ebor Mill and it was situated alongside the Leeds, Liverpool canal in Bingley.
Then I had to undertake all the formalities to be released from the army, this took about 3 weeks. I obtained release papers from the army Commandant , a train ticket and directions to both the Bingley Mill and a lodging house in a street situated behind Busby’s Store (off Manningham Lane)

On the evening that I arrived by train into Bradford, with all my belongings, I took a taxi to this lodging house and met my landlady and her husband who were both elderly. On the day that I arrived this lady didn’t know that I was coming but she had 5 or 6 other young male lodgers and she accepted me.
I had only a little spoken English at that time. The next day I went to work in the Bingley Mill on the night shift. Most workers on the night shift were ex army polish men whereas the day shift workers were mainly English. There were about 12 of us on the night shift.

I was the first person to work there that was ‘outside the group’ being the only person who had not worked in textiles previously. The others were confident, knew the job and I was the outsider. These experienced men were supposed to teach me the skills but they were not keen to do so. They were not very friendly to me and often unhelpful. I worked there for 18 months in weaving and later on, when Mr. Pike had enough skilled textile workers he did recruit more people without these skills.

The older group gradually became the minority and the new workers were more friendly and life became more reasonable. Working on the night shift all the time was not a good experience and after 18 months I decided to leave this mill.

I then took a job at Salts Mill in Saltaire on the day shift, around 1949. This mill had many workers with different nationalities – English, Polish, Yugoslavian, Ukrainian and Italian. On the day shift I was weaving again. It wasn’t a better job as such, but the relationships between workers were better. The smaller management team in the Bingley Mill had been more personal and we had had Christmas parties and day trips to Scarborough whilst I worked there. Salts was so big in contrast and I didn’t get to know the managers in the same way. I worked at Salts Mill until I retired in 1982.

During my time at Salts Mill there were at least 2 different owners, one owner was French I think. I continued to work as a weaver and at first I had old weaving machines to operate. These were called Hattersley’s and were very noisy. Then we had new machines installed, the Northrop weaving machines, these were more automated but the work did not become easier as we had then were given 4 or 6 machines to mind instead of 2 as in the past.

My personal life changed early in my time at Salts Mill. By the time I had changed my job, my living space had also changed. I had found some new lodgings in Bingley, then a second lodging house on the same street but then moved to a boarding house in Bradford. These later 2 lodgings were with Polish people who were buying old houses and renovating them. We lived as many as we could in one house. The beds were old and our blankets had been horse blankets that were smelly. Living this way helped us save some money.
On leaving the Army I had received £60 and my weekly wage was between £12 and £15. I stayed in lodgings until I got married.

I met my wife at a dance in Victoria Hall (Saltaire). I had had to learn to dance at a Manchester Road dance school. My future wife lived with her parents in Bradford and was English. Her father wasn’t very enthusiastic about our relationship but when he learned that I had saved over £250 he changed his mind about me. I was able to put a deposit down on a house. I was over thirty years old by this time and my wife was 22yrs, nearly 23yrs old.

Our first house was in Manningham, Hollings Road – a ‘back to back’ house. After a while we sold this house and bought a better one on Hollings Terrace – gradually progressing.

My eldest son was born February 1st 1952 – 2 or 3 days after the death of King George VI. This was exactly 10 months after we were married.
In 1956 my youngest son was born. Both my sons are married now. The eldest son lives in Shipley and he retired from work a few months ago. He feels he is English.

In 1959 I went back to Poland for the first time. I had been able to write to my family since arriving in England in 1946 and had managed to keep up with family news before the visit. I arrived at the railway station Lipinki and my mother and father were there to meet me. It was a very emotional time. My mother looked much the same as I remembered but my father looked much older. Some of my family and friends did not recognise me. When I met some former friends I only recognised one friend from the past who had a long face.
I already knew that one of my sisters had been sent to work over the border in Germany during the war and that she had had harsh treatment from the family she worked for – they even spat on her at times.

My mum was sad that I hadn’t returned to live in Poland after the war. I don’t think she fully understood my reasons and kept assuring me that I could get a good job in Poland.

On my first visit, after 20 years away from home, the Russians had remained in control of Poland. During Stalin’s era, people could not get out of Russian held territory to visit abroad. After Stalin’s death others in power made some changes to this policy and it was easier to move between countries. Polish people did gradually experience more freedom.

My oldest son came to Poland with me when he was 11 years old.
My younger son did not get married until he was in his forties, he lived in Birkenshaw before he was married. My wife was always hoping that he would get married and always looking for a wedding hat but he only married last year and she died 12 years ago.

A Note on The Contribution of the Polish Army in World War 11

A powerful ally, with some 84,000 soldiers in France alone, in 1940 the Polish Highland Brigade took part in the Battle of Narvik (Norway), and two Polish divisions participated in the defence of France, while a Polish motorized brigade and two infantry divisions were in process of forming. A Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade was created in French-mandated Syria, to which many Polish troops had escaped from Romania. The Polish Air Force in France comprised 86 aircraft in four squadrons. One and a half of the squadrons were fully operational, while the rest were in various stages of training. At that time Poland was the third largest in size.

Poles formed the fourth-largest armed force after the Soviets, the Americans and the combined troops of British Empire. Poles were the largest group of non-British personnel in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and the 303 Polish Squadron was the highest-scoring RAF unit in Battle of Britain. Special Operations Executive had a large section of covert, elite Polish troops and close cooperation with the Polish resistance. The Polish Army under British high command were instrumental at the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the Battle of Arnhem, the Siege of Tobruk and the liberation of many European cities including Bologna and Breda.

Perhaps most importantly, the Poles cracked an early version of the Enigma code, which "laid the foundations for British success in cracking German codes" Former Bletchley Park cryptologist Gordon Welchman said: 'Ultra would never have got off the ground if we had not learned from the Poles, in the nick of time, the details both of the German military... Enigma machine, and of the operating procedures that were in use.' After the war, Winston Churchill told King George VI: 'It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war."

The Debt Owed to Poland

Remember, these Polish troops were instrumental to the Allied defeat of the Germans in North Africa and Italy, and hoped to return to Kresy in an independent and democratic Poland at the end of the War. But at Yalta, Churchill agreed that Stalin should keep the Soviet gains that Hitler had agreed to in the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

 

This article: compiled and produced
by Maggie Smith
January 2013

 

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An extraordinary journey to find work in Salts Mill
The Story of Feliks Czenkusz
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