Howick and Pakuranga Times
Botany and Ormiston Times : Howick and Botany Times Wednesday December 3 2014
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HENDERSON & BOTANY Long journey to new life recalled John Roy, pictured front centre, relished the chance to meet again with his other family, the Pahiatua children. Photo supplied By Marianne Kelly ON THE evening of October 31, an 18-strong family contingent stood at the windows of John and Valerie Roy’s Wellington City apartment. They quietly observed the twin- kling hill and harbour lights that Mr Roy and 732 other Polish refugee children had looked at in wonder as they arrived in the capital 70 years before. The Roy-Wojciechowski family gathered in Wellington from Howick and Canada to attend the 70th reun- ion of the arrival of Polish children in New Zealand. In the wake of the ethnic cleansing of 1.7 million Poles from their homes in Eastern Poland to forced labour camps throughout Siberia at the start of World War II, the children and 102 guardians eventually arrived in Wel- lington on the United States troop- ship, the General Randall. They were transported by rail the next day to Pahiatua, Wairarapa, and then by 33 army trucks to an old internment camp to become known as the Polish Children’s Camp. Mr Roy went on to pursue a suc- cessful business career and estab- lished the Polish Heritage Trust Museum in Howick. Mr and Mrs Roy were joined in Wellington by daughters Ellen and Karen, sons Steven (who travelled from Canada with his wife Anne), Greg, Alex and Lawrence, along with partners and grandchildren. Mr Roy says a highlight was meet- ing his old friends, boys and girls from the Pahiatua camp. “The main highlight was the Fri- day and Saturday night dinners at the apartment and the opportunity for 18 of us to share being there as a family. “I found it emotionally as moving as seeing my Pahiatua brothers and sisters. “Friday was the same night the Polish children arrived in the har- bour. Looking at Wellington Har- bour from our apartment, that was a moment in time.” A total 733 children and 102 adults arrived on the ship that night. Of the original children, 439 are still alive, 320 remained in New Zealand and 399 are deceased. Pahiatua children and their families registered for the Wellington reunion numbered 630. Ellen Roy-Wojciechowski was the only family member to make a trip back to Pahiatua the previous Thurs- day, where the town came out in force to welcome the Polish children and their families. This time they travelled by bus, but nonetheless, three army trucks were on hand to lead them into town, where they did a loop through the main street. Students from schools and kinder- gartens turned out in force to wave Poland flags as the buses went past. “The whole town had a Polish focus,” Ms Roy-Wojciechowski says. “Shop windows were decorated with things Polish. It was amazing touring the streets to the town hall and being greeted by the mayor and a kapa haka group, with kids every- where.” After a formal welcome and may- oral lunch, the group went to the Pahiatua District Museum where a room is dedicated to the Polish ref- uge children. It was followed by a service at St Brigid’s Catholic Church and then came one of the most poignant moments. There is nothing left of the Polish Children’s Camp, about 3km south of Pahiatua. But the buses stopped at a monument on the highway nearby which was built with remnant stones from a grotto housing a statue of the Virgin Mary, originally built by the Polish children. “It was quite wistful,” Ms Roy- Wojciechowski says. “There was not so much singing at this point; people realising that probably this could be their last visit. “It was emotionally uplifting and quiet, as peacefulness and thought- fulness fell over the group. “I missed Dad so much [Mr Roy was unable to make the bus journey]. It was so emotional. The township embraced these people in 1944 and they did it again in October.” Back in Wellington, there was much mingling and a 5.30pm wreath laying ceremony on Saturday at the waterfront plaque donated by Mr and Mrs Roy 10 years ago for the 60th commemorations. A Polish delegation laid a wreath. Mr and Mrs Roy waited until after the official event to lay their private offering of white and red flowers. The family went to Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica in Thorndon on Sun- day morning, followed by a lunch at the Wellington waterfront’s Shed 6 where 150 Pahiatua children came together. A private viewing of the From Poland to Pahiatua photo exhibition at the Wellington Museum City & Sea, followed. This was, for How- ick’s Greg Roy, the most significant moment. “Looking at the pictures and sto- ries I felt emotional; looking at the pictures and the kids’ faces. When I think about it, seeing the children’s faces and reading the stories was the highlight for me.” Greg has attended previous 60th and 50th commemorations and quips: “You could tell they were all older. The Poles couldn’t rush for the food as they did at the other reunions.” While reminded by Dad John that this time the meal was a sit-down plated event, his son says: “Yes, but it’s a standing joke in the Roy family. If it’s a Polish affair, everyone runs for the food.” When the family returned to How- ick they hosted their annual after- noon tea at the PHT Museum in Elliot Street, made more significant because they were celebrating 70 years. Twenty-three Pahiatua chil- dren were among close to 100 people attending. Ms Roy-Wojciechowski says observing the older Poles from camp days greeting each other in Welling- ton and at the Howick function was another highlight. “Some hadn’t seen each other since the camp. I enjoyed watching when they realised they knew each other and saw their faces lighting up.” Greg’s wife Leigh says she was deeply moved by the reunion. “Meeting the Pahiatua children and looking into their eyes, I could feel their life, their pain. I could feel the journey they had been on.” Ellen Roy-Wojciechowski met ■■ with children from rural Makuri School, Wairarapa, who paid tribute to the Pahiatua children, page 11.
Howick and Botany Times Wednesday November 26 2014
Howick and Botany Times Wednesday December 10 2014