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Diddington Camp

Introduction

Diddington Camp is often referred to as Diddington Hospital. It was constructed at the start of the Second World War in Diddington Park on land that belonged to the Thornhill family who lived adjacent in a grand country house known as Diddington Hall. The house has since been demolished.

The practice of building military camps on privately owned estates in preparation for World War Two was common. For example, Northwick Park Camp in Gloucestershire was built on the estate of Northwick Park; home of the Spencer-Churchill family. And Foxley Camp was erected on land that belonged to the Foxley Manor estate. As with Diddington Hall, but for different reasons, Foxley Manor too has since been demolished.

Location of Diddington Camp

The location of the site that once was Diddington Camp is shown in the map below.

Having visited the site we should mention that the road running north / south from the A1 to the village of Diddington is not a thoroughfare as suggested on the map. It starts in the south as more of a gravel drive that provides access to the church of St Lawrence. However, a portion of the original concrete road does exist as illustrated by the coloured photograph below.

The small image above shows the main features of Diddington Camp. The map is not made to scale.

Diddington Hospital During the Second World War

Diddington Camp was built as an American field hospital in 1942. We understand from the editor of the WWII US Medical Research Centre that upon completion the hospital became known as No. 49 Station Hospital, treating wounds of American Army personnel. Attached to the 49th, on the same site, was No.2 Evacuation Hospital, which treated USAAF patients. All of the hospital's staff and equipment were shipped over from St Lukes Hospital in the USA. It is believed that a small section of the Czechoslovakian Army was billeted there at the start of 1942.

Some of the American pilots had horrific wounds, resulting in amputation. A few local people from Diddington dedicated themselves to spending many hours writing letters dictated to them by American amputees.

The title 'Evacuation Hospital' suggests that pilots who were being treated at Diddington had such awful injuries they were in the process of being repatriated.

A cinema in the camp provided a venue for troop entertainment. A few of the local civilian population who had contacts within the camp also attended. During the war two of America's best known entertainers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, performed there.

Photographs in Slide Show 1 (see turquoise box in the right hand column) illustrate Diddington Camp as it was during WWII.

Diddington Hospital After the Second World War

September 1945 was only one month after the official cessation of WWII. While the Forces from America and the Dominion territories were evacuating from the United Kingdom to other points of the compass, personnel from the Polish Forces who fought under Western command were focussing their sights on Britain. Some of them were medically unfit and, having landed in the UK, required hospital treatment. No. 49 Station Hospital became one of many Polish hospitals in Britain that would care for the infirm Polish troops. Additionally, the barracks in Diddington Camp were used to accommodate Category 'A' personnel, the vast majority of whom would have been taken on strength by the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) after September 1946 when it was formed. By this time the 49th Station Hospital was renamed No. 6 Polish Field Hospital.

Two of the Polish soldiers who were being cared for at Diddington Hospital, Sergeant Antoni Dziegielewski (1st Survey Regiment) and Warrant Officer 1st Class W Gura, died there and are buried in St Lawrence church cemetery, Diddington. You can read more about these two Polish soldiers by accessing the PDF file under Current Projects in the right column.

St Lawrence is a beautiful village church that dates back to 1086 when it belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln's manor. Its small cemetery could not accommodate many burials of those who died in Diddington Hospital. Only Dziegielewski and Gura were interred there. Other Polish soldiers and, it should be added, Polish civilians who passed away in Diddington Hospital were buried in St Neots cemetery.

Photographs in Slide Show 2 (see turquoise box in the right hand column) show the graves of some of the Polish citizens who had died in Diddington Hospital after the war.

An Aside

The general cross-section of PRC personnel in the UK in 1946 included men and women. Whereas the male troops comprised mainly army units who had fought at, for example, Monte Cassino, the female units included personnel from, for instance, the Polish Women Auxiliary Service. The PRC also included Royal Air Force and Polish Navy personnel.

Arriving with this group of individuals were civilians, comprising in the main women (some of whom were the wives of the Polish troops), children who were born in Poland before September 1939, and grandparents who had survived the ordeals of war. For the British government the uncertain number of personnel in the PRC prompted questions in the House of Commons (HC). On 8 Ocotober 1946, for example, Mr William Warbey, Member of Parliament (MP) for Luton at the time, asked to be informed as to "how many Polish soldiers had enrolled." Mr. Bellenger, MP for Bassetlaw, replied that "up to 5th October, 17,480, which represents a high proportion of those to whom offers have so far been made."

(Hansard Report. HC Debate 8 October 1946 vol 427 cc12-3W)

A small percentage of these people did return to their families in Poland. A larger number emigrated to Australia, Canada, and the United States of America. But the largest proportion of WWII Polish personnel remained in the UK.

Just One Year before the National Health Service

The Polish people who remained in Britain after the Second World War were a large 'alien' group who had to be catered for. One of the first things Clement Attlees' government did was to pass the Polish Resettlement Act - 1947, which gave the National Assistance Board (sometimes referred to as the NAB or the Board) the authority to cater for the Poles' educational, medical, and social security needs in the UK.

The resettlement act was passed just one year before Aneurin Bevan founded Britain's National Health Service (NHS). Up to then, in England, hospital treatment, and access to a doctor, were luxuries not everyone could afford. In the interim period, therefore, providing the Poles treatment in places such as Diddington Hospital by Polish doctors was a huge success, even though it was in army barracks designed to cater for American war wounds.

Between November 1946 and August 1948, Diddington Hospital became a maternity unit for displaced Polish women most of whom were accommodated in Eastern Command camps (see Tweedsmuir Camp Archives - 'Anxieties over Closure'). A total of 1,073 Polish children were born in Diddington maternity unit, the first (Jan) recorded on 2 November 1946 and the last (Barbara) on 21 August 1948. Were you either the boy or girl born on one of these dates? If you were get in touch with us and tell our readers what you are doing now. All births in Diddington Hospital were registered at the Register Office in St Neots.

As the NHS was rolled out to the nation in 1948, and the PRC was to be disbanded by 30 September 1949, most army hospitals such as Diddington became superfluous, outdated and hence closed down. The authority to disband No.6 Polish General Hospital (PRC) was issued by the War Office, Ref. No. 20/Gen/6210 (AG1A), on 18 August 1948. The hospital authorities were given a window of three weeks to close: starting 1 September 1948, to be completed by one minute to midnight on 21 September 1948.

Other, similar hospitals, for example, No. 11 Polish Hospital in Llanerch Panna and No. 3 Polish Hospital, Penley Hall (later absorbing No 4 Polish Tuberculosis Hospital from Iscoyd) were closed much later: the former was closed in 1953 while the latter in 2002.

Diddington Polish School and Teacher Father Borynski

In the Spring of 1949 a Roman Catholic school was established in the camp. It catered for Polish children who lived at Diddington Camp and for some children who boarded there. Several boarders from Tweedsmuir Camp attended the school, including Wacek Gąsiorowski and, his brother, Janusz. Wacek eventualy qualified as a structural engineer, specialising in bridge design, and his brother became a dentist. It is alleged that around 500 Polish children were educated there.

Spritual leader in Diddington Camp was Father Henryk Borynski who also taught at the school. When the camp closed in the Spring of 1953, Borynski moved to Bradford and became chaplain to the Polish community there after taking over from Canon Martynellis. Borynski vanished in unknown circumstances after leaving his lodgings in Little Horton Lane on the evening of 13 July 1953.

Although Father Borynski was officially declared dead in 1959, the mystery surrounding his disappearance was never satisfactorily resolved. Notwithstanding the misinterpretation of what was said to Canon Martynellis in Polish by two mysterious men he claimed visited him one month after Borynski disappeared, a number of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories have resounded for over fifty years. One even includes the allegation that Martynellis was somehow involved in Father Borynski's disappearance. With this in mind, link here to a BBC website to read more about the priest's disappearance.

The cross in the above photograph is reported as being made by Father Borynski. It is the only Catholic cross in the church of St Lawrence and on close inspection certainly looks 'homemade'. If this account is true, the cross is one of two remaining links between the Polish community which lived in Diddington Camp in the 1940s and the present day! The second link is a small, stone monument (see below).

A Polish 'Monument' in Diddington Camp

Before leaving Diddington Camp, a few of its Polish inhabitants built a small monument under an oak tree. When we first heard about the monument we were informed that it had been demolished and stated so on this page of our website. Nevertheless, in September 2010 we received an e-mail from Richard Andrew in which he mentioned that the small monument still exists to this day. It is made from large pieces of fashioned stone cemented into the style of a fort. One thing that has proved difficult to establish is the exact purpose the monument served.

Richard Andrew has kindly allowed us to use the photographs he took of the monument in early September 2010. You can view them by clicking the elliptical image above.

A Polish Parliamentarian born in Diddington Hosptial

Barabara Marianowska (see photograph opposite) is arguably the most famous Polish person to have been born in Diddington. She is a Polish politician who was first elected to the Polish parliament in 2001 as an 'Independant' candidate on the strength of 6,291 votes. On 25 September 2005 she was re-elected with 12,498 votes as a candidate of the 'Law and Justice' party, which was established in 2001. Two years later, in 2003, the Tarnow Echo published a website article about her in Polish. Although the Polish link no longer exists, our translated abstract in English does.

A Last Gasp from Diddington Camp

We believe the camp was completely demolished between the years of 1967 and 1968: 5 to 6 years after the demolition of Diddington Hall. However, although he is not absolutely sure, Richard Andrew remembers playing in the ruins of Diddington Camp after 1968. As his family left the village of Diddington in 1974 the suggestion is that the camp may have been finally cleared a little later than 1968. We shall therefore leave this debate open until we can confirm the dates.

You can read Richard Andrew's e-mail by linking to it here.

Notwithstanding the issue of the camp's final demise, the responsibility for returning the land to its former use lay with Gerald Carpenter. Mr Carpenter was born in Somerset in 1928 and came to live at Lodge Farm, Diddington in 1963. Peter Thornhill (1935 - 2000), the Squire of the Diddington estate, employed Mr Carpenter as Farm Manager. In those days the site was overgrown with thickets and heavily neglected. Although the site was used to shoot grouse once a year, for the remainder of the time it stood idle.

Following discussions with the Squire, Gerald Carpenter was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the site be cleared, seeded with grass and used for farming. The concrete foundations of the camp buildings were ripped up by Mr Pierce, a building contractor from Cambridge.

(Black and white photograph of Gerald Carpenter courtesy of Dave Dodman.)

Present Day

Unless one is familiar with the camp's history or was stationed there during the war, it would be impossible to locate the site that was once Diddington Camp. The only feature that remains is a section of the north / south concrete road, which is shown in the coloured image above. The rest of the site is little more than a pasture. This stated, Diddington itself is a strikingly impressive village, typical of many villages in England.

Photographs in Slide Show 3 (see turquoise box in the right hand column) illustrate the site of Diddington Camp as it was in the summer of 2009. Some of the pictures in the Slide Show are of Diddington village itself and St Lawrence church.

Notes

Clicking the above links will put you in touch with topics under each of the three headings.
Some American WWII veterans continue to remember the camp as 'Diddington Hall'.
Don't forget that you can tell us your story by e-mailing it to us via the 'Contact Us' page on this website. See the main links under the header.
This page was last updated on 8 April 2011.
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