The Windrush Poles
Few people are aware there were 66 Polish refugees on board the ship Empire Windrush when it docked at Tilbury 70 years ago, alongside the more well known Caribbean passengers. Their arrival was the culmination of an apocalyptic story stretching back a decade. My mother-in-law, Janina Folta, was one of the Polish passengers.
She was 11 when she boarded the ship with her mother and sisters in Mexico in 1948. They were travelling to rejoin her father and brother, from whom they had been separated for five years.
The family had been among 1.5 million Poles wrenched from their homes by Russian soldiers in the middle of the night in 1940-41 and sent on cattle trucks to Siberian labour camps.
After two years, some of the captives escaped but fewer than 10% survived the 3,000-mile journey to get out of the Soviet Union and into Iran, eating dogs and tortoises to survive. The men joined the Polish free forces fighting with the Allies, and their families were sent to refugee camps all over the world. Janina, her mother and sisters went to Santa Rosa camp in Mexico.
Their story reveals a little known and shocking aspect of WW2. I have felt compelled to research it and I am currently working on a book about them.