Michael Pollek

Born: 24th February 1954

Reading, UK

Date of interview: 13th July 2006

Map showing where Michael Pollek came from

What other early memories do you have of your childhood?

Well I learnt English at school, though I don't remember not being able to communicate with anybody in English, but I do know that I went to school at St. James' Primary School as it was known then, which is the school next to St. James Church by the Forbury Gardens. The Ukrainians predominantly that settled in Reading are of the Greek Catholic faith so that being the nearest, I was sent there. I remember going to school and not liking it and wanting to come home and I can only assume its because its I wasn't understood and couldn't make myself understood.

There was just my father, my mother and myself. We had two lodgers that lived in the house who were Ukrainian, single men and on a Friday night, there would be about four or five other single Ukrainian men would come round. My mother would do some sewing for them, or write letters, because a lot of these people couldn't write, she would write letters home for them. My father would play cards with them and I would sit under the table listening to their conversations and generally playing.

The Ukrainian community had a church service every two weeks where we would get together, I'd say there must've been about sixty adults living in Reading at that time of Ukrainian extraction and these people would've settled here after the war as displaced persons. There were camps just outside Oxford and one at Grazely Green for, as were known displaced persons, and of course there, there would be Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, all the former Soviet Union people. They had to stay in the camp until their papers, if they had any papers, were processed. They were given menial work to do in the area, and I remember hearing talk that in the early days there would be groups going out walking up the canals, clearing the ditches of weeds and branches, clearing out the mud, digging and that, and of course a lot of farm work was done. Then as these people were trusted more, they were able to mix in the community but had to come back home to sleep at that camp.

Gradually they were allowed to leave and find jobs again within the area. Reading was quite a good place for people to work because at that time there was quite a lot of industry in Reading.

You had the brewery, you had Huntley & Palmers the biscuit factory, you had engineering works, so they'd find jobs, would have to commute back home to the camp, then would have to make an application for them to find digs.

I know of one family who, well a group of five men got together, made application, they saved money themselves to buy a house and they bought that house in cash, then, they carried on working, that house would be paid for, signed in the name of one individual, they would carry on working until all five of those men had finally bought themselves a house.

They would have to report to the police station initially on a weekly basis and then on a monthly basis to have their papers stamped and if they were wanting to travel out of the town, out of the area of that police station they had to inform the police station were they were going and then inform the other police station at that destination that they'd arrived.

My father worked at the brewery, he worked there for twenty four years before he was, took, well in truth redundancy before the new brewery was built. The house that we lived in was rented and I remember when we went through the papers that in fact he paid via the rent, 'cos there was no mortgages then and these people would've never been able to get a mortgage, he paid 650 pounds for the house which was quite a big house, three bed roomed house with a cellar in Leopold Road.

As a consequence of that and the work that happened in this area he had a compulsory purchase and he bought another house elsewhere but it was funny that the house that he sold that he bought for 500 had made these thousands of pounds which he could only thank, he was always grateful for this country for enabling him to actually a) live here and b) be able to work here.

That's generally the key thing with a lot of the Ukrainians of the community, is the ability of being able to work without the fear that you're gonna get a knock on the door and sent to a camp because one of the problems after the Yalta agreement when Churchill, Truman and Stalin signed the accord, a lot of Ukrainians who came from Eastern Ukraine were deemed to be of Soviet status and had to be repatriated. A lot of these people who were repatriated were killed. They were either sent to Siberia or shot as traitors out of hand.

One of the discussions that used to happen at the camp, my father told me, when he was in Bicester camp was there'd be a long table with a white cloth and there'd be a, an English officer and a Russian officer and they would parade the people up and down and they would ask them the same question 'What's your name?' 'Where you from?' 'Why don't you want to go back to Ukraine, we've got a field there for you? We've got land there, your family's waiting for you?' In the early days it was a friendly gesture, later on it was threatening and the thing that was consistent about this was the English officer would never allow the Russian officer to be over-abusive.

My father, when Ukraine got its independence, I went to Ukraine for the first time and tried to arrange my father to come with us, he wouldn't, and I said, 'Well why? Why are you worried?' And he said 'No Hitler let me travel for nothing, I don't see why I should pay to travel back.' That was his sort of blasé way of dealing with it. I think he was frightened to go back 'cos he wasn't sure what was gonna happen when he went back home.