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Salvaging 'Little Poland'
By Jo Irving
BBC Devon

Litle Poland
Still standing, but work to demolish buildings at the Polish camp has already begun

When American Caroline Nicholson realised bulldozers were going to demolish the former Polish settlement camp at Ilford Park, she moved in.

Armed with a fluorescent jacket, Caroline has combed the site salvaging all the memorabilia she can find.

"I've found everything from Polish war documents to children's toys."

She has no direct links except as director of the Anglo-Polish Organisation and an interest in its former role as a US Military Hospital.

Caroline Nicholson's absorption into Eastern European culture comes from her time spent working with Polish women in a south Devon factory.

Having arrived from America in 2003, with three children, she took a regular job making wedding dresses.

She made friends with the Polish workers, even teaching them English, before setting up the Anglo-Polish Organisation with one of her new found friends.

Caroline Nicholson

Her background is in archaeology so uncovering some of the finds at the former Polish camp at Stover near Newton Abbot has been exciting.

"There's some lovely Polish folk art work, which was just lying around.

"There were even war documents from a man, serving in the Polish army, who found himself in France in 1945 when the war ended.

"Because there was no way he would have returned to Communist Poland he was sent to 'Little Poland' here at Stover in Devon."

Watch archive film of life in Little Poland.

The contractors, Gilpin, are currently trying to flatten the 17 acre site.

Work started in August 2009 and it's hoped to finish in January 2010.

Before there is no more evidence left of the shop, hospital and homes, Caroline is charting the life of the place with the things she has collected.

"It was a very strong community here.

"They had their own church, their own Saturday school, their own snooker club, library, cinema and theatre."

derelict buildings
Just some of the derelict buildings at Ilford Park

Caroline has also managed to find out more about Little Poland's former life with her contacts at the Kansas State University Archives.

"The army hospital was built to take in the casualties from the D-Day landings.

"An American army nurse, Lt Honstead, who was stationed at Stover Camp between 1943 and 1944, kept a load of pictures to show what it once looked like."

After the war the empty buildings were put to good use as one of many Polish resettlement camps.

But the history of the site remains strongly Eastern European - a new Polish home sprang up away from the derelict buildings to accommodate the elderly Polish community who settled here, while the younger generation have moved to other parts of Devon.

folk art
Detailed pictures like this were found lying around

Caroline hopes to catalogue all her finds which are at the Devon Record Office and then deposit some in the Newton Abbot Museum as well as with the Devon Medical History society.

"In Devon there's nothing really quite like this.

"It just shows that Devon is a multi-cultural place, made up of people from all back grounds with a rich and significant history."

Caroline is interested in collecting your stories of Stover Camp, both as an American army hospital and as a Polish resettlement camp.

You can write to the Anglo-Polish Organisation, Grosevenor House, 25 St Peter Street, Tiverton EX16 6NW or call 01884 250200.

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