The General Langfitt Story

The General Langfitt Story

Allbrook, Maryon and Cattalini, Helen


Book ID 670

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Allbrook, Maryon and Cattalini, Helen The General Langfitt Story, 1995
Page Number: Chapter 5

The General Langfitt Story. Chapter 5 - Dispersal (continued)

Tadek Gruszka and his family arrived in Dar-es-Salaam in 1944, when he was 6 years old. He did his first two years of schooling at the settlement in Morogoro, in Tanganyika, before being moved to Ifunda, where there were some eight hundred residents, for another two and a half years, and then Tengeru. He remembers his time in Africa as:

a very good life for young people, although I didn't like school very much. Africa was something different and there were a lot of things to do in the camps.

We used to go to a club - like a YMCA drop-in centre where people could get together and play games and we kids could go into the jungle and chase the monkeys. In 1946 we were moved to Ifunda where one of my brothers died. He had a cancerous growth and they couldn't do anything to save him, not in those days in the middle of the bush. I made a lot of friends in Ifunda and about four or five of us young boys used to go out to the African villages to buy eggs or a chicken when we had some money. We learnt Kiswahili quite quickly so we could speak with the villagers a little.

We were just boys who went to the bush and had a good time. Swimming, taking the dogs hunting, anything. It was great. I used to know a lot of boys from the orphanage. I think they went to New Zealand or Venezuela. They were poor kids who went all over the world. It was quite sad because we lost friends when people were sent to different camps. We were moved to Tengeru for our last two years in Africa because there were not enough people in the smaller camps.

Janusz Smenda had a somewhat different tale to recount. Initially he went to Tengeru with his mother and sister but after completing his first year of high school they received notification from the Polish Consulate in Tanganyika that the South African government was offering five places to students from Tengeru at the Pietermaritzburg College in Natal.

My mother said that this was my chance to get out of a ghetto, to get out of the refugee mentality and to learn a language. I'd had malaria and a lot of other health problems which I was just getting over and I'd started enjoying life so I didn't want to leave. But I thought about it and decided to do it. We had to work very hard, harder because of the language although we were exempt from learning Afrikaans.

The boarding school rigour was pretty severe. We were denied hot water for showers because it was considered good for us to have cold showers to harden our bodies. This wasn't conducive to good hygiene because all the boys would just rush under the shower and splash a bit of water around. We got there just as the war was ending and there were still food shortages. We found that boarding school fare was skimpy and terribly unappetising.

Other than that, it was a delightful life simply because we had all the things that other kids in refugee camps didn't. We were well accepted both by teachers and other students. Most of us found life in Natal far more exciting than life in the camp, the only minus was being away from families. First of all there were cinemas, concerts and libraries, which did not exist in the camps initially, and there were swimming pools. The whole experience helped me tremendously because I spoke English more fluently than anyone when we came to Australia and that made it easier for me to get work and adapt.

After leaving school, Janusz Smenda found clerical work in Durban, where he also studied two units of accountancy. Earning too little to go on to university studies there, and unable to bring his mother and sister to South Africa to join him, he returned to Tengeru, believing that he had a chance of receiving a scholarship to study in England. The offer from the Australian immigration authorities in Deember 1949 changed their plans.

Tengeru settlement, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, was the largest of the Polish settlements in Africa, accommodating up to approximately 4000 people (Królikowski, 1983, p. 85). Many of its residents spent up to eight years living there, and saw it transformed from a small jungle outpost into a thriving little metropolis, 'full of laughter and noise' because of all the women and children. Barbara Kaluzynska was 12 years old when she arrived there with her mother, and nearly 20 when she left.

When we arrived, there were just a few round huts and a few kitchens. The huts were just a big room made of mud bricks and covered with banana leaves. They were nice and cool in summer and quite warm in winter. At the beginning in each hut there were four African beds (a frame with strings across it and a mattress), two tables, a lamp, bedding for four, one plate, one fork and one cup, knives and forks for four people. We were quite inventive and made furniture from cases and wardrobes from blankets. At first we shared a hut with another woman and her son but later we were given separate houses because both the women were teachers and had a lot of work to do. More houses were built and all the people who lived there did whatever they could to improve things.

Eventually Tengeru would grow to include a hospital, an orphanage for some 600 children, community halls, a beautiful church and a school of about twenty buildings which catered for primary and secondary students and taught the arts and science subjects, as well as containing a school of mechanics, an agricultural college, a commercial school and a domestic science school. The aim was to prepare the children for their uncertain futures but their education took place outside the classrooms as much as within. The Scouting movement ensured that there were regular excursions to places of interest in the region, including one-day walking tours, camps at a local farm and safaris to Olduvai Gorge and the N'Goro N'Goro volcanic crater. Many people recounted their encounters with Africa's famed wild life with undiluted pleasure: lions, elephants, rhinoceros, monkeys, as well as the beautiful bird life, the snakes and insects were a source of fascination for many of the youngsters. As several people commented, they took risks which make them shudder now, with the benefit of hindsight! After their experiences in the Soviet Union, life in Tengeru was benign.

We didn't have to worry about living conditions as we were secure. My mother was a qualified teacher but before the war had never taught because she had married early. Some taught without qualifications. Our teachers were very dedicated people and really looked after us, so if you wanted to learn you could. School was the focus for the children but for leisure time there were Scouts and Girl Guides, church activities, dances for the young people, choirs and a theatrical society - we had everything there.

Most Poles are Catholics. There were a few priests and we built a beautiful church ourselves. School children were supposed to go to church every Sunday. We were very strictly brought up. Girls, even at sixteen and seventeen, were expected to be home at ten o'clock, and there were very few older boys there because they mainly went to the army.

The camps were run by UNRRA at first and then the IRO. If you had a job you got paid and if you didn't work you got pocket money of ten shillings a month and rations. I was lucky that I did English for my matriculation, and I started reading English books quite early so I got a job as a clerk/interpreter in a little town called Arusha, about 18 kilometres from the camp. Later on I worked at the quartermaster's office as a clerk/interpreter in English/Polish. Life was very pleasant and quiet and there were few worries. (Barbara Kaluzynska)

Kazimierz Sosnowski arrived in Tengeru on his own, having been unable to find his mother in Tehràn.

I realised I couldn't survive on my own so I went to the orphanage, where I lived for fifteen months, where at least I had regular meals every day. To me life in the orphanage was normal but when you start analysing things you realise it was a different experience. Each group had a caretaker and they had their favourites. I was never anyone's favourite! I was in the middle age group but I was the tallest. Being tall, not old, they expected me to do quite a bit of work for the smaller children. We were living in two big dormitories with eleven beds in each dormitory and in between was a room where the caretaker lived. I had to take care of the younger group. Life in the orphanage - well you just did what you were told.

Mother arrived in Tengeru on 17 April 1944 and we have been together ever since. I finished primary school in Tengeru, and then went to mechanical school for three years when I was fifteen to eighteen years old. We learnt in very primitive conditions. There were not enough books for twenty-three boys. We had five books on mechanical subjects, three books for mathematics, and the teacher had to have one of these. One teacher was a qualified mechanic, there were two village blacksmiths, one qualified carpenter, one qualified joinery-maker, two well-qualified fitters. The workshop was very poorly equipped so we had to make our own tools. We were the first group of boys so we had to make everything, including our workshops.

I had several jobs after I left technical school, first as a water-pumping-station attendant in Kenya. Then I worked in a garage near Tengeru for a few months. Then there was no work, so I left and went to work in a timber mill but they didn't want a worker, they wanted someone who would supply them with females so I left. I got work on a farm as a tractor driver for two years and after that I went to Kenya again, working on the farms as a farm supervisor. I very much enjoyed my time in Africa. The scenery, the mountains, the wild animals and youthful life. Apart from malaria I didn't have any health problems. Malaria was the biggest problem in Africa.

On top of malaria, there were recurrent problems with tropical ulcers and most people gave accounts of the sand fleas which plagued the settlement at the start. These nasty little mites would creep under toe nails where they laid eggs which would grow, causing painful septic sores if the egg pouches were not removed early enough. Several people, especially children who swam regularly in Lake Daluti, contracted bilharzia, a vicious parasitic disease caused by flatworm larvae which could lodge in the intestine or bladder for years before causing major health problems. Teresa Sedzmir (nèe Smenda) discovered that she had contracted bilharzia after she had been in Australia for twenty-two years.

There were a number of kids from Tengeru, my age and a little bit older, who died in their twenties and early thirties. Doctors couldn't work out why. I am sure they were the victims of bilharzia. Afterwards so many of us still had it because in Africa at that time, they either cured you in a matter of months or you died.

Extract ID: 3802