Eryk Josef Woszczychi (1921–2002)

Migration in search of work has always been part of the pattern of industrialisation. In the years after the Second World War many Europeans, particularly from the eastern parts of the continent, found themselves working in locations far removed in space and social context from those in which they had grown up.

Eryk Josef Woszczychi was born, the son of a butcher at Golasowice near Katowice in Polish Silesia and throughout his life retained memories of going to market with his father in a horse-drawn cart. He was aged 18 in 1939 when Poland was invaded by the armies of the Third Reich and the USSR. He fled from his native country on a Red Cross ship and made his way to Britain where he joined the Free Polish Army and trained as a motorcycle despatch rider. He fought with the Polish Army from Normandy to the Netherlands, where he was wounded, but returned to action and ended the war with his regiment.

He was warned by his father not to return to Poland where the Communist government was hostile to those who had fought in the West, and returned to Britain, at first to a resettlement camp in Scotland and then, in May 1946, to the Oakdale Training Centre at Blackwood in South Wales, where he trained as a miner. He met his Welsh wife at Ma’s Café at Blackwood, one of many similar coffee houses in the Coalfield had been set up by the Italians who settled in the Coalfield two generations earlier. Like most Polish miners he encountered some initial hostility, but soon became an accepted member of the community. He qualified as a fitter and worked at the Britannia Colliery for 34 years until his retirement in 1982, sustaining two severe injuries while working underground. He twice returned to Poland with his wife, on the first occasion, in 1964, driving all the way in his Morris 1100 car.

An account of his life is retained at the Big Pit mining museum.