Life in Panchgani
Individual liberty and
Are both essential far life in society.
The name Panchgani in Hindustani means five hills.
This township with a relatively stable population of 15,000 inhabitants
occupied five hills, each of which ended In an almost level plateau.
These were known locally as tablelands. The hill resort of Panchgani
is located in the Western Ghats, Inland from the city of Poona where
a large British army garrison was stationed In 1945-1947, the period
of our residence in Panchgani.
We enjoyed the mild, cool climate of
the wooded Panchgani hills. Many trees were covered in wild fruit,
which provided ample sustenance for family groups of white and gray,
black-faced langur monkeys which were a frequent sight. Some monkeys
were quite cheeky; they loved to snatch bananas, biscuits, bread,
cakes and sweets from people, as well as bright items of jewelry and
clothing. These were usually Impossible to retrieve as they were carried
from one tree top to another with great speed. My brother recalled
seeing a group of monkeys eating a supper which had been carefully
covered with muslin cloth to protect the food from insects. Someone
had accidentally left the door slightly open allowing the uninvited
guests to enter and to enjoy an unexpected feast. Langur monkeys moved
in troupes of about 15 animals, though larger groups of between 30-40
monkeys were not uncommon. Usually a male leader of the pack glared
menacingly, in a feigned attack aimed at scaring people away. These
animals were harmless, timid creatures unless cornered or teased.
At the beginning of the monsoon season
around mid-May, the tablelands were carpeted with wild violets, yellow
buttercups and lilies-of-the-valley. This was a magnificent sight
to behold. The Panchgani hills were composed of very hard, porous
rock. They contained several subterranean caves, often inhabited by
large black bats called flying foxes, which were fascinating to holiday-makers
and curious children. Wild bees, snakes, scorpions, leopards and tigers
also used these caves as shelter. The overpowering body odour of the
wild cats determined their presence and the caves were then avoided
by exploring children. During the wet season a couple of small lakes
formed on the tablelands. They dried up once the monsoon rain retreated.
A large tropical jungle extended some
16 miles beyond Panchangani, on the outskirts of which was a small
British army garrison situated near a lake. This environment provided
good training in jungle warfare for the British forces facing the
advancing Japanese in Burma during World War II. The tropical forest
was also a hunter's paradise, as leopards and tigers were plentiful
game. Beautiful orchids nestled In the trees and the many brightly
coloured parrots competed for food with troupes of monkeys.
Panchgani township had a large grocer's
shop, the Panchgani Store, which supplied tinned fruit, meat, sardines,
herrings in tomato sauce, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, confectionery,
milk, bread and other necessary items. There was also a post office
nearby. Several hotels catered for the needs of the many holiday-makers
during the dry, hot season, which extended from October to mid-May.
There were five high schools in addition to a local primary school
and kindergarten. The secondary schools included the Parsee and Hindu
High Schools and two Anglican missionary colleges, namely, Kimmin's
High School for girls and St. Peter's High School for boys, also the
Roman Catholic Girls' College, St. Joseph's Convent High School. The
last three missionary schools catered for a mixture of Indian, European
and Anglo-Indian pupils and the Catholic college also catered for
several abandoned children, mainly Anglo-Indians and British. That
school was staffed mostly by Irish and Indian nuns. A small farm adjacent
to the convent provided some revenue for the care of these abandoned
children. The nuns grew their own vegetables, and some fruit such
as oranges, lemons, grapefruit and mangoes. They also kept cows for
milk and Angora rabbits for their fibre. Fowls provided eggs. Ducks
and geese were reared for poultry meat. This enterprise made It possible
for the school to meet Its charitable obligations In addition to admitting
fee-paying students. Many Polish girls benefited from the education
received at the St. Joseph's High School, where they became fluent
Panchgani also contained a large sanatorium,
caring for 1,400 tuberculosis patients. My brother Alek with some
30 Polish boys received treatment there. It was supervised by only
one fully-qualified medical doctor, the Portuguese Doctor Da Gamma,
who visited the patients once a week. There were six trained nurses
and several Indian nursing aides, both male and female. My brother
spent 14 months at the Panchgani sanatorium. He received monthly blood
tests and fortnightly injections, which was the accepted medical treatment
for tuberculosis. Patients slept in large wardlike dormitories where
they were encouraged to rest as much as possible. They rose at 7.30
a.m. and retired by 8.00 p.m. An afternoon rest was considered essential.
The standard punishment for leaving the sanatorium grounds without
permission or authorised supervision was confinement to bed for three
The food at the Panchgani sanatorium
was much better than at the Polish camps in Balachadi-Jamnagar and
Valivade-Kolhapur. For breakfast Indian chapatees were served with
butter and a raw egg with a cup of milk or two slices of bread with
a cube of butter, fresh fruit mixed with a raw egg and tea with milk.
Lunch usually consisted of Indian curry and rice with dahl. Dinner
was around 6.00 p.m.. when rice, dahl and curry gravy was served with
either two slices of bread or chapatees. In addition to these three
daily meals, snacks were served in between; at 10.00 a.m. a drink
of buffalo milk, and at 3.00 p.m. following the midday rest, tea with
a banana, an orange, a guava or a pomegranate.
Boys and girls were accommodated In
a separate section of the complex. Each part was equipped with communal
toilets, wash basins and Iron tubs, into which Indian servants (metranees)
poured hot water for the weekly bath. The Polish boys In the sanatorium
received no formal education. Once they felt stronger they played
hockey in the court yard, using primitive, self-made hockey sticks,
usually banging empty tins and occasionally tennis balls if they could
get some. They also enjoyed card games and marbles. The girls wore
gray skirts and white blouses and the boys gray shirts and shorts.
Both wore brown Roman sandals. This was also the standard uniform
for Polish schools at the camps in Balachadi and Valivade.
When the children were discharged from
the Panchgani sanatorium, they convalesced In one of the Polish villas
at Panchgani before returning to the Valivade Refugees' Camp. These
villas were, therefore, halfway houses, where the children's health
was closely monitored and where their daily routine Included some
basic formal education. Because of the lack of a school at the sanatorium,
many of the convalescent children were unable to cope with the lessons
of the others of their chronological age at the Polish Camp in Valivade-Kolhapur.
When our mother accepted the position
of school nurse at Kimmins Girls' High School, she was already familiar
with the Panchgani township and its small Polish community, having
previously worked at one of the halfway houses, nursing convalescent
children there. She had also nursed three cases of typhoid transferred
from Panchgani to the Poona Hospital. Among the three were two Polish
girls and the head sister from the St. Joseph's Convent in Panchgani.
It was she who later recommended Mother for the nursing position at
Kimmins High School.
Our mother's desire to provide Alek
and me with a formal English education was no doubt the draw card
in accepting this position. As she could not afford to have us educated
at English boarding schools, the generous offer of free education
for her children was most appreciated. Having now decided we would
not return to communist Poland after the war, Mother wanted to equip
us for life in the English-speaking free world, where she hoped we
would be given a chance of a new life, without political oppression
and fear of persecution.
At St. Peter's Boys' High School Alek
had the company of 12 other Polish boys to whom he naturally related
well. I felt a bit strange and lonely at Kimmins High School, being
the only Polish girl there. All the other Polish girls attended the
St. Joseph's Convent High School at Panchgani.
Kimmins High School consisted of a
complex of buildings constructed in a rectangle, with a well landscaped
and colourful garden in the central courtyard into which all doors
opened. Senior dormitories were situated upstairs next to the Principal's
self-contained apartment. Miss G.E. Pearsall, the head of this school,
was an Anglican missionary. She was a very talented lady, a poet and
an accomplished pianist. She enjoyed entertaining friends to dinner
In her apartment. This was usually followed by a music recital, as
many of her frequent guests also played musical instruments. We enjoyed
listening to this heavenly music.
All the teaching staff dressed for
dinner in the evenings with Miss Pearsall in the staff dining room.
It was exciting for the girls to see the elegant clothes worn by our
teachers on these occasions; quite a change from our own school uniforms,
the navy gyms, white blouses and striped red, white and blue ties.
In cool weather navy or black stockings were worn, in summer white
socks and on Sundays we wore a navy suit with the school monogram
on the jacket pocket and white Panama hats, which also displayed the
monogram and the school colours on an ornamental band.
Our school days commenced with a bell
at 7.00 a.m. followed by short prayers in the dormitories, each supervised
by a matron. We showered, dressed and made our own beds before hurrying
to breakfast which usually consisted of porridge and two slices of
bread, or chapatees with butter and marmalade. On Sundays we had eggs
and sausages or bacon. School chapel prayers followed. Miss Pearsall
generally read an extract from the Bible, which provided us with a
special thought for the day. We sang a couple of hymns or psalms from
the Anglican prayer book and recited selected short prayers including
the Lord's Prayer. Any special school notices were read out at the
end. Interviews with students were also announced at this time.
There were two lessons of 45 minutes
each before the morning recess and another two before lunch, which
consisted of curry and rice, dahl and two chapatees. This was followed
by a compulsory afternoon rest during the hottest part of the day.
Following afternoon tea, two more school lessons completed our instruction
for the day. After school It was time for sports at the tablelands.
We walked there in pairs, supervised by a teacher, carrying our own
hockey sticks. We looked forward to these outings. During the monsoon
season we could only play Indoor basketball in our gymnasium, but
ventured out daily for long walks in the rain, dressed in raincoats
(mackintoshes) and gumboots (Wellingtons). From mid-May to September
heavy rain continued without respite. The gray cloudy skies persisted
till October when blue skies heralded the intermittent dry spells
of the retreating monsoon rain.
Our school syllabus prepared us for
the junior and senior Cambridge external examinations, which were
set and marked in England. At first I was placed In a senior class,
because I had already had two years of secondary education in Polish
at the Valivade Refugees' Camp. However, my knowledge of English was
meagre. I had learned it only as a second language and had had no
opportunity to speak It. As algebra and geometry commenced in standard
five (Form 3 level) at Kimmins School, It was eventually decided to
place me In that class, to ensure a thorough grounding in mathematics.
I was then also transferred to a junior dormitory and a junior class,
where the girls were several years younger than I was. I felt this
very deeply, as I was already 14 years old, bigger and also more physically
mature than the students with whom I now shared my school experiences.
Moreover, at the Polish High School I had been a couple of years younger
than my classmates, so I was very uncomfortable with the Kimmins arrangement.
I progressed quickly however, to become one of the top students In
my class, even In English. I was eager to go up a class, but in spite
of my achievements no promotion was considered. By the following year
I was fluent In English.
On Sunday mornings and afternoons we
all attended the Anglican church services at St. Peter's Boys' High
School. Also on Sunday mornings my mother, with a few other Catholic
girls from Kimmins High School, was permitted to attend Mass at the
Catholic church at the St. Joseph's Convent. We were joined there
by Alek and the Catholic boys from the St. Peter's High School. I
really looked forward to these outings. After church we frequently
visited the 70-year-old Irish priest, Father Hennessey, who invited
us to share breakfast with him. We enjoyed delicious fresh buns with
cheese and jam, a combination I have loved ever since. Father Hennessey
had spent 40 years in India. He was a great biologist and had a marvelous
collection of brightly coloured butterflies and a variety of beetles.
He had also preserved in jars all the known species of poisonous snakes,
which fascinated us. Moreover, he had developed antidotes to all native
poisonous Insects and reptiles and kept these for emergencies in Panchgani,
when locals came for help. Father Hennessey, a very kind man, took
a special interest in my brother and me. We loved talking to him and
hearing of his interesting adventures In India.
Among our other pleasant recollections
was a gala day at the St. Joseph's Convent School. We were enchanted
by a Scottish pipe band, which we had never heard before. We were
spellbound by the colourful tartan robes, the rhythmical marching
and the sound of the bagpipes. It was an unforgettable experience.
My brother and I were also fascinated by the Panchgani bazaars, which
we were able to explore during the long, summer holidays. The school
vacation extended from mid-December to the end of February, during
the very hot, dry season In India. During that period we lived at
the school bakery, where enormous rats were our constant companions
at night. It was not uncommon to be woken up with rats the size of
half-grown cats running across our beds. All our food was carefully
stored In airtight tins to keep the rodents out. We also collected
cooked evening meals from a privately-owned Indian cafeteria, so that
few food supplies were kept in our quarters. I spent some time with
Alek at the bazaars, where goods were
displayed on trestles or simply on
woven jute mats spread on the ground. Here we could buy a bunch of
bananas for one rupee. One small banana cost eight annas (pence),
a coconut was three annas, a large mug of roasted peanuts was two
annas, while lollipops sold at one anna each. In those days 16 annas
equaled one rupee. We also purchased fresh radishes and spring onions,
which we enjoyed with fresh bread and sardines from the Panchgani
Store. We relished toffee sticks, candy and peanut bars from the local
bazaar. After watching the Indian traders preparing these at the market
place, we made these treats ourselves. First we melted lumps of molasses
in a saucepan, while lightly roasting peanuts in a cast-iron pan,
shaking and bouncing them constantly to ensure an even roast. Sesame
seeds were usually added at the end. Finally we blended both ingredients
as the melted molasses began to harden. The mixture was poured onto
grease proof paper and was carefully cut Into even strips before hardening.
This was one of our favourite pastimes during school holidays.
A few Polish children and staff remained
at Panchgani, so we were able to visit them. Together we explored
the subterranean caves surrounding the Panchgani tablelands. We felt
very free, unconstrained by the strict discipline and a highly regulated
routine which prevailed during the school year. Local Indians were
friendly towards us. Now that the war had ended, many Indians Increasingly
clamoured for independence from their British colonial rulers. Much
anti-British sentiment was generated at that time. Printed slogans
of 'British quit India' were commonplace.
As the 1947 school year approached,
demonstrations Increased, with rising tensions among the local population.
It became necessary to employ armed British soldiers to guard our
schools and all the dormitories were locked at night for safety. Our
curriculum now included compulsory study of Hindustani, with the addition
of Urdu for some Indian students.
At both St. Peter's Boys' College and
at Kimmins Girls' High School regular Bible studies were compulsory.
Many of the extra-curricular cultural activities were combined for
the two Anglican missionary schools. These included debating, school
dances, and sports tournaments held on the tablelands.
Adult teams also used the facilities
of the tablelands sports fields In Panchgani. On one such occasion
my mother attended an adult hockey match as a spectator. A number
of British army personnel took part, among them our school Principal's
friend, Colonel William A. Lovat-Fraser. Unfortunately, after a collision
with another hockey player, he became concussed and suffered severe
bruising to his head and both legs. He could not be moved the long
distance to Poona Hospital, so my mother rendered first aid on-the-spot.
Miss Pearsall then decided to admit Colonel Lovat-Fraser to the Kimmins
High School hospital, where Mother nursed him. His recovery and convalescence
took several weeks. During that period Colonel Lovat-Fraser's sister,
Edith, and her husband. Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Major, from Poona
visited him on several occasions. Lieutenant-Colonel Major was the
Liaison Officer of the British Services Resettlement In Poona, where
there was a concentration of British army personnel.
We thus met them several times, and
they became very interested in our experiences In the USSR and our
subsequent journey to freedom, which had eventually ended In India.
They understood our inability to return to communist-dominated Poland
and realised that there was no future for us in India, where at that
time Europeans were unwanted. They were anxious to assist us to be
resettled in an English-speaking country where we could have a chance
of a new life and a future. They assisted Mother with her application
for an entry permit to both New Zealand and to Australia, where they
had contacts who could be our sponsors. Colonel Reginald Major wrote
to UNRRA, the United Nations Refugees' Resettlement Agency, in an
endeavour to obtain the necessary finance for our passage to the new
destination. He and Colonel Lovat-Fraser gave their personal guarantees
of our good character and our suitability as potential new settlers.
Alek and I were asked to address our new friends as Auntie Edith,
Uncle Reg and Uncle Lovat.
Soon after Uncle Lovat's discharge
from the Kimmins High School hospital, I received an Invitation to
stay with our friends in Poona. The second largest British army contingent
in India was stationed there. The largest British army garrison was
at Allahabad. It was in Poona that Mahatma Ghandi and Nehru were Imprisoned
during India's struggle for Independence from British colonial rule.
I will never forget the long bus trip
to Poona, during which we passed through numerous Indian villages.
Each time the bus stopped all the European passengers, Including myself,
were surrounded by Indian beggars, many of them crippled. The sight
of these maimed children and emaciated, seriously crippled adults,
was very distressing to us. Some people gave a coin just to be relieved
of this disturbing company. However, frequently one satisfied beggar
attracted many others to a benefactor in the bus. It was impossible
to help all those who besieged us. It was claimed that many poverty-stricken
parents deliberately crippled their children In infancy to ensure
they would be beggars for life and provide them with a constant source
of income. I felt much relieved each time the bus moved on.
In Poona I was met by Auntie Edith
and Uncle Reg, who took me by car to their modern apartment In an
exclusive area of the city. A new world opened up before my eyes.
I was unaccustomed to such comforts and to receiving so much attention
as an adopted daughter for a whole week. I slept In a lovely room
with an adjoining bathroom. Meals were served on silverware by a waiter
(berah), elegantly dressed In a white suite and a white turban. The
table was beautifully set with fresh flowers in the centre and attractively
folded serviettes. To me this was a real novelty. We went shopping
and I was presented with a new dress, a pair of elegant shoes and
a small handbag. This was my first shopping experience in a city since
we had left Poland. I was completely overwhelmed by the great variety
of goods for purchase. Suddenly I felt Important, I was someone who
mattered. These people genuinely cared for me and wanted to please
me. One evening they took me to the British Army Officers' Club for
a meal. I watched in wonder as beautiful young women dressed in brightly
coloured silk saris danced with uniformed British servicemen to the
music of an excellent band. We talked a great deal. I learned that
Auntie Edith had a son named Peter, a daughter-in-law Mary, and five
grandchildren In England. Uncle Reg and Auntie Edith hoped to leave
for Britain before India became independent on 15th August 1947. I
felt most grateful for everything these people had done to make my
week with them so enjoyable and memorable and cried when we said good-bye.
I did not like leaving them to return to school in Panchgani. We exchanged
several letters. Before Auntie Edith's and Uncle Reg's departure for
England, they visited us in Panchgani with Uncle Lovat. Uncle Lovat
continued to process our applications for Immigration to Australia
and New Zealand. Finally, we were granted permits to enter both countries
on 29th November 1946. Mother chose New Zealand, where she had friends
from Poland in the Polish camp at Pahiatua, Mr. and Mrs. Skwarko with
their two children. She wanted to be close to someone she knew well
As the new school year commenced at
Panchgani at the end of February 1947, we felt more secure In the
knowledge that we had a permit to enter New Zealand to begin our new
life. Uncle Lovat, still resident in India, continued to correspond
with UNRRA authorities regarding finance for our passages by sea to
New Zealand. On 31st May 1947 we received a letter from the Commonwealth
Relations Department in New Delhi acknowledging the receipt of our
New Zealand entry permit and money from the United Nations Intergovernmental
Committee for Refugees. Mother was then advised to obtain an identity
certificate from the passport authorities in Bombay, because her pre-war
Polish passport was now Invalid. That letter also Informed us that
the External Affairs Department of India had authorised the Bombay
Passport Issuing Authorities to supply the identity certificate on
Mother's application. We complied with that request forthwith.
The monsoon rains were with us again
and we could no longer enjoy our hockey games at the tableland. We
played Indoor basketball, badminton and table tennis instead and walked
in the rain each afternoon for additional exercise and fresh air.
I was now in the sixth class, which was equivalent to Form 4 in New
Zealand. Everyone was very glad that we now had the chance of a new
life in New Zealand. Miss Pearsall, the school principal, gave Mother
a wonderful reference recognising her nursing skills, her efficiency
and devotion to the students at Kimmins High School during the 18
months (February 1946-July 1947) she had been employed as the school
We left Kimmins High School in Panchgani
on 26th July 1947, farewelled by Miss G.E.Pearsall, the staff and
students. It was an emotional farewell in the pouring monsoon rain,
on a typically gray morning of that wet season. As we boarded the
waiting bus for Poona we were conscious of beginning yet another long
journey to the unknown world of our future In New Zealand.
From Poona we traveled by rail to Bombay
where we were to await our boat tickets from the English agents, Mackinnon,
Mackenzie and Co. of the British India Steam Navigation Co. We had
been notified by this company that a passage would be available for
us on their cargo ship Chyebassa. which was leaving for Australia
The Superior of the St. Joseph's Convent
High School in Panchgani, Sister Mary Alban. had earlier arranged
our stay at the St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage in Bombay. We remained
there for a month from 28th July to 29th August 1947, in a small room
used by one of the nuns on the staff. This orphanage catered for some
two hundred children of mixed age. including many babies. Most were
abandoned children, found on the streets, others were brought to the
orphanage by their mothers. The mortality rate among the babies was
extremely high. Often, when found by the nuns, they were too emaciated
to survive. The sisters baptized them, and cared for them during the
final days of their lives.
The orphans slept on mattresses on
the wooden floor, as we had done in earlier years at the Polish orphanage
in the USSR and in Iran. This institution brought back memories of
our past. Tiny babies occupied canvas bassinettes, older toddlers
were placed In cots and playpens which lined both sides of large dormitories.
A great number of these unwanted children were the British or Anglo-Indian
offspring of unmarried mothers. The Sisters treated us with kindness.
We had our meals In the communal dining room with the older children.
At that time nuns did not dine with outsiders, In keeping with their
convent rules and very strict discipline.
On 15th August 1947, amid much national
rejoicing, India gained its Independence from Britain. The final struggle
for sovereignty was led by Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi, who had earned
the title of Mahatma (The Great Soul), through his 50 years of struggle
to help India's poor, especially the lowest caste, the Untouchables,
whom he renamed the Harijans (Children of God).
During Ghandi's long struggle for independence
he had Insisted on non-violence. Some sporadic outbreaks of violence
had occurred as Hindus clamoured for self-rule and Muslims likewise
wanted self-determination in their own sovereign state. With the final
granting of independence the Indian subcontinent was partitioned to
create the separate states of India and Pakistan. Muslims, led by
Muhammad A. Jinnah were given the new country of Pakistan, a land
of 'two wings', one in the Indus Valley and the other in Bengal. now
known as Bangladesh, separated by 1,600 km of Indian territory.
As these two parts with Muslim majorities
were torn away from India on 15th August 1947, tensions between Hindus
and Muslims erupted into wholesale massacres. The Kashmir state wavered
between joining India and Pakistan. Soon after our departure the two
countries went to war over the Kashmir issue, which remained unresolved
for several years, before Kashmir fell under India's control. Another
violent crisis involved the Sikhs of the Punjab state, who also wanted
their own separate, Independent nation. This issue festered for years.
In this atmosphere of unrest and sporadic
violence, we seldom ventured outside the St. Joseph's Orphanage during
our month there. As Independence Day approached, anti-British sentiment
Increased. Europeans were unwanted and were regarded with suspicion
by the average Indian. It was unsafe to walk alone in the streets,
especially in poorer areas or after dark. On a visit to the Bombay
Zoo, we had been suddenly surrounded by a hostile crowd of Indians,
some armed with knives, and we had really feared for our lives. We
spoke very loudly in Polish to accentuate our non-British origin.
After some angry exchanges among the assembled group, people began
to disperse and we were left unharmed. We hurriedly returned to the
safety of the St. Joseph's Orphanage, and remained there until our
Soon after that Incident we received
our tickets and an embarkation notice for 26th August. Our cargo ship,
the Chyebassa sailed from Bombay on the afternoon of 29th August 1947,
bound for Australia.
Before our departure from India,
the International Refugees Organisation (IRO) took over the responsibility
of Polish Refugees in India and In East Africa, where Polish Refugees’
Camps were gradually liquidated. Families of Polish ex-servicemen
were reunit-ed in Britain and the remaining Poles were resettled in
Canada and In Australia.
After the final closure of the
Valivade Polish Refugees’ Camp in 1948, Polish Refugees presented
the memorial plague in Kolhapur, which commemorates the existence
In Kolhapur of the Valivade Polish Refugees’ Camp during 1943 - 1948
and expresses their gratitude to India for the sincere hospitality