Frank Papuga was one of dozens of men from Eastern Europe who ended up working at Water Haigh colliery after the Second World War. He arrived in Woodlesford in 1951 and spent several years on the pit top before going underground to work on the “haulage” moving coal from the faces to the pit bottom. He was due to be trained as a face worker but was badly injured when a coal tub broke lose and crushed his leg. After a spell of seven weeks in hospital he spent the rest of his time at the pit as part of the team which supplied materials to the faces underground.
Franiszek Papuga was born in 1927 in the village of Borowna about 30 miles from Krakow in southern Poland. His father, also called Franiszek, owned a small farm and Frank remembers growing up there with his three younger brothers looked after by their mother Marcela. At the start of the war his father sold the farm and worked as a labourer but in about 1942, as the eldest son, Frank was forced by the Germans to leave his family and move to Germany where he witnessed the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After working as a farm labourer near the French border he was eventually liberated by American soliders and employed by them as a civil guard at a base near the city of Mannheim.
As one of the millions of displaced people on the Continent after the war Frank was given the opportunity of emigrating and he could have gone to the United States, Canada or Australia. Instead he came to England as a European Voluntary Worker, or EVW, part of scheme to alleviate the acute labour shortage in key industries like mining, textiles, farming and transport. Over a three year period from 1946 to 1949 a total of 91,000 EVWs settled in the United Kingdom.
After travelling by boat from Rotterdam to Harwich one of the camps Frank stayed at was on the site of a disused RAF airfield at Market Harborough in Leicestershire. There he was given English lessons. Later he moved to Full Sutton near York before going to Doncaster where he followed his friends John Mis and Edmund Kezik into the mining industry.
When he arrived at Water Haigh Frank Papuga stayed with other single miners at the home of Martha Rogers at 30 Eshald Lane just a stone’s throw away from the colliery. Martha’s husband, Ernest, who had been a weigh clerk at the pit, had died in 1948 and as was common at the time she took in lodgers to eke out her small pension. Martha and Ernest had married at Whitwood in 1907 and lived at Good Hope Row in Normanton before they moved to Woodlesford.
In 1954, with his application sworn by Albert Roberts M.P. acting in his capacity as a Justice of the Peace, Frank became a naturalised British citizen. Two years later he married Blodwen Rees from Holmsley Field Lane after meeting her at the Miners’ Welfare in Oulton. Her father, David Rees, was a face worker at Water Haigh who had come to Yorkshire from near Ebw Vale in South Wales during the First World War. Her grandfather, Albert Tolley, who lived at Bernard Street in Woodlesford, was also a migrant from Worcestershire and Staffordshire.
By his own admission Frank Papuga was a reluctant miner. After about 18 years at Water Haigh he left the pit in 1969 and went to work as a machine operator for the Glenoit company which made synthetic fur in small factory near the canal in Woodlesford. From there he moved to another textile mill in Dewsbury.
After the war Frank was able to keep in touch with his mother in Poland by letter but it wasn’t until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that he was able to visit his homeland. By then the family farm had disappeared, his father and mother had died, and he had lost touch with his brothers, although he did learn from an aunt that, like him, one of them had become a miner.
Click on the link below to listen to Frank Papuga talk about his life.