Beside the dead-end road to Restronguet Barton near Mylor, tucked away under trees and painted bright white, there is a stone cross. This small monument was erected here in 1948 by a group of Ukrainians who had been living and working in the area in the post-war era. This cross was as much a symbol of their gratitude for their escape from persecution and the safe refuge they had found in Cornwall as it was of their strong Christian faith. But these days its significance has mostly been forgotten and it is far away from any passing traffic.
At the end of World War II, after the collapse of Nazi Germany, there were an estimated 11 million displaced people in Europe, communities that were unable or unwilling to return to their homes. Amazingly it is thought that around 200,000 of those lost souls were resettled in Britain and many of them here in Cornwall.
After the terrible losses of both World War I & II the UK found itself with a severe labour shortage in the late 1940s, the European Voluntary Workers scheme (EVWs) invited people from all over Europe to come to Britain and provide a much needed boost to our workforce.
“Of several schemes established for the recruitment of EVWs, the largest, in terms of numbers of workers, was the Westward Ho! scheme approved in 1946. It involved the recruitment of men and women of predominantly Eastern European origin, including Ukrainians, from displaced persons camps in, mainly, Germany and Austria. Recruitment began in the spring of 1947, and Ukrainians were among the first nationalities from which recruits were sought.”Ukrainians in the United Kingdom, online encyclopedia, 2012
Finding a Home
The refugees who came to Mylor were just some of the hundreds of Ukrainian men, women and children who found themselves in Cornwall after fleeing violent persecution by the communist regime, which had been installed in their home country by the Soviet Army. The Second World War had brought about a strong independence movement in the Ukraine and as a consequence many of these nationalists had been rounded up, imprisoned and even executed.
Close to where the cross stands today was the site of a former prisoner of war camp and in around 1947/48 the Ukrainian families moved into the empty buildings and stayed there for around twelve months.
“Almost all of the 21,000 Ukrainian EVWs and their 860 dependants who were brought to the UK in 1947-1950 from continental Europe were accommodated in hundreds of hostels throughout the country. These were of various types, including former military and POW camps, wartime industrial and agricultural hostels and new hostels converted or built after the war.”UKRAINIANS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIA, 2012
The men found work on the local farms, in the mines and as gardeners, taking the place of the Cornish men that had never come home, and the women looked after the children and some took in sewing work. As a devout Orthodox Christian community they built themselves a make-shift chapel on the site and local Catholic priests would visit to hold services for them. As time went on the refugee families gradually moved out of the camp, finding more permanent accomodation in the surrounding villages.
From people’s recollections of that time, despite some initial language barriers, the families integrated very well, soon becoming part of Mylor’s community. Their children and the children from the village all played together and in fact, many remained in Mylor for the rest of their lives, marrying local men and women.
At a service of rededication held at the cross in 2008 the Falmouth Packet reported that amongst the crowd that attended were many of the grandchildren of those original Ukrainian families who found safety and welcome in Cornwall more than seventy years before.
In these difficult, divisive and often divided times I think it is important to remember periods of history such as this one. We needed them and they needed us. And to also remember that Cornish people have found work and homes and joined communities all across the globe and that in turn we have welcomed strangers in need here. And the Ukrainian Cross stands as that reminder.
I would also love to hear from anyone who remembers these families in Mylor, or anywhere else in Cornwall, and perhaps discover whether any of their descendants still live in the area today.