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.
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11 thoughts on “The Ukrainian Cross, Mylor Bridge”
A lovely article Elizabeth. Many thanks for posting. I found it very moving.
My father spent about a year in the UK as a miner via the EVW program. He lived in a hostel in Trent on Stoke. I believe he planned to settle in the UK, and bring my mother and 2 brothers from the Displaced Persons camp in Germany. For some reason, my dad decided to go back to Germany, with plans to emigrate to Australia. However, my parents emigrated to America.
My wife and i came across this touching monument by chance while walking past, perhaps 25 years ago, on our summer holidays. Over the years we have remembered the Ukrainian cross at Mylor but never got round to finding out more about it. We were of course aware that many Eastern Europeans found sanctuary and settled in our country during and after WW2, but we knew nothing of the story behind the monument. The tragic news of war in Ukraine this week finally drove me to find out more and many thanks to Elizabeth Dale for researching and posting this story. Our hearts go out to all Ukrainian people suffering in Putin’s invasion. The monument’s story is a reminder to us all of how lucky we are to live in a free country. We must surely do all we can to help the Ukrainian people again. Richard Greenfield
Thank you for lovely photo which I am about to put on my facebook page as my own photos not as good. I live just round the corner from this. Will pay you tribute. Caroline
Generally really good but quite a few inaccuracies. The site was an antiaircraft base during the war with 200-300 British troops stationed there. The commander lived in Mylor for many years until his death.
Post war when the displaced people came from Eastern Europe, bases like this were used to house them all over Britain. From camps like Restronguet to former air bases. Many of those in them had fought the communists with the German army and faced certain death under the Communists.
I met the wife of the man who commanded the refugee base post war. He was an RAF officer and she was the only woman on the base. She had two big Alsatian dogs that she kept with her all the time for protection. She said that there were nationalities from all over Eastern Europe.
A Ukrainian that I met in 1991 at independence, called Basil told me that many stayed in Cornwall, some went back to Europe in the hope of returning home and many accepted the offer to go to the likes of Canada and Australia.
I am Matt Dale, I farm the land here at Restronguet.
Hi lovely, lovely to hear from you! You and I are actually 2nd cousins I think! Your grandfather and mine, Wildred, were brothers. Anyway thank you for the correction about it being a anti-aircraft base, rather than a pow camp I am guessing? I was wondering what else I have got wrong as you wrote “quite a few inaccuracies” and I would love to get the story straight!
I was at school with 2 children whose Ukrainian grandparents settled in Mylor and I know the family well. I was always shown this cross as being their families thank you to the people of Mylor for harbouring them.
I come from Mylor and remember the “displaced persons camp”. I also remember concerts given by members of the camp in the Village Hall. My father was a prisoner of war and my mother and I lived with my aunt in Falmouth until my father returned after the war. I now live in Hampshire.
I have been in contact with Matthew Dale to see if somebody could give a talk at the Treverva Male Voice Choir charity concert for Ukrainian Refugees. We are interested in giving the concert a Ukrainian theme and thought the connections to the War Memorial appropriate, as our choir is based in Mylor Bridge.
Matthew suggested you might be willing to do this talk and he would be pleased to help in imparting any of the oral history he has acquired over the years. The broader history of Ukrainian refugees from the 1930’s if illustrated could be of great interest.
We are thinking about the evening of the14th May at the moment.
Hello, I’m a granddaughter to one of the refugees who lived in the camp. His name was Dimitri (James was his Cornish name 😉 Szewczuk. He came to the UK with his wife and child, my dad. Trained as vet in the Ukraine, he found work on the local farms. He worked on the other Dale farm near Carclew, which is where he settled. I grew up in Mylor, along with my sister, but we’ve all moved away now apart from my two uncles who still live locally. He wrote the inscription. He made sure my sister and I knew the story and explained that his English was good, he penned the words to go on the cross. In our family we call it grandads cross. He’d be delighted at how the cross has become a focal point today.