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BBC documentary Borrowed Pasture 1960

Polish version: Film BBC Pożyczone Pastwisko z 1960

Borrowed Pasture 1960 BBC documentary directed by John Ormond, narrated by Richard Burton
Borrowed Pasture 1960 BBC documentary directed by John Ormond, narrated by Richard Burton

The men in the BBC documentary Borrowed Pasture, Eugeniusz Okołowicz, photographer, and Włodzimierz Bułaj, electrician, were in the Polish Army during September 1939 campaign of WWII, then crossed into Lithuania where they were interned, to avoid capture by either Germans or Russians. Soviets occupied Lithuania in Spring 1940 and transferred the interned Poles to Russian camps. My wife’s grandfather Aleksander Głuchowski was also among them.

Włodzimierz Bułaj, electrician, former Polish Army WWII soldier, at the Penygaer Farm in Carmarthenshire, Wales, in 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture
Włodzimierz Bułaj, electrician, former Polish Army WWII soldier, at the Penygaer Farm in Carmarthenshire, Wales, in 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture
Eugeniusz Okołowicz, photographer, former Polish Army WWII soldier, at the Penygaer Farm in Carmarthenshire, Wales, in 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture
Eugeniusz Okołowicz, photographer, former Polish Army WWII soldier, at the Penygaer Farm in Carmarthenshire, Wales, in 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture

The camps, where Włodzimierz/Wlodek Bułaj was held, marked with yellow pins on the enclosed map:

Lithuania, Wiłkomierz
Russia:
Yukhnov, Kaluga Oblast, from 15 July 1940
Ponoy in the Kola Peninsula, Murmansk Oblast, from 6 June 1941
Yuzha, Ivanovo Oblast

Camps, where Eugeniusz Okołowicz was held are marked by blue pins:

Lithuania, Mejszagoła
Russia:
Kozielsk/Kozelsk, from 13 July 1940
Gryazovets, Vologda Oblast, from 2 July 1941 to 3 September 1941

Orange pin is the location of Tatishchevo, Saratov Oblast, where both men arrived in September 1941. This was one of the meeting points for Polish soldiers and their dependants after they were released from the Soviet camps, following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Locations associated with Włodzimierz Bułaj and Eugeniusz Okołowicz, Soviet camps 1940-1941
Locations associated with Włodzimierz Bułaj and Eugeniusz Okołowicz. Green pin – the Penygaer Farm in Wales, yellow pins – camps, where Włodzimierz Bułaj was held in 1939-1941, blue pins – camps, where Eugeniusz Okołowicz was held in 1939-1941, orange pin – Tatishchevo, one of meeting points for Polish soldiers released from captivity by Russians following the German attack in 1941.

Note the location of the Ponoy camp at the tip of the Kola Peninsula. It is a barren tundra in an uninhabited land, very far from any human settlements. Soviets referred to it as the ‘Ponoy point’. Number of prisoners at this location was about 4 thousand. Many of them would be dead during the following months, had they been kept there longer. NKVD documents state the POWs were to be used for the construction of an airfield. It is obvious, however, that the death toll would be enormous. That was probably the aim: to kill by exhaustion and hunger.

My wife’s grandfather was in the same camps of Kozielsk/Kozelsk and Gryazovets as Okołowicz. Thousands of earlier Polish POWs from the Kozielsk camp were murdered by the Russians at the Katyn site near Smolensk in April and May 1940. Returning to Poland under Communist/Soviet control after the war was therefore very risky. Many of the Poles interned in Lithuania and later in the Soviet camps lived in eastern Poland, which was occupied by the Soviet Union after the war. This was the case of Głuchowski and could be the case of Bułaj and Okołowicz as well.

Aleksander Głuchowski arrived in Poland in 1947 to reunite with his son he last saw in 1939, his wife having died of hunger, exhaustion and disease in 1945. He was arrested by the Communist secret police and imprisoned. He died in 1952 at the age of 45.

The 22 December 1959 edition of Western Mail (Glamorgan County) noted that cameraman William Greenhaigh served at the mass celebrated at the farm:

Wearing gumboots, he recently served at a Roman Catholic Mass for two elderly Poles on a remote farm in Carmarthenshire.

The BBC Welsh television unit, of which he is a member, was on location, shooting scenes for “Borrowed Pastures” – featuring Polish farmers who have left their native land to settle in Wales.

Coventry Evening Telegraph, 15 June 1960, in the article Tribute to Courage of Polish Farmers:

A happy ending has been provided to one of the most fascinating human interest stories in recent years, which began when about 100 Welsh farms passed into the possession of Polish Ex-Servicemen at the end of the war.

 

Two such people were Eugeniusz Okolowicz and Wlodek Bulaj, who borrowed enough money to buy infertile acres and ruined buildings of Penygaer Farm, Trawsmawr, Carmarthen, which had stood abandoned for 20 years.

 

Neither knew much about farming, but they managed to clear a mountain stream to an old mill and harness a generator. Living on a few groceries and two tins of meat a week, they built up a small herd of cattle and found market for the milk. Also, they found an old tractor, which they bought for £4 10s.

 

Today, they still work 18 hours a day; their only contact with the rest of the world being a weekly rendezvous with a travelling grocer, and a six-monthly visit of a Polish priest.

[…]
The courageous battle of these two men was spotlighted last month in the film, “Borrowed Pasture”, shown on BBC TV, and the Hawker Siddeley Group offered the two farmers one of its new aero-dynamically designed Gloster forage harvesters, worth some £300. An offer which was speedily accepted.

 

The presentation of the Harvester – built by the same experts who designed Gloster Javelin and Gloster Meteor jet fighters – was made at Penygaer Farm yesterday by a Gloster board member, Mr. W. W. W. Downing.

Coventry Evening Telegraph, 15 June 1960, article Tribute to Courage of Polish Farmers
From the Coventry Evening Telegraph, 15 June 1960, article Tribute to Courage of Polish Farmers

On Friday, January 6 1961, The South Wales Gazette, Monmouthshire, noted

The BBC Film Unit’s presentation of “Borrowed Pasture” which can be seen on Wednesday, attracted a great deal of attention when it was shown in May last year […]

 

The film, written and produced by John Ormond, tells the story of two former soldiers in the Polish Army, who settled in a bleak decaying farm on a Carmarthenshire hill-side. […]

 

The film’s most moving passage deals with loneliness of Wlodek Bulaj, one of the farmers. Bulaj has not seen his wife for 22 years.

John set about the task of helping Bulaj to get Polish and British visas for Mrs Bulaj to come to Wales.

 

Viewers who had seen the film sent money to help. After months of delay, Mrs Bulaj is now at the farm, having been reunited with her husband in Ormond’s own home. Now she can stay in Britain indefinitely.

The article mentions ‘Polish and British visas for Mrs Bulaj’. This may indicate that the family lived in eastern Poland, occupied by the Soviet Union after WWII.

Here is the scene from the film, in which Włodek is looking at his family pictures. The little daughter he last saw in 1939 has just got married.

BBC 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture, Włodzimierz Bułaj is looking at pictures of family last seen twenty years earlier
BBC 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture, Włodzimierz Bułaj is looking at pictures of family last seen twenty years earlier
BBC 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture, Włodzimierz Bułaj is looking at his daughter's wedding picture
BBC 1960 documentary Borrowed Pasture, Włodzimierz Bułaj is looking at his daughter’s wedding picture

However, in 1963, a little over two years after the reunion with his wife, Włodzimierz Bułaj died. What happened to his wife, Mr. Okołowicz, and the farm?

The personal dimension of the story is closely linked with the Communist policy of elimination and separation of anyone not willing to serve the totalitarian system. I mentioned my wife’s grandfather, who was prevented from reuniting with his son, my father in law, and imprisoned upon arrival in Poland in 1947.

Farms of my grandparents on both sides in eastern Poland were seized by Soviet authorities after WWII. Nearly entire family on my mother’s side were sent to concentration camps in different parts of the Soviet Union. Some were tortured. My parents met in the camps. Later on, in the 1980s, Soviet authorities refused permission for my visit to the family still remaining in the Soviet-occupied territory. In 2015, after many years of harassment, my wife and I were expelled from our workplaces at the State School of Music in Zielona Góra and University in Poznań, respectively. Despite official proclamations, the Communist policies continue. I am now in London in the UK, where I came in 2016, while my wife remains in Poland. The story of Bułaj, Okołowicz, Głuchowski, and others like them is not over. It continues.

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