New heritage group aims to record the contribution of Poles to Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 July 2016

Adrian O'Dell is forming The Norfolk Polish Heritage Group. Picture: Ian Burt

Adrian O'Dell is forming The Norfolk Polish Heritage Group. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2016

A new group aims to explore and record the stories of how Poles have contributed to life in Norfolk since the Second World War, and earlier.

Stefan Zolkowski-O’dell

When Stefan Źółkowski, a captain in the Polish Air Force, bade farewell to his father at a tram stop in Pulawska Street, Warsaw on September 5, 1939, as the Germans invaded, it was the last time he would see him. His journey took him through Palestine, southern France, north Africa, Scotland onto a re-distribution centre in Blackpool, where he met his wife-to-be at the Tower Ballroom.

They were relocated to East Anglia, where he joined the RAF as a flight lieutenant stationed near Haverhill, and then with 307 Squadron at Coltishall and Horsham St Faith. In 1946, he and his wife moved to Ber Street, Norwich, where he opened a shop called Stefan selling glass, china and leather goods. Their business developed with shops in Castle Street and St Stephens in Norwich, two in Great Yarmouth and one in Ipswich, and later developed an antiques repair business on Elm Hill.

He took British citizenship in 1948, and the couple changed their name to O’dell. His son, Adrian, said: “The family was always told that they had chosen ‘O’dell’ from a telephone directory, as there was no other relations with that name.”

They were founding members of Norwich International Club and the Anglo-Polish Club, and had a strong affinity with St John the Baptist Cathedral, where they were instrumental in establishing a memorial to the Polish men and women who died during the war.

He died in 2003, aged 94.

Adrian said: “Like many other Poles who came to Britain after World War II he made a significant contribution to the business and social life of this city and county and was always appreciative of the welcome and acceptance he had been given; a characteristic and tradition found among Norfolk people for centuries.”

The Norfolk Polish Heritage Group is working with the Norfolk Record Office to research and gather oral histories or memorabilia that will help to create an archive of Polish influence in the county.

One of the group’s members, Adrian O’dell, said: “Most of the Poles who came during the war or just after the war are now on their last legs, if there are many left. That generation has almost gone, so I think it is up to the subsequent generations to keep the Polish flame alive.”

Mr O’dell’s father, Stefan Zolkowski-O’dell, came to the UK following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, joined the RAF, and later became a successful businessmen in the county.

As well as creating an archive, the group hopes to hold regular meetings, exhibitions and gatherings, and wants to establish Polish conversation classes aimed at English speakers trying to learn Polish, or Poles who would like to improve their English skills.

Stefan Zolkowski, 1940Stefan Zolkowski, 1940

Mr O’dell said the idea of starting the group came before last month’s referendum vote to leave the EU, and was not connected to Brexit.

He said: “The initial idea was to tap into the people who came just after the war, or during the war, but we want to make it broad.”

He hoped that more recent arrivals from Poland, who have settled or planned to settle here, would contribute.

The Norfolk Polish Heritage Group would like to hear from anyone living in Norfolk and Norwich who has family connections with Poland or an affinity with the country.

Stefan Zolkowski-O'dell at 93rd Bomb Group Museum, August 1999Stefan Zolkowski-O'dell at 93rd Bomb Group Museum, August 1999

Contact Adrian O’dell on or 01362 637033 for further details.

What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to EDP Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email giving your full name, address and contact details.

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