Victim of German invasion lived in town for 60 years
By Kent and Sussex Courier | Friday, November 16, 2012, 08:00
A FORMER Ukrainian refugee who lived happily in Tunbridge Wells for more than 60 years has died at the age of 87.
SPOKE HER MIND: Pelagia Stone, a former Ukrainian refugee
Pelagia Stone, who lived in Brokes Way, High Brooms, was only 16 when she left her homeland for ever. Looking back on her experiences in the Courier in 2006, she described the moment, in June 1942, when the invading German army insisted that one member of each family must go to work in Germany.
She said: "I was the middle one of three sisters, but I decided I would go."
It was a decision which would save her life.
She recalled: "We all had to go the station, where we were packed like herrings into a train, so many women, with German soldiers guarding us. I remember my father brought me a blue-and-white enamel pot of soup."
It was the last time she would see him. He died the next year and, years later, she discovered that her mother and sisters had been murdered, along with almost everyone in her family.
"But somehow my mother was able to put down roots wherever she was," said her son, Tadeusz.
"When she finally arrived in Germany after travelling squashed in a cattle truck for two days, she was collected from the station by the son of the family she would be working for, who would become like a brother. She was given hot water to wash, sausage to eat and a lovely big bedroom – she thought she was in heaven. She looked back on that time as the happiest in her life, and she was so pleased when we managed to make contact with the Aulenbacher family again a few years ago."
Uprooted again at the end of the war, Mrs Stone found herself in a displaced persons camp in Germany, after which she came to England. Work followed at Mabledon Park Hospital in Southborough, then used for the rehabilitation of Polish soldiers,, and it was there that she met her future husband, local gardener Thomas Stone, who was working there as a waiter.
"My mother had a wealth of stories, and I'm so glad that I recorded many of her memories before she died," said her son. "One was about a blanket left by American soldiers at the German camp. She found silver coins sewn into the hem, and whenever there was a wedding, she would give one of the coins to a silversmith to be made into a ring."
After their marriage in 1950, the couple lived in Southborough before moving to a prefab in Stewart Road, High Brooms, where they grew flowers and vegetables. Mr Stone died in 1966.
"My mother grew up on a farm near Lvov and she worked hard all her life," said Mr Stone, a former pupil at Tunbridge Wells Boys' Grammar School. "She had lots of different jobs, from cleaning to auxiliary nursing, she would do whatever fitted in with the family. But she would always speak her mind, and people respected her for that and often sought her advice. She was happy in England, she made it her home and had a lot of good friends."
For as Mrs Stone herself pointed out: "If you've been knocking around the world, you know bad and good – you have slept on straw mattresses and feather beds – and you balance the two together."
She added: "England is a beautiful country. People here don't know how well off they are."
Pelagia Stone's funeral is at St Peter's Church, Southborough on Wednesday, November 21, at 1.30pm.