IN the years immediately after the end of the Second World War, the British Government under Clement Attlee faced immense problems.

The country was on its knees. Its cities were bombed out, creating a major housing shortage and, with the hospitals overwhelmed by wounded soldiers, there was a great shortage of labour.

The nation was deeply in debt and reliant on imports – the only way to revive the crippled economy was to increase exports, and yet there were not enough people to work in the factories or on the land.

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Plus, as victors, the Allied governments had acquired the problem of what to do with hundreds of thousands of Displaced Persons – DPs, or homeless people who had been driven out of their countries by various invasions – who were living in camps.

This book deals with the 25,000 DPs from the Baltic states – 13,000 Latvians, 6,000 Lithuanians and 5,000 Estonians – who had been displaced by invasions by Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany and came over to Britain on European Volunteer Worker Schemes.

They arrived at docks like Hull and were then sent to live in former Prisoner of War camps so that they could work in hospitals or in industries like textiles, agriculture and mining.

It is a fascinating story, told by a Sheffield University academic, of how they fitted in to a foreign country and how, although they thought their volunteering was only temporary, many of them stayed permanently.

Some did experience hostility, but others found love and married English people, and now their children and grandchildren are numbered among our national British icons: singer Olly Murs, Bake Off star Mel Giedroyc, colourful politician Lembit Opik and racing driver Guy Martin to name but four. To be parochial, there is not much about lives of these Displaced Persons in the North-East – but that is because so little has been recorded.

However, there is a handful of tantalising and wonderful Box Brownie photographs that show that Latvian land-workers in particular were sent to the Harperley PoW Camp, near Crook, and from there to its satellites at Windlestone Hall, near Rushyford, and Hamsterley Hall, near Rowlands Gill. There were several other satellites from Harperley – in Bishop Auckland and Consett, for example, and at Hulam Grange, near Staindrop – so the DPs may have been located there, and their unusual tongues would undoubtedly have been heard as they worked on the farmland of County Durham.

It would be fascinating to know if there any descendants of DPs from the Baltics still in this neck of the woods?

The Northern Echo:

Rebuilding Post-War Britain: Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Refugees in Britain, 1946-1951, by Emily Gilbert (Pen and Sword, £14.99)