Auchtertool Distribution Camp (Fife, Scotland)
Auchtertool Distribution Camp & General Sikorski
The camp at Auchtertool, Fife, was of significant enough interest for General Sikorski (Commander of the Polish Armed Forces) to visit it regularly. Here is a photo of one such visit in 1942. I believe this photo top have been taken on the Auchtertool to Lochgelly Road (close to the 3 very large field gates) on the approach to the field where the Polish camp once used to be. The 2 trees are still there and the hill-line lines up, therefore giving a high degree of confidence of where this photo was taken.
Location Of Auchtertool Camp (Obóz Rozdzielczy W Auchtertool)
Auchtertool, Fife, Scotland is located on the B925 in Fife, Scotland. I live about 5 miles away from Auchtertool and it's interesting to see the varying names this camp is referred to under.
I have come across the following variations of it's name:
- Auchtertool, By Dunfermline (In general Sosabowski's biography)
- Auchtertool, Kirkcaldy (Various accounts)
- A Polish Camp Outside Kirkcaldy
- Auchtertool Polish Camp
- Auchtertool Distribution Camp
- Obóz Rozdzielczy (Polish)
- Obóz Rozdzielczy W Auchtertool (Polish)
- Auchtertool POW camp (Because some believed they were POW's when in fact they were exiles).
The reason I am labouring this point is that when you start to do extensive research you need to understand that this camp was known by many names and knowing these names helps you identify the camp.
I have seen it referred to as being "outside Dunfermline", "outside Kirkcaldy" and quite possibly it could be known as being "outside Cowdenbeath". The truth is it is almost an equal distance from all 3 towns. I guess it depends the route you took to get there as to which town you describe it as being near. To see Auchtertool, Fife, Scotland on the map click here: Auchtertool.
Further, I believe its official function to have been known as a "distribution camp" but I have also seen "reinforcements camp", "camp for soldiers from the USSR", "military staging camp", "re-assignment camp", and "holding camp". Some even mistakenly refer to it as a "POW Camp". I suppose it was known by many names depending on the aspect in which you were speaking about it (but certainly it was never a POW camp). The variety of terms make it even harder to track down information on it.
The camp itself was in mutiple locations. One part was in "the former brewery", the other part(s) in a couple of fields about 1/2 a mile away on the Auchtertool to Lochgelly road.
Living very close to the locale myself, I visited the field where the camp site(s) used to exist. It is the most unlikely place ever for a sizeable army camp to be setup. Situated between two very steep hillocks it would have been a quagmire in a rainfall and to situate so many men in such a close space would have resulted in overcrowding.
One thing that made me smile though was that Auchtertool had a population of around 400. When thousands of Polish troops descended, the 6 public houses that were there must have been well subscribed to!
Auchtertool Camp Roll Call
This is one of the very few photos that shows any sort of background of the camp in Auchtertool, Fife. I believe the buildings in the background (not including the Nissen hut) to be part of Auchtertool Distillery once inside the complex. Do you know of any photos of Auchtertool Polish Camp? If so, please contact me, I would love to feature them here.
What Was The Purpose Of The Auchtertool Camp?
The Auchtertool Distribution Camp was created specifically in 1942 for the reception of the "Polish Army In Exile" who came out of the USSR, through the Middle East and onward to Scotland.
The camp was governed by the "Polish Government In Exile" in London, specifically, General Sikorski.
The camp was not though, somewhere for Polish soldiers to hang out with little purpose until re-assigned. According to the book "Lata Zanikajacej Nadziel" by Zbigniew S Siemaszko he himself was taught to shoot there (p159). In February 2018 I visited the fields where the tents had been with the Landowner, Tom Mitchell. As we walked round he told me he recalled how many years earlier he had found large quantities of spent ballistics in the gorse. This would appear to have been the target practice area.
Other accounts refer to morse code being taught there as well as radio. Zbigniew also mentions on that same page being taught explosives although it is not clear if this was at the Auchtertool camp.
Of course, the subject of this website, the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) were there as well albeit this was before their training in the unit.
When Was The Camp Formed?
At Checkers, on April 26, 1942, Winston Churchill and General Sikorski met. At the meeting, it was agreed that 8000 Polish soldiers from the "Polish Army In Exile" who were currently stationed in the Middle East, would be brought to the UK and would bolster the UK army.
Bear in mind that the British Army had nowhere to accommodate the Polish troops being evacuated from the Middle East, so the Polish Army were left to fend for themselves in many ways. So in the UK, they setup their own temporary camps called "distribution camps" or "re-assignment camps" where troops would stay awaiting new assignments to more permanent posts. The Polish army in the UK had their own infrastructure and in many aspects were self contained, even if the British army did supply them with uniforms and ammunition etc.
In May 1942, in preparation for receiving the Polish soldiers, the commander of the 1st Corps, General Marian Kukiel ordered a distribution camp to be formed. The camp was created at Auchtertool, Fife, Scotland.
How Long Was The Camp There?
We know that the camp was formed in May 1942. Records indicate that on the 30th October 1942 they started to "liquidate" the camp, i.e empty it out by re-assigning the men still there to other places.
On the 20th January 1943 the camp itself was dissolved and ceased to exist. It's tasks were taken over by the Central Command No. 1 (Komenda Uzupełnień Nr 1 OR K.U.Nr1
It's not entirely clear, but it is suspected the camp then moved to Polmont in Falkirk.
So the Polish Distribution Camp at Auchtertool was located there for 6 months at full capacity and a further 3 months at a lesser capacity, in all, the camp was there 9 months.
Who Was At The Camp?
A large proportion of the soldiers who had come from the Middle East to train as parachuters with the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) at Largo House in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland were initially stationed at Auchtertool Distribution Camp.
But many others were there too as you can see from the table below that details all those that passed through.
- 785 - Navy
- 1420 - Airforce
- 3154 - First Armoured Division
- 981 - 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade
- 499 - Misc army units
- 126 - Not accepted into the army
This totals to 6965 Polish military personnel who passed through Auchtertool Distribution Camp.
What is not mentioned in these official figures is that the "Cichociemni" (The Silent Killers, a bit like the UK SAS). There is some scant mention of them being at Auchtertool just prior to being located at Largo House, Fife, Scotland. However, as far as I am aware, the Cichociemni was a concept conceived of by General Sosabowski whilst located in Leven, Fife, Scotland just prior to the announcement about the establishment of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa). Maybe they were at Auchtertool, but at the time they were not known as such, perhaps they were awaiting commencing the first of their training there.
When I was researching Auchtertool Camp I discovered that General Sikorski, for a while, lived in Auchtertool, Fife! You will find mention of this in the Imperial War Museum photos, I still have to go to London to view these but here is the link: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205004024
A last point I wish to add is that some of the locales mentioned to me that their parents referred to Italians and Germans also being at this camp. As yet, I have seen no verification of this, but it is curious that a few people would repeat these same facts.
Units Located WIthin The Camp
It would appear that there were a couple of units stationed within the distribution camp itself. Detail is very poor here and is gleaned from almost "by the way" comments in various soldier biographies.
We believe the following units to have been stationed and actively training within the camp:
- The "Radio Branch" who were conversant with morse code and underground techniques including sabotage of electrical installations.
- The "Communications" unit. No further detail known.
- The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) volunteers
Geo-Location Of Auchtertool Distribution Camp, Fife
This is a 1945 reconnaissance photo of the site where we believe the camp was located. Our belief is based purely on the fact that 1945 was just a couple of years after the camp was vacated and therefore marks would have been left in the ground from the temporary structures (Nissen huts?) and tents that might have been present. Note the close proximity to the former brewery where the Polish soldiers were fed.
This is the same geo-location as the above photo but in 2006. I will be visiting the site soon (Feb 2018) and will update this section then hopefully with better information.
Auchtertool Brewery - Requisitioned In 1942
As An Extension Of The Polish Distribution Camp K.U Nr 1
Auchtertool once had a brewery that did an exceptional Porter, it was established in 1650 (coincidentally around the time Sir Andrew Wood was building the tower at Largo estate in Upper Largo).
It must have been a decent enough brewery originally because the word was: "The village is famed for its extensive brewery, making ales, porter and table beer. The ales are shipped at Kirkcaldy for London" - from A descriptive & historic gazetteer of the counties of Fife, Kinross & Clackmannan by M Barbieri, published 1857. Local poets too wrote verse about it and all over Fife the ales, porters and beers were drunk.
In 1845 the brewery was re-modelled into a distillery (Licensee: James Liddell & Co) with distillation starting in 1851 and continuing until 1868 when the distillery was dormatised. Later that year, Walter Bartholomew restarted production. In 1896 Robertson, Sanderson & Co bought the place and then, in turn, sold it to Distillers Company Ltd in 1923.
In 1927 the whisky distillery was closed for good by Distillers Company Ltd, it's last reported output being 86,000 gallons per year. The building then became a maltings and warehouses, with malt being produced for other distilleries and whisky from other distilleries being matured in their sheds. Both the maltings and the maturing sheds were operated by Distillers Company Ltd until 1973.
So when the Polish soldiers were there it was not a "brewery" as some of their accounts claim but rather a "maltings" with associated warehouses (and to be completely pedantic at that point it was a former distillery and not former brewery!).
Eventually, it was demolished, although the manager's house is still there, right beside the site (across the road).
We know from various accounts that the Polish Government In Exile had requisitioned the former distillery, by this time operating as a maltings, for the purposes of using it as a canteen to feed their troops as accounts mention that food for the soldiers was served there. This would seem likely enough as it was just up the road from the distribution camp that was stationed in a field 10 minutes away.
Also, when you look at the buildings of the old maltings, there were many long sheds, one can only imagine some long makeshift tables being constructed for the troops to sit down in large groups and eat together.
So where was the maltings/brewery/distillery? It's current address is (rather aptly!): The Maltings, Auchtertool, Kirkcaldy KY2, currently the site of 4 bungalows.
Auchtertool Brewery & Distillery Photos
I am one of these people that like to know what things were before the main historical event that took place there occurred. So it is no surprise that I delved a little into the history of Auchtertool Distillery/Brewery itself to try and understand what the place was like when the Polish troops arrived there.
In the photo below we are looking east onto the Brewery. The first 3 buildings are the warehouses with the brewery being located towards the rear. We understand that these buildings are where the Polish troops went for meals. The 2 pagodas that are visible are part of the kiln ventilators.
Further Research Opportunities
Below I have listed some resources you can visit to further your understanding of Auchtertool, Fife, and the locale of the Polish Distribution Camp that was there in 1942.
- This is an interesting bit of footage from, a drone (I think) flying over Auchtertool in 2016. The ground where the Polish Distribution Camp was based in 1942 is clearly visible several times. I will at some future point come back to this link and try and detail where it is in the media. Great bit of footage though: Drone Flight Over Auchtertool, Fife