Thursday, April 16, 2009

Father McCann and Moota YMCA Hostel

Father F.K. McCann of Cleator (above centre)
Father McCann was a chaplain to Moota YMCA Hostel after WW2
(Family album photograph of the writer)
For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) Father McCann and Moota POW Camp

In 1942 a Prisoner of War Camp (POW Camp No 103) was built at Moota between Cockermouth and Aspatria in Cumberland (now Cumbria) in NW England. It was built to accommodate about 1200 POWs, nationals of the Axis countries. Between 1942 and early 1944 the POWs at Moota Camp were mainly Italians. For a little over two years from early 1944 the POWs were mainly German. Most of the POWs were sent to work on farms throughout North and West Cumberland.

For those POWs who wished to attend religious services the clergymen and lay people from some of the local churches attended the camp from time to time. Coming from the Axis countries during WW2 the prisoners - if they did profess a religious belief - would have belonged to one of the Christian denominations. Many of the Italian POWs would have been Roman Catholics and it would seem it was during this phase of the war that Father Francis Kevin McCann O.S.B., Curate of St Mary's R.C. Church, Cleator first became a regular visitor to the Camp to say Mass in the Chapel. Other churches whose clergy attended to the spiritual needs of the POWs were Aspatria Primitive Methodist Church and Cockermouth Congregational Church.

After Moota Camp ceased to be a POW Camp in 1946 it accommodated about 400 Displaced Persons (DPs) - all men - from Eastern Europe who were unable to return to their own countries. It was then known as Moota YMCA Hostel (until about 1950). Although each nationality had its own priest, Father McCann still visited Moota every Sunday to say Mass in the Chapel and go out of his way to talk to the men over a cup of tea. In 1949 two of the DPs died tragically in separate incidents. It was Father McCann who conducted the funeral services of these two men and arranged for them to be interred in the Catholic Churchyard at Cleator.

(2) Father Francis Kevin McCann O.S.B.

Father Francis Kevin McCann O.S.B. was an Irish priest attached to the Benedictine Douai Abbey who arrived at St Mary's Cleator in 1930 to become Assistant Priest under Father F.C. Clayton O.S.B. He was to stay at Cleator for the next 42 years, until his death in 1972. After the death of Father Clayton in 1956, Father McCann was appointed Parish Priest. Father Clayton had arrived at Cleator in 1904 and been appointed Parish Priest in 1911 and served in that role during two World Wars. Father Clayton was also Dean of the Catholic Deanery of West Cumberland for many years, including the WW2 years.

In his turn, Father McCann also became Catholic Dean of West Cumberland after the death of Father Clayton. It is in the role as Dean of West Cumberland that Father McCann is seen in the above photograph. He is assisting Bishop T.B. Pearson, Bishop of Sinda and Auxiliary Bishop of Lancaster to lay the foundation stone of a new church at St Mary's, Kells, Whitehaven on 18 September 1960. This photograph was taken by a neighbour of my family in the 1960s, Mr Elias Fray. Unfortunately I do not have a photograph of Father McCann during the war years.

In the early years of the 21st century there are still many people in and around Cleator and Cleator Moor who remember Father Clayton and Father McCann. Whilst researching a 'Roll of Honour' for Cleator Moor I have been thankful on many occasions for the details recorded by Father Clayton and Father McCann in identifying the war casualties - even when in some cases the Commonwealth War Graves Commission details have been incorrect or missing. At one time or other both of them served on the local and County Council in addition to their religious duties.

Relatives and friends of those who died in the war who have spoken to me about Father Clayton or Father McCann have, without exception, mentioned how highly they were regarded by everyone who knew them. If they knew a person was in need, they would go out of their way to talk to them and at least provide some help an encouragement during difficult times. Whether someone held the same beliefs as Father Clayton or Father McCann or not did not matter. They would help anyone in need and at least be their friend. There was no denial of the Holocaust or what was happening in the war here.

At Moota YMCA Hostel, Father McCann became a 'Good Shepherd' and a good friend. To these men of Eastern Europe who found themselves in a foreign land awaiting resettlement in the UK or elsewhere Father McCann would go out of his way to talk to men, telling them that things would improve. Busy as he undoubtedly was, one thing Father McCann could give the men at the Hostel was a little of his time.

As a consequence of what had happened in WW2 many of the DPs had lost their closest relatives in the Concentration Camps during the war. They did not - or could not - return to what had been their homeland in Eastern Europe. By this time, in the late 1940s the Eastern European countries were under the control of the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the life of the YMCA Hostel at Moota, some of the men were able to get employment and / or find board and lodging in West Cumberland thanks to Father McCann.

It was Father McCann who buried two of the DPs after their tragic deaths in 1949. Father McCann helped their friends at the Hostel to come to terms with their loss. This would seem to have been typical of Father McCann.


The information given below about Teodor Kadylak and Stanislaus Sarapavicius is mainly based upon the Burial Register of St Mary's, Cleator, their obituary notices in 'The Whitehaven News' (possibly sent in by Father McCann) and reports about the Inquest into the deaths, also appearing in 'The Whitehaven News'.


(3) Teodor Kadylak, Polish Ukrainian, died age 21, Friday 15 July 1949

According to the Burial Register entry, Teodor Kadylak was born at Przyluki, Komanova, Sanok, Ukraine on 14 October 1927. The local newspaper describes Teodor's nationality as 'Polish Ukrainian'. At the time of his death - on 15 July 1949- he was but 21 years old. The exact date of his arrival in Britain is not recorded, but it was probably some time in 1947. According to evidence given at the Coroner's Inquest, Teodor had been evacuated to the UK from near Munster, Germany.

As a young man, it is likely he had been deported from his homeland to work at a labour camp in Germany during the war. The newspaper article also mentions he was survived by his brother, Wazyl Kadylak presumably also then living at Moota YMCA Hostel.

Teodor Kadylak was waiting to go to Canada and apparently had saved some money from his wages to start off a new life in a new country. According to 'The Whitehaven News' report on Thursday 14 July 1949 Teodor Kadylak travelled from the hostel to Carlisle about 20 miles to the north. Somewhere between Moota and Carlisle Teodor's wallet and a Post Office Savings Book were stolen. This was the catalyst that set in motion the events that led to a tragic loss of life.

Teodor reported the theft of all his money to the police at Carlisle. It was the police who helped the now-destitute Teodor Kadylak to get back to Moota Hostel. The following morning, Friday 15 July 1949, Teodor was found to be missing. At dusk on the same day, people standing on the pier at the Cumbrian coastal village of Harrington, between Workington and Whitehaven, saw a fully-clothed man walk into the sea and disappear. When the tide receded, the body of a man was found at the same place. The body was subsequently identified as Teodor Kadylak.

After having had all the money he had saved up for a new start in Canada stolen, according to the local newspaper report, Teodor Kadylak was "... accidentally drowned in an ill-conceived attempt to board a ship". It would seem he was trying to swim out to a ship and stow away. As a 'Ukrainian Pole of the Greek Rite' (Orthodox) he would be eligible for burial according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore the Requiem Mass and Ablutions for Teodor Kadylak were conducted by Father McCann at the Moota Hostel Chapel, attended by his brother and many friends. Afterwards, the cortege made its way to St Mary's, Cleator. According to 'The Whitehaven News' report about the funeral, over 40 of Teodor's Polish friends sang the Polish anthem at the graveside. His obituary entry in the newspaper ends with the following prayer:

"Mary, Star of the Sea, Queen of Poland, bring him quickly to eternal rest".

(4) Stanislaus Sarapavicius, Lithuanian, died age 26, Wednesday 28 December 1949

According to the Burial Register entry of St Mary's, Cleator Stanislaus Sarapavicius was born on 23 February 1923. Therefore, at the time of his death on 28 December 1949 Stanislaus Sarapavicius was 26 years old. His birthplace is recorded as Likoniu Kaimas, Paneverzie APSKR, Subacius Pastas, Lithuania (hopefully transcribed correctly). According to evidence given at the inquest into his death, Stanislaus had arrived in the UK and lived at Moota Hostel when it first opened for the European Volunteer Agricultural Workers a little over two years earlier. He used to wear rosary beads around his neck.

Another Lithuanian Agricultural Worker residing at Moota Hostel, Kazis Bachanskas, stated he had known Stanislaus for about two years. Stanislaus had been making plans for his future by moving away from the area (possibly to Canada) and wanted to go away with a local girl he had been seeing on a regular basis for about a year. Kazis said that Stanislaus "... was crazy about his girl". On Christmas Day at the Hostel Stanislaus had asked the girl he had been seeing if she would go away with him. She told him she could not do so. His lady friend, who lived at nearby Workington, also gave evidence at the inquest.

This had evidently deeply upset Stanislaus, whose "... plans for life were now destroyed". As he had complained of a bad head and pains in the back Stanislaus was given aspirin and a bottle of embrocation by Mr John G. Wright one of the wardens at the Hostel. Stanislaus had also taken to drinking, and on the Monday before his death (26 December), according to the lady he had been seeing, he threw a bottle at one of her friends. Kazis Bachanskas had been worried about his friend and on the Monday had taken away a piece of rope Stanislaus was carrying in his shirt. Stanislaus had also told his lady friend after their meeting on the Monday that he "... might be dead by Tuesday" and "You will not see me any more".

On the Tuesday evening Stanislaus did not sleep in his hut at the Hostel. Early next morning his friends went to search for him and found him hanging in one of the disused rooms in the hospital at the Hostel. He was found to be dead. The West Cumberland Coroner, Mr E.B. Mendus, returned a verdict of "Suicide while of unsound mind". There is no other way to describe this episode than as a terrible tragedy.

Father McCann of St Mary's R.C. Church, Cleator said the Requiem Mass and Ablutions for the repose of the soul of Satanislaus Sarapavicius at the Moota Chapel, assisted by a Lithuanian priest, Father Stapinaites. Father Stapinaites also preached a sermon to about 50 Lithuanians who attended the funeral. Afterwards, the cortege made the journey to the Churchyard at St Mary's, Cleator where the interment took place. According to the report of the funeral in 'The Whitehaven News', the Lithuanians sang hymns in their own language at the graveside and also the Lithuanian anthem. His obituary entry in the newspaper ends with the following prayer:

"O Mary, Our Hope in Desolation, intercede for his precious soul!"

(5) Writer's comments

Within about a year Moota ceased to be a Hostel for Displaced Persons. During the 1950s and 1960s the site was developed as a turkey farm, garage and a top quality motel. Most of the wartime buildings were demolished. In 2004 the motel ceased trading and became derelict. However, there is a garden centre on part of the site of the POW Camp.

As referred to above, Father McCann passed away early in 1972. I only met him on one occasion as a child, in late 1969, and I remember him as being a very friendly person. He seems to have been well liked and respected by everyone he met.

At one time there were apparently wooden crosses in St Mary's Churchyard marking the final resting places of Teodor Kadylak and Stanislaus Sarapavicius. In April 2009 while researching a 'Roll of Honour' for the Cleator and Cleator Moor area I looked for their graves but without success. These two men who died in 1949, some years after the official end of the Second World War in 1945. But they arrived at Cleator, the village where they found their final resting place, because of the consequences of war. Their names and their stories should be recorded and remembered with honour. May they rest in peace.


St Mary's R.C. Church Burial Register,
'The Whitehaven News'
Cumbria County Archives
Present and former parishioners of St Mary's, Cleator

Further reading about Moota:

Edwards, Gloria (2005), Moota - Camp 103: The Story of a Cumbrian Prisoner of War Camp, Kirkgate Museum Group, Cockermouth (ISBN 0-9551845-0-90)
(Includes a photograph of Father McCann and one of the burials recounted above)

Thursday, 16 April, 2009  

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