When we welcomed hundreds of Hungarian refugees to Blackpool and Lancashire
In the 1950s, hundreds of Hungarian refugees settled in Blackpool, as well as other areas across the UK.
Now, a party including the Honorary Consul of the Hungarian Consulate in Manchester, the Hungarian Ambassador to the UK and the deputy mayor of Budapest are to visit the resort for a special event – including the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to stand as a thank you to the resort for its hospitality.
The event will be filmed and made into a documentary, for Charterhouse Pictures. The documentary will also bring Hungarians who fled to Blackpool in 1956/7 but have since left the resort, back to the town to film their personal stories and recollections.
Richard Pekar, chairman of The Hungarian Community Association of Staffordshire and author of The Last Train to Budapest, is overseeing the event. Here, he tells the story of how the Hungarians, including his father, came to Blackpool.
“Hungary had been occupied by communist Russia since the close of the Second World War. To the world, they had arrived as liberators, but in reality, they were to stay on as masters. Moscow dispatched to Hungary its specialists, trained communists, to manipulate and instil its communist laws and beliefs.
“It was a process that brought pain, suffering, misery and poverty to the people. As time went on, the grip from the Kremlin tightened. Freedom was an unknown quality of life as the Kremlin spun a giant web around all corners and across the main body of Hungary. When its victims moved, the web vibrated and what would follow, was a ruthless ‘justice’ that punished the innocent – destroying human sensibility and self-esteem. This was a national solitary confinement. Hungarians were alone.
“In Budapest, October 23 1956 was a time like no other. During a peaceful demonstration, the ordinary people of Hungary protested against the Russian occupation and demanded their freedom be restored after so many years of oppression. The unarmed demonstrators were machine gunned down – leaving the streets a bloodbath.
“What followed was a retaliation that will go down in history as ‘The Hungarian Revolution’. The ordinary people – men, women, children – took up arms, formed armies, and fought until November 11 against an invincible opponent. Many of them to their deaths.
“Previously, they held on to their desires to be free and when the Russians attacked, it was a dashing of all their hopes and dreams. When the revolution was crushed, those that had took part risked at best imprisonment at worst, their lives.
“The heartbreaking decision for many tens of thousands to escape the country was taken. Once again, risking their lives to be free. Eventually the borders were closed and heavily guarded with Russian troops and landmines.
“My dad was a freedom fighter, although his participation was not in Budapest. The capital was the nucleus, but battles took place in all corners of Hungary. My dad lived in village called Mogyoroska in the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county. His longing to be free had become an obsession.
“My book, ‘The Last Train to Budapest’ depicts his years leading up to 1956.
“His recollection of Blackpool was a feeling of joy and unbelievable emotions. He said one moment he was surrounded by the most friendly people in the world, the glitz and the glamour was overwhelming and filled him with so much accomplishment and excitement.
“And then next, he sank into a sombre mood – realising they had left their families, homes, friends but above all, how it was now obvious they had been lied to for so many years about the west.
“He recalled going to see a movie in Blackpool, starring Norman Wisdom and although he couldn’t speak English at the time, he laughed the whole way through it. Something he hadn’t done for years and this always made him recall Blackpool with affection.
“In March 1957, my dad arrived in Blackpool and immediately bought a Blackpool holiday postcard and posted it to his parents in Hungary to let them know he was alive and his whereabouts – we still own that postcard today.
“A Hungarian friend called Andras Horvath recalls staying at a guesthouse on Mabel Avenue. The owner was Mrs Morrison. As we are coming to Blackpool to film his story, he is hoping
her family may be still living in Blackpool. She had two daughters named Eileen and Jeanette.
“The Mayor of Blackpool at that time welcomed the hundreds of Hungarians that flooded the resort and were put in different guesthouses around the town. The towns-folk were tremendously welcoming and ensured their first taste of freedom was one to be remembered.
“Guesthouses on Lytham Road, Mabel Court, Alexander Road, Woodside Avenue and many more were to be their homes for months while they learned to speak English at a school set up at the Winter Gardens.
“They learned for the first time about rock’n’roll and as most were teenagers or young men in their 20s, their first experience of Elvis Presley songs were in Blackpool. They regularly went out on a Friday night, dressed in Teddy Boy gear along the North Pier.
“My dad recalled some other local teenagers at the time on one occasion wanting a punch-up as teenagers do. But after some name-calling and banter, they all decided to go to a pub near to the Pleasure Beach together. Hungarians love instruments like the cimbalom and violins, but there was the first time they had heard an organ, as ‘I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside’ was played by Reginald Dixon.”