In January 1917, during WW1, a police census was conducted in Blantyre to see what foreign population lived here. The results were somewhat unexpected showing the large figure of 575 Lithunians from our entire population of 16,903!
Nearly 4%, or 1 in every 25 people were Lithunian with a further 55 Italians, 39 Belgians, 4 Americans, 7 Dutch, 3 Swedes, 44 Germans and 5 Austrians.
As a result of the Great Retreat during World War I, Germany occupied the entire territory of Lithuania and Courland by the end of 1915. A new administrative entity, Ober Ost, was established. Lithuanians lost all political rights they had gained: personal freedom was restricted, and at the beginning, the Lithuanian press was banned. However, many people got out and escaped to the west.
A year later, as World War I neared its end, and ‘order restored’ by Lithuania’s remaining soldiers (pictured), Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16th February 1918, declaring the founding of the modern Republic of Lithuania. Many who had fled, returned home.
In Blantyre there is good evidence also that many Lithunians chose to stay and settle here. Changing Eastern European surnames to more Western or British names often increased their chances of employment and diminished the likelihood of being targeted as foreign.
I suspect a lot of families today in Blantyre are descended from those 575 people.
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:
Christine Forrest I remember a lovely old large than life neighbour in her eighties who lived with her daughter at lime grove coatshill approx 25 years ago who loved looking after animals. She regularly visited my fathers dog round the corner with treats. She was very proud of her lutianian heritage and her entire family moved to blantyre from Lithuania when she was five maybe around 1913? She was an amazing woman her first house was next to the parkville on main street.
James Sime Christine Forrest oh aye, I remember that woman.
Christine Forrest James Sime yes she was friends with your gran
Margaret Duncan My mother told me that all the ‘Smiths’ ‘Wilsons’ ‘Savages’ and Eastons were all Polish or Lithuanian because their names were anglesised. There was a Peter Smith in my class (very good at art) and a Savage but I can’t remember her first name – we had an old couple called Easton next door who kept hens and didn’t speak English
Christine Forrest Margaret Duncan yes funny enough the woman was called smith always thought that odd
Margaret Muir My grandmother had a Polish friend Alice Sauvage when I was young.I loved going to their house because it smelled of home made tablet and toffee.
Sadie Polockus My husbands grandfather stayed in Blantyre after the war.
Anne-Marie Neethling Yes there are
Maggie Anderson My maternal Grandparents changed their name to Wilson from Valonis when they came to Blantyre from Lithuania around 1913.They had one child born in Lithuania all the rest were born here in Blantyre….. 11 children in total ….also twins supposedly who died…… making a whole lot of decendants all over the world
Ann Watson Mary Ann Poneszkis mum says this is when your grandparents came overx
Jean Gibson Had a friend who had a Lithuanian grandfather. He could speak no English but had a beautiful garden. Unfortunately my friend died very young.
Mary Ann Poneszkis Really Ann, I never even knew this, Thanks so much cuz..and thank auntie Morag for me too. xx
Ann Goulden Very interesting
Paul Nevulis My family never got around to changing our surname! I have spent my life spelling it out to people
Doreen Nevulis McGee Paul Nevulis same script for the Bellshill branch – I get “that’s a funny name…”
Rosena Dick My father was born in Blantyre 1924 of Lithuanian parents
Christine Forrest Billy McNeil the footballer had Lithuanian mother born to Lithuanian parents but I think in bellshill?
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I remember as a child in the sixties coming across a green card in my grannies house belonging to my granda, ‘auld joanny ‘,real name johanness polockus, it was stamped by blantyre police during WW2 ,,because he was a foreign alien ,they stayed in Burnside Crescent ,he was a real green fingered gardener, sometning i never inherited ,I know that in his working life he was a miner
Hi Paul. Always understood that the Lithuanians-often referred to as The Poles- were recruited to work on farms and mines by agents sent to Lithuanian by Scottish mine owners. From 1890 to about 1910. The Lithuanians had a shop in Bellshill called Varpas. I am did know a few “second” generation Lithuanians. what I found strange some of their dads fought in WW1 in the British Army while others in the Russian Army by 1917 on lads dad was in the “Red” army. He eventually made it back to Bellshill. Some changed names to Scottish sounding names like the ones I knew. I recall some sort of “special day” at Carfin Grotto must have been 1940s where loads of them were dressed in their National Costumes.