Obituary: Barbara Foster, Polish emigre, mother and dressmaker to Margaret Thatcher, dies aged 87
09:00 01 August 2014
Barbara Foster, who was born Barbara Pszczolkowska on March 27, 1927 in Warsaw in Poland, the middle child of a family of four siblings.
Her earliest life was spent in Paprotnia, in a house, she told us, where Napoleon stayed on his way to Russia. Later the family moved to Blonie, near Warsaw, where her father worked for the railways.
Her early life was marked by the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of Poland - her father died from tuberculosis, her brother Jerzy worked for the underground, the ‘Armii Krajowa’ (Home Army), and was jailed for his undercover activities.
She herself was captured at 16 years of age, with her younger sister, part of German reprisals in response to the doomed 1944 Warsaw uprising.
Young people were active in the resistance, and thus, fell under suspicion. She recalled being taken in a goods train to a camp, surrounded by barbed wire.
While in transit to another camp, she managed to escape, in part due to the help of a ‘volksdeutsch’ (half German, half Polish) woman, hiding in the countryside in the harsh winter conditions to reach home before Christmas.
She survived the war, finished her interrupted education, with her sister as the only girls at a Franciscan school, and toured Poland as the leading light of a youth theatre group.
In the post-war years of communism, she worked in Warsaw in a government department. Tired of the privations of life in Stalinist Poland, she took a chance to leave for England in the 1960s to meet Michael Krawczyk.
A Polish émigré and widower, he’d also escaped a Nazi camp, and arrived in England earlier, with the Home Army forces at the end of the war.
They married and brought up two children in Doncaster.
Her later years were spent in London, which she dearly loved.
After retraining as a dressmaker, she worked in Hampstead, set up her own business in Covent Garden, and after her husband’s death, at Aquascutum.
She was proudest of working for Peggy Ashcraft and going to Number 10 to fit Margaret Thatcher.
With her typical energy and enthusiasm, she made the most of her retirement to do things she had not had time for - learning to swim at 70, taking classes to improve her English, and writing her memoirs, from which this information is taken.
She is remembered for her warmth, spirit, and ability to find joy in life.
She died peacefully on July 18.
She will be much missed by her much-beloved family.
The funeral will be held today at Golders Green Crematorium at 10am.