Recollections of a Polish Medical Student in Dundee

The following is transcribed from an oral history recording held by the Imperial War Museum. We are very grateful to the museum for allowing us to reproduce these extracts.

Jadwiga Karnicki completed 5 years of her 6 year medical training course in Poland then travelled to South America on a work placement. She was there when the war broke out, and was soon asked to go to Great Britain. She arrived in Nov 1939, after which she had no further contact with her family in Poland. The British Council tried to find somewhere for her to continue her medical training. In England she would have had to start from scratch but in Scotland her existing pre-clinical training was allowed.

In May 1940 (shortly after Dunkirk) she arrived in Dundee to sit the exam. At first she had difficulty getting a room because of her foreign accent but she went to the police who helped her find somewhere to stay. She later recalled: "The Dundee community have been very caring and I soon got to know a number of people, and in the end I stayed in McIntosh Patrick's home... He had two small children and he was going to be called up and he thought it would be good for his wife to have somebody to stay in... it was a very happy year in this family. Now I took the exam...6 months after I arrived and of course my English was very poor, but somehow I was accepted... I had to answer only 1 of 3 questions but I didn't understand so I answered every question!... I managed to get through the first exam [Pathology] quite nicely, and I remember studying from the book - every second word I had to look up in the dictionary because my language was so poor... So I got through the first year [Pathology, Bacteriology & Pharmacology] and then in summer 1941 [the] Polish medical school was opened in Edinburgh, and I went there and got my Polish degree during the summer holidays, and returning to Dundee I could work already as a foreign doctor... I worked in [the] fever hospital, in Ashludie hospital (that was [an] emergency hospital), and [then got the] Scottish degree in June '42 [studying surgery and gynaecology]...

"In Dundee I met my husband, he was a submariner, second in command... there were two Polish submarines that got away from [the] Baltic Sea to Scotland... and I met the Polish sailors and [one of them became] my husband.

"Life in Dundee in '41 was a very happy one - full of parties and enjoyment, because everyone wanted to be happy and not to think of the horrors of war - and very friendly... [I knew] most friendly and pleasant people with whom I still kept in touch - for the rest of my life actually." McIntosh Patrick was among those that she continued to write to.

"To me it was too quiet in Scotland. There were no bombs, nothing was happening, but when you are young you want to be in the middle of the war..."

Jadwiga therefore moved to London, Prof Fairlie from Dundee helping her to secure a place at Queen Charlotte Hospital, one of the main gynaecological hospitals. She then moved to Chelsea Hospital then Lewisham Hospital where she was made a consultant in 1948 aged only 31.

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