A few of my favourite things V: a gift from ‘the Polish Teachers in Uniform’

My favourite item from all the collections I have worked with in the past 10 months is a beautiful album in the Moray House collection.  The album was made for Thomson by the ‘Polish Students in Uniform’.  This initiative was likely very similar to the Polish School of Medicine, set up in the University of Edinburgh during World War II with the aim of training Polish students and doctors in the armed forces (almost immediately, civilian students too were accepted).  Students were trained in Polish, and could obtain Polish degrees.

0011014cDER

0011016cDER

0011015c

Images from an album gifted to Thomson by the ‘Polish Students in Uniform’, Moray House archive (notice the ‘Scottish flowers’ on the left!)

The album itself is a beautiful object – the colours, the drawings, even the positioning of the photographs.  For me, however, what really makes this object wonderful is the informality of it, the spontaneous photographs and the witty captions combine to make it, in contrast to the formal staff and student photographs, a real snapshot of life at Moray House as the students knew it.

0011016cThomsonCrop

A close up of Thomson from the album

Following German and Soviet occupation, hundreds of thousands of Polish people were deported from their home country – many of the students trained at the Polish School of Medicine would never return.  At such a time of sadness, upheaval, and uncertainty for the students, it is wonderful that, nonetheless, they took the time to thank Thomson for his kindness in such a thoughtful way.

0011017cDER

Staff and students at Moray House

It is likely that Thomson’s work with the ‘Polish Students in Uniform’ is the reason that, on the 13th June, 1944, he was awarded the declaration of the Third Class of the Order of Polonia Restituta.  The order was conferred by the President of the Polish republic in recognition of his services to Polish interests during the war.  The geneticist Francis Crew also had the award bestowed on him.

DSCN3388

Thomson’s certificate for the award – his cross has sadly not survived in the collection

Roughly translated, the Polonia Restituta is ‘Order of Rebirth of Poland‘.  It is generally awarded, and has been since 1921, for outstanding contributions to education, science, sport, culture, art, economics, national defence, social work, civil service or diplomacy.  The vast majority of those awarded are naturally given to Polish nationals.  Thomson’s award also came along with a letter from Anthony Eden (well, at least his secretary!) and an honorary membership card for the Association of Polish Teachers in Great Britain.

DSCN3392

Letter from Sir Anthony Eden confirming that King George has given his permission for Thomson to wear the cross

DSCN3393

DSCN3394

Thomson’s honorary membership for the Association of Polish Teachers in Great Britain

Thomson has often proved an illusive character to those researching his history – in oral testimonies from those he worked with or who studied under he has in turn been described as reserved, friendly, quick tempered, even tempered, etc.!  But objects such as the photograph album, as well as the many letters sent to Thomson’s widow by his students, show that his students were very much at the heart of what he did.

With many thanks to Ela Wiklo for information about the Polonia Restituta.

5 thoughts on “A few of my favourite things V: a gift from ‘the Polish Teachers in Uniform’

  1. towardsdolly

    Fascinating blog post Emma! Francis Crew had a lovely phrase to describe the establishment of the Polish Medical School: ‘here was a magnificent opportunity of lighting a candle that had been blown out. All the lamps had gone out all over Europe and here was a marvellous chance, you see….It struck me as being completely romantic.’ (Interview with Margaret Deacon, Science Studies Unit, 1969)

    Reply
  2. Ela

    Great post Emma!
    I enjoyed reading the detailed story behind it! 🙂
    Wishing you all the best with your projects and hope to see more and more posts!
    Best wishes,
    Ela

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *