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Chapter Five

Polish I Corps (Polish Armed Forces in the West)

Between two states of being

James took the move from Miss MacAndrew to Mr Martin in his stride, though it represented a major shift; for the first time, he’d be taught by a male teacher. From kind, doting Miss Douglas, to scary Miss Boyle, to competent Miss MacAndrew, James had got used to being under the authority of a woman. Now, not only was it a man in charge, it was a foreigner, too. Not that it made too much difference to him personally. Like most of his classmates in 6A, James would rarely if ever have come into contact with a foreigner during his primary education. The vast majority of pupils in government-run schools were likely to be taught by locals, or at least Scots. But now, following the massive dislocation of war and resultant teacher shortage, it was more common for a Mr Martin or a Miss Douglas to stand in front of a class of Scottish schoolchildren. Still, no one appeared to hold Mr Martin’s foreignness against him. Yes, Scotland had its share of xenophobes of one stripe or another. Edinburgh wasn’t insulated from the chronic, low-level anti-English sentiment that pervaded the ranks of Scottish society. Yet, there was no ill-will towards Mr Martin merely on account of his being Polish. His pupils accepted him just as he was.

It may be that Mr Martin himself contributed to this state of affairs. He dressed like most other Scottish male primary teachers – collar and tie, tweed jacket, flannels, even a flat tweed cap to protect his head in cold weather, which was just about always. The subject matter of his lessons was what could be expected from any local, for he followed the curriculum to the letter. He was a competent instructor. His spoken English was fluent, albeit accented, though outbursts of fury or passion caused his syntax to wobble. He belted troublemakers. He corrected his pupils’ homework and tests. He dutifully filled out a report card for each pupil at the end of each term. No one in authority at Fox Crag Primary had told the pupils of the current 6A he was from Poland, nor had he. It was simply common knowledge. But he never projected his nationality. He never referred to his past or how he’d landed in Scotland. Unlike Miss Douglas, he never regaled them with tales of his native land. It was as if, at least in the classroom, Mr Martin had turned his back on Poland and all things Polish. His Poland no longer existed. It was as if with his flat cap and his tweed jacket he’d embraced Scottishness without actually being Scottish. It was as if he inhabited a no man’s land between two states of being.

Image by Lonio17, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons