Herbert Kay - The History of a Child War Refugee
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Herbert Kay 2003My dad (Herbert Kay - or Herb as he was known to his family) was born in Bratislava, in the then comparatively new country of Czechoslovakia, in December 1928. His parents were born in Poland, as was his sister, Dorrie, who was some 4 years older. It seems he had a happy childhood with no inkling of what was to come in that corner of Europe within a few years. He adjusted to school well and enjoyed being in the scouts and going on camping expeditions. Visits to relatives took him to Vienna and into Romania too. Due to the politics and shifting borders of the time, Herb grew up speaking three languages, German, Hungarian and Czech, all of which he was to lose later. It was in 1938 that things began to change. Herb was not allowed to continue in the scouts and he was told he would be attending a Jewish school, at the other end of town, in future. He was much less happy there, and then his sister Dorrie left for the UK as part of the Kindertransport, organised by Sir Nicholas Winton.

There were hints that he would also be going abroad somewhere before too long. He was not too alarmed at the time since it was explained to him that his parents would be following. So, again, under the auspices of the Kindertransport, he was put on a train to Prague and from there joined many others travelling into Holland. Finally he sailed to Harwich from where he arrived in London, staying with a friendly couple who spoke German. Within days, though, he was on the move again and was sent up to Glasgow where he was reunited with Dorrie, his sister. Herb was assigned to live with a Dr Hunter, a lady who could speak excellent German, but lived in a rather austere house full of cats. He attended school in Ibrox, but it was a bewildering experience since he still had no English. However, with the outbreak of war a few weeks later, Herb and many others were evacuated to Ayrshire, to Kirkmichael where he had the good fortune to be taken in by John and Agnes Muir. They were a childless couple who lived very simply in a house with no mains water or electricity and a dry toilet in the garden, but where he was loved unconditionally. There was a large extended Muir family and Herb was fully absorbed into it.

He did well at school, soon learning English and catching up with his peers. It was of some concern to Herb that he might have to return to Dr. Hunter in Glasgow but this was not to be: somehow arrangements were put in place and he was unofficially adopted by the Muirs who loved him dearly. There was one week in 1942 when Herb was awarded a school prize for being top student. Years later he discovered that during that same week his parents had been taken to Auschwitz from where they never returned. A talented student, Herb passed his entrance exam for university and with the support of the Muirs, a grant and a bursary from The Carnegie Foundation, Herb embarked on his studies for a degree in medicine at Glasgow University. This he was awarded in July 1952 in the presence of Mr and Mrs Muir and a number of friends. He also secured a position as house doctor with Professor Alstead, the most sought after position there at the time.

He was on his way, and remained very grateful to the people he knew and who had supported him in Ayrshire. Herb met his future wife, Jean, at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and they married in September 1954. Their early married life was spent in Tadcaster, near York, where my brother (Brian) and I were born. We all then moved to Middlesbrough where Herb joined fellow Scot, Harry Gardner, in his medical practice in Middlesbrough. During this time, Herb suggested the building of the Cleveland health Centre and, as Chair of the Steering Committee saw its completion in 1972. He went on to become an examiner for the Royal College of General Practitioners in London and Edinburgh and was elected Fellow of that College and of the British Medical Association. Locally he was a Magistrate, a role that was very important to him and in which he took a keen interest. At his retirement from general practice in1990, he was presented with an antique silver sugar basket - an award he greatly cherished.

Throughout his adult life, Herb was a committed husband and family man, who was valued by all who met him for his warmth, wit and generosity. His loyalty to and affection for his friends and adoptive relatives in Ayrshire never left him, and judging by the attendance of so many of them at his funeral in November, those feelings were strongly reciprocated. Jean, Brian and I would like to add our heartfelt thanks too.

Sue Kay, December 2007

Herbert Kay died peacefully on Sun 28 October 2007. It has been my great privilege over more than 40 years to have known him as a colleague and a close friend. He was a man of great integrity, culture and wisdom who was held by his colleagues in the highest esteem and who was revered by his patients. He was awarded Fellowship of both the B.M.A. and the Royal College of General Practitioners for whom he served many years as an examiner. He was always most grateful to the Ayrshire community which befriended him and which he never forgot. Kirkmichael must be proud of its adopted son--a very special person.
Contributed by Dr Colin Mackenzie

Herbert was a regular visitor to the Maybole website as well as a contributor. He regarded Kirkmichael as his spiritual home and was proud of his Carrick Academy education. Herbert suffered poor health recently and as a retired GP was very aware that his end was near. The last time I spoke to him a month or so ago was on the telephone and we were congratulating each other on surviving so long. A well attended memorial service was held in St. Bede's Chapel at Teeside Crematorium, Middlesbrough
Contributed by John Campbell

Herbert Kay 2003I was deeply moved by the pictures and text relating to the Holocaust Memorial service as depicted on the Maybole website and I feel I must reveal how this relates to me. You see, I was a child war refugee who escaped from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in June 1939 as a Kindertransport and went to Glasgow where I was unsuitably placed with an elderly unmarried lady doctor who lived alone in a gaunt house full of cats. The only positive virtue was that she spoke perfect German as I could not speak a word of English. Consequently when war broke out 8 weeks later and I had enrolled for a matter of days at Ibrox School I could not speak to anyone. I, along with a trainload of kids was shipped off to Ayrshire and my group was unloaded at Cassilis Station which even then was disused Herbert Kay 1939and had no platform! We eventually arrived at Kirkmichael and were allocated to various homes and I had the good fortune to be allocated to a Mr & Mrs Muir. They were in their mid forties and had no children of their own and made me very welcome and gave me the run of the house and garden! Communication was difficult as I could not speak English and they knew no German, Czech or Hungarian which were my native languages. Furthermore, Mrs Muir was almost totally deaf. I was unofficially "adopted" by them and never went back to Glasgow.

Herbert Kay 1946I attended Kirkmichael School and was put in with the infants because Miss Hamilton, the infant teacher, could speak some German so we could communicate. I rapidly caught up with my peers and within a year spoke English fluently and within two years had no trace of an accent apart from a strong Ayrshire one which I have never lost! I subsequently went to Carrick Academy where I had 5 wonderful years feeling totally accepted and integrated. I shall never forget what my fellow pupils, the teaching staff and the Ayrshire people did for me. At the end of the war I discovered that both my parents perished at Auschwitz in July 1942 where I would certainly have been, at the very time I went to the Academy.

I subsequently went to Glasgow University and qualified in Medicine in 1952. I feel I must put on record what a wonderful start the people around Maybole gave me when the alternative could have been so very different. They are a very caring and generous people and I am most grateful.  

Herbert Kay March 2005

[Note: Herbert Kay has been a long time contributor to the Maybole website and has sent us many articles and photographs for which we are most grateful.]