Martha and Bishwa settled in London. He purchased a GP practice in Surrey Docks in the south east of London. In those days, there was no NHS and one bought a number of patients from some retiring practitioner. I figure it came as a bit of a shock to my mother who, raised in a small town in Sweden expected status to come with the position of being a local doctor’s wife. In Sweden if you married a doctor you had the title ‘Doctorinna’ or in Europe ‘Doctoresse’, in those days a position of respect. Perhaps she had a rude awakening but in Bermondsey where I grew up, they would laugh if you told them that.
We lived opposite a pub where my father built a house on Hawkestone Road. The pub was called ‘The Duke of Suffolk’ and it sported ‘Alf on the Joanna’ every Saturday night, - a noisome, and often tuneless way for a lad to go to sleep. The nights there ended at 11.30 often to the sound of people singing on the way home ‘We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…’ and other favourites.
Bishwa had the idea that a good doctor would live on the premises and be available for his patients at all times. Seven days a week, you had responsibility for the patients on your list (or panel). He also maintained his links with the local docks and often attended medical calls to ships in the Surrey Docks. I recall one afternoon when he didn’t return. Surgery time came and went and patients were turned away. He eventually came home hours late. I recall eavesdropping as my parents talked about what had happened. He described what had delayed him.
You can maybe picture the scene, a Russian ship, and the Captain dead. Walking into the Captain’s cabin Bishwa could see the body as it lay on the floor in a pool of blood, face down. To the side were two spilled vodka glasses and an empty bottle lying on its side. Chairs lay on their side and a struggle seemed obvious. The First Mate and two crewmembers stood in the doorway as the Doctor confirmed the poor Captain’s life had departed. There was a neat hole at the back of the head and the forehead was blown apart where the bullet exited. On the deck next to the victim lay a rifle.
‘Well, he’s dead,’ Bishwa said.
‘Yes, he killed himself. He was often depressed.’
‘You think he shot himself in the back of the head with a rifle?’
‘Perhaps he turned around and did it,’ the First Mate said, trying to be helpful.
‘I’m sorry; I have to report this to the police at once.’
‘Please wait until the Embassy Doctor comes. We have sent for him.’
‘No, I can’t do that. I need to report this at once. It’s serious.’
‘No. You wait for the Embassy doctor.’
Bishwa waited. Half an hour later the Russian doctor arrived, medical bag in hand and his bearded face frowning up at Bishwa. After a few moments, he said, ‘Clear case of suicide.’
‘Look,’ Bishwa said, ‘this must be reported to the police.’
‘We are anxious not to cause a scandal. A suicide like this is bad news for everyone. We could perhaps reach an agreement. If you say nothing, £5000 could be in your hands today.’
The situation stalled then. Bishwa refused the offer and waited. He had no intention of taking cash since he knew these people well. Give an inch and they expect a mile. After a few hours, the Russians let him go, but only after he assured them he would not tell a soul. There was no money forthcoming either to his great relief. It took another two hours before he had completed his police statements and could go home. One could write a book about that I guess the press certainly reported it next day. ‘Russian sea captain commits suicide on board ship.’
Guess times don’t change.