The Story of Dr Stevan George OBE

by the family of Dr Slavoljub Djordjević (née Stevan George).

Editor’s note:

The story that follows is that of Dr Stevan George OBE. Stevan was a Serbian refugee boy who was educated, not at George Heriot’s in Edinburgh, but in Glasgow which, alongside Dundee and Aberdeen, was one of the four cities in Scotland to house and educate these homeless young boys.

Stevan’s story thus provides an element of context and a basis of comparison for that of the twenty-seven Serbian Herioters. His trajectory of flight from his war-devastated country to the refuge of Scotland was identical to that of our boys. He too took full advantage of the education provided to him at Hillhead High School in Glasgow and, later, Glasgow University where he studied medicine. And like the Serbian Herioters, he embraced the sporting opportunities he was given, showing particular aptitude for shot-put and rugby.

Unusually Dr George did not return to his homeland following WW1, although he would later visit frequently. Instead, he married a Scottish woman, worked as a doctor in Glasgow, served his new country bravely in WW2 and was awarded an OBE for his work in the Out Islands of the Bahamas.

The story that follows has been prepared on the basis of family memories and documents by the family of Dr Slavoljub Djordjević (née Stevan George).

Louise Miller



Stevan George was born on May 19, 1900 in Čajetina, Zlatibor mountain, western Serbia. His father, Steva Djordjević, was a government official in the reign of King Alexander, and worked as a Certified Public Accountant. His mother’s name was Angelina. Stevan had three sisters Zorka (only she had children, son Dragutin and daughter Smiljka), Borka and Slavka, and two brothers Živojin (known as Žika) and Zdravko (who was known as Misha). Slavoljub married Margaret McNab on February 8, 1928 and they had three children: Margo, Stevan and Zora.

DrStevanGeorge 01  2(Sitting from left to right: Zivojin, Angelina, Steva and Zorka, Behind: Zdravko, Borka, Slavko and Slavka)

Stevan began his medical career at the age of 11 when he acted as a volunteer hospital ward worker during the First Balkan War of 1912 [when the Ottomans were finally driven out of the Balkans]. In 1915, at the beginning of the First World War, he followed the Serbian troops who withdrew towards Albania [after they were attacked by the combined forces of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria, resulting in the defeat and subsequent occupation of Serbia]. He joined his father and uncle only when he was sure that they would not send him back home. They had a miraculous escape over the Albanian Mountains. His father followed the Serbian army to the Thessalonica [Salonika] front and Stevan, like many other boys, went to Corfu, Greece. By the time he arrived on Corfu, all the French ships had sailed, but he was saved by a British ship.

He first went to Oxford, England, where he learned English and then he moved to Scotland. He was a student at Hillhead High School in Glasgow. After graduating from school he was accepted into Glasgow University where he studied medicine. Zora remembers her father talking about being cold and hungry there and eating lard on bread. He was a great athlete. Although athletic, he was not very tall compared to the other men in the family. He won his University Blue (first team) for shot-put and rugby.

DrStevanGeorge 01  3


(photo). 1916 preparing rugby field

He became a doctor in the early 1920s and, while he was still an intern, he met a beautiful young Scottish lass. Her wee doggy had run out into the busy street and was hit by a car. Stevan went to the aid of the dog and so did Margaret McNab. She told him she would not marry him as Djordjević so he changed his surname to George. It was love at first sight and in due time Margaret McNab became Margaret George.

DrStevanGeorge 01  4The proud couple on their wedding day, February 8, 1928, at Kirkfield United Free Church, Bothwell, Scotland.

Stevan was a General Practitioner and set up his surgery at 2 Cessnock Street in a poor area of Glasgow. They had 3 children. Stevan had a busy practice of needy patients who often paid in kind rather than cash! A dozen eggs or perhaps bird in a cage! In 1939 just before the start of the Second World War, the family moved to a large brick house at 13 Dargarvel Avenue, Dumbreck, in the South side of Glasgow.

Within a year the parents of school children were asked to arrange for their children to leave the city because of the German night bombing. Many children were evacuated. They attended rural schools and lived with other family, friends or in strangers’ homes for the duration of the war. But the George’s children didn’t do this. Stevan had met a man who knew Christopher Morley in Long Island, NY, USA. He had a large house and he wanted to have a “mother” and a number of British children in the house. Zora [Dr George’s daughter] remembers that Margaret was willing, and so off they sailed from Southampton, England, to New York, waving goodbye to their father in September 1940. Sadly the other children, sailing in another ship were torpedoed and never arrived in the USA. Stevan managed to get to the USA to see his family only once during the war.

During the air raids and the blitz in Glasgow, Stevan was very brave. He was named to receive the George Cross for his bravery but somehow he was never awarded the medal. During the Second World War Stevan signed on as surgeon with the Merchant Navy serving on the Cunard liners, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Both ships were being used to transport troops across Atlantic. It was very risky crossing because of German submarines. He received the Atlantic Star, for this, a medal awarded to men who served on unescorted vessels for six months or more. At the end of the war he organized fundraising for aid to Yugoslavia. Funds raised were used to buy and send to Yugoslavia a well-equipped emergency – ambulance car to buy equipment for an eye clinic in Belgrade and for war orphans.

DrStevanGeorge 01  13Photo of car and other newspaper articles

After WW2 ended he returned to Cunard, as ship’s doctor on the luxury liners. He stayed for nine years, until, as he said “I felt I wanted to do an honest job of work”.

DrStevanGeorge 01  5The National Health Service started, making life difficult for doctors and Glasgow after the war was pretty miserable. Cold and dirty with soot. Food shortages and coupons for clothing and sweeties. Stevan was offered a job on board the Cunard liners sailing to the Bahamas. He was the ship’s surgeon. It was on a stopover in Nassau in the Bahamas when he met some Bahamian business men who offered him a job! In 1955 he served as the doctor for the Community Welfare service which had just begun. During those 12 years, Stevan’s services to the Bahamas were beyond measure. This service was strenuous and risky as he travelled by small boats from island to island. He once suffered shipwreck and spent a few days with two sailors in a small boat. They were trying to sail. One sailor steered, Stevan held a wooden board to serve as the sail, and the second sailor bailed the water out of the boat. Due to his dedicated work he was called Dr Schweitzer [Dr Albert Schweitzer was Nobel Prize winning French academic, theologian and medical doctor who worked in Africa] of the Bahamas. He became known as the “Island Hopping Doctor”.

DrStevanGeorge 01  6By this time (circa 1956), the three children had grown up and left home. Stevan & Margaret were now on their own. They moved to Nassau and bought a house. Stevan was regarded as a saviour to the Bahamian Out Islands’ people, many of whom had never seen a doctor. He treated as many as 500 patients a month, sometimes including tooth pulling dentistry! In fact he became so well known, and so highly regarded all over the Bahamas, that he was recommended to the powers that be for a decoration, or a title, through one of the Queen’s honours lists.

DrStevanGeorge 01  7He received the OBE in January 1966 at a ceremony in the grounds of Government House in Nassau. It was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth. A very proud moment witnessed by all of the George family. “For ten years’ devoted, effective and self-sacrificing services to the people of the Out Islands of the Bahamas, as the travelling medical officer”.

Unselfishly, energetically, good-humouredly and skilfully he maintained his rounds of visits to people many of whom without him would have had no medical help. No one was more esteemed and affectionately regarded in the Out Islands. As Joca [Dr George’s grandson] recalls: Stevan and Margaret visited family in Belgrade once every three years. Stevan’s sisters: Zorka, Slavka and Borka, as well as Zorka’s children (Smiljka and Dragutin) and grandchildren (Joca, Dragoljub and Zorica) were very happy to host them. Their visit was a big family holiday. They usually brought interesting presents especial for the youngest members of the family.

In 1967, a seriously ill patient had to be moved from one of the settlements, Dr George, willing and determined as ever, helped to lift the patient into the ambulance. When the vehicle wouldn’t start, Dr George rolled up his sleeves and gave a hand at pushing the ambulance which finally started. He told a friend in Nassau that he had slight heart attack. He was not willing to go to the hospital. Margaret finally managed to get him into hospital but Stevan was not a good patient. He refused to stay in bed and within a day or two he was struck down with a massive heart attack.

DrStevanGeorge 01  8
On December 20, 1967, at the age of 67, he died of heart failure. He is buried in Ebenezer Cemetery in Nassau. Dr George's tombstone photo was taken by Elizabeth Cochrane, one of his granddaughters and one of Zora & Bill's daughters, when she was in Nassau in January 2015.

Photos:

 

DrStevanGeorge 01  9(1) Slavka, Zorka, Slavko and Borka 1960

DrStevanGeorge 01  10(2) Dr Slavko Djordjević – Dr Stevan George

DrStevanGeorge 01  11(3) In Belgrade (around 1960) Dobrila, Dragutin, Margaret, Zorka (dr Slavko’s sister), Slavka (dr Slavko’s sister), Dobrivoje (Zorka’s husband), dr Slavko Djordjević Behind Margaret is Joca (Simlja’s son) Behind Zorka is Smiljka (Joca’s mother, daughter of Zorka and Dobrivoje) Between Slavka and Dobrivoje is Dusan Pisteljic (Smilja’s second husband, father of Dragoljub) Between Dobrivoje and Slavko is Borka (Slavko’s sister).

DrStevanGeorge 01  12(4) Zorka, Zorica and Zora, Oplenac (around 1972). The name “Zorka” and derived names (Zora, Zorica) are still in the family.

Related link