Dr Sonnek

Information from Anton Machacek

I am the grandson of one of Dr Sonnek’s partners at the Canvey Island medical practice – Dr Karel Machacek. 

Drs Sonnek and Machacek retired from medical practice when I was still very young, and just before retirement (about 1981), had matching houses built on Lionel Road – no 37 for Premek and Anka Sonnek, and no 39 for Karel and Betty Machacek.  They lived in those houses all through their retirements. I saw Premek occasionally when visiting my grandparents, but learned much more about him from conversations with my grandpa, and especially from his book ‘Escape to England’ which contains quite a bit of fascinating information about Dr Premek Sonnek. Dr Sonnek met my grandfather when they were at university in Brno (or possibly earlier – they certainly were at Brno together), in the Czech Republic.  My grandfather escaped when the Nazis took over, Premek was in Holland when the war started, and he made his way straight to Paris – the centre of operations for patriotic Czechs who wished to fight to liberate their nation.  Premek did have an offer to complete his medical studies in the Far East at a Dutch university, but refused.  Along with my grandfather, he served the bulk of the war in Britain.   

While my grandfather fell in love and married an English lady, Premek was attracted to the daughter of one of the Czech cabinet ministers who formed part of the Czech government in exile in London – Professor Jaroslav Stransky who had been professor of Law at the university in Brno, owned a publishing house and daily newspaper.  Professor Stransky was of the highly respected centrist party in Czechoslovakia which had provided the country’s first two presidents – Masaryk and Benes.  When Premek eventually owned up to his friends why he kept visiting London, they were very pleased for him.  He and Anka married, and it was natural for them to return to the Czechoslovakia after the war.  However Professor Stransky’s politics put him at great risk when the Communists took over in 1948.  There is a fascinating story, I am sure, of which I only know part, as to how all four of them were able to escape to England in the teeth of Communist opposition.  However Professor Stransky and his wife lived out their days on Canvey, and were buried on the island.  Your knowledge of Canvey will obviously be much greater than mine, but I can’t believe that many other cabinet ministers are buried on the island! 

It would be lovely for you to be put in touch with relatives of the Sonneks, but I fear that would be difficult.  They had one son, John, who was tragically killed when hit by a car when returning home from Thurrock Technical College in 1966.  This had a devastating effect on the family.  The comprehensive headmaster who conducted Dr Sonnek’s funeral in 1997, commented that at this point the ‘lights went out’ (I am afraid I don’t know the name of the headmaster – but it must be possible to discover).

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