Before our story gets onto the battle of Singapore, which – as we today already know – brought a tragic death to Silvestr – let’s dwell some more upon his life. As I am still searching for more information and documents about his childhood, let’s also leave that era for some time later.
At the moment, we don’t even know where Silvestr – after graduating the secondary school in Vemyslice – finished his education. According to the preserved records of the Bata company, he had studied a business academy somewhere; it was not the Bata School in Zlin though, as he is not listed among its alumni.
Silvestr Nemec began to work for Bata on 21st September 1936, exactly a month before his seventeenth birthday. He was employed on a position of a salesman. At that time, the company was already among the biggest shoemaking brands in the world. In 1936, it had produced over 58 million pairs of shoes, of which 28 million were made directly in Czechoslovakia. Thanks to that, the country ranked globally number one in terms of lather shoe exports, and number three in terms of rubber shoe exports. At that time, Bata corporation was running several thousand of its own brand shops. It’s now known in which of these Silvestr worked.
The global success of Bata was, among other factors, building on a fast modernization of production (its founder Tomas Bata visited US in 1919, including Detroit, and was very inspired by Henry Ford at that time) as well as on a visionary expansion of its activities well beyond shoemaking itself. While at its very start, back in 1894, the company was nothing more than a tiny workshop making shoes manually, in 1930’s it has already been an established brand in dozens of diverse areas and industries, including aviation, publishing, insurance, chemical production, tyre production, education and health care. The genius of Bata entrepreneurship managed to create synergies across all these activities, allowing the company to provide unique, complex care and services not only to its customers, but also to his own employees (to whom Bata always referred to as his “co-workers”, stressing the importance of each and every person, regardless of her or his ranking within the company’s hierarchy).
Apart from the affordable prices and an attractive variety of shoes, the customers who entered the Bata shops could read a slogan “Our Customer – Our Master” on its wall and find a personnel offering them a variety of additional services.
Photo: Advertisement of the newly introduced chiropodist services at Bata shops. The headline says “Fresh feet for the springtime”
Seen from the perspective of Silvestr’s story, one of the important milestones in Bata’s history was the introduction of the pedicurist/chiropodist care. According to the historical timeline published by the Bata Villa Foundation, it happened in 1929. It appears that Bata began to develop this domain while utilizing the doctors and experts who were hired to work in his Bata Hospital in Zlin that opened two years earlier.
A publication by the Bata Hospital says:
“The highest salary went to the chief physician, doctor F. Racansky, who was in charge of training of the workers in chiropody. At that time, every Bata shop in Czechoslovakia was already offering a chiropody care.”
When searching on internet, i came across a dissertation paper written by Barbora Mikoskova in 2009 at the Bata University in Zlin. She included some information about the history of foot care in the Bata company. This is how she described its beginnings:
“With the increasing experience in the area of anatomically designed shoes, the company was facing the need to better educate its workers. A special training was designed for designers, shoemakers, salesmen and everyone who had something to do with orthopedic aspects. Initially this was being organized by doctor Albert, however later doctor Racansky took over. He was regularly publishing educational articles in the weekly magazine for Bata employees.”
Photo: The “fathers” of chiropody in Bata company. On the left is the director of the Bata Hospital Dr. Albert, in the middle Dr. Racansky, and on the right Tomas Bata. From the May Day celebration in 1928 in Zlin.
Barbora Mikosova outlines the initiative of doctor Racansky:
“An important step in setting up the educational activities was taken by Dr. Racansky when he established a cooperation with the Orthopedic Clinic of the Charles University in Prague, namely its chief Dr. Tobiasek. Dr. Tobiasek opened a course from 21st to 30th March 1929, and Dr. Racansky attended, along with ten other Bata employees.”
Photo: Another advertisement of the chiropody services at Bata shops. The text reads: “This woman could serve as an example to all women in our towns and villages! She really knows what her feet need most. She is a regular at Bata chiropody care, and she is happy.” Reproduced with a kind permission of http://www.batuvodkaz.cz/
In order to increase the qualification of their salesmen and specialists in the area of chiropody, Bata was not only offering them trainings, but also published a special textbook written by Dr. Racansky. Given that this later became part of Silvestr’s job description, we can assume that he had one of its copies. That’s a good reason to learn more about it, again based on the paper by Ms Mikosova.
“The handbook contained facts about anatomy and healthcare of human feet, along with recommendations of procedures and suggestions to salesmen how to use it in order to rise regular clients who would then also keep buying Bata products. The shoe shops thus began to offer a wide range of services. The salesmen were trained to offer assistance and if necessary, facilitate a health check of customer’s feet by a proper doctor, who was also available at the shop. A chiropodist provided a consultation and a treatment, if necessary also advising on appropriate orthopedic shoe adjustments and aids. One of the services on offer was a foot massage – an enjoyable and relaxing experience for the customer.
A common standard at every larger Bata shop was a pedicure treatment. The salesmen were encouraged to convince their customers about the benefits of a preventive regular foot care. The first step was not easy, however once the clients became less shy, they often became regular visitors.”
And in a direct quote from the textbook by Dr. Racansky:
“Give a good massage to the customers with flatfoot, even if the first one is for free. Provide these clients with a lot of care, as they are your future regulars and subscribers to your weekly treatments. Also, keep good records about them, note down your every conversation and recommendation, and during their next visit, ask about improvements observed.”
If we take his textbook as a guideline, then the standard procedure offered at Bata shops looked like this:
“1) Wash clean and dry customer’s feet.
2) Painlessly and with no blood remove the hardened skin, calluses and corns. Prior to the intervention, ensure that a proper disinfection is applied.
3) Disinfect the nails all around.
4) Irradiate the feet with a blue-filter lamp for 5-10 minutes.
5) Provide a thorough massage of the feet, perhaps add a bit of physio-therapeutic movements, and refresh with a massage rub.”
Should the chiropodist accidentally cause an injury to the client, the shop manager was obliged to arrange a doctor check and write down a protocol about the incident.
The chiropody trainings were initially given by Dr. Racansky in a classroom of the Bata Hospital in Zlin. During the first year of the new service, i.e. 1929, Bata had trained 81 staff, however four years later, in 1933, it already had more than two thousand trained specialists. Starting in 1932, Bata began to introduce this service also at it shops overseas.
Silvestr might had undergone such training during his first years at Bata, though we only know for certain that he was assigned the new job of a salesman-pedicurist once he was transferred to Singapore at the end of 1938.
It must have been exactly around that time when Bata was introducing chiropody to its branches in the Far East, as we can observe from the front page article of the Batanagar News published in mid November 1938 (that is just two or three months prior to Silvestr’s arrival to Singapore). The headline speaks for itself: “Creation Of a New Profession: An Opportunity For Hundreds Of Surgeons And Experts”.
Photo: Front page of The Batanagar News, 19th November 1938.
In that article, the Bata management appeals on their employees to sign up for a training in this new qualification:
“Every Pedicurist, our best salesman, will be a specialist, expert in the profession. Therefore he will receive also wages suited to his responsible work. Their high wages, possibility of earning and bettering their positions are seen even today through we are now in the beginning of the line of Chiropody. For instance, in the Bata Shop in Chowringhee, Calcutta, the Chiropodist is getting average weekly salary of Rs. 22 to 28. To reach this and even higher income is not a problem for any Pedicurist in any place, when he sees in his work the best fillip to his life and when his work will have the spirit of SERVICE TO PUBLIC.”
On page number 6 of the same edition of the Batanagar News, there is an English translation of a speech by Jan Antonin Bata delivered to the company’s staff. Part of the original speech, which was delivered in Czech in early 1930’s, was even recorded on a film that you can watch on Youtube here (note: please click on the link, my blog does not provide an option to directly embed a Youtube video).
Here is an excerpt of the motivating speech by Jan Antonin Bata:
“This new service will prove to be the most profitable business for yourselves. The proceeds from the practice of pedicure are left, for the most part, to yourselves. In addition, it helps you to increase the sale of shoes, stockings and small necessities. Start this work with courage and enthusiasm! Do not be afraid of treating people whose feet are in a very neglected conditions. Your service must be somewhat similar to that of a true physician, who treats with sacrifices, and truly, patients who are seriously ill, even when contact with them is, very often, not only disagreeable but possibly dangerous. The customer will be thankful to you for this service and leave the store as your most sincere friend and enthusiastic client. You will learn this service of foot-care by carrying it out every day. Like a priest starting his daily work with Service to God, you must also perform daily, personally, the service of foot care Service to the customer. You will become masters only by regular work, done methodically every day.”
Photo: The English translation of transcript of a speech by Jan Antonin Bata about the new profession of company’s pedicurist.
One of the doctors working in hte Bata Hospital was Dr. Evzen Straussler – a name we are already familiar with. He was hired by Bata in 1932 and seven years later moved on to work for the company in Singapore. While there is unfortunatelly not much to be found about Silvestr in the company’s archives, we can at least read some more information about Dr. Straussler and his final training before departure – here is the record:
“Induction of Dr. E. Straussler before going to Singapore.
1 week in the shoe-making school
1 week in the rubber processing school
1 week in the sales department (1/2 week in the main Zlin shop, 1/2 week in the chiropody section of the shop)
1 week assisting the personnel manager in the social department
Altogether 4 weeks of training. Accomplished on 1st March 1939.”
I found one group photograph from the Bata pedicurist course in the State Archives in Zlin-Klecuvka. It depicts about two dozens of Bata saleswomen and salesmen who graduated from a 10 day long training in January 1940. It’s quite likely that Silvestr attended a similar “crash” course, as opposed to the broader induction of Dr. Straussler who went for a more senior position and was therefore probably expected to learn about various other departments and functions of the Bata operation.
Photo: Participants of the pedicurist training by Bata company in January 1940. Reproduced with a kind permission of the State archive in Zlin.
A second photograph related to this issue pictures the company director Jan Antonin Bata undergoing a chiropody treatment during his visit of the main Bata shop in Zlin. It was taken in 1938, i.e. about the same time when Silvestr was most likely being introduced to this profession.
Photo: Visit of Jan Antonin Bata at the chiropody section of their main shop in Zlin. Reproduced with a kind permission of the State archive in Zlin.
The job based on taking care of the customers’ (often neglected and dirty) feet certainly does not sound like an attractive nor prestige occupation. I must admit that when I first learnt that this is what my great uncle was doing, I had mixed feelings about it. But, as one of my friends says, ” someone has to do even the worst kind of job”. And now, after learning some more details, also about the way Bata was approaching this profession, I came to peace with it as well.