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  • Debra Barnes

Marking Winton's 111th birthday

Sir Nicholas Winton was born on 19 May, 1909. On the eve of World War Two, Winton arranged the rescue of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to England. One of the 669 children rescued by Nicholas Winton was Tommy Gutwin, and you can read his My Story online. Here is what Tommy said about Winton:

"In 1938 Nicholas Winton was a young man in England. He was going on a skiing holiday when a friend of his phoned from Prague and told him of the crisis concerning children who needed to be rescued from Czechoslovakia before war broke out. The Kindertransport had rescued about ten thousand children from Germany and Austria but Czech children had been missed out, although they were in the same situation.

Nicholas went to Czechoslovakia and set up his own rescue operation. He had to find homes and guarantors for the children he wanted to bring to England. The guarantors had to pay a deposit of £50 for each child, the purpose of which would be to pay for their return home after the war. He organised seven trains and I think I was on the third. The last train never made it because it was due to leave on the day Hitler invaded Poland and all the borders were closed. He never spoke about any of this and it only came to light years later when his wife found a scrapbook in their attic with lists of names and other documents.

There was a feature about Nicholas Winton on the BBC television programme That’s Life in 1988. Many of the children – then grown up, of course – were invited along to the programme but I wasn’t included because they hadn’t found me yet and I didn’t know, at that time, that I was a Winton child. Nobody ever told me; not my father nor the Smiths. When I saw the programme it got me thinking so I phoned the researchers and discovered that I was on the list and Nicholas sent me a copy of the section with my name on. It’s a shame that I didn’t find out before the programme was made as I would have liked to have been there, but I’m pleased that I met Nicholas a few times afterwards although not until I was already in my seventies. He, of course, was that much older than me but we got on extremely well. I think it must have been an emotional meeting because he had saved my life.

In 2009 there was a re-enactment of the Winton transports, with a steam train making the three-day trip from Prague to Liverpool Street station and I was with him on the platform. We chatted for a long time about the rescue, but we also spoke about many other things. He was a very modest man."

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