Sir Nicholas Winton: A Local Hero
Nicholas (‘Nicky’) Winton was a British stockbroker and humanitarian. He was born in 1909 in Hampstead to Jewish parents. In 1938 at the age of 29, he planned a skiing holiday to Switzerland. However, a call for help meant instead, he went to Prague. Czechoslovakia was in the process of being occupied by Germany, and Sir Nicholas decided to help Martin Blake (an associate of the British Committee for Refugees) in Jewish welfare work.
During his visit, he helped to compile a list of children who needed to be rescued and returned to Britain. Alongside the committee volunteers (including Trevor Chadwick, Doreen Warriner and Beatrice Wellington), they worked to help children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis.
Sir Nicholas returned to London and worked on the legal requirements to rescue the children. Most countries had closed their borders, but in November 1938, the House of Commons allowed entry to Britain – on the condition they had a place to stay and £50 per person for their eventual return back to their country. He worked on raising the money, finding foster homes and arranging transportation.
On the eve of World War II the operation began, known as ‘Czech Kindertransport’, the first train left Czechoslovakia. In total, eight trains sucessfully made it to the UK. Children were greeted by Sir Nicholas and his mother (who worked with him to place the children in homes). However the last train, carrying 250 children never made it. On the same day, the second world war had begun.
669 children in total were saved, but he never spoke about it. Until later in life in 1988, when his wife Grete discovered letters and documents. He appeared on ‘That’s Life’ where his scrapbook was shown and was introduced to children he helped to rescue. In a follow up show, Presenter Esther Rantzen asked members of the audience to stand if they owed their life to him. The audience was filled with those he saved, as well as their children and grandchildren.
Nicholas Winton’s Life in Maidenhead
Sir Nicholas Winton is a local hero, as he lived in Maidenhead with his wife and three children. He died at the age of 106 in July 2015, and he rests at Braywick Cemetery.
Sir Nicholas Winton Statue Maidenhead Train Station
In 2010, a statue of Sir Nicholas sitting on the bench was unveiled at Maidenhead Railway station by Theresa May. It can been seen on platform 3 and was created by sculpture Lydia Karpinski. Another statue of Nicholas and two kindertransport children is on platform 1 in Prague. There are also three memorials at Liverpool Street station in London which is where the kindertransport children arrived.
Memorial Garden Oaken Grove
Inside Oaken Grove Park, there is also a Nicholas Winton memorial garden, which is inspired by the journey the kindertransport children took. Oaken Grove was chosen as he lived in the Pinkneys Green area of Maidenhead.
It was open on July 14th 2017 by Theresa May. It features an archway to the gardens, pond, fountains and bridge. The bridge represents the journey over the English Channel and reaches a raised mound, to represent the uphill journey to a safe island. Some of his quotes are also in the stones.
The garden was designed by landscape architect Jonathan Howe.
The Lion Sculpture at the Maidenhead Waterways
A sculpture can be found at the Maidenhead waterways outside the Coppa Club. The lion sculpture is by Owen Cunningham. The sculpture is a representation of the award Nicholas Winton received in 2014 – the highest honour of the Czech Republic, the Order of the White Lion (1st class) by Czech president Milos Zeman. It was announced he was to receive the honour on his 105th birthday on 19th May 2014.
Film One Life
One Life tells the true story of Nicholas Winton’s life, including the moment when he appeared on That’s Life in 1988 and was introduced to the surviving children as adults.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonathan Pryce and Romola Garai. The film will be showing at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts on Tuesday 9th January, Wednesday 10th January, Thursday 11th January, Friday 12th January, Saturday 13th January, Tuesday 16th January and Thursday 18th January 2024.
Find details on the Norden Farm website.