Senior Head's Blog: Welcome Back

Welcome back and a very Happy New Year to everyone.  It is a little terrifying to think that we are almost a quarter of the way through the 21st century already (and that Felsted this year will celebrate its 460th birthday).  Every new year brings thoughts about what changes we can make in order to improve our lives, and I am sure that this is no different.  As the pupils will know only too well, I am not a huge fan of new year's resolutions, and prefer to look at new day's resolutions.  If there is something that you identify as wanting to change, seize the moment and change it, rather than waiting for the wettest, darkest and coldest time of the year to try to change behaviour, and stick to that new habit.

On Sunday, I was lucky enough to see the film One Life.  If you have the opportunity to see this, I would highly recommend it to you.  It tells the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, a young man who was involved in a remarkable episode in the 1930s.  A stockbroker by trade, he had been planning a skiing holiday, but he was asked by a friend to come out to Prague.  This coincided with the time that Nazi Germany had occupied the Sudetenland, resulting in thousands of refugees pouring into camps in and around Prague.  

In many ways, Winton was a very ordinary man.  Quite well off, with a good job at home, but he had a sense of compassion that drove him to action allied to an unfailing belief in his ability to make a difference.  To add to his motivation, his own family had come to Britain from Germany (his family had changed their surname from Wertheim during the First World War in order to fit in better) and when he saw the plight of the Czech children (and the likely fate that they would face if the Nazis came to Prague), he felt that he had to do something.  

Following kristalnacht in November 1938, it was clear that Jewish refugees were in particular danger and Winton, supported by a small group on the ground in Prague, overcame the bureaucracy blocking their way to enable refugee children to escape Prague and come to Britain.  The first small group travelled by plane, but most of the 669 children that Winton saved, and placed with foster parents, left by train, with British travel visas enabling them to make their way through Germany and the Netherlands, before taking the ferry over to the Kent coast.  

Winton did not talk to anyone about what he had done, and although he kept meticulous records, these were hidden away for almost half a century.  In the spring of 1988, his wife, Grete, cleaned out the attic and came across some papers written in Slavic language.  In a suitcase were all the details, letters, photographs and the full list of all 669 children who had been rescued.  Winton at first was going to get rid of all of this, but his wife convinced him that it was worth saving and sharing with the world.  He reached out to Elisabeth Maxwell, the wife of Robert Maxwell, who published the remarkable story in one of his newspapers.  This story eventually reached the BBC, and Esther Rantzen, host of That's Life at the time, invited Winton on to her show.  

The film retells this episode with great emotion, as in one episode Winton is introduced to one of the 'children' that he had helped to save, and then in a follow up, the entire audience consisted of the children from the kindertransport of 1939.  

So why did Winton hide what was a remarkable achievement for so many years?  On 1st September 1939, a train stood in Prague Station with 251 children on board - the largest number on any train out of Prague.  Back in London, 251 families were ready and waiting for their new adopted child.  Meanwhile, Germany had invaded Poland and the borders were closed.  The children were taken off the train and they did not leave Prague.  The man who had done so much for so many was consumed by guilt that his final train did not take its precious cargo to safety.

I count myself extremely fortunate to have met Sir Nicholas once.  At the age of 99, he visited the school where I was working and spoke to an audience of 750 people without a microphone, with no notes, and every word of his story was told with utmost clarity and complete humility.  When I watched his story retold at the cinema, every single person watching stayed at the end of the film in total silence for about five minutes.

If you get the chance, I could not recommend this more highly.

Watch the Trailer


PS Before Christmas, we ran a short survey about international trips and travel.  This only generated 34 responses and we would like to get a few more, so that this is a bit more representative and helps to guide us on future plans.  If you have 10 minutes please could you fill in the following survey?

Complete this quick survey