Pupils from Stonyhurst St Mary’s Hall listened in amazement as Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, who was one of the 669 children who escaped from Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of the Second World War on one of the so-called Winton Trains, shared her childhood stories that included life growing up in Britain.
Upper Elements children were fascinated to hear the first-hand experiences of Lady Grenfell-Baines, who was then aged nine, and of her little sister, who was just three and a half at the time.
First speaking to the children about the train journey, which was one of the rescues organised by Sir Nicholas Winton MBE, Lady Grenfell-Baines went on to talk about life in Britain after their arrival.
She explained how her family was extremely lucky to eventually be reunited. Their father had escaped earlier after he was warned to do so, and their mother escaped after them via Norway.
Lady Grenfell-Baines told the children about British humanitarian Sir Winton and his extraordinary efforts to rescue the children.
Most of them Jewish and from Czechoslovakia, on the eve of the Second World War Sir Winton, in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport, German for children transportation, found homes for the children and arranged for their safe passage to Britain.
Lady Grenfell-Baines went on to tell the children the sobering story of the last train which was due to leave with 250 children on it, but the outbreak of war prevented it from leaving and, of those 250 children, only two survived the war.
The children were shown the books which Lady Grenfell-Baines took with her on the train – Czech translations of Robinson Crusoe and The Wind in the Willows which, at the time, Lady Grenfell Baines had no idea were English stories.
She went on to say how she still has the label which she wore on the journey and the list of the names of the children travelling.
The children were particularly fascinated by a school report from when Lady Grenfell-Baines was 11. They were also mesmerised at watching her knit in the Czech way.
Lady Grenfell-Baines is now very involved with the Holocaust Memorial Trust and works to promote the importance of remembering, not only the Holocaust, but also other acts of genocide.
Her visit was a timely reminder about Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday.
Sir Nicholas Winton said, “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good.”
A spokesman for Stonyhurst College said: “This is a message central to the Stonyhurst ethos which encourages our pupils to be men and women for others.
“In a week where the Upper Elements children had also watched an assembly about the plight of the Syrian refugees, pupils were inspired by Lady Grenfell-Baines’ visit to think what they could do to help refugee children in the current crisis.”